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Hugh Salvin and Simon Bolivar “The liberator” of South América 

On 5th January 1824 HMS ‘Cambridge’, under the command of Captain Thomas Maling, set sail from England for South America to take four British Consuls, their families and their staff, to the newly independent republics of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.

The ship’s chaplain was Reverend Hugh Salvin, who later became vicar of the church in the town where I live. Reverend Salvin kept a journal of the three-year long voyage that he published in 1829, entitled ‘Journal Written on Board of His Majesty’s Ship Cambridge, from January 1824 – May 1827’.

HMS ‘Cambridge’ called in at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in January 1824 to take on water and fresh supplies before sailing on to South America. After landing at Rio de Janeiro in Argentina, Montevideo in Uruguay and Valparaiso in Chile, the ‘Cambridge’ arrived off the coast of Peru in early June.

Peru at that time was the last of the nine Spanish colonies in South America where the revolution was still ongoing. The revolutionaries, known as the ‘Patriots’ had succeeded everywhere else, but Peru, with its silver, gold and nickel mines, was the jewel in the crown as far as Spain was concerned, so government, or ‘Royalist’, resistance could be expected to be stronger.

Reverend Salvin described in his journal the events of the war of independence. On landing at Callao, the port for Lima, the capital, he wrote, “We are told that the Royalist and Patriot armies are at a great distance from each other; Bolivar, the Colombian general, being at Truxillo: and Canterac, the commander of the Royalist forces, marching in pursuit”.

But soon there was alarm among the Royalists in Lima when it was heard that Bolivar was about 150 miles (225km) from the city with an army of 5,000 Colombians and 6,000 Peruvians. Spanish authority was weak, the government controlled only a few miles around Lima, all agriculture and trade was at a standstill except in the immediate neighbourhood. Wealthy people began to bring their possessions to the fort of Callao for security.

Three ships of the Peruvian navy, commanded by an Englishman, Admiral Guise, who had declared a blockade on the whole coast, came into the harbour of Callao to enforce it. There followed several weeks of inconsequential skirmishes at sea with Spanish ships. After watching one incident, Hugh Salvin wrote that “the firing formed a very amusing sight from our ship.”

The sympathies of the British were with the Patriots but they were obliged to maintain a neutral stance, so on 10th August Captain Maling of the ‘Cambridge’ dined with General Rodil, who had been welcomed on board with an eleven-gun salute. General Rodil was the Spanish governor of Lima and its port of Callao, in Hugh Salvin’s position of ship’s chaplain, he was able to speak to him on occasions.

Word then arrived that Bolivar ‘the Liberator’ would shortly be at Lima. Rodil tightened his control over his troops, and to stiffen morale he had two men shot simply for saying in public that the Patriots would soon be there.

This was followed up with news that Bolivar’s advanced guard had surprised Royalist General Canterac on the 17th August and was now in full pursuit. Rodil immediately ordered all Spanish troops in Lima to march north to meet Bolivar and sent a request to Captain Maling to allow 100 marines to go to Lima to protect the property of English merchants. The increasing insecurity led to a large quantity of silver and gold being brought on board the ‘Cambridge’ to be held in trust with the British, while most of the ladies of Lima retired to a convent for protection against Bolivar’s army.

There followed more naval action off Callao, albeit intermittently, then on 25th October the ‘Cambridge’ left the port and sailed north to anchor off the River Chancay, thirty-five miles away. Here Bolivar sent an aide-de-camp who came on board to dine.

The ‘Cambridge’ returned to Callao to learn that on the 3rd November a fierce battle had taken place between the Patriots and the Royalists not far from Callao. The Patriots this time had been over confident; they had not reconnoitred the terrain and so had been defeated by a Spanish cavalry charge. Reverend Salvin walked over the battlefield where bodies of the Patriot dead had been left in the open to be eaten by dogs and buzzards. He noticed some very small corpses and was told that it was usual for boys of ten or twelve to be taken on as soldiers.

