Jan van Speijk (1802–1831)
The Amsterdam orphan boy Jan van Speijk grew up in the Burgerweeshuis (the public orphanage) on Kalverstraat – now the Amsterdam Museum. He was trained as a tailor but chose a career ar sea. He joined the navy and achieved fame in the Dutch East Indies as the ‘Terror of the Bandits’ When Belgium separated from the Netherlands in 1830 Jan van Speijk was commanding officer of a gunboat. On 5 February 1831 he was sailing on the Scheldt near Antwerp. When a strong wind carried his ship to the shore a gang of angry Belgians jumped on board. According to legend, Van Speijk said: ‘I’d rather be blown up.’ He then threw a burning cigar in the gunpowder room. Van Speijk, his crew and many people from Antwerp were killed. By sacrificing his own life – and that of many others – Van Speijk attained an unprecedented status as hero in the Netherlands. He was buried with much pomp in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. A memorial stone was also placed in the Burgerweeshuis. King William I decreed that the navy would always have a ship sailing under the name Van Speijk.
Image: City Archive Amsterdam