The battle of Mounts Bay 1692

Battle of Mount's Bay
Map of the Batttle of Mount's Bay 1692
Date:31 August 1692
Location:Mount's Bay (Cornwall)
Outcome:French Victory
Belligerents:
FranceUnited Provinces
Commanders:
Des AugersTaelman

1 A typical convoy battle

1.1 A small but significant battle

The battle of Mounts Bay (Cornwall) was fought between two warships of a Dutch homeward Lisbon and Setubal convoy and a squadron of French warships. The fight was a small battle, fought between not more than a handful of ships. It did not change history, or even the naval history of 1692. The battle is significant because the escorts enabled a large merchant fleet to reach safety.

1.2 The Mounts Bay

The Mount's Bay is situated in South West England (Cornwall). It is a large bay stretching from Gwenap Head to Lizard point in the east. It seems logical to name this battle for the Mount's Bay, because that's were it started when 3 French warships approached the Dutch fleet near Mountsbay. Some sources also named it as near Mountsbay.

The fact that there were so much battles near Mount's Bay / Lizard point has a geographical reason. Lizard point is the southernmost part of England, and the prevailing winds in the English Channel are southwestern. Furthermore: East of Lizard Point the tides are strong, and there are a lot of all-tide harbors on the English side, but few on the French side. Therefore any homebound English merchant pursued past the Lizard is almost automatically pushed into one of the many safe harbours, whilst any pursuing ships have to make an effort not to get cornered on an enemy coast.

2 The Order of Battle

2.1 The need for detail

French OOB Battle of Mounts Bay 1692
Ship guns men Captain notes:
Le Maure 50 300 Chev. des Augers*
Le Moderé 52 350 d'Evry
La Perle 52 300 Chev. de Forbin le jeune
Le Serieux 64 380 Marquis de Blenac Sailed for the Provence before the battle
Le Fleuron 56 330 de Mongon Sailed for the Provence before the battle
*Commander of this squadron
Dutch OOB Battle of Mounts Bay 1692
Ship guns men Captain Notes
Maria Elisabeth46 170 Taelman*
Castricum 50 200 Willem van der Zaen jr.
*Commander of this squadron

In French history the fight near Mountsbay is an obscure part of Forbin's memoirs. Two paragraphs in his memoirs seem to describe a minor event: The capture of two escorts and three fluyts laden with salt somewhere near the entrance of The Channel. It's not spectacular and one would be inclined to dismiss the strength of the escorts as an exaggeration. On closer examination the facts corraborate Forbin's story, but they also reveal what he left out.

In Holland the battle at Mount's Bay was noted for the bravery of captain Taelman and the death of Captain Willem van der Zaan junior. The story seems a regular story about heavy ships overpowering lighter escort ships, but here the devil is in the detail. Looking only at the number of guns, superficial facts do not seem to point to a determined Dutch defense. However a closer look at the details will make a strong case for the Dutch story.

What all these descriptions lack is the detail that is necessary to get a clear picture of the events. In this respect knowing the names of the captains and their ships is such a detail. This allows us to bring in technical details about the warships. The list of merchant ships can be crucial if it contained defensable ships, but that does not seem to be the case. Collecting the data about the merchants will however open up anchors to search for further details.

2.2 The French OOB

The French OOB is quite clear because the Marquis de Quincy gives it as: Le Maure, Le Moderé, La Perle, Le Serieux and Le Fleuron Commanded by Des Augers, d'Evry, Chev. Forbin le Jeune, Marquis de Blenac, Marquis de Mongon with the Serieux and Fleuron leaving before the battle. The assumption is of course that the order of the lists of captains and ships matches. The Amsterdamsche Courant of 4 September 1692 had Paris letters of 29 August, stating a list of small privateers to have sailed, but the Moderé(54), Perle(52), Serieux(64) and Fleuron(52) still being in St. Malo . The OHC of 19 jun 1692 has a 13 June list of ships in St. Malo, with: La Perle(52) Cap. de Fourbin; Le Fleuron(56) Chev. de Mongon; Moderé(56) d'Ivry; Serieux(62) Marquis de Blenac; Maure(52) Chev. des Augers.

