No.43 The Vogelstruis

An Ostrich with her Head in the Sand (or in the mud . . . )

Happy New Year!

To kick off another year of Wreck of the Week, here’s a ship which was captured, but not wrecked, at the Battle of Portland in 1653. She was the Vogelstruis, beautifully mangled in one English source as the ‘Fugelstrays‘!

The Vogelstruis was built for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1640. She had already made six return voyages for the VOC when she set out on her last adventure, as part of the Dutch escort for a large convoy of merchantmen homeward-bound through the Channel. The English lay in wait to intercept the convoy and thus began the Battle of Portland, or the Three Days’ Battle as it is also known, in February 1653.

In his despatches the Dutch commander Maarten Tromp* noted that it had been impossible to rescue the disabled Vogelstruis drifting ‘in amongst the English fleet . . .’ , who captured her and sent her for Portsmouth. She entered English service under a simple translation of her original name, to become the Estridge or ‘ostrich’, a name that was redolent of the faraway climes of her earlier VOC service.

If a ship could be named Ostrich, then contemporary poets such as Richard Lovelace likened the ostrich to a ship: Eastrich! Thou featherd Foole, and easie prey, That larger sailes to thy broad Vessell needst (Lucasta’s Fanne, 1649).

She was hulked in 1653 and is reported in one source as becoming a careening hulk, a support vessel in the ‘careening’ or heeling over of ships on the shore to be cleaned and repaired, an essential but time-consuming process in the age of sail. As warships aged and/or became obsolete, they would be successively downgraded, passing through a number of incarnations after leaving active service, a process of decay that sometimes ultimately led to wrecking by abandonment or through structural weakness in adverse conditions.

There was another fate, and a common one in the 17th and 18th centuries as the demands of the Royal Navy for facilities increased: to be sunk as harbour foundations or as breakwaters at principal ports. Such was the fate of the Estridge, given variously as at Portsmouth or at Sheerness, but in all sources for the same purpose, and at the same date, in 1679. The Augustine, also captured from the Dutch in 1653, became a foundation at Harwich in 1665, a fate shared by the Play Prize, ex. French Le Jeu[x] in 1697. Even as late as 1830 HMS Glatton was scuttled as a breakwater foundation, again revealing Harwich’s rich heritage of ‘recycled ships’.

*the banner photo is of the Admiral van Tromp, a modern wreck named after Admiral Maarten Harpertsz. Tromp.