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In 1797 Admiral Duncan defeated the daring Dutch in the North Sea

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Ships, War on Tuesday, 30 July 2013

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This edited article about the Royal Navy originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 354 published on 26 October 1968.

Admiral Duncan, picture, image, illustration

Admiral Duncan addresses the mutineers

While the British fleet was almost entirely immobilised by a mutiny early in 1797, startling news reached London that France and Holland were preparing an invasion force. The Dutch navy was ready for sea with 18 ships of the line 22 frigates, sloops and brigs (carrying from 44 to 10 guns) and 44 large transports fitted out to carry 30,000 troops.

In this emergency, only one British admiral could rely upon his men; he was Admiral Duncan, an impressive man of 6 ft. 2 in., with snowy-white hair, who had quelled a mutiny on his flag ship, Venerable, by diplomacy. When Adamant mutinied, Duncan mustered that ship’s company and held a mutineering sailor aloft with one hand. “Look at the fellow who dares to deprive me of the command of the fleet,” he cried, this ridicule ending further rebellion.

To keep the Dutch in harbour, Duncan sailed for Holland with Venerable and Adamant, anchoring 45 miles off the island of Texel in the narrowest part of the passage. By making a great show of coming and going and throwing out pennants to imaginary ships, he hoodwinked the Dutch into believing that he had a great fleet just below the horizon.

After five months, the Dutch were still in harbour and Duncan returned to Yarmouth to refit. There he learned that the mutiny was over and that a strong fleet was ready to sail. As Venerable lay in Yarmouth Roads with the heavier vessels of the North Sea Squadron, the Active, a cutter, appeared off Yarmouth and signalled that the Dutch were out of Texel with 16 big and eight small ships under sail.

On the morning of 11th October, the British fleet sighted the Dutch between Camperdown and Egmont, deployed in two lines. Duncan ordered his fleet to break the Dutch lines, each ship choosing her own opponent. At twelve o’clock, the British ships were closely engaged with the enemy. “The roaring of cannon was tremendous,” wrote an officer.

After five hours, two Dutch ships were blazing; others struck their colours and the rest made off as fast as they could.

In the face of this defeat, the Dutch Admiral, De Winter, surrendered and was carried on board the Venerable, where he offered Duncan his sword as a token of defeat. Duncan refused it saying, “Rather a brave man’s hand than his sword.” This battle cost Britain 700 killed or wounded on Duncan’s nine ships.

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