The Dutch-Maratha Naval Battle of 1754: A Saga Less Known


Indian History, be it from any epoch, is equally riveting: from Kings to commoners, from warriors to saints, India has it all. From North to South and East to West, India has been home to countless different civilizations and empires who left their footprints for the discerning scholar to see. The period from 1600 to 1800 CE, nowadays commonly known as the early modern period in academic parlance, is no exception: it is of great interest academically because it was during this period that India witnessed the gradual but decisive transformation from being its own master to being the richest colony of the British empire. The behemoth that was the Mughal empire reached its zenith and disintegrated, and a number of successor dynasties arose during the same period as well. The entire eighteenth century is full of their political struggles and attempts to provide a stable rule. What is often glossed over in the standard accounts of the eighteenth century is that it the journey of the nation towards British rule was not some case of technological determinism. It was a period of immense potentialities- nowhere is this more evident than in the History of Marathas.

The History of Marathas is an extremely important chapter in the History of early modern India because they are the last pan-Indian power before the British took over. They inherited many administrative and military features from their predecessors in the Western Deccan, viz. the various Deccani Sultanates eg. The Nizam Shahis of Ahmednagar and the Adil Shahis of Bijapur, and blended them with innovations of their own. In particular, they perfected the guerilla tactics in the hills of the Western Deccan and used them to devastating effect against both the Adil Shahis and the Mughals. Using their strong hill-forts as a cover against the numerically superior Sultanate armies, they managed to carve an independent political existence of their own. All their hard-earned achievements were at stake when the Mughals invaded them with their entire force in 1682. In a bitter, protracted struggle that lasted for 25 years till the then Mughal ruler Aurangzeb breathed his last in Maharashtra, the Maratha homeland, being unable to subdue the Marathas.

Once the Mughal threat was gone, the Marathas, exploiting fully the political vacuum thus created, expanded rapidly in Northern, Western and Eastern India and acquired huge parts of land. In the process, the centralized empire of the 17th century gave way to the much more disjointed, loose alliance of rulers, which is commonly termed as “Maratha Confederacy”. In this way, the Marathas showed themselves to be fully capable of replacing the Mughals in large parts of India. The regions governed by them, both in and out of Maharashtra, were in many places prosperous.

If we compare both regimes, they had many similarities but many important differences as well. Many Historians have devoted their life’s work to underscore the uniqueness of various Maratha institutions, and it will be out of place here to discuss them in detail. But any such survey must necessarily include the wonder that was Maratha Navy. After the Kunjali Marakkars of Kerala in the 16th century, the Maratha Navy was the only indigenous full-time naval fighting force within India, backed completely by the state.

Maratha Navy – genesis and growth in the 18th century

Maratha Navy was founded by Chhatrapati Shivaji in the year 1657 CE. It is not difficult to understand why Shivaji, a ruler who started his empire far away from the coasts, felt the need to create from scratch a full-time naval fighting force. In 1654 CE, he conquered the province of Jawali which lay south to the province of Pune, which he had inherited from his father Shahaji. After the conquest of Jawali, Shivaji conquered many forts in the northern Konkan area and this made him think about a radically new organization of his forces. The Konkan strip, being narrow and relatively agriculturally unproductive, was nevertheless of prime strategic importance as it was the gateway from which all foreign goods entered the western part of India. Additionally, there were naval powers like the Portuguese and the Siddis of Janjira who made life difficult for any land power. Powerful land-based empires like the Adil Shahis and the Mughals often had to pander to the whims of the Portuguese and the Siddis when it came to naval matters. Shivaji, being the astute leader he was, saw this and created a naval force of his own to fight this maritime menace. And within a short time, he succeeded in making his fledgling Navy a force to reckon with. The nascent Maratha Navy accomplished many difficult feats within the lifetime of Shivaji, such as the naval raid on the Karnataka port of Basrur, the establishment of the fortress of Khanderi, the capture of an English ship, etc. After the death of Shivaji in 1680, his eldest son Sambhaji became the second Maratha Chhatrapati, who expanded the Maratha Navy considerably.

All this was severely disrupted during the great Mughal invasion of the Deccan, but thanks to the tenacity of a fort commander named Kanhoji Angre, the Maratha Navy survived those difficult times and later on thrived- just like the land forces. Kanhoji Angre commanded the Naval office during the last decade of the 17th century, and later on, went on to be the head of the number one indigenous naval fighting force on the west coast of India.