Further details of the French ships surface in a list by the Mercurius of June 1692 which claims it to be the official French list for 1692: Maure(52) 300 men Chev. de Sangere; Le Moderé(52) 300 men Mons. de Very; La Perle(56) 300 men Cheval. de Fourbin; Le Serieux(64) 380 men Marquis Deblenac; Le Fleuron(58) 330 men Mons. Omougon. The papers had a post La Hogue list . The 1693 Mercurius has the Fleuron(58) 330 men under De Montgon, and the Serieux(66) 380 men under De Blenac both in the Mediterranean. With that the French OOB is certain.

2.3 The Dutch OOB

That Taelman and Willem van der Zaen jr. were the captains of the Dutch ships escorting the merchant fleet is obvious from multiple mentions in the newspapers of the time. The names of their ships were much harder to find. I do not doubt that De Jonge would have stated these if he knew. I found these names in De Quincy's story mentioned above: 'l'un nommé le Castricum et l'autre Marie-Elizabeth de quarante-huit canons'. This information is backed up by the OHC mentioning Taelman as arriving with the Maria Elizabeth in Cadiz in Oct 1691 OHC20Nov1691. The Castricum is mentioned as having been brought out of dock in April 1692, which says nothing of its captain, but at least confirms that is sailed in 1692 OHC29Apr1692.

2.4 Merchant ships

Dutch merchant ships at Mounts Bay 1692
Ship Captain Seen at: Notes
Gouden Hoed Klaas Bulloper Arrived in Lisbon 31 Jan 1692 Captured and to Plymouth
Vergulde Melkpot Jan Duyf Captured and to Plymouth
Wijnbergen Schipper Cornelis van AvenhornArrived in Lisbon 31 Jan 1692 Captured AC11091692
Graef Sunk before the encounter OHC11091692
Maria Sunk before the encounter OHC11091692

Listing the merchant ships of the Dutch Setubal fleet when it was attacked is difficult. There were about 80 ships, and a list of them has not yet surfaced.

3 The warships involved

3.1 French Measurements

At the end of the battle the Dutch ships were captured by the French and most probably measured by the French measurements. This detail of 'French' measurements is very important, because at the time each nation had its own measures, and a French pound was significantly different from a Dutch or English pound. With regard to ships each nation also had its own rules for measuring. It was e.g. possible to measure the width of a ship by measuring the width of the deck, but another nation might measure the width at the water-line.

3.2 Measurements from 3-decks

Ship Captain guns men gundeckbreadthhold tons built
Maure Des Augers 50 300 127 34.0 15.0 750 Toulon 1688
Modéré d'Evry 52 350 127 33.8 15.4 800 Dunkirk 1686
Perle Forbin le jeune50 300 130 36.6 14.3 900 Dunkirk 1690
Marie ElizabethTaelman46 170 113 29.7 12.2 c 400 Amsterdam 1685
Castricum Van der Zaen jr.50200 121 32.0 12.7 750 ?
ft. all Pied du Roi c. 32.5cm
Aggregate French Dutch
Guns 152 96*
men 1050 370
Tons 24501150
On the lower decks generally
Dutch 12pdr vs French 18 pdr

I did not research the technical details of the ships by myself, but took them from Three Decks - Warships in the Age of Sail. These details show how the Dutch ships were measured by the French. They make clear that despite the superficial similarities between the ships, the true ratio of force was more like 2:1, not 3:2.

In total the French had twice the size, more than twice the men and probably twice as much firepower. For the last aspect De Jong gives the calibre of the guns on similar Dutch ships to be 12 pdrs.

4 Dutch convoys to Lisbon and Setubal

4.1 Lisbon and Setubal convoys

During the Nine Years War the Dutch admiralities provided a regular convoy service on some routes. Examples were the Amsterdam convoy to Archangel, the Amsterdam Convoy to The Sont, The Meuse convoy to Hull and the Meuse convoy to London. Both the Meuse and the Amsterdam admiralty provided convoy to Setubal. This city was very important because it supplied salt. It was also not far from Lisbon and therefore served both cities. The escorts would sail to Lisbon, leave some merchants there and then continue to Setubal with the majority of the ships. In special circumstances ships to and from Cadiz might join the Setubal convoy, but this was not standard.

