Monday, 29 June 2009

Pirates or explorers, the Dutch presence in Peru in the 17th century

From 1598 until 1648 the Dutch government had an active policy with reference to the viceroyalty of Peru. Several official expeditions were launched and the Dutch even tried to establish a colony on this side of South America. The objective was trade. The Dutch had recently established contact with Japan and were primarily interested in the East Indies, an area controlled by the Portuguese. But the West Indies were attractive as well. In the Spanish colony these Dutch were considered pirates and caused fear in the local population. For the colonial government it meant spending a lot of money into defense works and normal trade was disrupted, causing further loss of income.

The first expeditions in 1598 were lead by Jacob Mahu and Olivier van Noort with the aim to explore trading and settlement possibilities on the Spanish side of the Pacific Ocean. They were destined for the East Indies via a westerly route and took products with them to trade with the inhabitants of Peru. One of Mahu´s five ships was captured by the governor of Santiago and sent to Callao. The crew was sent as prisoners to Seville via Panama. Van Noort captured several merchant ships in the harbor of Valparaiso. He was the first Dutchman to sail around the world when he returned in 1601 in Rotterdam with a crew of only 45 out of the original 248. With these missions the Dutch found out about Indian hostility to the Spanish in south Chile and the poor defenses of most ports, including Arica. This triggered more Dutch expeditions.

Joris van Spielbergen (also named Georg Spielberg, born in Antwerp in 1568 and died in Bergen op Zoom in 1620) was the commander of a another Dutch expedition. He left the island of Texel in 1614 with 6 ships and 700 men. They defeated in 1615 a fleet near Cañete and raided smaller ports like Huaura, Huarmey, Paita and Manta, before heading east and completing the 5th circumnavigation of the globe in 1617.


In 1621 the West Indies Company was licensed by the Staten Generaal (the Dutch government) to attack Spanish ships as the Thirty Years War had just begun in Europe in 1618. They concentrated on the attack on Bahia in 1624. The East Indies Company supported in 1623 a fleet organized by stadhouder prince Maurits van Nassau and lead by Jacques l´Hermite with the aim to take the ports of Arica and Callao. Jacob de Klerk or Jacques l´Hermite, was probably of French Huguenot origin and lived in Rotterdam. He was born in 1582 and died in June 2nd 1624 on the island San Lorenzo in front of the Peruvian port city of Callao.

The fleet consisted of 11 ships and a crew of 1,637 persons. They left Amsterdam on April 29th 1623. February 1624 they spotted Cape Horn and were the first to use a new passage around Cape Horn. While going northwards they discovered and named several bays and islands: Bahía Nassau, Isla Hermite, Bahía Schapenham (after the vice admiral), Bahía Windhond (after a ship of the fleet) and Bahía Orange. The fleet tried to get water in Chincha and Pisco, but was attacked by Spanish ships. On May 9th the blockade of Callao started, but in the following days he was unable to disembark. He went north to see of Guayaquil had better opportunities, but returned to Callao. Already a sick man when he left Holland L´Hermite died on the island of San Lorenzo, where he is buried.

The Dutch lieutenant admiral Piet Hein was in 1628 the only one who managed to capture a Spanish silver fleet, which did a lot for his fame at home and abroad. With the bounty, 11,5 million guilders in gold, silver and other goods, the Dutch could pay for the retake of the city of Den Bosch in the Netherlands and the West Indies Company paid out that year a cash dividend of 50% to its shareholders. In 1643 the West Indies Company selected Valdivia for the founding of a Dutch colony and dispatched 5 ships and 600 men under Hendrick Brouwer. After two months they abandoned the plan because of difficulties obtaining food from the local population. This was the end of Dutch presence on the western side of South America. Which was confirmed in the 1648 peace treaty of Münster with Spain.

The pirates and especially L´Hermite caused so much fear in the local population that their fame is not forgotten. In 2004 a Peruvian cartoon movie called Piratas en el Callao was produced, which features Jacques l´Hermite. José Antonio Hudtwalcker Morán did excavations in the cemeteries of San Lorenzo and found a skeleton with a red beard. A Dutch pirate?

1 comment:

  1. Cool! Mu Dutch husband will be very proud of their ancestors trying to attack mine..or 'trade' with mine..to put it in nicer words.

    Thanks for the interesting info!

    ReplyDelete