After becoming an orphan at an early age, Jan Van Speyk, born in 1802, was raised in the Burgerweeshuis orphanage.
Although initially trained to be a tailor, Jan Carel was drawn to the sea. Through self-education he managed to earn himself a position as fellow ship's mate in 1820.
In 1830 he was granted command over Zr. Ms. Kanonneerboot No.2, which was commisioned to the Schelde flottila. On februari 5th 1831 gale-force winds beat down on the Schelde basin and the anchored vessel was blown ashore.
Van Speyk had sworn never to let his ship fall into the hands of the rebels.He was left with but one way to hold that oath. Jan Carel Van Speyk went below decks and lit a cigar. Within moments the ship's powder-room exploded, blowing the ship sky high.
Apart from a few sailors who had jumped ship in time, all aboard were killed. Van Speyk's heroic act caused a wave of enthousiasm and pride in the Netherlands. Van Speyk's remains were interred in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk on Dam Square with full ceremonial honours.
Jan Carolus Josephus Van Speyk's sacrifice earned him great admiration in the then young Dutch Royal Kingdom, so much so that King William the First decreed on februari 11th 1831 that from that day on the Dutch Royal Navy would always have a ship called after Van Speyk.
The remains of Van Speyk's ship were cherished. Its mast still stands proudly at the Dutch Royal Naval Institute in Den Helder.
Still, to date, the midshipsmen sing: "The example given by Van Speyk, we follow with heart and hand"