4.2 Taelman and Van der Zaen met in Cadiz

In 1691 Taelman commanded the Maria Elizabeth while escorting ships to the south. On 15 August 1691 Van der Saen left Texel commanding a convoy of Dutch Moscow Ships to Cadiz. On 29 September his convoy arrived in Cadiz with 8 merchants. Van der Saen commanded the warship the Beschermer. Taelman and Van dr Saen would stay in Cadiz for about 3 months. On 1 April 1692 word reached Amsterdam that a convoy with 8 warships from Cadiz had arrived before the coast on 31 March. From the warships those of Van der Saan and Taalman were mentioned as coming in, the other 6 as staying out. It is most probable that after coming in Van der Zaen changed from his ship the Beschermer, to the Castricum. The obvious explanation for this change is that he had commanded the Beschermer since at least Feb 1691, and that it had to be careened.

5 A new convoy to the south

5.1 Spring 1692: Dangerous times

In early 1692 it was still doubtful whether the French or the Anglo-Dutch would be strongest at sea. The spring season also made it possible for the French to use heavy warships that could quickly overpower any warship the Dutch traditionally used to escort convoys. In spite of this convoys to and from Cadiz and Portugal continued. They were however often combined and generally used the route around England to get home.

5.2 Effects of Battle of Barfleur / La Hogue

Dutch Merchants arriving in Lisbon on 15 July 1692
Ship guns men Captain Notes
Wapen van Haerlem Jan Cornelis de Jonge
Abrahams Offerande Jan Hendrickse
Anna Maria Jacob Bons
Vergulde Molen Hilke Jansz
't Fortuyn Cornelis Pieterse
Theodora Hidde Pieters
3 Kronen Adriaen de Roo
Wapen van Leyden Douwe Gerritse
Keurvorst van Beyeren Symon Willemse
Gouden Leeuw Dominieus Schrivinack
Venetiaen

On 29 May 1692 the French main battle fleet was decisively beaten at Barfleur / La Hogue. This would make the Channel safer for convoys. The route from the Channel till Lisbon would remain dangerous, especially because the defeat of a fleet could free up smaller ships of the line for cruising on merchants. All this might have induced the Dutch to plan a new southward convoy in June with two sturdy escorts, one of them the Castricum, that had served in the line during the battle of Beachy Head.

The relation between the victory at Barfleur and sailing through the Channel was made clear when the press spoke about the Rotterdam Convoy that had sailed with the English from Cadiz. It is feared that it will take the route north of England because the counter order or the defeat of the French only reached Cadiz after it left.

5.3 Journey to Lisbon and Setubal

On 16 June the announcement of the next convoy to Setubal was made. The Dutch convoy to Lisbon and Setubal sailed from Texel on 25 June. Rumors had that it included 6 ships destined to Cadiz. Others had 2-3 to Cadiz and a total number of 20 ships.

On 16 July 10 merchant ships of the convoy that had left Texel on 25 June arrived in Lisbon. Of these 8 were transporting weed. 14 Others, including the escorts, sailed straight to Setubal. Of the 10 visiting Lisbon it was said they later continued to Setubal. A relevant aspect of this operation was that the ships that arrived at Setubal hoped to return with the same convoy.

