Dutch Ships at the Battle of Beachy Head as Related to the Normans Bay Wreck

This week, I’m delighted to welcome an illustrious trio of guest bloggers – my friends and colleagues in the field of Restoration naval history, Frank Fox, Peter Le Fevre and Richard Endsor. Frank, the author of The Four Days Battle of 1666 and Great Ships: The Battlefleet of King Charles II, recently posted here about important new evidence regarding the ship lists of the Battle of Beachy Head, 1690. Dr Peter Le Fevre, the co-editor of Precursors of Nelson and British Admirals of the Eighteenth Century: the Contemporaries of Nelson, has been working for well over three decades on the Battle of Beachy Head and the controversial British commander in the battle, Arthur Herbert, Earl of Torrington. Richard Endsor is the author of The Restoration Warship, and the acknowledged authority on late Stuart naval shipbuilding. In this post, they examine the identity of the important shipwreck known as ‘the Normans Bay wreck’. Gentlemen, the floor is yours! *** Many thanks to J D Davies for making his site available. In 2005 divers freeing a lobster pot discovered a wreck about a mile offshore at Normans Bay near Pevensey on the coast of the English Channel.  At first it was thought to be the English warship Resolution which drove ashore in the Great Storm of 1703.  But the Resolution ended up close to the beach (the crew got ashore safely despite heavy surf), and gun-founder Major John Fuller recovered many guns from the wreck – 40 by May 1705 [thanks to ordnance historian Charles Trollope for this, citing the National Archives of England and Wales (NA), WO 51/70, Ordnance Office bill book, fo.10].  Archaeologists, however, have charted 43 guns at the Normans Bay site (as of 2007) with others undoubtedly buried, which makes too many for the 70-gun Resolution [Wessex Archaeology, Norman’s Bay Wreck, East Sussex, Designated Site Assessment, Archaeological Report (Salisbury, November 2007, Ref. 53111.03zz), p. 12 and fig. 2].  Also, tree-ring analysis has shown that the frames were German oak cut after 1658 [Nigel Nayling, The Norman’s Bay Wreck, East Sussex, Tree-Ring Analysis of Ship Timbers, English Heritage Research Department Report Series 25-2008].  This suggests that the ship was Dutch, perhaps one of men-of-war lost after the Battle of Beachy Head in 1690.  Unfortunately, modern English-language sources give few details of these vessels and their misfortunes.  We have sought to remedy this deficit using British, French, and Dutch printed primary sources, and British manuscript sources.  The results offer a plausible candidate for the identity of the Normans Bay wreck.

The Wapen van Utrecht, by Willem van de Velde the Elder (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

