Thomas Bush Hardy was one of the most successful and prolific artists in an era when English marine painting in watercolour reached its zenith. He was one of the few artists who took the trouble to study, understand and then reproduce all the elements of a successful marine watercolour. Hardy had an enviable ability to capture the atmosphere, be it peaceful or dramatic, of each occasion. He travelled a lot on the continent and mainly to Holland and Italy. His prolific coastal scenes painted in fresh and vivid colours, achieved enormous popularity
This drawing depicts the ‘Naval Battle of Goodwin Sands’ (De Slag bij Dover), at the start of the First Anglo-Dutch War on 19th May 1652. The Battle of Goodwin Sands developed from a chance encounter between two English squadrons and a Dutch fleet taking shelter off Dover. Naval war between England and Holland caused by commercial maritime competition, particularly in the East Indies. The build up to the war included the passing of the First Navigation Act (9 October 1651), which forbade the import of goods unless transported either in English vessels or by vessels from the country of origin, a measure aimed against the Dutch. The first fighting took place on 19 May 1652 off Dover, where a 20 strong English fleet under Admiral Robert Blake attempted to search a Dutch fleet under Admiral Maarten Tromp.
On the morning of 19 May Blake moved his squadron towards the Dutch fleet, which took advantage of the improved weather to sail out of English waters. Unfortunately for Tromp he then discovered that a convoy of seventeen Dutch merchant ships, returning from the Mediterranean, was anchored close to the English coast. Despite the presence of the two English squadrons Tromp decided to turn back to protect the convoy.
As the two fleets closed on each other Blake fired a gun, the signal that the Dutch were expected to dip their flags. Tromp refused. Blake fired another signal gun, and then a third warning ship that hit Tromp’s flagship, the Brederode.
Each side gave a different version of what happened next. The English claimed that Tromp fired a broadside, while Tromp claimed that the English fired first, aiming at his rigging. This signalled the start of a full-scale battle, between Tromp’s forty-one ships and Blake’s twenty-two (at about 4.00pm). Although the English were outnumbered their ships were generally larger that Tromp’s, and at the end of five hours of fighting the English had won a slender victory. Two Dutch ships were too badly damaged to leave with the rest of Tromp’s fleet, and fell into English hands, although one soon sank.
The Battle of Goodwin Sands effectively opened the First Anglo-Dutch War. Blake was back at sea by June, although war wasn’t officially declared until July.