‘Since the Age of Elizabeth 1, the British had had global ambitions in which possession of Central America offered the prospect of opening a path between the Atlantic and Pacific’. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America, Yale University Press, New Haven, London 2013

Spanish South America: From the time of Tudor Elizabeth 1558-1603, despite determined efforts by the Queen’s buccaneers – Sir Jack Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and, a myriad minnows, England failed to oust Spain from her conquered territories, strung tantalisingly along the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts of South America.

England: To fill Elizabeth’s dwindling coffers Treasury came to rely on loot taken at the point of the sword by swarms of English pirates as they hit ‘treasure laden  galleon’s en-route from Peru, Panama and Chile to Spain.

New Holland: When the ‘First Fleet’ sailed from Portsmouth for New Holland, now Australia in May 1787, Governor Captain Arthur Phillip RN took with him ‘secret plans’ to attack Spain’s fabled ‘treasure’ colonies in Central and Southern America. See: Botany Bay – Lord Sydney, Arthur Philip & ‘Hush’ Christopher Robin’ Mark 2

London: The plans were Phillip’s own, drawn up in 1782 at the behest of Thomas Townshend Lord Sydney, the newly minted Home Secretary, while Britain was actively engaged in the American War of Independence 1775-1783. See: Monte Video – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Hush’ Christopher Robin’ Mark 1 

Jamaica: Phillip’s ‘secret‘ plan had its genesis in the failed 1779 San Juan Expedition the brain-child of John Dalling the military Governor of Jamaica.

Canada: Earlier, in the North American theatre of the Seven Years’ War 1756-63, Governor Dalling served under General James Wolfe. Despite his wounding in the scaling of the Heights of Abraham from where the British bombarded the French General Joseph Montcalm’s men camped on the Plains below, Dalling was present when Britain captured Quebec from the French in 1759

No doubt driven by that past glory Dalling devised a plan to attack Spanish Nicaragua.  If successful he hoped to break Spain’s domination of Central and South America.

‘It is generally appeared when we have been involved in a war with France, that Spain and Holland have engaged in hostilities against us’. John Hunter, Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, 1793 Bibliobazzaar ed. 2008

Dalling’s Nicaraguan plan had a lot to recommend it. If successful, Spanish South America would be cut in half, giving Great Britain access across a narrow isthmus to the Pacific Coast, leaving Chile and Peru vulnerable to pincer attack from both land and sea.

‘The colours of England, were, in their imagination, already in the wall of Lima’. Roger Knight, The Pursuit of Victory: The Life and Achievement of Horatio Nelson, Westview Press UK

America: At the time – 1779 – America’s Revolutionary war was see-sawing between the opposing sides.

At Brandywine in the north – September 1777 – Washington’s militia was soundly defeated by General William Howe’s army. The British believed Howe’s victory had dealt American independence a mortal blow.

However  at Saratoga in the south – October 1777 –  General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender his large army to America’s General Horatio Gates.

‘Both France and Spain had allowed clandestine aid to flow to the Americans since that fighting started, but this was proving insufficient for the scale of the conflict’. Larrie D. Ferreiro., Brothers at Arm, American Independence, France and Spain and the Men Who Saved It’. First Vintage Books, New York, 2017

The revolutionaries victory at Saratoga proved a tipping point in favour of American independence. France signed a formal alliance with George Washington’s Patriot. Massive amounts of French money, men and munitions replaced sporadic ‘clandestine aid’.

In June 1779 Spain followed France and declared war on Britain with the intention of opening a second front in the English Channel with a powerful armada of ships.


Jamaica: Meanwhile Governor Dalling gave Major John Polson overall command of the Nicaraguan Expedition and tasked him with raising troops.

Most were drawn from the Jamaican garrison. Others were recruited from brother units. Polson accepted or coerced locals, black and white with little or no experience. Once on the ground they would meet up with well-armed experienced Regulars from Britain.

Kingston Harbour: Early in 1780 a young Horatio Nelson RN, in command of HMS Hinchinbrooke, escorted approximately 3000 marines and infantry in a flotilla of seven (7) ships. The squadron departed Kingston for Nicaragua on 3rd of February 1780.

London:  Dalling’s Plan, along with most plans for the American theatre, had been assessed and approved in far-off London by Lord George Germain appointed secretary of state for America in November 1775.

Throughout the whole of the conflict Germain held stubbornly to the belief grateful Indigenous Indians and, most slaves imported from Africa, would stand with Britain. Germain was  wrong.

Similarly in South America he was certain the oppressed would take the opportunity to turn against their Spanish oppressors and welcome his red-coats with open arms. Germain was wrong.


Despite hostile terrain the British had success. Later however in the dense tropical rain forest communications became difficult. By early March 1780 supplies and ammunition were running low.

When British reinforcements failed to arrive in time the campaign faltered. In April 1780 torrential rains brought progress to a halt.

Omoa: Polson’s men came down with yellow fever, malaria and dysentery and in a similar fashion to Major Dalrymple’s men at Omoa, Honduras on the Mosquito Coast the previous year – September 1779 – died like flies.


Nicaragua: ‘Only 10 of the 200 crew members [survived] from the twenty-eight gun frigate HMS Hinchinbrooke,commanded by Nelson who was himself forced to return to Jamaica where he was nursed back to life by a slave woman, Cuba Cornwallis’.  O’Shaughnessy,. ibid.

HMS Hinchinbrook evacuated the few survivors To Jamaica. Captain Horatio Nelson RN lived to fight another day. See: Arthur Phillip – Spook & Evan Nepean – Handler – A Military Campaign Hidden in Plain sight.


Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply