The Battle of Vigo Bay, 12 October 1702

In 1702, the opening year of the War of Spanish Succession, a powerful fleet of Anglo-Dutch warships was assembled under Admiral Sir George Rooke, as Commander-in-Chief, to attack and capture Cadiz. Some footholds were gained near the city but after six weeks of vacillation the allied fleet retired ignominiously on 18 September. The prospect of returning empty-handed must have been daunting to Rooke. On his homeward journey he learned of a valuable Spanish treasure fleet that had anchored at Vigo Bay in north-west Spain. Rooke arrived to discover that Chateaurenault, the French admiral, had laid a boom defence of masts across the inner harbour, covered by guns from sea and land, and had positioned his largest men-of-war to cover it. Admiral Thomas Hopsonn, aboard his flagship 'Torbay', 80 guns, was ordered to break the boom while the Duke of Ormonde's troops assaulted the forts. The Anglo-Dutch fleet followed astern of Hopsonn, capturing every ship not already burnt by the French, along with considerable treasure.

This depiction shows the beginning of the action. The troops can be seen in the foreground of the picture with the fleet approaching the harbour beyond. The battle is viewed from the south shore of Vigo Bay where troops are landing and marching off to the right. The land curves round to the left to the entrance to Redondela harbour. Just about to break the boom in starboard-broadside view and firing her bow chasers, is the 'Torbay', followed by units of the allied fleet including the 'Zeven Provincien', 92 guns. Following the latter, however, on the left of the picture, in starboard-quarter view, is the fleet flagship 'Royal Sovereign', flying the red ensign. Although this is shown as the principal ship in the composition, she was not involved in the action.

The artist was initially a calligrapher in his native Germany before moving to Amsterdam. There he was inspired by the grisaille drawings of van de Velde the Elder. Later he was introduced to marine painting in oils in the studios of van Everdingen and Dubbels. He was a contemporary of van de Velde the Younger and shared with him a concern for painting ships with accuracy and understanding.

Object Details

ID: BHC2216
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Backhuysen, Ludolf
Events: War of the Spanish Succession: Battle of Vigo Bay, 1702
Date made: circa 1702
People: Royal Navy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Painting: 483 mm x 686 mm; Frame: 745 mm x 917 mm x 95 mm

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