The story of the tiny Dutch island of St Eustatius - the Golden Rock - in the Lesser Antilles, once the richest trading centre in the Caribbean and a major source of supply for arms and necessaries for the American rebels in the War of Independence,MoreThe story of the tiny Dutch island of St Eustatius - the Golden Rock - in the Lesser Antilles, once the richest trading centre in the Caribbean and a major source of supply for arms and necessaries for the American rebels in the War of Independence, will be known to few, other than students of that war or British naval history.
The events which followed Britains declaration of war on the Dutch in December 1870, to pre-empt a threatened alliance with Britains enemies, France and Spain, and the consequent seizure of the island in February 1781, by Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney and Major-General Sir John Vaughan, reflect little credit upon those joint-Commanders-in Chief or, indeed, upon the government of King George III.
After some years of extensive and penetrating research, Ronald Hurst has pieced together the whole story and given us a fascinating and wholly authentic account of the rape of St Eustatius and its aftermath. He has laid bare the shameful conduct of those who busied themselves with the stripping of the assets of the island and its people: not least we are given an intriguing view of the activities of Lieutenant-Colonel James Cockburn of the 35th Regiment of Foot, Vaughans Quartermaster-General and, later Governor of the island.
For the highly controversial surrender to the French over which he presided, he would ultimately be court-martialled and cashiered. With what can only be described as poetic justice, the British spoils of the operation were brilliantly snatched by the French Admiral La Motte Picquet even as the Prize Convoy approached home waters, leaving Rodney and Vaughan with nothing but a public tongue-lashing from Burke in the Commons and a mountain of law suits to combat. It is one of the quirks of history that both should survive this episode to have honours conferred upon them for later deeds - Rodney, who became a peer in 1782, for his crushing victory over the French in the Battle of the Saints in April of that year and Vau