The Dutch in the Medway: a poem

Dutch Attack on the Medway, June 1667 by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest
Dutch Attack on the Medway, June 1667 by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest

One of the more unfortunate events in British naval history happened 12 – 14 June 1667, when a Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway in Kent and destroyed several British ships laid up in Chatham Dockyard, capturing the ‘Royal Charles’, the pride of the navy, and sinking or burning three other great ships: the ‘Royal James’, ‘Royal Oake’ and ‘Loyal London’ along with a number of others. Samuel Pepys reported on this event in his Diary. This poem is by Rudyard Kipling.

If wars were won by feasting,
Or victory by song,
Or safety found, by sleeping sound
How England would be strong!
But honour and dominion
Are not maintained so,
They’re only got by sword and shot
And this the Dutchmen know!

The moneys that should feed us
you spend on your delight,
How can you then, have sailor-men
To aid you in your fight?
Our fish and cheese are rotten,
Which makes the scurvy grow –
We cannot serve you if we starve,
And this the Dutchmen know!

Our ships in every harbour
Be neither whole nor sound,
And when we seek to mend a leak,
No Oakum can be found,
Or, if it is, the caulkers,
and carpenters also,
For lack of pay have gone away,
And this the Dutch men know!Mere powder, guns and bullets,
we scarce can get at all;
Their price was spent in merriment
and revel at Whitehall,
While we in tattered doublets
From ship to ship must row,
Beseeching friends for odds and ends –
And this the Dutchmen know!

No King will heed our warnings,
No Court will pay our claims –
Our King and Court for their disport
Do sell the very Thames!
For, now De Ruyter’s topsails
Off naked Chatham show,
We dare not meet him with our fleet –
And this the Dutchmen know!