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Jan van Speyk
Van Speijk shoots at a barrel of gunpowder, detonating his own ship.
Born (1802-01-31)January 31, 1802
Died February 5, 1831(1831-02-05) (aged 29)
Place of birth Amsterdam, Batavian Republic
Place of death Harbour of Antwerp, Belgium
Buried at Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam
Allegiance Flag of the Netherlands.svg United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Service/branch Dutch Navy
Rank Lieutenant
Commands held Gunboat No.2
De ontploffing voor Antwerpen van kanonneerboot nr 2 onder commando van Jan van Speijk, 5 februari 1831 (Martinus Schouman, 1832)

Gunboat no. 2 explodes before Antwerp. Martinus Schouman, 1832

Jan Carolus Josephus van Speijk, also written Van Speyk (31 January 1802 – 5 February 1831), was a Dutch naval lieutenant who became a hero to the Dutch people for opposition to the Belgian Revolution.

Early lifeEdit

Van Speijk, born in Amsterdam in 1802, became an orphan a few weeks after his birth. He joined the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1820 and served in the Dutch East Indies between 1823 and 1825. He successfully attacked Bangka and Java and gained the nickname Schrik der Roovers (Terror of the Bandits).


When the Belgian War of Independence broke out Van Speijk gained an appointment as commander of a gunboat. Van Speijk despised the Belgian independence movement. He announced once he would rather die "than become an infamous Brabander". On February 5, 1831, a gale caused his boat to drift into the quay at the port of Antwerp. Belgians stormed the boat and demanded Van Speijk to take the Dutch flag down. Rather than complying, he fired a pistol (some versions say he threw a lit cigar—few if any first-hand witnesses survived) into a barrel of gunpowder in the ships armory, legendary saying "Dan liever de lucht in", which translates as, "(I'd) rather be blown up then". The total number of casualties he caused remains unknown: possibly dozens of people. Twenty-eight of the 31 members of his crew were killed in the explosion.


Eight days after Van Speijk's death, the Netherlands declared a period of mourning. His remains were buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the church where the remains of admiral and naval hero Michiel de Ruyter also lie buried. In the 19th century and first half of the twentieth century, Dutch nationalists regarded Van Speijk as a hero. This quickly resulted in a royal decree (Koninklijk Besluit number 81, 11 February 1833) issued by King William I pronouncing that as long as the Dutch Navy will exist there will always be a ship named 'Van Speijk' to ensure his memory. A total of seven ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy ships have carried this name since. The latest being the Van Speijk (F828) of 1994, a Karel Doorman-class frigate. Its immediate predecessor, the frigate Van Speijk (F802), launched in 1965, was the lead ship of her own class. The mast of Van Speijk's ship is still kept at the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Marine (Royal Netherlands Naval College). For his role as commander of gunboat number 2, Jan van Speijk was decorated with the Knight's Cross (4th class) of the Order of William.

A national memorial for Van Speijk was built as part of the J.C.J. van Speijk Lighthouse in Egmond aan Zee.


  • Encarta-encyclopedia Winkler Prins (1993-2002) s.v. Speijk, Jan Carel Josephus van. Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.

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