Despite the Dutch Republic having the most powerful navy of the 17th century, it has not yet been possible to positively identify a Boarding Axe earlier than the French model 1786. There is however one possibility, illustrated below.
The Republic was made up of seven different states with five separate Admiralties, each with its own ships, personnel and command structure, which may explain the lack of a common regulation pattern so that ships were outfitted with whatever was available, as was the case in Spain.
The ‘Kingdom of Holland’ was for four years part of the Empire under Napoleon and after his final defeat a Dutch Navy was formed which inherited part of the former French fleet and its associated weapons.
Dr Hof estimates that approximately 1,250 boarding axes of the 1786 and 1801 models were taken into service by the navy. Few of these appear to have survived.
There is a boarding axe in the Rijksmuseum which is labelled as being put forward as a prototype in 1831. There is some dispute over whether this axe is correctly identified but it does indicate that the navy was looking for a new model in the early 1830s. In any case the French model 1833 was adopted.
It is not known how many 1833 model French axes were ordered for the navy but a significant number were then modified to ‘Dutch’ axes. Dr Hof states that they were modified by grinding down the four apex of the diamond shaped spike to form an eight-
In 1880 by government instruction all Dutch small arms were given a serial number and these are seen on both the French 1833 and the modified version.
Modified Model 1833
Total Length: 21.5” (54.0 cm)
This is the modified Dutch axe of the same period, in all respects the same as the above with the exception that the spike is rounded by the 8 faceted surfaces. Note that this construction renders the rear of the body of the eye even more square edged.
These axes also had serial numbers and sometimes a deeply stamped M in a circular cartouche.
Total Length: 20.5” (52 cm)
Above is an example of an French Model 1833 boarding axe issued to the Dutch navy.
The only thing that identifies these axes as Dutch Navy rather than French is the addition of a serial number -
French 1833 for Dutch Navy
The alternative theory put forward by several highly regarded Dutch arms experts is that it is one of a small group made for the Guard of Honour for Napoleon’s visit to Amsterdam in 1811. There is some documentary evidence to support this and a picture from the book that celebrated the occasion of the Emperor's visit to the “Kingdom of Holland” is shown below.
The museum acknowledges the possibility that there may have been some mix up in the records when the collection of the Dutch Navy was transferred to the Rijksmuseum in 1883.
Prototype or Honour Guard axe c.1811
There are only two known examples of this boarding axe and one is in the Rijskmuseum marked as a prototype designed by D. Van den Bosch and dated 1831 (Catalogue no: NG-
Prototype or Honour Guard axe
Total Length: 31” (79.0 cm)
It has a deeply flared axe blade with square shaped central body; the spike is rounded but ends in a point with four facets. There are integral side langets which terminate in an oval shape.
The axe above has had the shaft shortened at some time.
If this was a prototype axe these are probably the only two examples ever made.
If it was made for the visit of Napoleon, and it is a close match to the one in the picture below, then perhaps as many as 25 were produced. So the discovery of another one or more of these axes may well solve that mystery.
The axe is rather lightly constructed compared to other boarding axes and this may also support the Honour Guard theory.
Some photographs courtesy of Dutch Naval Museum
This is included as a possible Dutch boarding axe of pre-
Although it shows some characteristics of both boarding axe and later fire axe it appears to predate the latter and shows some definite marine heritage. It is 23” (58 cm) long.
Further verification is required.
Courtesy of Bolk Antiques