The 1603 naval battle off Changi was one of three naval confrontations between the Dutch and Portuguese that took place in the Johor River and Singapore Straits between 6 and 11 October 1603. The actual battle off Changi occurred on 10 October 1603. The Dutch had four ships (the Zerikzee, Hollandsche Tuin, Maagd van Enkhuysen and Papagaaiken (Zerikzee, Dutch Garden, Maiden of Enkhuysen and Little Parrot) that were under the immediate command of Vice Admiral Jacob Pietersz van Enkhuysen. He was appointed second-in-command in the fleet of Admiral Wijbrand van Warwijk. The Portuguese armada was made up of about 40 vessels, consisting mostly of smaller craft and one galleon named the Todos os Santos (All Saints), which was under the command of Captain Teixeira de Macedo (also known as Teixeira de Matos). The Portuguese routinely used the smaller craft to enter shallow waters and chase after pirates up rivers and their tributaries. While these craft may have been useful in a local context, they were not suited to engage larger blue-water ships armed with heavy artillery.
The battle has its origins in the Santa Catarina incident that took place off the coast of Singapore on 25 February 1603. To punish the Johoreans for supporting the Dutch in the seizure of the richly-laden Santa Catarina merchant vessel, the governor of Malacca, André Furtado de Mendonça, sent a galleon and several smaller craft to the Johor River to harass the riverine towns and impose a blockade to cut off the upstream settlements. It was reported that the Portuguese had taken and occupied Johor Lama (the former capital of Johor) at the time.
Van Enkhuysen and his ships were searching for the Old Strait of Singapore in late September 1603 when they successfully made contact with some local fishermen and subsequently also with the Johor royal court at Batu Sawar, which was located in the upper reaches of the Johor River near present-day Kota Tinggi. He learnt via these contacts as well as from the resident Dutch factor at Batu Sawar of the Portuguese riverine blockade. After consulting with his naval council, the leading officers under his command resolved to assist the Johoreans in breaking the Portuguese blockade of the Johor River.
On 10 October 1603, the Dutch ships sailed up the river to Johor Lama where they first spotted the Portuguese armada. The Dutch shot into the sails of the Portuguese flagship Todos os Santos in a tactical move to compromise its manoeuvrability. As the Dutch engaged in further attacks with artillery fire, the flagship took on water and its crew transferred to smaller vessels around it. What remained of the Portuguese armada fled toward Pedra Branca and the open waters of the South China Sea, but later regrouped in shallow waters off the northern coast of Batam, most likely in the vicinity of the Nongsa islets and Tering Bay. During these stages of the naval confrontation, members of the Johor royal family were observing the showdown either from galleys of the Johor armada stationed around present-day Tanah Merah, or from aboard the Dutch flagship Zierikzee. In period literature, considerable weight was given to this Luso-Dutch naval confrontation in the Johor River off Changi and in the Straits as it paved the ground for tighter cooperation between Johor and the Dutch during the early 17th century.
There are two historic depictions associated with the naval confrontations of October 1603. The first is a schematic map of the Singapore Straits region and the Johor River which is found in Issac and Theodore de Bry’s Icones seu gennuinæ et expressæ delineationes omnium memorabilium (Images or true and exact descriptions of all memorable things and events) published in 1607. This publication of images is a supplement to the Indiae Orientalis Pars Octava (Part Eight of the Dutch Voyages to the East Indies). The second is an etching of Raja Bongsu, the Sultan of Johor, seated at his personal galley off the eastern coast of Singapore island and heading toward the flag-ship Zerikzee aboard which Vice Admiral Jacob Pietersz van Enkhuysen is standing on deck. Reproductions of both images can be found in Peter Borschberg’s book, The Singapore and Melaka Straits: Violence, Security and Diplomacy in the 17th Century, published in 2010.
Bry, J. T. de, & Bry, J. I. de. (1607). Indiae Orientalis Pars Octava: Navigationes Quinque. Primam a Iacobo Neccio ab anno 1600 usque ad Annum 1603, Secundam a Iohanne Hermanno de Bree ab anno 1602 usq. ad Annum 1604; Tertiam a Cornelio Nicolai Annis quatuor; Quartam a Cornelio de Vena, duobus Annis; Quintam, sub Staphano de Hagen tribus Annis in Indiam Orientalem susceptas & peractas continens .....Frankfurt/Main: Ex Officina Typographica Wolfgangi Richteri.
Icones seu Gennuinae et Espressae Delineationes Omnium Memorabilium, quae in hac Octava Indiae Orientalis Parte annotata sunt, varias simul populorum in Ternate, Patane, Cande et aliis locis habitantium ceremonias, mores, habitusque ob oculos ponentes. (1607). Frankfurt/Main: In Officina typographica Wolfgangi Richteri.
Hulsius, L. (1608). Achte Shiffart, oder Kurtze Beschreibung etlicher Reysen so die Holländer und Seeländer in die Ost-Indien von Anno 1599 bis Anno 1604 gethan … Franckfurt am Mayn: Hulsius.
The information in this article is valid as at 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.