Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jan van Speyk
Jan Carolus Josephus van Speyk, also written Van Speijk, (31 January 1802 - 5 February 1831) was a Dutch naval lieutenant who became a hero to the Dutch people for his efforts in suppressing the Belgian War of Independence.
Van Speijk, born in 1802, became an orphan a few weeks after his birth. He joined the Royal Netherlands Navy in 1820 and served in the Dutch East Indies between 1823 and 1825. He successfully attacked Bangka and Java and gained the nickname Schrik der Roovers (Scourge of the Bandits).
When the Belgian War of Independence broke out van Speyk gained an appointment as commander of a gunboat. Van Speyk despised the Belgian independence movement. He announced once he would rather die "than become an infamous Brabander". On February 5 1831, a gale caused his boat to drift into the quay at the port of Antwerp. Belgians stormed the boat and demanded Van Speyk take the Dutch flag down. Rather than doing so, he fired a pistol (some versions say he threw a lit cigar — few firsthand witness accounts survive) into a barrel of gunpowder while saying "Dan liever de lucht in" (which translates very freely as, "I'd sooner blow myself up"). The total number of casualties he caused remains unknown: possibly tens of people.
Eight days after Van Speyk's death, the Netherlands declared a period of mourning. His remains were buried in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the church where the remains of Michiel de Ruyter also lie buried.
In the 19th century and first half of the twentieth century, Dutch nationalists regarded Van Speyk as a hero. Post-war Dutch society tends to regard him -- and other traditional Dutch heroes -- more soberly.
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