6 From Setubal to The Channel

6.1 Alliance actions after Barfleur

French Buccaneers having left Saint-Malo in late August
Ship guns men Captain Notes
La Reine d'Angers 40 M. de Belesme
Le Comte de Royel 40 M. des Sanders
La Victoire 36 M. Liongrave
Le Grand Guy 50 M. de Barreux
Le Fran�ois de la Paix18 M. Vilmarin
La St. Anne 18 M. Gaveluk
La Providence 16 M. Lambert
Le Fran�ois 28 Vill. Hacquet
La Marie   8 Poitorin
La Concorde 22 De Mares Fossar
Le Saint Esprit 18 Moincir Gair
Le Brave 16 Moulin Neuf
La Vleg Majale 12 Le Velie Reties
Le Francis Bourgang22 La Fontaine la fair
2 unknown others
French ships that stayed in Saint-Malo in late August
Ship guns men Captain Notes
Le Grand 90
Le St. Esprit 76
Le Glorieux 70
Le Heureux 60
Le Serieux 64 Marq. de Blenac
Le Constant 64
Le Moner 62
Le Modéré 54 d'Evry
Le Courtisan 64
Le St. Michel 60
Le Serene 60
Le Senechal 60
Le Conegeaus 60
Le Fleuron 52 De Montgon
Le Fendant 54
Le Couronnne 80
Le Perle 52 Forbin
4 unknown others 50-60

After the Battle of Barfleur most of the French ships that had escaped found refuge in Saint-Malo. The alliance fleet then made attempts to destroy these ships. The French reacted by bringing these ships so far up the river that a landing would be required to attack them. The alliance then started a blockade of Saint-Malo and later Brest. Preparations were made to land somewhere on the French coast and troops were made ready. These plans were halted by the Battle of Steenkerque. The alliance transported the available troops to the Spanish Netherlands and the blockade of Saint-Malo ended.

With the end of the blockade the French were able to sail from Saint-Malo. There is a list of ships that left Saint-Malo in late august 1692. It shows two groups, those that sailed, and those that stayed put. Probably the buccaneers that were ready vs. the royal ships. Note that the ships that would attack our convoy did not yet sail, and that most of the buccaneers would not be a serious threat.

6.2 The convoy sails

Extraordinary letters from Lisbon of 5 August, that had arrived over France, contained that the convoy from Setubal and Lisbon under Captains Taalman and Van der Zaan was to sail on 5 or 6 August. It furthermore stated that of the Set�bal ships of the convoy only 2-3 of the smallest were ready to sail back with the same convoy. Others news had that the Haarlem(64) Captain Manart, the Graaf van Nassau and three others were cruising near the Scilly Isles. (The Scilly Isles (Dutch: Sorles) are to the west of Cornwall and thus en route to Plymouth.) There orders were to chase buccaneers and to meet the Set�bal fleet.

Letters from Lisbon of 12 August are a bit cryptic. A fleet of about 80 ships sailed from Setubal on 6 August and was escorted by 2 escorts. So it seems that the escorts first sailed from Lisbon to pick up the ships in Setúbal. Another statement had that 9-10 ships from Lisbon sailed out to await the ships from Setúbal, but were chased back by a French and Algiers buccaneer. Anyway the fleet of about 80 sailed to England, and along the way, the Graef and Maria sunk

6.3 The battle

For the events of the battle I follow the Europische Mercurius combined with other sources like de Quincy. The Mercury claimed it was based on a message from Brest were Taalman was brought in after the battle.

On Sunday 31 August the lookout on the Maria Elizabeth saw three heavy warships making sail to approach the Dutch fleet near Mount's Bay. From the French side the Dutch fleet was seen 4 lieus (c. 16 km) south west of Lizard Point. Taelman then slowed down to give Van der Zaen and the slower ships at the rear the opportunity to catch up. Meanwhile the ships of Des Augers came closer while showing English flags. Taelman doubted them, he launched his sloop and readied his ship for a fight. He then turned about and sailed to Van der Zaen before the wind. The merchant fleet meanwhile continued its course, probably floating to England on the tide.

At about one o'clock in the afternoon Taelman hailed the other ships. Des Augers lowered the English flags, raised the French and answered with a broad side of guns and musketry. Taalman made a short speech to inspire his men, and then the fight began in ernest. The battle consisted of the ships passing (and broad siding) each other multiple times. The ships were not in a line of battle; D'Evry on the Modéré attacked Taelman's Maria Elizabeth, and Des Augers on the Maure attacked Van der Zaen. Meanwhile Fourbin attacked the merchant fleet, and captured the Wijnbergen, Goude Hoet and Vergulde Melkpot.