The Battle of Beachy Head (or Béveziers as it is known to the Dutch and French) took place on 30 June 1690 (Old Style) about 18 n.m. SSW of the cape for which it is named.  A French fleet of 70 ships-of-the-line (plus smaller vessels) commanded by the Comte de Tourville bested an Anglo-Dutch fleet of 57 ships-of-the-line (again plus smaller vessels) under the Earl of Torrington, with the Dutch contingent commanded by Cornelis Evertsen.  Afterwards, the allies retreated eastwards towards the Thames, and many of the ship losses occurred over several days during the pursuit.  The British lost only the third-rate Anne, forced to run ashore near Rye and afterwards burned; but the Dutch lost ten ships, listed in a report from Evertsen which was printed in the Dutch newspapers Europische Mercurius (July 1690, pp. 45-46) and Hollandsche Mercurius (1690, pp. 207-208); his report included an eleventh ship which unexpectedly survived.  In the list below, admiralty affiliations, building dates, and dimensions are from A Vreugdenhil, Ships of the United Netherlands 1648-1702 (London, 1938), and from information kindly supplied by researcher James C Bender.  Dimensions are in Amsterdam feet of 283mm.  Lengths are external stem to sternpost measurements, and breadths are inside the plank.  The vessels lost were as follows: Suikermolen fireship, 4 guns (North Quarter, origin and dimensions unknown), Commandeur Abraham van Brakel.  Sunk in action 30 June by broadsides from the Marquis de Villette-Mursay’s flagship, Le Conquérant.  [Eugène Sue, Histoire de la Marine Française, (Paris, 1856), vol. iv, p. 106, Tourville to Seignelay, 1/11 July; Mémoires du Marquis de Villette (Paris, 1844), p. 102] Kroonvogel fireship, 6 (Amsterdam, 1666, 86 x 22), Commandeur Thameszoon.  Burned in action 30 June in an unsuccessful attack on the French centre squadron.  The name of Thameszoon’s vessel is not quite certain.  [Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Milford master’s log, NA ADM 52/69] Friesland, 68 (Amsterdam, 1685, 145 x 38), Capt. Philips van der Goes. The Friesland was dismasted during the battle on 30 June.  When the allied fleet anchored late in the afternoon, the Friesland, having had her anchors shot away, drifted on the tidal current into the enemy fleet.  After an obstinate defence, she was taken by Le Souverain, flagship of chef d’escadre De Nesmond. The next morning the French took out the Friesland’s crew and set her afire.  This occurred about 18 nautical miles SSW of Beachy head.  [Memoirs Relating to the Lord Torrington, ed. J K Laughton (Camden Society, 1889), p. 46; Villette, Mémoires, p. 101; Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Plymouth master’s log, NA ADM 52/88] Noord Holland or Noorderkwartier, 72 (North Quarter, 1688, dimensions unknown), Schout-bij-Nacht (Rear-Admiral) Jan Dick.  Dismasted during the action on 30 June, the ship was taken in tow by the English third-rate Stirling Castle.  At about 9 p.m. on 1 July, Lord Torrington, in accordance with a council-of-war earlier that day, ordered the Noord Holland sunk because she could not keep pace under tow.  The Stirling Castle took the crew aboard and scuttled the Dutch ship late on 1 July or the early hours of the 2nd, 12-15 n.m. SE of Beachy Head.  Dick, who had been killed in the action, was taken to England and buried near the North Foreland.  [Stirling Castle master’s log, NA ADM 52/109; Royal Sovereign‘s captain’s log, NA ADM 51/4320; Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Hope captain’s log, NA ADM 51/4220; Evertsen’s journal, extract in J C M Warnsinck, De Vloot van den Koning-Stadhouder 1688-1690 (Amsterdam, 1934), pp. 110-111; Ibid., p. 121] Gekroonde Burg, 62 (Zeeland, 1682, 156 x ?), Vice-Admiral Karel van de Putte, commander of the Dutch rear division.  Disabled during the fighting on 30 June, the ship was taken under tow by the English third-rate Lenox that evening.  Late on 1 July, Lord Torrington, in accordance with a council-of-war earlier that day, ordered the lagging Gekroonde Burg destroyed to prevent her capture.  The Lenox, which received her orders about 11 p.m., took Van de Putte’s crew aboard, transferred them to her attending ketch Prosperous, and set the ship afire at 1 a.m. on the 2nd, with the fleet then 12-15 n.m. SE of Beachy Head.  The Gekroonde Burg blew up at 3 a.m.  [Lenox logs, NA ADM 51/3881, books 1 and 5 (all dates in the Lenox logs are off by one day, but corrected in the other sources here); Royal Sovereign captain’s log, NA ADM 51/4320; Albemarle captain’s log, NA ADM 51/55; Julian Prize captain’s log, NA ADM 51/494; Evertsen’s journal, Warnsinck, pp. 110-111]

Wapen van Utrecht, by van de Velde the elder National Maritime Museum)

Wapen van Utrecht, by van de Velde the elder National Maritime Museum)