The ‘Cambridge’ was back at Chancay on 5th November, when visits were exchanged between Captain Mailing and ‘The Liberator’ himself. Bolivar came on board ship to “all possible demon-strations of respect”, a seventeen-gun salute was fired and the yards were manned. Bolivar was shown around the ship and given lunch with a small party that included Hugh Salvin, who described Bolivar as about 5’8″ (1.73m), swarthy complexion, a little bald at the front, hair black with a little grey, large mustachios that were also grey, and dark hazel eyes. He also noted “his body and limbs (are) small and meagre” and “his whole figure and face are those of a man worn out with care and fatigue”.

Twelve days later, Bolivar again came on board with his staff officers. Another seventeen-gun salute was fired, the yards were manned and all flags were flown. They dined again with speeches and toasts and Bolivar was full of praise for Britain.

On 18th November the ‘Cambridge’ returned the thirty-five miles to Callao, from where General Rodil had heard the seventeen-gun gun salute to Bolivar. He was offended by this welcome given to the rebel and in his annoyance he actually shot at the ‘Cambridge’, first with a blank, then by a live ball which passed very close by.

The war of independence at this time swung both ways, on the 28th November Royalist forces gained a march on the Patriots, but then on 5th December news came that Patriot troops were suddenly in possession of Lima, leaving Rodil and his government troops with the forts and the port of Callao.

On the 6th December a tragic incident occurred. The British consul to Peru, Mr. Rowcroft, was accidentally shot on returning to Lima after dining on board the ‘Cambridge’. His uniform of the City of London Cavalry was very similar to that of an officer of the Spanish army, for which he had been mistaken by a Patriot soldier. He had been warned of this danger by General Rodil, whom he had also visited. Mr. Rowcroft died on the 7th and was buried on the 11th on the Isle of San Lorenzo.

On the 19th a message was received from Lima announcing the complete defeat of the Spanish troops on the 9th December at Ayacucho in the mountains some 200 miles (330km) south east of Lima. The news was openly welcomed on board the ‘Cambridge’ but the men were forbidden to cheer for fear of damaging the British position of neutrality.

Two captured Spanish officers were sent by the victorious Patriots to inform Rodil officially and command him to surrender the forts at Callao. As a respected ‘neutral’, Captain Maling was asked to assist in arranging the terms. However, Rodil refused to surrender; he intended to hold out in the unrealistic hope of help arriving from Spain.

On the 1st January 1825 a ball was held by an English merchant in honour of Bolivar and to celebrate the battle of Ayacucho. Captain Maling was unable to attend, so Hugh Salvin took his place, he was introduced once more to Bolivar, who recognised him and bowed.

In Lima the shops were open and there was a spirit of optimism that had not been there under the Spanish government. But not far away the forts and the town of Callao were still under the control of General Rodil, who was surrounded and besieged by 3,000 Colombian and Peruvian soldiers.

That was the situation when the ‘Cambridge’ had to leave to go to Chile after a ten months’ stay in Peru. While sailing south the ‘Cambridge’ once more met up with Bolivar. On 10th May he was visiting the town of Quilca on his way from Lima to Arequipa. Again he received a seventeen-gun salute from the ‘Cambridge’ before coming on board with several of his officers to dine.

The ‘Cambridge’ returned to Peru eight months later, in January 1826, to find that the forts of Callao were flying the Peruvian flag. General Rodil had finally surrendered on 24th January, only a few days before the arrival of the ‘Cambridge’. At the beginning of the siege it was estimated that the forts could not hold out for more than two months, but in the event Rodil had held out for fifteen months, during which time there had been 2,000 needless deaths in a cause that had been hopeless from the start.

Oddly enough, the defeated General Rodil was allowed great freedom of movement. Hugh Salvin met him on the 8th February and shook hands, then on the 12th he breakfasted with Rodil and his officers on the Cambridge. About Rodil he wrote, “his manners appeared to me gentlemanly, and his countenance expressive both of good sense and good humour”. A farewell dinner for Rodil was held on board the following day.

In March 1826, the first congress of independent Peru met when it gave Simon Bolivar absolute power with no thoughts of a constitution. HMS ‘Cambridge’ left Peru for last time on 19th December 1826 and after a leisurely return voyage arrived back in Portsmouth on 28th May 1826, having been away for over three years. From what can be gathered, Reverend Hugh Salvin published his journal then led a quiet, uneventful life.