The Taking of Banda

Fort Belgica, Banda Neira

Fort Belgica, Banda Neira

The global reach afforded Britain by way of its dominance of the sea meant that no part of the enemy’s territory that was within reach of the sea was safe. When this mobility was coupled with the dash and daring we associate with the Royal Navy, it meant relatively small forces could have a disparate impact.

Such was the case of the British capture of Banda and Fort Belgica (pictured above) on August 9, 1810.

The Banda Islands had changed hands between the British and Dutch several times.

There was one more seventeenth century attempt to reassert English control in the region when Oliver Cromwell requested the restoration of the colony of Run in order to ‘make satisfactin for the massacre of Amboina’. Unfortunately, the colony was inadequately supported and was soon a victim of one of the frequent wars between the English and the Dutch. In 1664 it was taken by the Dutch by force which was confirmed in 1667 at the Treaty of Breda when the English were forced to sign over any residual rights to the Dutch.

From the pages of the Naval Chronicle, the January-February 1811 number, we get this bit of understated prose.

Banda Captured

Of unofficial intelligence, the most important which we have to announce, is that of the capture of Banda, the chief of the Dutch Spice Islands. It was carried by a coup de main, early in August; the assailing force, under Captain Cole, of the H. M. S. Caroline, not amounting to more than 180 men while that of the the garrison numbered 1000. The property, to the captors, is estimated at 600,000; and, what renders the news eminently pleasing, is that the rich prize ha fallen into our possession without the loss of a single life.

This set me to researching the incident.

On 10 May 1810, the Caroline (36 guns) under Captain Christopher Cole, Piedmontaise (38 guns) under Captain Charles Foote, Barracouta (18 guns) under Commander Richard Kenah and the Mandarin transport left Madras to support the garrison at Ambon Island which ahd recently been captured by the British. The small flotilla carried about 100 European troops of the Madras European Regiment of the East India Company, money and provisions. They arrived at Pulau Penang in present day Maylaysia on the 30 May and added a lieutenant and 20 cannoneers along with two artillery pieces and 20 scaling ladders to attempt an assault on the Banda Islands on their way to Ambon Island.

Captain Cole had gone to sea as age ten and had seemed destined for rapid advancement by both ability and influence. Unfortunately for him, he had two patrons die in tandem which delayed his elevation to post captain. He was an able and active officer who held daily drills with small arms, cutlasses, etc., enroute to Banda. Scaling ladders were leaned against masts and the scaling parties drilled. He made a critical decision to ensure the landing parties were armed with boarding pikes.

They struggled against the prevailing monsoon and entered the Java Sea on 23 July after a passage of six weeks..

The operational concept was to approach Banda Neira after dark on 8 August and disembark the landing force of about 400 sailors, marines, and European infantry in small boats. These boats would run into harbor before dawn and take Fort Belgica and other strongpoints by surprise.

In the event, not much went according to plan. They were taken under fire from a battery during the night and the weather worsened dispersing the fleet of small boats. When Captain Cole reached the assembly area for the attack there were less than 200 seaman, marines, and soldiers remaining. He made the decision to press ahead with the attack. Commander Richard Kenah of Barracouta landed and attacked one Dutch battery consisting of ten 18-pounders from the rear. They killed one sentry and captured the remainder of the garrison, some 60 men, without firing a shot. The boarding pikes had proved their worth.

About twenty minutes later they attempted to storm Fort Belgica, pictured at the top of this story. The fort is a fairly significant postion built in the stereotypical Vaubaun pentagon and surrounded by a ditch. The attack was pressed home with vigor as dawn was breaking and the alarm was now being sounded by the defenders. Now the heavy rain worked to the advantage of the attackers. The defenders visibility was reduced and their firearms rendered useless and again the decision to bring boarding pikes was validated.

The fort was stormed and taken without loss of British life. On the Dutch side the fort commandant and 10 men were killed, two officers and 30 men were taken prisoner along with 52 cannon.

Captain Cole sent Commander Kenah to demand the surrender of the Dutch governor. As negotiations were taking place the Caroline, Piedmontaise, and Barracouda attempted to enter the harbor but were fired on by Dutch batteries. The British used the guns of Fort Belgica to return fire and threatened to destroy the nearby town if the governor did not surrender. He complied.

Were this to make its way into naval fiction, we’d shake our heads at the overwrought imagination of the author.

Captain Cole was knighted in 1815, was a Member of Parliament for Glamorgan, and died in 1836, still a post captain though at the top of the list.

Captain Charles Foote was made lieutenant governor of Banda but shortly thereafter returned to Madras where he died on 5 September 1811 at age 31.

The saddest case is that of Commander Richard Kenah. His record indicates that he was something of a firebrand. At the time of this expedition he was an acting commander. The previous year the Barracouta had participated, along with Modeste (36), in cutting out the Dutch schooner Tuyneclaar. He was at the forefront of the action at Banda. He kept the Barracouda until January 1811. We next see him as commander of the bomb ketch Aetna when he is ordered from the Baltic to join the squadron of Admiral Cochrane in operations directed against Washington, DC. On August 17, Euralyus, Devastation, Aetna, Meteor, and Erebus were ordered to procede up the Potomac to bombard Fort Washington reaching firing positions on 27 August. Aetna’s mortar was jinxed. In 1811, it had exploded four times with devastating results. August 1814 brought a fifth time. Commander Kenah was killed.

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4 Comments

Filed under Age of Sail, Naval Operations Ashore, The Rest of the Story

4 responses to “The Taking of Banda

  1. Pingback: The Flight of Captain Essington « Age Of Sail

  2. Pingback: Barracouta and the Pirates « Age Of Sail

  3. Pingback: The Boarding Pike « Age Of Sail

  4. Adrian Campbell-Black

    I enjoyed this article. I am researching British maritime history in Indonesia as we have been offered space in the national maritime museum in Jakarta. I would welcome any assistance in putting together a stand covering the main events in British maritime history in the archipelago.

    British Defence Attache Jakarta

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