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Explorers of the Pacific: European and American Discoveries in Polynesia

Joris Spilbergen

Joris Spilbergen

1614 to 1616

In 1614 the Dutch East India Company equipped a fleet of six vessels, under the command of Admiral Joris Spilbergen, to sail to the Moluccas by way of the Strait of Magellan. The fleet left Texel on August 8, 1614. On April 3, 1615, Spilbergen entered the Strait, some of his ships having preceded him to the rendezvous at the Bay de Cordes within the Strait. On May 6 the fleet, reduced to five ships, entered the south sea. It worked up the Pacific coast, provisioning here and capturing there, until on July 16, beyond Arequipa, they sighted the Spanish fleet which had been sent out from Callao to intercept them. The Spanish fleet, commanded by Don Rodrigo de Mendoça, page 13consisted of eight ships with ample crews and artillery. On the 17th light breezes prevented the two fleets from getting close enough to engage until near evening. Spilbergen is reported to have sent a polite message to Mendoça saying he would postpone his attack until morning if the Spanish preferred. The Spanish admiral, arrogant because of the position hitherto occupied by his country, was enraged at what he deemed Spilbergen's presumption and sent back this reply, "You attack, you Dutch hen! I am going to attack now." Admiral Spilbergen's reply delivered in the Dutch language from his bridge was untranslatable. However, his initial courtesy had a deserved reward, for the Spaniards commenced a night attack against the more mature wisdom of Mendoça's vice-admiral. During the night, one of the lighter Spanish vessels was sunk and the fleet somewhat scattered. In the morning, seeing that the ships of the admiral and vice-admiral were separated from the rest of the Spanish fleet, Spilbergen turned his whole fleet against them. The vice-admiral's ship eventually sank, but Mendoça's flagship showed a fading stern to the pursuing Dutch. Spilbergen's victory against superior numerical forces considerably raised the prestige of the Dutch.

The Dutch fleet called in at Callao but found it too strongly defended to offer any opportunities, so Spilbergen sailed on to Payta, which he sacked. Sailing north to Acapulco and Navidad, he exchanged accumulated Spanish prisoners for provisions. He then sailed across the Pacific to the Ladrones, without encountering the Hawaiian Islands. He spent some time off Manila, picking off trading ships making for that port, much like a man-of-war hawk waiting off shore to intercept other seabirds flying home with their day's catch of fish. However, when he learned that a large Spanish fleet was being organized to attack him, he sailed to the Moluccas to assist his countrymen, still fighting the Portuguese posts in that area. He arrived at Ternate on March 26, 1616. Spilbergen's expedition made no discoveries, but he was shortly to meet voyagers who had.