Wapen van Utrecht or Stad Utrecht, 64 (Amsterdam, 1665, 147 x 37¼), Capt. Pieter Claassen Decker.  Her hull severely damaged in the action, the Wapen van Utrecht was left to leeward (west) of the retreating allied fleet and moving inshore. Schout-bij-Nacht Gillis Schey’s hardly less shattered Prinses Maria stayed with her and, late on 2 July, took aboard Decker’s crew.  According to Schey’s report, the Wapen van Utrecht ‘sank along the English coast’ the night of 2/3 July.  [Schey’s account of 7/17 July, Europische Mercurius, July 1690, p. 47; Evertsen’s journal, Warnsinck, p. 113] Maagd van Enkhuizen, 72 (North Quarter, 1688, 156 x 40), Capt. Jan van der Poel.  The Maagd van Enkhuizen was disabled during the action on 30 June.  Afterwards, the English fifth-rate Portsmouth towed a Dutch ship ‘of about 70 guns’.  This could only have been the Maagd van Enkhuizen, as all other damaged ships of this strength are otherwise accounted for.   The Portsmouth anchored off Hastings with her tow about 5 a.m. on 2 July and, on Van der Poel’s recommendation, cast off the tow.  The damaged vessel was observed from the English ship Suffolk to have run herself aground at Hastings before 9 a.m.   On the 3rd at 11 a.m., she was set afire to avoid capture, and blew up at 2 p.m.  [Portsmouth master’s log, NA ADM 52/87; Suffolk master’s log, NA ADM 52/110; Julian Prize captain’s log, NA ADM 51/494; Salamander captain’s log, NA ADM 51/3963] Elswout, 50 (Amsterdam, 1677, 136 x 36½), Capt. Adriaan Noortheij.  The Elswout was disabled during the battle.  Afterwards, the English fifth-rate Garland took in tow ‘a Dutch man of warr of 50 Guns’.  This was undoubtedly the Elswout, the only severely damaged 50-gun ship.   At 1 p.m. on 2 July, the Garland cast off the tow at Hastings, where the Elswout ran ashore.  She was set afire to prevent capture at 4 p.m. on the 3rd, and blew up at 6 p.m.  Captain Noortheij was reported by many sources to have been killed in action, but an English travel pass was issued in his name on 15 July.  [Garland captain’s log, NA ADM 51/384; Julian Prize captain’s log, NA ADM 51/494; NA SP 44/339, Warrants and Passes, p. 316] Tholen, 60 (Zeeland, 1688, 145 x ?), Capt. Cornelis Calis.  Disabled in the action, she reached a point near Hastings, probably under tow, and ran ashore at White Rock a mile west of the town on 2 July.  After resisting all French attacks on 3 July, she was burned to avoid capture at about noon on the 4th.  The identification of the Tholen as the ship burned at that time is made fairly certain by Tourville’s description of this last Dutch vessel destroyed as a ship of 60 guns.  The other large Dutch men-of-war burned at Hastings – both the previous day – are described by logs of English vessels noted above as ships of 50 and 70 guns, consistent with the Elswout and Maagd van Enkhuizen.  [Edgar master’s log, NA ADM 52/30; Hope captain’s log, NA ADM 51/4220; Sue, iv, p. 124, Tourville to Seignelay, 6/16 July; Historical Manuscripts Commission, The Manuscripts of Lord Kenyon (London, 1894), pp. 242-243, newsletter of Manchester, 5 July] Maagd van Enkhuizen fireship, 6 (North Quarter, origin and dimensions unknown), Commandeur Muijsevanger.  Though undamaged, she was beached at White Rock on 2 July on the orders of a more senior captain, presumably Calis of the Tholen.  She was abandoned by her crew some time on the 3rd and burned to prevent capture at about 8 p.m. that evening.  This fireship’s presence at White Rock makes little sense unless she had towed the Tholen there.  On 1 July, the English third-rate Edgar was ordered to tow a disabled Dutch man-of-war, but was unable to find the damaged vessel.  It seems likely that this was the Tholen, and that the Tholen’s captain appropriated the fireship for towing.  It would also have been reasonable to order the expendable fireship to accompany the Tholen ashore so she could assist again later if both survived the expected French attacks.  [Edgar master’s log, NA ADM 52/30; Hawk master’s log, NA ADM 51/3860; Warspite master’s log, NA ADM 52/122; HMC Kenyon MSS, p. 243] Another ship that Evertsen feared had been lost in fact survived.  The damaged 64-gun Maas under Captain Jan Snellen was probably the man-of-war initially towed by the English fifth-rate Milford, whose log ceases to mention this duty after the 1st.  On the 2nd, the fourth-rate Assurance, which had joined the fleet the day after the battle, took over towing what seems likely to have been the same vessel, only to have the hawser part in tacking.  Left on his own, Snellen sailed west making for Portsmouth, but was forced ashore early on the 3rd after being discovered by the French ship Le Saint-Louis.  The Maas went aground ‘before a little Harbour’ [Forbin, see below], perhaps the now-extinct fishing port of Holywell in modern Eastbourne.  Having mounted guns on the beach, Snellen drove off three attacks by French longboats, the water being too shallow for anything larger.  Because of the ship’s remote position – 7 leagues or 21 n.m. from Rye according to Tourville – the French declined further attempts on her after the 3rd in order to concentrate on easier prey at Hastings and Rye, and for the main pursuit to the east.  Later, Snellen refloated his ship, got his guns back aboard, and sailed to the Netherlands with only the foremast standing.  [Milford master’s log, NA ADM 52/69; Assurance master’s log, NA ADM 52/3; Sue, iv, p. 121, letter from Villette; Ibid., p. 124, Tourville to Seignelay, 6/16 July; Memoirs of the Count de Forbin (London, 1731), vol. i, pp. 278-279; Warnsinck, pp. 146-148, with extracts from Snellen’s letters]