More than any other Maratha force, it was the Navy that fought the most Europeans, because the latter were known for their prowess at sea. The initial skirmishes of the Maratha Navy under the Angres were mostly with the territorially ambitious English and the Portuguese, who were soundly defeated by the Angres multiple times. The relatively less ambitious Dutch also fared the same. Despite being less advanced than the Europeans, the Angres took advantage of their smaller ships that were manoeuvrable in shallower waters near the coast and used it against them. This went on till 1756, when a joint force of the Maratha Peshwa and the English Navy took Vijaydurg, the capital of the southern branch of the Angres. This was by no means the moment of the downfall of the Navy, nevertheless, the campaigns fought by the Maratha Navy after this point were not as impressive as those fought before.

In the 18th century, as with the land forces, the Maratha Navy had also fragmented into multiple centres of power as follows:

-Peshwa Navy, headquartered at Vasai.

-Gaikwad Navy, headquartered at Bilimora.

-Angre Navy (Northern part), headquartered at Kolaba.

-Angre Navy (Southern part), headquartered at Vijaydurg. (Commanded by Tulaji Angre.)

-Kolhapur Chhatrapati Navy, headquartered at Sindhudurg.

-Sawantwadi Navy, headquartered at Sawantwadi.

In this article, we are going to discuss a battle between the Southern part of the Angre Navy and three ships of the VOC i.e. Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, also known as the Dutch East India Company.

Maratha mastered Gurab ship

The Dutch presence in India

In the 17th and 18th centuries CE, Europeans from various nations were present in India in various capacities, The chiefest among whom were the British, the French, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Danes. The first three are relatively well known, but the latter two are hardly known in India outside the academic circles. Out of these, the Danes had a long but very limited presence, and that too only in South India. But the Dutch, despite having left a lot of material legacy in India from North to South during their long stay of almost 200 years, are not really given their due. They started coming to India in the early 17th century CE and quickly established their factories in the western, southern, and eastern coastal enclaves of India. For the greater part of the 17th century and till the first quarter of the 18th century CE, the Dutch were the greatest European commercial power in India. The sheer volume of goods transported from India to Europe and other places in Asia by the Dutch was many times more than that by other European companies put together. The Indian trade of the Dutch was extremely profitable; because of the Dutch policy to stick to trade as much as possible and to enter monopsony contracts with local rulers that granted them at least 40% profit in every transactions.                                                                 

The greatest number of Dutch factories in India were located on the Malabar and the Coromandel coasts; albeit their Surat and Bengal directorates were very important centres in their own right too. Apart from Indian directorates, the Dutch had a noticeable presence in Sri Lanka as well, having secured a more dominant position there as compared to India.

The root cause of Maratha Naval clashes with Europeans

The main reason why the Maratha Navy clashed so frequently with Europeans was economical. When the Portuguese first came to Indian shores, they started enforcing the doctrine of complete sovereignty at Sea – owing to their naval superiority, they could get away with it. Their doctrine was that the Sea belonged to the Portuguese and that any power daring to challenge this had to face the latter militarily in the Sea. The land-based empires of India, lacking such fighting strength at Sea, often negotiated with Portuguese regarding the safety of their merchant fleet by purchasing ‘Cartazes’ or Sea-Passports from them as a guarantor of safety. If any ship was found to be without it, the Portuguese would promptly seize it and confiscate the merchandise along with its crew.

As opposed to other powers, the Maratha Navy began challenging them on this front. Initially, the Marathas had to buy such passports from Europeans such as Portuguese and Dutch. But later on, under the Angres, the Marathas grew powerful and started demanding Cartazes from Europeans. The latter never accepted this role reversal readily. Marathas would routinely demand such cartazes from European ships, failing which they would confiscate the ships along with the merchandise in them. This resulted in frequent, acrimonious dealings with the European powers.

The battle itself

Let’s first describe the strength of both sides in the battle.

The Dutch side had three ships as follows.

Ship Characteristics

Ship Name









Barge (Bark)


Year of Building




Associated VOC Chamber





Johan Louis Philippi

Simon Root


No. of Cannons




No. of Masts



1 or 2





Length in feet




Crew Strength




The details of the Maratha fleet are as follows.

-The English ship The Restoration

- Some 3-masted ships

-Some 2-masted ships

-Some smaller ships

The total no. of Maratha vessels is given in all sources as 36.

On the morning of 6th January in 1754, The Dutch, near Vijaydurg, saw 36 Maratha ships- 9 of them had three masts and the rest were smaller vessels, which, on approaching, began fighting, which went on till 9 am in the next morning when they were visible, though afterward they were lost from sight.

