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Joris Spilbergen the Dutch Menace? (Grasson)


Joris Spilbergh Courtesy of http://alchetron.com

When the word pirate comes up, most people think of Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, Calico Jack, and the notorious Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard. These are the pirates of the Atlantic ocean, the Caribbean and African coast. Not much is known about the Pacific pirates, but there are a couple that you may have heard of, Sir Francis Drake, Thomas Cavendish and Joris Spilbergen. All three of these men have been listed in connection with the Lost Ship of the Desert in one way or another. But Spilbergen is the one responsible for wreaking havoc all along the west coast of South America and attacking Cardona’s ship the San Fransisco.

Not much is known about his younger days, but Joris, George in English, Spilbergen (please note that he spelled his last name Spilbergh) was born in Antwerp in 1568 and by the age of 28 he had already sailed to Africa and back, which was no small feat in his day. And just five years later he would be the commissioner-general aboard Admiral Jacob van Heemskerk’s flagship, the Aeolus, during the Battle of Gibraltar. On May 5th, 1601 he left the island of Walcheren, embarking on a voyage to Kandy (Sri Lanka) to meet with King Vimaladharmasurya, with hopes of opening a cinnamon trade. In 1614, he was the Admiral in charge of a six vessel Asian expedition for Balthazar de Moucheron, one of the most prominent family of merchants at the time. Later de Moucheron and other wealthy merchants would come together and form the Dutch East India company, and become one of the most dominating commercial forces for nearly two hundred years. However, this voyage was not to be just a civilian venture, before he left the government of the Netherlands granted him permission to attack any and all Spanish interests, in hopes of curtailing their dominance of the Pacific Coast.

Battle of Gibraltar courtesy of Wikimedia

Battle of Gibraltar courtesy of Wikimedia

As Spilbergen rounded the Straits of Magellan, he headed north along the coast having some with some mixed results with the coastal communities. Some were peaceful and willing to trade, while others were heavily combative. At this time in history the Dutch and Spanish were in the middle of the Eighty Year War, this was the war of Dutch independence. However, at the time that Spilbergen was exploring the coastline there was a truce in place. Joris was content in traveling peacefully, but when he entered a warring Spanish town he fought back veraciously, and because of these battles his reputation grew. On May 29th Joris lands between Punta Lavapie and the island of Santa Maria, near modern day Conception Chile, and within two days he leads three companies of soldiers and sailors at dawn to sack the town and take what they needed. But the fight continued on, just weeks later he would arrive at Valparaiso and also headed to town with over 200 men, with the same result. But the decisive battle would happen at Canete. It’s here that Peruvian Viceroy Juan de Mendoza y Luna, the  Marques de Montesclaros of the Knights of the Santiago Order, along with his nephew Rodrigo de Mendoza and Vice Admiral Pedro Fernandez del Pulgar decided it was time to shut Spilbergen down .

At 4Pm on July 17th Joris and his fleet of five ships, one was lost earlier, were met by a flotilla of eight Spanish ships carried 46 guns and nearly 1000 men. But when they arrive, Spilbergen politely, or arrogantly, tells Mendoza that he prefers to engage in the morning. Mendoza promptly answers back with two cannon shots, and the battle is on. The fighting continues til about 10pm, and again the next day for quite some time. By the end of the skirmish two Spanish ships were sunk, Mendoza’s flagship fled being severely crippled, and the battle was over. Some much for the superior Spanish fleet of the Pacific, and you can bet his reputation had grown to an incredible height after this win. Joris did not come out unscathed, he badly needed repairs and had forty dead and some sixty wounded, so he headed for a safe location at Huarmey Peru. Once everything was shipshape, Spilbergen headed for the town of Paita, where again he stormed the town with over 300 men and stayed for two weeks sacking and eventually burning the town.

Joris Spilbergen at Acapulco by Nicolas Van Geelkercken 1619

Joris Spilbergen at Acapulco by Nicolas Van Geelkercken 1619

On the evening of October 10th, Joris arrived just outside of Acapulco, but due to light winds he was unable to dock. He did receive an impromptu array of cannon fire from shore, so he sent in a small boat under a flag of truce asking the Governor Gregorio de Porres to allow him to purchase supplies. The governor agrees and Spilbergen’s crew spent the next week replenishing their supplies and visiting the town, peacefully. After their rest, the fleet headed north along the Mexican coast, and it wasn’t long before they were at it again. On October 26th Spilbergen’s fleet came across one of Nicolas Cardona’s ship the San Francisco, piloted by Martin de Aguirre, but as soon as the Dutch ships were spotted most of the crew abandoned ship. There were only eleven people left on the ship by the time Spilbergen’s crew arrived, this included Sargento Mayor Pedro Alvarez de Rosales, two Franciscan priests and the pilot. There has been a lot of speculation on what type of ship it was, according to legend it was a caravel, while the historians have stated that it was a small frigate. And unfortunately Joris doesn’t really leave any more information for us to go on, in his journal he states:

From the 21st until the 25th we tacked and tacked again without making much progress, by reason of the calm still continuing, when in the evening we saw in front of us a ship, which we hoped to be able to overtake that night. (East and West Indian Mirror by Joris Van Spilbergen page 109)


pages 109/110 from he East and West Indian mirror : being an account of Joris van Speilbergen’s voyage round the world (1614-1617)

As far as what the ship had in the way of “booty,” there wasn’t much either, but he does leave an interesting statement about what the ship carried:

This vessel was laden only with a few pieces of furniture of little importance, and with some provisions, which were dealt out amongst our ships. She had been out fishing for pearls, but had caught nothing; was well equipped with four metal guns and two small mortars, some hooks and other arms and ammunition, so that she seemed to have been fitted out for war rather than for fishing. (East and West Indian Mirror by Joris Van Spilbergen page 110)

Is this the type of armament that a caravel would carry, or is it something that would be expected on a warring frigate? Truth is, we simply don’t know and there is really nothing solid that we can really on, unfortunately. Once the San Fransisco was placed into Spilbergens fleet, she was renamed the Pearl (Perel in Dutch), and they headed to Salagua for supplies. But this was not the last time Joris would have a run in with Cardona. When Cardona and what was left of the crew abandoned ship, they met up with Sebastian Viscaino and two hundred men patrolling the shore. After explaining what happened the group headed to Salagua, but it appears that the Dutch were not fooled. On evening of November 10th, Joris sent a couple of heavily armed boats, but when they arrived they noticed the beach was covered in footprints from Viscaino’s men, so they retreated back to the ship. Later that night Spilbergen released Rosales with a letter stating that he only wanted to resupply, peacefully. But the Spaniards would not have it, and for most of the next day a battle waged on and only stopped when the gun powder ran low. This ends Spilbergens involvement with Cardona and the Lost Ship. By December 6th 1615, Spilbergen headed to the Dutch Indies and then back to the Netherlands, completing his circumnavigation of the globe. He would die within five years at Bergen Op Zoom, broke and penniless…



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