Posted by: Christine | August 13, 2012

Burnt in Oyl

This weekend was the anniversary of the Battle of the Texel or Kijkduin on 11th August 1673. A combined fleet of English and French ships fought the Dutch during the third Anglo-Dutch wars. I have been researching someone who took part in this battle

I had been looking for the uncle of John Madder. It was said at John Madder’s trial (in 1705) that “he deserved as much as his Uncle Madder met with at Amsterdam, who was there Burnt in Oyl, for attempting to burn their Ships.” I think this uncle was William Mather. (The names Madder and Mather were interchangeable at this time)

William Mather had been a Scottish privateer during the second Anglo-Dutch war and later settled in Amsterdam as a merchant. In 1671 he returned to England, causing the Dutch to confiscate his property and imprison his wife. In early 1673 he became captain of a fire-ship, the Golden Hand.

I discovered a lot of information at the TNA. A preliminary search before my visit, in the TNA catalogue and at British History Online, pinpointed several documents in Admiralty and State Papers. Another website which provides images of some of these documents is State Papers Online – an institutional subscription is required for this site, but they can be seen at TNA and other places.

I discovered a series of letters written in May 1673 from William Mather, complaining about lack of crew and provisions in SP 29/345.

Letter from Captain William Mather from on board the Golden Hand 10 May 1673
(TNA ref: SP 29/345 f.17 )

 The handwriting and spelling leave a bit to be desired, but he is informing the Admiralty that he has arrived in Shiernes (Sheerness) with His Majesties “Sheep” Golden Hand.

In more letters (in ADM 106) in December 1673 and March 1674 he now captain of another fire-ship the Littel Frances. I ordered the originals of these at TNA – always a thrilling experience to handle the actual documents written by the person you are researching!

Letter from William Mather 7 Mar 1673/4 on board the Littel Frances  
(TNA ref: ADM 106/301 f.85)

In this letter he tells the Admiralty that he is short of a Bosun and is employing someone called William Pyps in that position. Was this is a relative of Samuel Pepyes, who was secretary to the Admiralty Board at the time?

So what was he doing in between these letters? This explained in another letter, dated 29th July 1674.

Letter from William Mather asking for payment while wounded. 29 Jul 1674
(TNA ref: ADM 106/301 f.87)

As you can see this letter has been “professionally” written – he obviously thought his own handwriting wasn’t good enough for a letter of this type. He is asking for payment of £15-11-8 owing to him while he was on the Sovereign (the flag-ship of the fleet) “under cure of wounds … an allowance in satisfaction for my wounds & pay as commander of the Golden Hand from the 11 of August 73 the day I was wounded in the left legg & face to the much impareing the use of my legg (severall bones haveing been taken out) & the sight of my Eye to the 14 November the time I was Cured”

So he took part in the battle on 11th August and was wounded. Looking back at the letter of 7th March – does the handwriting get a little worse on the right hand side of the paper? And does this mean that he had lost the sight in his right eye?

At around the same time he was petitioning the King at Hampton Court for help in getting compensation from the Dutch for the loss of his estate. Then his letters stop, but it is not the end of the story.

In April 1679, Eleanor Mather, widow of William Mather petitions the government for a pension of £55 per year “… her husband having been executed on the same account as Mrs Fazier’s.” (SP 29/411). Now who Mrs Faziers husband was and why they were executed I have been unable to find out, but the pension was paid, regularly, until 1685 (death of Charles II?) and then a lump sum of arrears, in 1689 (accession of William and Mary?). This was paid “out of the secret service account”

And that is the end of any documents – and the start of my theories!

Was the story of John Madder’s uncle “burnt in Oyl” a garbled version of the battle of the Texel. He had lived in Amsterdam, he was captain of a fire-ship in a battle against the Dutch and was seriously wounded. Often, when you investigate stories that are passed down in a family, you find some basis for it, even if the story itself is not accurate.

Or there is my more romantic theory. Was he a British spy in the Netherlands? Did he return to Amsterdam, either as a spy or for revenge? The Dutch had taken his estate and his child (his wife miscarried while in prison) and in the battle against them he had lost a leg and an eye. Had he returned and attempted some sabotage (burning ships)? Was he captured and executed? At that time the bodies of pirates were boiled to preserve them for display. Is this an explanation of the story?

Unfortunately I have been unable to find any evidence for this theory.  There doesn’t seem to be a record of any such event in Holland.

However, I hope this post gives an example of the amount of information you can find with a bit of digging in the TNA.

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