On the morning of the 7th, two 3-masted ships were sighted and it was assumed that they were either English or French and that some help could be expected from them, but afterwards Tulaji Angre himself was seen with his ship. The Marathas soon attacked the Dutch ships Wimmenum and Vrede. The ship Wimmenum, due to the sails and ropes of the 3-masted ships, caught fire soon. In the afternoon, the fire reached the ammunition room and the ship exploded in the air.

Those on the ship Wimmenum, due to the threat of fire had sought to save themselves by the floating wood debris, but they had been chased and cut down by the Angre Navy and had transferred to their fleet and helped to salvage one of their 2-masted ships from fire, were spared, although several received heavy blows.

Later on, two 2-masted ships of the Marathas sailed near the barge Jaccatra and shot the big mast of the same. In addition, they entered the barge and shot the Lieutenant in the head.

The aforementioned barge, due to hitting of the great mast overboard, was blown away and had come before the “boegspriet” (i.e. A spar reaching diagonally from a mast to the upper sail) the ship De Vreede , when the aforementioned lieutenant had come through the gally of the ship De Vreede and fell back on the vessel.

Meanwhile, from the ship De Vrede to the aforementioned barge Jaccatra, such was the shooting and throwing of hand-granades that the Angres were forced to disembark the barge, which they did and shortly thereafter the tail of the ship De Vreede exploded in the air, without some of them knowing to say what happened.

The frontal part of the barge was still above water. The hull-man, 4 sailors, 3 soldiers and 2 Muslims, who were all on the deck near the cannon, they quickly threw hand-grandes from the mast on the barge Jaccatra. Many people of the Angria were dead. Further, it was also seen that the frontal part of the ship De Vrede, with. Wimmenum had sunk to the ground below.

The Marathas saw on board of the barge Jaccatra, the captain of their ship, floating on water. They threw a rope towards him and took him in- thus only 12 people from that ship were alive.

After the ship De Wimmenum exploded, the Marathas seemed afraid of the canons when they first came near the ship because they still fired sometimes, owing to the fire. With a 2-masted vessel, the barge Jaccatra was towed. Her crew was brought to the port by a boat and arrested in the fortress.

The Dutch survivors who came ashore were trapped and beaten. 3 to 4 days later, 24 Europeans from those people from De Wimmenum as De Vreede were sent with 18 Muslims to the spice mills to work there and the other had to carry stones and drag the beams out of the water, and to lie near each other at the shipyard at night without standing or walking, under the watchful eye of the Maratha garrison. The upper chambers of the ship De Wimmenum were used by the Marathas to remedy the barge Jaccatra and install a new mast in it. The barge, on 12th March of this year, sailed away with the rest of the Maratha fleet and under others, eight of the best sailors were taken in the aforementioned fleet.

At least one Dutchman escaped from the Maratha prison, his name was Corporal Johan Andries Rood. On 12th March, At night, when the guards were changed, the opportunity to crawl through a gap in the wharf and follow the fishing settlement who worked there during the day. There he found a vessel that they had put for escaping, though it was found that the vessel's bottom was leaking. So he was forced to abandon his plan.

On 23rd March, Corporal Rood again came to the nearby fishing settlement, and bound three wooden logs to each other and set out with the intention to come to the other side of the island, but was driven into sea by the river until the evening, when the current pushed the boats back and then he reached the other side and from there marched for five nights.

And thus escaped from the Angre territory and lay hidden during the day, due to fear of being discovered. When he stopped due to hunger and other difficulties, he marched in the land of the Kolhapur Bhosles (or alternatively Basrur in Karnataka), some cookies and other foods were given to him and from there, he proceeded to other places, without being able to tell their names, and Marched till on 9th May, he was brought by 5 Marathas in the French Army at Trichy near Thanjavur.

They then forced him to serve in the army but he didn't want to do it, so, after holding him for two days, the commander finally gave him Passport for Pondicherry.

But he told the commander through a sergeant of that army, that being a “German”, he didn't want to go to Pondicherry and that they would make him serve their army and thus he better ask the way to Thanjavur. He took the latter way and came to Thanjavur. His French passport was already taken back and wasn't given any further pass but was assured that nobody should hinder him on the way to Nagapattinam, whereby he followed his travel the other day and was arrested several times and was held for an hour or two till he was released again and finally reached Nagapattinam here on 20th May.