24 pounder of the type to be expected on the Wapen van Utrecht, drawn by Captain Nico Brink

24 pounder of the type to be expected on the Wapen van Utrecht, drawn by Captain Nico Brinck

This accounting of Dutch losses shows that of the seven large men-of-war destroyed, the Friesland, Noord Holland, and Gekroonde Burg sank or burned many miles from land.  Three others ran ashore and were burned at or near Hastings.  The identity of these, already established above, are confirmed by travel passes to the Netherlands issued by the English government during mid-July to the captains and officers of the Maagd van Enkhuizen, Tholen, and Elswout [NA, SP 44/339, Warrants, pp. 307, 314, and 316].  The remaining major warship, the Wapen van Utrecht, thus becomes the only possibility for the Normans Bay wreck among the Dutch losses of this battle.  And indeed, Gillis Schey reported that the abandoned vessel went down ‘along the English coast’.  This indicates that she sank near land, but is hardly conclusive in that the description covers many miles of shoreline.  Another source, however, focuses rather more narrowly on her resting place.  On 30 August 1690, Queen Mary promulgated a warrant which began, ‘Whereas 3 Ships of Warr belonging to the States Generall of the United Provinces were burnt neare Hastings, & a 4th was sunk neare the Haven of Pemsey [Pevensey] after the late engagement with ye French Fleet’.  The document enjoined her ‘Loving Subjects’ to assist in every way the persons appointed by the Dutch ambassador to ‘fish up’ the guns and equipment of these ships [NA SP 44/339, Warrants, pp. 368-369].  It hardly needs saying that ‘near Pevensey’ accurately describes Normans Bay.  Also worth noting is that the Wapen van Utrecht, built 1665, is an excellent fit for the tree-ring dating.

6 pounder of the kind that might have been aboard the Wapen van Utrecht - Captain Nico Brink

6 pounder of the kind that might have been aboard the Wapen van Utrecht – Captain Nico Brinck

The best way to obtain more decisive evidence is to raise some of the guns and remove the concretions to reveal the underlying inscriptions.  In 1666 the Wapen van Utrecht had six brass 24-pounders, eighteen iron 18-pounders, six brass 12-pounders, sixteen iron 8-pounders, sixteen iron 3-pounders, and four brass ‘draakjes’ (small shrapnel guns) [H A Van Foreest and R E J Weber, De Vierdaagse Zeeslag 11-14 Juni 1666, Amsterdam 1984, p. 197].  By 1690 the armament of this veteran warship – Beachy Head was her seventh major battle – undoubtedly differed.  Dutch ordnance historian Nico Brinck [personal communication] suggests that the final outfit was probably all iron, and the little 3-pounders originally on the forecastle and quarterdeck would have been replaced by a larger calibre, perhaps 6-pounders.  He also notes that iron guns supplied for the Dutch fleet in this period usually came from the great De Geers foundry in Finspong, Sweden, less commonly from Huseby also in Sweden, and sometimes from German sources.  Guns often had a founder’s mark on the trunnions (‘F’ for Finspong, for instance), and if they were aboard the Wapen van Utrecht, most would show the crossed anchors and double ‘A’s of the Admiralty of Amsterdam on the first reinforce just forward of the touch-hole. Even if the Normans Bay wreck turns out not to be the Wapen van Utrecht, this blog has at least added detail to what has been known of the Battle of Beachy Head.    

3 Comments

  1. Martin Davies says:

    Great article, I have dived and photographed this wreck site, it would be great to finally discover its true identity, fantastic piece of research.

  2. Fantastic article – I loved it!

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