At first the battle seemed to go quite well for the Dutch. Taalman passed his enemy 6 times without getting into serious trouble. On the Castricum however things did not go well: Van der Zaen was hurt by 3 musket balls almost immediately after the fight started. His first lieutenant suffered the same faith. Without them the ship Castricum fought well for a while. Its flag was shot down twice. After a while the Dutch ships reached their first goal when the French fired signal shots for the Perle to come back and help them. After 5-6 glasses (2.5 - 3 hours) disaster struck the Dutch as the Castricum tried to disengage before the wind and was captured shortly after. Van der Zaen died of his wounds only a little later.

After this Taelman continued his fight against the Modéré and exchanged two more broadsides, the Mercury claiming that by then both ships were so heavily damaged they were merely floating. Forbin then reached the Maria Elizabeth, and both French ships surrounded the Maria Elizabeth. Taelman tried to place guns to fire from the back of his ship, but that did not succeed. Meanwhile the swell was so heavy that loose guns were swept from port to startboard, and Taelman was forced to close gunports. By dusk the Perle had rammed its bowsprit through the railing, and seeing the hopelessness of the situation, Taelman surrendered his ship. According to a message it had 5 killed and 18 wounded when it surrendered.

Both the Maria Elizabeth and the Castricum were brought to Brest on 6 September. On 8 September Taelman wrote a letter from there. It was probably a source for later narratives.

6.4 Arrival in England

On 1 and 2 September 1692 the Setubal fleet arrived in Plymouth. The French meanwhile plundered the fluyts they had captured, and then put all the men of the merchants and warships on them, and let them sail to Plymouth so they would not be bothered by them. One version has Gouden Hoed and Vergulde Melckpot released and arriving in Plymouth. The captured Vergulde Hoed and probably the Melckpot entered in Plymouth with some of the sailors of the warships. One of the captured fluyts (could be one of the above) entered Falmouth for a while, before continuing to Plymouth the same evening. It led to a 4 September message from Falmouth that spoke of 2 hours fighting for the Castricum and 5 hours for the Maria Elizabeth, the men of this fluyt were probably independently confirming the narrative. The French narrative claims they brought one fluyt back to Brest later, and taking the messages combined, I think this was the Wijnbergen of Cornelis van Avenhorn.

7 From England to Holland

Meanwhile Allemonde sent a number of ships to Plymouth to pick the Setúbal fleet. On 12 September or before Captain de Veer and 2 other warships arrived in Plymouth to pick up the Setúbal fleet. On 14 September the fleet left Plymouth, and on 16 September it was in Whight. From there some extra escorts had to be organized because it has just missed the opportunity to return home with the heavy warships that were sailing home with Lieutenant Admiral van Almonde. For this purpose VA Schey was selected

On 21 September Schey and the Setúbal fleet were still in England waiting for a favorable wind. On 28 September it left Portsmouth with 66 ships, and 10-11 waships and the East Indies ship Eenhoorn. Some of the warships were the Princes(92) of VA Schey, the Haarlem(64) of Manart, Ripperda under Lijnslager, Noort-Holland Jacob de Jong and the one of the Graaf van Benthem. On 1 November 25-26 merchant ships came into Texel, and on the second 2-3 more. Some others first seemed to enter the Vlie, but came up later. Only a few entered the Vlie together with the Frisian warships Groot Frisia of Hidde de Vries, the Casismir under van der Lit, the Stad en Lande of Carsten Carstens and the Gaesterland of Stoffel Cornelisz. The ships of Klaas Smit and Pieter Cornelisz. Pyl continued to the Baltic.

8 Results and Analysis

8.1 Results

The immediate outcome of the battle was significant: The Dutch had lost a small ship of the line and a ship that would have qualified as such only a few years earlier. Of course these kind of ships could be built relatively easily, but combined with losses in similar encounters, things did tend to add up. However, counting ships is not simple: Together the Castricum and the Maria Elizabeth added up to no more than 1 3rd rate ship of the line in terms of men, firepower and (probably) cost.