Remarks on the progress of the battle

The sources mention that the battle went on for 3-4 days. Only in the account by Corporal Rood do we get the actual detail for how all ships were taken or destroyed. The barge Jacatra was taken first, though with serious losses on the part of the Marathas. The latter had to face serious Dutch fire and were forced to disembark it. The barge had partly sunk as well, as well as the ship Vrede, which later exploded.

The fighting went on for the whole of 6th and till the morning of the 7th, and the ship Wimmenum caught fire and exploded then as per Corporal Rood but other accounts mention that Wimmenum exploded after 3-4 days. The ship caught fire due to a 3-masted ship's sails etc. (this may be the EIC ship Restoration, taken by the Angres before some time) and was exploded by the captain only later, with some cannons working even afterwards. Interestingly, the ship Wimmenum stayed afloat till 12th March at least, when the Angre fleet sailed away.

Number of casualties

The account of Corporal Johan Rood i.e. Account 2 gives the most detailed information on this, although he mentions nothing of the casualties from the Maratha side. The other account i.e. Account 1 and the newspapers mentions that some 500-600 people of Angre died. The Generale missiven mention a number of 1600.

As to the casualties from the Dutch side, only a few precise estimates can be given. The ship Wimmenum had a crew strength of 356, and the ship Vrede probably had 60 men in the crew. As to the Barge Jaccatra, one can safely estimate that the number of total crew was less than 100. The Barge was the biggest ship of the type "Sloep" in the VOC fleet. A Sloep (also called Chialoup) was typically 55-75 feet long, and with a capacity of around 160 tonnes11 at the maximum. Therefore, one can say that the crew would certainly be small, it being a rather small ship.

Of these 500-600 total manpower, most died, but many were taken prisoners. The contemporary European newspapers mention that 70 Dutchmen were taken prisoners12 by the Angres. In particular, there is mention in many sources is that the 60 men on the ship Vrede fought till only 16 of them remained13. In addition, the Angres cut down many from the crew of Wimmenum, killing the people who floated on the debris (cf. Corporal Rood's account).

Number of prisoners taken

The number of prisoners varies in accounts. As seen from footnote 12, around 70 people were taken prisoners. Corporal Rood mentions that the Angres transferred a few people from the crew of the Wimmenum. From the ship Vrede, The hull-man, 4 sailors, 3 soldiers and 2 Muslims, and Captain Simon Root survived. Further, there is mention of total 12 people from the ship Vrede being alive. Additionally, he mentions that a total of 24 Europeans and 18 Muslims from both ships i.e. A total of 42 people were taken prisoner.

Number of survivors

All accounts agree that only 2 people escaped with their life from the ship Wimmenum in the beginning, whereas 12 people were alive from the ship Vrede (cf. Corporal Rood's account). Another account mentions that only 3 people from the two big ships viz. Wimmenum and Vrede survived. The Leydse Courant of 3 May 1756 mentions that 18 men of the crew and Captain Simon Root had survived- most likely released by Angres on receiving a ransom. One survivor from the Wimmenum must be Michiel Everhard, whose name is engraved on the "Dutch bell" in the Janardhana Swamy temple at Varkala. The other could be John Irvine, who may have joined the Swedish East India Company later.

Result of the battle

From the sources available, we can see that the battle was a tactical as well as a strategic victory for the Angres. Tactical because the Angres destroyed the two big ships and killed most of the crew. It was also a strategic victory for them because Batavia authorities changed their shipping routes because of them, leaving the entire Malabar coast free for them. The Angre Navy might well have consolidated their victory and captured forts along the Malabar coast permanently, had the English and the Peshwas not made an alliance against them in 1756 and destroyed the Angre Naval supremacy forever, although this was far from being the destruction of the Maratha Navy.

Comparison between the Dutch & Maratha Navies

The result of the battle is unmistakable: Marathas were clearly the winners. Nonetheless, this battle, like many other battles fought by the Angres before, shows the key weaknesses in the Maratha Navy. As per corporal Rood, there were 36 ships in the Angre fleet, including one seized from the British East India Company i.e. The Restoration. That only three Dutch ships proved to be a formidable match for the 36 vessels of Angres speaks volumes about the latter. The Angres' preferred fighting technique was to avoid the broadside of the enemy as far as possible and immobilize the ships by aiming for the riggings etc. This technique clearly originated from the recognition of the enemy's superior firepower. Avoiding broadside, never venturing into the open sea far from the coast, were some of the severe drawbacks of the Maratha Navy in around 150 years of its existence (after its beginning in 1657 under Shivaji). Compared to them, the Dutch Navy was far more advanced in almost every aspect.

