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The Portuguese carrack São Tiago (Santiago), taken by the Dutch 14 March 1602


A carrack or nau was a three- or four-masted sailing ship developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese for use in the Atlantic Ocean and became widely used by Europe's maritime powers. It had a high rounded stern with large aft castle, forecastle and bow sprit at the stem. It was first used by the Portuguese, and later by the Spanish, to explore and map the world. It was usually square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and lateen-rigged on the mizzenmast.

First of two Carracks to reach Amsterdam, taken and sold by the Duch Eastindia Company as war price, setting a new precedent in international rights of maritime warfare, far from being disputed, it had a world changing impact on the development of the western trade with Asia and remains disputed until today.

What happened was that Cornelis Bastiaensz, in command of two ships from Sealand: Zeelandia and Langebarck, the 14 March 1602 attacked the Portuguese carrack San Tiago off the island of St. Helena, bound for Portugal with a rich cargo from India. Kept São Tiago under fire for hours, the Portuguese lost her sails, masts and yards. More than 50 men dead and many wounded.

This case of robbery, trade and war in one action caused much discussion in Holland about the legitimacy of this deed. The Dutch government succeeded in soothing all parties involved (Portugal, Spain, France, Toscane and the Republic herself) by handing out gifts (taken out of the loot). The discussion would continue in 1604 when another very valuable prize, the Santa Catarina, another Portuguese carrack would be taken outside of Singapore.

The auctioning of these two cargoes was instrumental in introducing Chinese Late Ming Dynasty export porcelain, eventually to be called "kraak" porcelain, into Holland.

The following description about what happend to São Tiago in 1602 is by the Florentine Merchant Francesco Carletti in his Codex 1331 (T.3.22) preserved in the Biblioteca Angelica in Rome. A XVIIth Century Manuscript, also known as Ragionamenti del mio viaggio intorno al mondo, which is also the history of the first private circumnavigation of the globe, that after fifteen years brought him home with nothing except his manuscript.

Witness F. Carletti:

"Next day [the Sealanders] aimed at the waterline. They used the moment the ship ran high out of the seas which tormented her because she had lost her rudder. In some hours it was all over. The poor ship was as demolished, it looked like she was about to sink, just one more gunshot and I would not have lived to tell you all this. Now the attackers ordered their victims to keep the carrack afloat. Later they would patch up her quite neatly, knowing their trade as seamen. And they said we had to hand them over all our jewels, diamonds or pearls. When they had patched up the carrack they had all Portuguese to disembark, in such a way that many perished - one because he did not know how to swim, the other because the boats were too far away. Yet all the Sealanders had their swords in hand and when there were too many of those who held on to the boat rails than they did not care whose hands they chopped off. But every one who had gold or pearls round the neck, or he or she who held diamonds in the hands, these were all friendly accepted and hoisted aboard the boats and than robbed of everything they had."

During the voyage to Sealand in the Netherlands the Sealanders took many of the passengers and crew with them.

"There was hardly place to sit, in chamise and shorts, and so we had to sleep, leaning against each other, not able to stretch out. And [we were] never allowed to go on deck, only to follow the ways of nature, and never more than one at the time. This lasted for 23 days. As it happened to be these were the days of fasting, and they lived to this tradition in an exemplary way, our food was nothing more than some rice boiled in water, disgusting in taste. From everything we got just nothing, even the ship’s biscuit was full of maggots. Four or five of us, who could not cope with this situation, did die without any sign of mercy of the brave boys, who were feasting on all niceties and delicacies they had found in our carrack."

The Sealanders choose the island of Juan Fernando Noronha as a location for repair ere the carrack was taken to Sealand.

"The Portuguese were disembarked in their underwear, and checked on jewels. Many swallowed these, specially pearls and some diamonds and rubies. Some hid these in their anuses, and because there were female slaves among them their owners had them hide the jewels in their private parts; maybe an easy way but less secure, for one of them stepped from the ship into the boat and while spreading her legs wider than necesarry given the circumstances, from underneath fell a bunch of diamonds, and this was quickly snatched away by one seaman."

The Portuguese were left behind on the island. F. Carletti; no Portuguese but Italian in the service of Toscane, was allowed to join the rovers.

"We sailed with the three ships, also the other ship from Holland [Witte Arend (White Eagle) from Amsterdam] who had not joined in during the fight but had gained a rich booty when picking up all the goods the carrack-men had thrown overboard just to keep her from sinking. The sea was covered with silk, skins and fabrics, with carpets and so much more merchandise; with little pain they took aboard what they liked."

The witness, Francesco Carletti from Firenze, who had set sail in 1594 from Cadíz, Spain, on a trading mission around the world, did protest against the theft of all his merchandise. Through interference of the duke of Toscane and the French ambassador in Holland, he managed to keep the Dutch government under pressure. Toscane said Dutch ships would be confiscated in Livorno [Leghorn] so that the commerce in grain would be halted. For this end Carletti stayed in Middelburg, but after three years lost patience. He accepted a indemnification of 13.000 florins. July 12 1606 he arrived in Florence, the city he had left in 1591.