The big 1690 convoy from Bilbao to Holland

1690 Big Bilbao Holland Convoy
Map of convoy to Bilbao 1690
Date:Feb - June 1690
Outcome:Alliance Feat
FranceUnited Provinces
N/aGraaf van Benthem

1 A larger convoy than usual

1.1 A very big convoy

Convoys to and from Bilbao were frequent, but usually had only about a dozen ships. this was different in 1690. When the 1690 Bilbao convoy finally set sail to England, it had almost 90 ships. With such numbers its success or failure became of strategic importance. We'll describe events, and then see whether we can fit these in a bigger picture.

1.2 Santoña

This convoy would finally sail from Santoña, a very fine harbor, but lacking a busy commercial center. In the age of sail it was something like Torbay; a famous and logical point for sailing ships to anchor. In Dutch it was known as St Anthony. Right at the time of our story Spain would start to seriously fortify this harbour.

1.3 the Escort

The Convoy to Bilbao would be escorted by 3 warships of which I do not yet know the names. the captains were the Count of Benthem; Van der Saen; and Stilte. these had sailed from Texel to England on 17 December 1689, with Secretary de Wilde, who would become William III's plenipotentiary for Dutch naval affairs.

A lot of ships that were not at all destined for Bilbao had joined these escorts on the first stretch of their trip1. For all ships that were planning to sail to southern Spain and further into the Mediterranean, this was an opportunity to safely reach England. In turn the early 1690 convoy to Bilbao would join the big 1690 expedition to the Mediterranean for some time.

2 An urgent convoy

2.1 Ships waiting in Bilbao

By 9 March 1690 over 40 ships were waiting impatiently for convoy to the north in Bilbao and Santoña (St Anthony). New orders for convoy Captain Van Benthem had been sent ahead and had already arrivedOHC 28 March 1690.

2.2 To Plymouth

From Portsmouth the Bilbao convoy sailed to Plymouth, where it probably arrived on Saturday 15 Feb, as 10 Dutch merchants with 2 Dutch and 1 Hamburg escort arrived AC 23 Feb. 1690.

2.3 From Plymouth to Torbay

the long wait might be the reason that on 16 February part of the ships for Bilbao had left Plymouth with their escort by Stilte; Van der Saen and Graaf van Benthem (the article had Styrum)ohc 28 feb 1690. the 'about 20 Dutch merchantmen and 2 Dutch warships that left Plymouth recently for Bilboa' met a Dutch privateer who warned them for a fleet of 20 French warships cruising at the entrance of the Channel. the convoy therefore chose to enter Torbay on 22 February7 March 1690. (note that this was a step back, because Torbay is east of Plymouth)

2.4 the Bilbao convoy sails ahead

While in Torbay, the large fleet to Cadiz arrived too. On 7 March all ships set sail again, including (explicitly mentioned) the Bilbao fleet21 March 1690. We know that the large fleet that included the queen was forced back into Torbay, but obviously the Bilbao fleet was not, it arrived in Bilbao a few days later.

3 Arrival in Spain

3.1 the Bilbao ships

On 10 March the fleet arrived in BilbaoOHC 28 March 1690, the escort ships now named as captained by Stilte, van der Saen and Graaf van Benthem. the arriving ships were said to be all the 'Holland' ships from England as well as 8 English. Multiple ships had lost their anchor(s) in Torbay. It also stated that the Kroon of Sipke Pietersz Blaeu had remained with the Zeeland and Flemish ships, which would sail with the queenohc 28 March 1690. Letters from Bilboa of 17 March confirmed the arrival of 7 Dutch and 11 English ships. they also stated that bad weather prevented unloading the ships, and that therefore they might nog achieve this in time, because the escort was planned to wait only 24 days before returning homeAC 6 April 1690.

3.2 the St. Sebastian ships

the voyage to Bilbao did not end without accidents. Four ships (1 Dutch and 1 English with break bulk cargo, 1 small Zeeland ship in ballast, and 1 Danish destined to Bayonne) continued to St Sebastian, but were intercepted by a French privateer. the Frenchman had 14 guns, and 2 of the merchants each about 12, but the crew chose to flee to land with the life-boats, and so all ships were capturedOHC 28 March 1690.

3.3 Ships sailing with the queen

So we now know there were already a lot of ships in Bilbao and Santoña before the Mediterranean Expedition sailed. We also know that part of the whole 400 ship merchant fleet was destined for Bilbao (i.e. at least the Flemish and Zeeland ships). the latter can also be deducted from Paeyn's statement about being with about 340 ships after Russel left.