The Aftermath at Batavia

The loss of the three ships was acutely felt by the authorities at Batavia. The magnitude of losses was considerable- the concerned ships were one of the biggest to be constructed by the various chambers of VOC, and together the crew of the three ships numbered several hundred19. The goods in the ships and their worth is not mentioned in the known sources. Even then, the loss of trained manpower in such high numbers was reason enough for Batavia to be alarmed and take quick action.

This resulted in the Batavian authorities quickly issuing orders to the ships departing for Surat from Batavia to drastically change the shipping routes. They conveyed this to the outgoing ships as well as the Heren XVII in the Netherlands. A summary of their new orders is as follows.


That the ships departing from Batavia in the beginning of August should go west of the Maldives, though those departing in September and October may go to Malabar and from there, immediately take a westerly course through North Maldives and not be near the shore as well as the "Cape of St. Jan".

"Further, the ships coming from Surat to here (Batavia), should keep to open sea immediately after leaving Surat if their destination is not Ceylon. If, however, the ships from Surat are destined to Ceylon, then and only then are they permitted to go to Malabar coast South of Cochin. But even then, they are not to stay close to shore, because Angria never goes in the open sea. But then one is forced to stay close to the shore because one needs fresh water as there is little space of the same due to a large number of men on the vessel, so one should sail as silently as possible. We know this from the long experience with the pirate, and most of the ships used by him in this manner and he never ventured in the coldness of the sea."

Aftermath in the Netherlands

There were very few Dutch survivors from this battle. Most of them died at sea, while many were taken prisoners by the Angres. As can be seen from the extract above, the Batavian authorities were full of praise for Captain Philippy and other people. The survivors, who reached the Netherlands, were well compensated as seen from the news in the Leydse Courant of 3 May 1756. Simon Root, the captain of the ship Vrede and 18 men of the shipping crew were given a total of 10,000 Rupees. Considering the wages etc. at that time, this was a very big amount.

Just how big the amount was can be seen from the salary slips in the Muster rolls of the ship Wimmenum. The total amount paid to Jan Louis Philippy, the captain of the ship Wimmenum, from 3 September 1752 to 7 July 1753 was 990 Guilders, 11 Stuivers and 9 Pennies22 i.e. Around Guilders Florins per year. To take another example from the lower-income group, the amount paid from 3 September 1752 to 11 July 1757 to Michel Everhard, a soldier aboard the ship Wimmenum, was paid 320 Guilders and 11 Stuivers i.e. Around 64 Guilders per year. Now, a rupee was worth around 30 Stuivers23 while 1 Guilder was divided into 20 Stuivers, i.e. 1 Rupee = 1.5 Guilders.

Therefore, the amount of 10,000 rupees is equivalent to roughly 15,000 Guilders. Assuming similar salaries for soldiers and the shipping crew, one can see that each man received a bonus that was easily multiple times his yearly pay. Such an act speaks volumes about the importance attached to the battle by the company. There exist similar examples from the EIC, where Admiral Watson, who successfully led the charge in the 1756 campaign against Tulaji Angre and destroyed the whole Angre Navy & captured the main Angre stronghold Vijaydurg, was awarded a sum of 6,00,000 pounds Sterling.

Coverage of the battle in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe

Dutch print media

The battle was well represented in the contemporary Dutch newspapers.The stories from the survivors were enthusiastically reported in the "Jaarboeken" i.e. Annals of notable events of 1754 and 1755 and was covered in various contemporary Dutch newspapers for at least 16 times as follows.

Newspaper Name


Leeuwarder Courant

12 October 1754, 30 November 1754, 7 December 1754

Leydse Courant

7 October 1754, 16 October 1754, 27 November 1754, 29 November 1754, 21 April 1755, 3 May 1756

Nouvelles Extraordinaires de divers endroits

8 October 1754

Oprechte Haerlemsche Courant

8 October 1754, 28 November 1754, 12 June 1755

Opregte Groninger Courant

11 October 1754, 29 November 1754

Rotterdamse Courant

30 November 1754

Apart from the Dutch print media, the event was well-represented in English and French media too. What is most surprising is that the published Marathi records have no mention of this battle. It is hoped that new evidence regarding this is discovered once the documents from the Angre Daftar (present in Pune and Mumbai archives) are analyzed in detail.


Maratha Navy has always been a relatively neglected area in Maratha History, and even there the wars with the Dutch are practically unknown in the mainstream discussion on account of the linguistic barrier. With this article, it is hoped that people start taking a bigger interest in the studying of Dutch-Maratha relations as well as the Maratha Navy.

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