Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen (1 May 1735 – 24 May 1819), or Count of Doggersbank, was a Dutch naval officer. Having had a good scientific education, Van Kinsbergen was a proponent of fleet modernization and wrote many books about naval organization, discipline and tactics.
In 1773, he twice defeated an Ottoman fleet while in Russian service. Returning to the Dutch Republic in 1775, he became a Dutch naval hero in 1781, fighting the Royal Navy, and gradually attained the position of commander-in-chief as a lieutenant-admiral. When France conquered the Republic in 1795 he was fired by the new revolutionary regime and prevented from becoming Danish commander-in-chief, but the Kingdom of Holland reinstated him in 1806, in the rank of fleet marshal, and made him a count. He was again degraded by the French Empire in 1810; after the liberation the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1814 honoured him with his old rank of lieutenant-admiral.
Van Kinsbergen, in his later life a very wealthy man, was also noted for his philanthropy, supporting poor relief, naval education, the arts and the sciences.
Van Kinsbergen was born in Doesburg as the eldest son of the non-commissioned officer Johann Henrich van Kinsbergen, who had been born in Netphen, Germany, in 1706, started his military career in Austrian service, and originally spelled his family name as "Ginsberg". When he was six, he moved with his parents in 1741 to Elburg. Three years later he left with his father for the Southern Netherlands and at the age of nine enlisted as a soldier of the Dutch field army during the War of the Austrian Succession, returning in 1748. Reading the biography of Gerard Brandt about the life of Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, he decided to become a naval hero as well and went to the naval academy of Groningen, where he was trained as an engineer between 1751 and 1755.
In the late 1760s, due to severe financial difficulties, few Dutch ships were active and Van Kinsbergen used his free time to write a large series of publications about naval modernization. He was seen as a typical example of the new generation of Dutch naval officers of the era. They no longer owed their position to either a merchant fleet career or a noble background (the old "tar – tarpaulin" distinction) but to a thorough scientific education. He had already established a minor international reputation as a naval thinker because he enthusiastically corresponded with many influential foreign contacts.
In 1769, Van Kinsbergen was disappointed by his failure to secure a promotion in the Dutch navy and therefore he obtained leave to enter the service of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and depart for the Dutch Indies for four years.
He was informed by Prince Henry of Prussia that due to the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) the Russian navy was in search of naval experts and would offer him a position there. On 15 August 1770, Van Kinsbergen got permission from the Dutch admiral-general, stadholder William V, Prince of Orange, to depart for Russia.
In the summer of 1771, Jan Hendrik travelled via Berlin, where he visited Prince Henry, to Saint Petersburg where he on 29 September was appointed acting captain in the Imperial Russian Navy, on 2 October he was promoted to captain second class. He immediately left for the Black Sea; on arrival he was charged with commanding a troop of cossacks and fought, meanwhile learning Russian, on land during the winter campaign. In a fight he was shot through the knee and saved from under a heap of corpses by a cossack, whom he would later get an appointment at the Amsterdam naval wharf.
From 9 February 1772 at Iaşi he repaired river vessels captured from the Turkish Danube fleet. On 12 June he got his first naval command in Russian service, bringing dispatches on a galiot to Azov. From 13 November he brought dispatches from the southern army to Saint Petersburg. He was on that occasion introduced to the empress and made a favourable impression on her with his enthusiastic plans for the Black Sea fleet.
Accordingly, on 23 April 1773 he became flotilla-commander in the Black Sea. His force was rather insignificant consisting of just two ketches of twelve cannon each and two yachts. Van Kinsbergen decided nevertheless that the moment had arrived to make a name for himself and acted as aggressively as his limited powers allowed. He entered the Sea of Marmara through the Bosporus, charted it as the first Western European ever, then entered the Dardanelles and finally returned to the Black Sea after duelling with a coastal fortress of Istanbul.
Twice that year he defeated a Turkish fleet and won the title ‘Hero of the Black Sea’. On 23 June, he encountered a Turkish flotilla of three frigates of 52 cannon and a ship-of-the-line of 75 and despite the disparity in firepower at once attacked it and wiped it out, the first major "Christian" naval victory in the Black Sea in four centuries.
