The voyage to South America and around the world of Joris van Spilbergen

1614 - 1617

In the early 1600s, the new established VOC had the Dutch monopoly for all trade in Asia. The company experienced stiff competition from the Spanish and Portuguese, with which the Dutch Republic was at war. Despite the Twelve Year Truce (1609-1621) armed conflicts in the states’ colonial possessions continued. In this light, the VOC sent out an expedition under Joris van Spilbergen in 1614. Its objective was to sail through the Strait of Magellan in South America and then to sail along the Southern American and Central American coast to harass Spanish holdings there and to capture ships carrying Spanish or Portuguese goods.

The expedition first sailed sailed to the Cape Verde islands and via the western coast of Africa it reached Brazil. Van Spilbergen tried to acquire supplies at São Vicente, but was refused by the local governor. Some illicit trade with local Portuguese took place, but Van Spilbergen became suspicious that he was being held up for a potential attack on his ships. He seized a Portuguese vessel, but attempts to negotiate his prisoners for supplies failed. He released the prisoners and sailed on. The expedition stayed at Porto Desire for a few weeks and then tried to enter the Strait of Magellan. Several ships however, struggled to enter the Strait. Here, a mutiny broke out on the Meeuw, which had given trouble already several times earlier in the voyage and the ship was eventually lost and departed the fleet.

In May 1615 the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean and sailed up the Chilean coast. Van Spilbergen hoped to capture Spanish ships carrying valuable cargo. At La Mocha, friendly trade was accomplished with the locals. At nearby Santa Maria, hostilities broke out and the Dutch razed and plundered the island. Van Spilbergen continued further north to Valparaiso and Arica, without achieving much. In mid-July a Spanish fleet under Da Mendoza, sent to intercept Van Spilbergen, found the Dutch ships and a night time battle broke out. Van Spilbergen’s fleet fought off the Spanish attack and after two days of fighting several Spanish ships were destroyed and the rest fled.

Van Spilbergen then continued sailing further north, but failed to capture any ships carrying Spanish silver. The fleet raided and destroyed the town of Payta in modern-day Peru. Further north, they exchanged prisoners for supplies at Acapulco in Mexico in October. Soon after, the expedition turned west to cross the Pacific. The fleet reached the Philippines in February 1616. After hearing that a large Spanish fleet was on its way to the Moluccas, he decided to pursue them. It later turned out that the Spanish armada was headed to Malacca instead. At the end of March Van Spilbergen reached Ternate, where some of the ships and Van Spilbergen assisted the commander Laurens Reaal in an expedition against the English. In July, Van Spilbergen decided to depart for Java, from where he sailed to the Netherlands. He arrived home on 1 July 1617.

South America and Magellan Strait

52°28' S 70°54' W

From January 18 to February 4, 1615, Joris van Spilbergen's expedition stayed at São Vicente Bay, intending to replenish ship's stores here. However, the local Portuguese governor did not allow this, and they eventually left the bay without success. After leaving São Vicente Bay, Joris Spilbergen's expedition sailed further south along the South American coast. She reached the Strait of Magellan on March 8, 1615, but some of her ships had difficulty entering the Strait. Furthermore, a mutiny had broken out on the ship Meeuw after it entered the Strait. This was put down, but not long after, another mutiny succeeded and the Meeuw sailed away from the expedition. By early April, the entire expedition had finally succeeded in entering the strait. It took just over a month to cross the strait, considerably faster than Spilbergen's predecessors. The ships lost each other briefly in the first few days, but found each other again in Cordes Bay on April 16. Joris van Spilbergen's expedition completed the voyage through the Strait of Magellan in early May 1615. After this, the five remaining ships sailed northward along the Chilean coast.

Mariana Islands / Pacific Ocean

15°21' N 145°76' E

When Joris van Spilbergen's fleet crossed the Pacific, it stopped at the 'Ladrones', i.e. the Mariana Islands, in January 1616. The fleet stayed here to resupply, which was sorely needed. A good number of crew members had died during the voyage in the Pacific. On the islands the ships were welcomed and were able to obtain supplies through bartering.


13°87' N 122°37' E

From 9 February to 10 March 1616 Joris van Spilbergen’s fleet was in the Philippines after crossing the Pacific Ocean from Mexico. After arriving at the island of Capul the fleet continued to Manila. He was informed that a large fleet waited for him at Manilla and sailed there. The information proved incorrect as the Spanish fleet had left Manila around the time that Spilbergen arrived in the Philippines. The winds prevented Van Spilbergen from attacking Manila. In March, Van Spilbergen heard that the Spanish fleet was headed for Ternate and decided to follow it there.

30 March 1616 - 18 June 1616

Ternate / North Maluku

0°80' N 127°40' E

Coming from the Philippines, Van Spilbergen’s fleet arrived before Ternate in late March 1616. As it turned out, the large Spanish expedition in the region was not materializing. As another VOC fleet, led by Steven van der Hagen, also arrived before Ternate in early June, various plans were considered to use the military force against the Spanish in either Maluku or the Philippines. These deliberations were presided over by Laurens Reael, who was just then appointed provisional governor-general there. In the end, however, the military force was still deemed insufficient to undertake anything substantial against the Spanish strongholds in the region. On 18 July, Van Spilbergen left Ternate, sailing through the Buton Strait and along Java’s north coast, to finally arrive in Bantam in December.

Sources and literature

J.C.M. Warnsinck, De reis om de wereld van Joris van Spilbergen, 1614-1617[xc - civ]

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