The merchant fleet from Setubal consisted primarily of bulk-carrying (salt) fluyts with small crews. It was not a fleet carrying spices or bullion, and still the contemporary reaction to the events was that the Setúbal fleet had arrived safely in England. There was little concern for the loss of the escorts. What would really be helpful in this respect is a calculation of the value of an average ship in this fleet, and the value of an escort ship.

8.2 Analysis: Leadership

The first thing one can notice about this battle is the importance of leadership when warships fight in small groups. We have no further details about what happened on Van der Zaen's ship after he got mortally wounded and his first lieutenant got killed. However, what all relations imply is that this accident was the reason the larger Castricum surrendered after 2.5 hours while the smaller Maria Elizabeth fought on under its captain. This gets me to something I wondered about when reading about many convoy commands. I saw the same old captains sailing again and again on small escorts while their seniority should have given them the right to command a big ship of the line and to stay at home during the winter.

It is of course possible that promotions were made through a corrupt system that violated the rights of the loyal servants of the admiralty, but there is an alternative that is far more likely. To me there is little doubt that most admiralties were very much aware of the importance of having a leader-type captain on escorts. If we suppose that in the 16'nineties the Amsterdam Merchants were still powerful in their admiralty, we can safely assume that their own interest led them to appoint only experienced captains on escorts. I think this small thesis can be proven by tracing back captain biographies, but I will not do that right now.

8.3 Analysis: Ship Stamina

Another aspect of battles between smaller ships was that in such battles even small ships could have an enormous stamina. Battles could go on for the better part of a day without a decision. On multiple occassions it seems that a small ship with determined defenders would only surrender to other small ships after it was cannonaded from behind (which is implied for the Maria Elizabeth) or about to boarded (which is also implied for the Maria Elizabeth). Simply put: as long as there was a determined defense, a small ship could not be overpowered that easily by only one ship of the same size. This is again something that warrants more investigation.

9 Sources

Most of the source material for this page are newspapers of the time, i.e. the Amsterdamsche Courant and the Oprechte Haerlemsche Courant. Most of the information I used can be retrieved by simply clicking the in line links. I did limit this somewhat, so if you cannot find something in the linked paper it's probably in a paper of a few days earlier or later. Some sources deserve a separate mention:

The nineteenth century historian De Jong has this battle on page 379, but apart from adding some details, he himself says that the story comes from the Europische Mercurius for 1692. The battle is in the Memoires de Forbin on page 337. The Histoire Militaire de Louis le Grand by Quincy was essential in providing the names of the Dutch ships. Later on these were verified by supplementary evidence, but that was only after getting the names.

There is one thing in particular that I want to say about the sources: While starting this article I was quite sceptical about any heroic defense by the Dutch escorts. Starting from De Jong, or any nineteenth century historian one should be sceptical. What convinced me that the Dutch narrative was indeed true, was the way that multiple messages from England more or less agreed on the facts. It was only after writing this article that I found a contemporary French account in the Gazette de Lyon for 1692. This indeed confirmed the things I wrote above, and that's why I want to render the whole paragraph here:

On a appris que trois vaisseaux du Roy sortis de S.Malo, le Maure commandé par le chevalier de Saugiers, le Moderé commandé par le Sieur d'Evry, & la Perle par le Chevalier de Forbin, avoient rencontré a quatre lieues au Sud-Ouest du Cap Lezard sur la Coté d'Angleterre, une flote de batimens Hollandois venant de Setubal, escortée par deux vaisseaux de guerre Hollandois, l'un nommé le Castricum de cinquante-quatre pieces de canon, l'autre Marie Elizabeth de quarante-huit pieces. Le Chevalier de Saugiers s'attacha avec le Moderé aux deux vaisseaux de guerre, & le Chevalier de Forbin suivit les Marchands. Les Hollandois se défendirent vigoureusement, & ils se rendirent après un long combat, craignant l'abordage. ces vaisseaux ont été amenez a Brest, avec un flute chargée de Sel. On attend les autres vaisseaux que le Chevalier de Forbin a emmariné.