Kingdom of Holland
In the summer of 1806, on orders of Emperor Napoleon I the Kingdom of Holland was created and his brother, the new King Louis Bonaparte, on 16 July appointed Van Kinsbergen member of the Dutch Council of State and First Chamberlain — and these were only the first of a long list of honours bestowed on the old admiral: e.g. on 26 December he was made marshall, on 15 May 1808 Marshal of the Hollandic Naval Forces and on 4 February 1810, when on French orders all Dutch marshals had to be degraded, he was appointed full admiral. On 4 May 1810 he was made Count of the Dogger Bank. On 11 October 1808 Alexander I of Russia had awarded him the star of the Order of St. Andrew which entailed the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, the Order of the White Eagle, the Order of St. Anne, first degree, and the Order of St. Stanislaus.
In 1810 though, the Kingdom of Holland was annexed by the French Empire and Van Kinsbergen degraded to a French vice-admiral. However, on 18 December 1810 he was made a French count and on 2 January 1811 appointed French senator. Van Kinsbergen wrote to Napoleon on 11 January that he was too old to move to Paris — knowing quite well the emperor had not intended him to — and asked that his salary might be redirected to the navy, causing an annoyed Napoleon to react: "Does this proud Holland sailor think he can use me to dole out his alms?". Meanwhile, Van Kinsbergen continued his charitable works: e.g. in 1811 he donated a fire engine to the municipality of Elburg.
Continued appreciation from the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Late 1813 cossacks liberated the territory of the Northern Netherlands; Van Kinsbergen used his knowledge of Russian to negotiate an armistice between the French forces occupying Het Loo and the Russian troops, preventing that this later royal palace was plundered. Also he raised two regiments of Dutch volunteers to besiege the French garrison holding out in Deventer. On 28 March 1814 he was appointed one of the six hundred electors to approve the new Dutch Constitution. On 12 June 1814, he was appointed by the new sovereign prince, William VI of Orange, titular lieutenant-admiral and on 11 July a full lieutenant-admiral: in the new United Kingdom of the Netherlands this was to be a purely honorary rank, bestowed for great merit, in the case of Van Kinsbergen for his "excellent merits and constant Patriotism". In 1815 he became, on 8 July, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of William.
On 20 November 1816 van Kinsbergen received the royal writ by the new King William I of the Netherlands that he was promoted to jonkheer. He died three years later shortly after his 84th birthday at Apeldoorn, from a chronic lung disease, where he was buried on 27 May. In 1821 a marble grave monument was finished by Gabriël in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, but this is a cenotaph.
The Dutch Navy has named a training vessel (launched in 2000) after him, as well as a 1980s Kortenaer class frigate and an artillery-instruction ship that served from 1939 until 1952. A street has been named after him in every town to which he was related: Amsterdam, Apeldoorn, Elburg and The Hague.
ter herinnering aan
luitenant admiraal jan hendrik van kinsbergen
zeeheld en apeldoorns weldoener
met steun van kinsbergenfonds,
stadscafe van kinsbergen, centraal beheer achmea
en vele ingezetenen
onthuld op 12 september 2008 door
burgemeester mr. g.j. de graaf
en commandant zeestrijdkrachten
luitenant-generaal der mariniers d.l. zuiderwijk
initiatief: ignaat simons, gemeente apeldoorn
en stichting apeldoornse monumenten
Half figuur oprijzend uit de golven. Aan zijn verleden als zeeheld herinneren attributen uit de admiraliteit zoals kanonskogels, maar ook het kostuum met op de sjerp het motto eximiae virtutis praemium (beloning voor uitnemende dapperheid), het motto van het grafelijk wapen dat Van Kinsbergen in 1810 door koning Lodewijk Napoleon kreeg. De uitgestrekte handen staan symbool voor zijn vrijgevigheid, een uitnodigend gebaar.
Het beeld is onthuld door commandant der zeestrijdkrachten Zuiderwijk en burgemeester De Graaf van Apeldoorn. Honderd jaar geleden werd er al gesproken over een monument, maar toen is er niets van gekomen. Het huidige staat bij stadscafé Van Kinsbergen, gevestigd in een voormalige school die gebouwd is van het geld dat indertijd voor een monument voor Van Kinsbergen opzij was gezet. Baerveldt maakte een eigenzinnig portret waarin zij de twee kanten van de admiraal laat zien. Baerveldt modelleerde het beeld naar aanleiding van tekeningen en geschriften over Van Kinsbergen.
Erzsébet (Sharon) Baerveldt (Nijmegen 1968), schilder, tekenaar, beeldhouwer
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