STEALING STUFF – ‘Panama, Peru and the Philipines’

 ‘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


‘From  the first decades of their colonizations, the British had envied the Spanish the riches of bullion and production they obtained from the World. Drake’s and Hawke’s raids were early and brutal manifestations of envy’. Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip His Voyaging 1738 – 1814, Oxford University Press, Auckland, London, 1987


[Commodore] George Anson’s voyage of 1740-44 marked a return to the earlier, more immediately effective, approach of decisive plundering; be it too had the broader dimension of subversion and future trade.

As well as with the treasure of the annual Manila galleon, Anson returned with developed ideas of how to open a trade along the Pacific coasts of America and he sought to implement  his scheme when he joined the Board of Admiralty in 1748.

‘From this time until well into the nineteenth century, whenever Britain was at war with Spain, administrations received proposals for expeditions against Spanish America’. Alan Frost.op.cit.  P106


‘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


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


‘The place New South Wales holds on our globe might give it a very commanding influence in the policy of Europe. If a colony from Britain was established in large tract of country, and if we were at war with Holland and Spain we might powerfully annoy either state from our new settlement.

We might with equal facility invade the coast of Spanish America, and intercept the Manilla ships [galleons] laden with the treasures of the west….Sir Joseph Bank’s highest approbation of the scheme which I have proposed deserves the most respectful attention’. James Maria Matra,  Plan for Botany Bay, 23 August 1783,  Frank Murcott, Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales 1892, Nabu Public Domain Reprint


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

England: To fill Elizabeth’s dwindling coffers Treasury came to rely on looted gold, silver and diamonds, snatched at the point of a sword from ‘treasure laden galleon’s en-route from Peru, Nicaragua, Panama and Chile en-route to Spain.

‘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

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 .See: Botany Bay – Lord Sydney, Arthur Philip & ‘Hush’ Christopher Robin’ Mark 2

‘From the moment Spain joined France and the rebellious American colonies in the war in mid 1779, merchants, patriots, and adventurers bombarded [Prime Minister] North’s administration with proposals for damaging the Spanish in their American colonies’. Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip His Voyaging, Oxford University Press, 1987 p.106

London:  Phillip’s ‘secret plans‘ had been drawn up by him in 1782, at the behest of the newly minted Home Secretary Thomas Townshend  Lord Sydney.

Sydney had replaced William Petty, Earl of Shelburne who, in July 1782 on the death of Lord Rockingham, became Britain’s Prime Minister. See: Monte Video – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Hush’ Christopher Robin’ Mark 1 

In 1782 peace terms had not yet been settled so ‘secrecy’ was essential.  Phillip’s plans had their immediate genesis in the failed 1779 San Juan Expedition the brain-child of John Dalling the military Governor of Jamaica.


Canada: Dalling earlier had been wounded while serving under General James Wolfe in the North American theatre of a previous  global conflict – The Seven Years’ War 1756-63.

In 1759 the British successfully scaled the Heights of Abraham during night hours.  Having gained the high ground Wolfe used his artillery to bombard the French General Louis Montcalm’s men, short of ammunition for their cannon, encamped on the Plains below.

Quebec fell to the British in mid September 1759. The Royal Navy, to avoid being trapped by winter ice, pulled out and sailed back to their base at Louisberg.

This left British troops occupying Quebec without support. During a long bitter  winter one- half of the English invaders died of malnutrition and scurvy

The French defenders were hopeful of victory when campaigning resumed the following Spring. But Britain’s blockade of French ports prevented supplies and reinforcements from reaching their comrades.

1759 – New France: It is held that the Royal Navy’s destruction of a French fleet at its base in Britanny, The Battle of Quiberon Bay, marked the beginning of the end of the Seven Years’ war and  of France’s loss of  Arcadia, now Canada.


Twenty (20) years later ( 1778) a vengeful France entered America’s Revolutionary War of Independence (1175-1783) in support of General George Washington’s Patriot rebels.

‘Both France and Spain had allowed clandestine aid to flow to the Americans since [1775 when]] 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

Spain, in June 1779,  allied with France and entered the war intending to open a second front in the English Channel with a combined armada of French and Spanish ships.  A menacing  initiative it was abandoned when smallpox raged through the Bourbon fleet.

Meanwhile in the north at Brandywine – September 1777 – Washington’s Patriot militia was soundly defeated by General William Howe’s army.

Britain believed Howe’s victory had dealt independence a mortal blow. But a month later at Saratoga in the south – October 1777 –  General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender his large army to America’s General Horatio Gates.

While the home-grown revolutionaries’ victory at Saratoga proved a tipping point in favour of American independence. The war continued to see-saw between the opposing sides.

Following Washington’s militia’s win at Saratoga France signed a formal alliance with America’s Patriots. Massive amounts of French money, men, munitions and military know-how replaced sporadic ‘clandestine aid’. 


It was around this time Governor Dalling, driven no doubt by Admiral George Anson’s earlier success (1744)  devised a plan to attack Spanish Nicaragua.

Dalling’s Nicaraguan plan aimed to break Spain’s domination of Central and South America had a lot to recommend it. If successful, Spanish South America would be cut in half.

Britain would gain access across a narrow isthmus from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast leaving Chile and Peru vulnerable to pincer attack from both land forces and the Royal Navy.

Jamaica:  At Kingston Major John Polson was given command of the San Juan Expedition and tasked with raising troops.  Most to be  drawn from the Jamaican garrison.

Others were garnered from brother units. These melded with recruited or coerced locals, black and white, with little or no experience.

Once on the battle-ground Polson’s men were to combine with experienced, well-armed regulars shipped across from Britain.

Kingston Harbour: Early in 1780 a young Lieutenant Horatio Nelson RN, was given command of HMS Hinchinbrooke to escort approximately 3000 marines 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 American conflict Germain held stubbornly to the belief grateful Indigenous Indians and, most slaves imported from Africa, would stand with Britain.

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.


Nicaragua: Despite hostile terrain the British initially had success. Later in dense tropical rain forest communications became difficult.

By early March 1780 supplies and ammunition were running low. The campaign faltered when British reinforcements failed to arrive in time.

In April 1780 torrential rains brought progress to a halt. Polson’s men came down with yellow fever, malaria, dysentery and died like flies.

Honduras: Like Major William Dalrymple at Omoa the previous year September 1779 – at Omoa, Honduras on the Mosquito Coast, Governor Dalling’s Nicragurian effort was unsuccessful.

‘From the twenty-eight gun frigate HMS Hinchinbrooke, commanded by Nelson who was himself forced to return to Jamaica….Only ten [10] of the 200 crew numbers[survived]’. O’Shaughanessy. op.cit.

Admiral Horatio Nelson RN lived to fight another day and died at Battle of Trafalgar.

By 1782 the shooting war was over and lengthy peace negotiations under way. In September 1783 the Treaty of Versailles brought a formal end to the War of American Independence.


Against all expectations Britain had lost her ’empire in the west’ the colonies of North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania Rhode Island and Virginia.

‘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

Britain’s aim to break Spain’s domination of South and Central America did not end with the American War.

‘There were plans…[for] expeditions against Panama, Peru and the Philippines’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

See: Arthur Phillip – Spook & Evan Nepean – Handler – A Military Campaign Hidden in Plain sight.


[ Undeterred} Dalrynple again suggested to Lord Germain,  that a privateering expedition, sailing either from Britain by the Cape of Good Hope and New Zealand from India ; by way the Phillipines,…or New Holland …should raid the Spanish settlements n the west coast of the New World’. Alan Frost  Phillip His Voyaging. p. 106

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