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admiral judged that warlike exploits would be of advantage to the republic and to his company and was therefore ever willing to try his hand at them. Although such exploits were sometimes not very much to the taste of his sailors, who were to receive a share in the profits made by each ship, the admiral by his eloquent appeals was ever able to win them over to this opinion, and to inspire them with his own patriotic enthusiasm.
The first enterprise he attempted was against the Spanish town of Malacca on the Malay peninsula. This was protected by a strong stone fort, garrisoned by 3000 men, partly European and partly Indian. Matelieff induced the King of Johore, whose territory was at the extreme southeastern tip of the peninsula, to assist him in the siege with a native contingent. He then commenced a regular siege after the fashion which Prince Maurice was setting for all Europe. But, as his native auxiliaries proved useless, he was forced to give this up and to content himself with a strict investment with the object of starving out the town. After the siege had gone on for four months, the Spanish viceroy of India, Don Alphonso de Castro, arrived in the Indies with 14 great galleons, 4 galleys, and 16 smaller vessels of war. This large fleet was manned by 3700 European troops and an equal number of Indians.
The Spanish fleet first touched at Achin, on the northwestern point of Sumatra, and summoned the native king to surrender. This was the king who had sent ambassadors to Holland with Hermann. His fortifications were built after the ideas of Prince Maurice. He was assisted by a number of Dutch officers and engineers. He bravely refused the demand. Castro attacked in force, but, although one fort was taken, was decisively repulsed and forced to abandon the siege.
Hearing of the dangerous conditions at Malacca, the viceroy headed in that direction. When Matelieff's scouts informed him of the approach of the enemy, he resolutely gave up the siege, as did Bonaparte before Mantua, embarked in perfect order all his men and guns and stood out to engage the armada, which was about four times his strength.
On August 17, the two fleets fought an all-day action. Matelieff did not believe he could risk a decision at close range, and, therefore, the battle proved indecisive. Two ships were lost on each side. The Dutch saved most of the crews of the vessels lost, only eight men being killed; while the Spaniards lost a far greater number. As night came on Castro anchored off Malacca, while the Dutch commander retired to Johore. Thus, while the action might be called a tactical victory for the Dutch, because they had inflicted the greater damage on a four-fold superior force, it was a strategical victory for the Spaniards, because they had succeeded in relieving Malacca.'
This partial setback disturbed Matelieff very little, for he lay quietly at Johore repairing his damages and waiting for a chance to even up matters. He soon heard that a part of the Spanish fleet had left and at once decided to attack the force which remained. On September 21, the Dutch force of nine ships left Johore and in the afternoon sighted the Spanish squadron off Malacca. Seven galleons and three galleys were anchored in a semicircle in front of the town.
The Dutch commander concentrated his force and attacked with vigor the center of the Spanish formation. The center galleon was attacked by three Dutch ships, boarded and captured after a sharp fight of an hour's duration. A second was burned to the water's edge, while a third surrendered. Before Matelieff could extend his success, night came on and the battle came to a close. In the morning the Dutch returned and took possession of a fourth galleon, which was found deserted. The remainder of the Spanish squadron had succeeded, however, in running in under the guns of the fortress, where Matelieff did not dare to follow on account of the shoals. Another attack was not necessary, for the Spaniards in their panic burned their ships and retired into the fort. The Dutch had thus caused the loss of 10 fine men-of-war at the cost of only a few men. The admiral removed 24 of the Spanish guns, burned his prizes and exchanged prisoners at the rate of 20 Spaniards for one Dutchman, thus showing in an amusing way his idea as to their comparative values.
Having thus placed affairs on a sound footing in the western part of the Indies, Matelieff proceeded to Bantam, at the western end of Java. From here he sent home three richly loaded ships. With the remaining six vessels he sailed for the Moluccas, touching first at Amboyna, where he strengthened the fortifications. Having heard that a large Spanish fleet coming from the Philippines had captured the island of Ternate and carried off the sultan a prisoner, he hurried in this direction. On the south side of the island the enemy had built a strong fort, manned by a large garrison. Judging that it was inadvisable to attempt to reduce this, he himself built a fort on the north side and established the son of the captured sultan there. He was given an army of 45 Dutch sailors and a navy of four tiny yachts. "Such were the slender means with which oriental empires were founded in those days by the stout-hearted adventurers of the little Batavian Republic."
Sending three more ships home, the enterprising Matelieff sailed with three ships for China. Here, through no fault of his own, he was unable to carry out any commercial operations, and so headed again for the southward. As he was passing the port of Macao, six large Portuguese galleons stood out for him. Much as the brave Dutchman wished to engage them, he, after careful consideration, decided that he could not risk an engagement. He had but three ships against six, and even they were sadly in need of repair. His powder was nearly gone. He realized what a bad effect it would have on the Chinese if the Dutch were defeated in their first fight in these waters, and prudently avoided the Portuguese by his clever seamanship.
Touching again at Ternate, he learned that his little garrison there had repulsed a strong Spanish attack. Proceeding to Johore, he gave assistance to the native king, who in a panic had burned his capital and fled into the jungle. Then, after having been relieved by Paul van Kaarden, with eight war-galleons, he proceeded home. He had the honor to read a report of his campaign to the states-general, which met with their very warm approval.
This Dutch merchant skipper, for he was nothing more, had more than held his own against the far superior Spanish and Portuguese naval forces in a long and varied campaign 12,000 miles from home. It is true that he had not performed the striking exploits of Kant or Heemskerk. He had won only one remarkable success, and that was partly due to the weakness of the enemy. But, having, regard for the fact that successful commercial operations were as much, if not more, his mission as were military and naval victories, I believe that his entire campaign was a very fine one, conceived with sound judgment and executed with vigor and resolution.
And now I have come to the end of these little stories of the old Dutch heroes. Pericles said that he did not approve of the Athenian custom of having an oration made at the funeral of the soldiers who had fallen in battle, because he feared that a poor oration might lessen the fame of their brave deeds. It is with somewhat the same feeling that I offer to you these little stories. But I feel certain that these old heroes will worry no more about what some one may write about them three centuries after they passed from the world's stage than did old Regnier Klaaszoon about the 18 Spanish galleons. I hope, too, that I may add somewhat to the fame of these oldtime seamen of the Dutch Navy, whose deeds have been so cruelly neglected. If I can pay off the debt which the whole civilized world owes to these first warriors in the cause of freedom and democracy, if anybody in any way can do this, then I will be very happy, because I feel that workers in this sacred cause should reverently give homage to these old naval heroes, its first champions.