On 31 March letters from Bilbao communicated the arrival of the Kroon of Sipke Pietersz Blaeu (cf. above) and a ship from Oostende on the 30th. As well as: One English ship being lost before the harbour, and another having had to cut its mastsOHC 20 April 1690. Note that this is the hurricane that hit the big fleet near Galicia. Later, a 6 April letter was more specific: the Kroon; 4 English and 1 Oostende ship of Laurens Motties had come in. A convoy was to sail with 50 ships on 14 AprilOHC 22 April 1690. Even though these mention only 4 ships, they probably allude to the Bilbao part of the large fleet coming in.

3.4 An Oostende ship

We'll now make it a bit more complicated by adding that the Spanish Netherlands sent the Carolus Secundus(44) 240 men, captain Maastricht den Ouden to Santoña on 23 March. It would arrive back from Santoña in Plymouth on 29 April in 4 daysOHC 9 May 1690.

4 Rendez Vous at Santoña

Letters from 14 April from Bilbao stated the ships had left to Santoña, and were planning to sail on 20 AprilOHC 3 May 1690. From Bilbao 20 April: that all ships except the Kroon had left for St Anthony (Santoña between Bilbao and Santander) on 14 April, where they were said to leave for Holland on the 21 AprilOHC 6 May 1690. On 24 or 25 April this fleet was still in Saint Anthony, now with 5-6 escort shipsOHC 9 May 1690. One of these was probably the Carolus Secundus. the others might have been 2 Zeeland privateers that had come into Santoña with 3 prizes.

5 To the north

5.1 Leaving Santoña

It seems that sailing north was deemed risky, because the fleet only left Santoña after the escorts had received specific orders from HollandOHC 20 May 1690. At that moment it was known to plan a course around the British Isles. on 28 April a fleet of about 85 ships and 3 escorts left Santoña. On 30 April heavy fog scattered the convoy, and though it was claimed that most of it was re-assembledohc 25 May 1690, the scattered arrivals point to a lot of ships getting lost:

5.2 Arrivals in England

On 10 May the Roo Leeuw of Job de Vries lost the Bilbao Convoy 60 miles from the Sorles. He sailed to Whight, where he met 4-5 other stray ships from the convoyOHC 30 May 1690. From Falmouth 15 May we have the arrival 'last friday' of the Samuel of Guernsey and 'today' the ? of London, both from Bilbao, whence they came about 18 days ago, in company of 80 sail more, English and Dutch, in the convoy of 3 Dutch men of War LG 5may1690. From Falmouth, 29 May (19 May (O.S.)) we have that 'Friday last' arrived the Joseph of Southampton from Bilbao; she came out with the great fleet, being about 80 sail, English and Dutch, and has been ever since at sea, but met with no ships, except 5 Dutch capers off of Scilly.

Letters to Amsterdam noted 3 ships arriving in Topsham (Exeter), one in Bristol, two in Dartmouth, and four in Plymouth. these had left the convoy on 8 May, while 100 miles outside the Channel. the convoy then took a northern route.

5.3 Arrivals in Holland

On 4 June 9 o'clock, the 'Biscaeyse' Fleet of 23 sail came into Texel. Among it 3 warships, 1 prize, and a small English ship, all having sailed around the British Isles. Along the way it had lost: St. Pieter, Jan Aldertsz. Schuyt in the Atlantic; Geertruid, Adriaen France in Dartmouth (would later show up in the thames and arrive in Holland with Cornelis Brakel on 19 June.); Jan Anglois and Jan Peul in Coruña (would both reach Portsmouth 8 June). the Luttrell diary had the arrival of the Bilboa fleet of 20 sail, valued at 300,000 pounds.

On 12 June there was a message from the Hague; that the 'Graaf van Benthem, last arrived in Texel with the ships from Bilboa' would join the fleet, as would VA Evertsze. Later on there was a message that Van Benthem would convoy some ships from Texel to Schagen, and then cruise for the East Indies fleetOHC 29 June 1690.

On or before 27 September the Kroon and Stad Bordeaux arrived in the Vlie from BilbaoOHC 28 Sep 1690

6 Sources

Direct sources are the London Gazette (LG), and Dutch newspapers, especially the Oprechte Haerlemse Courant (OHC).

7 Notes

1) OHC 20 Dec 1689 for all ships to Cadiz etc having left Amsterdam, with note: except that of Willem Doncker and that of Jan de Doot. Ditto for those of Hamburg.