The official visit to Cartagena by British heir to the throne Prince Charles has created a storm of protest over a memorial plaque to British sailors who perished in a naval campaign off Cartagena which Colombians say is inappropriate, it seems that the commemorated attack in 1741 is only the tip of the iceberg.
The plaque honors the British sailors lost in the 1741 attack under Admiral Edward Vernon, but fails to mention the other times that British ships attacked Cartagena between 1500 and 1741.
Memorial plaque opens colonial wounds
During his time in Cartagena, UK royal Prince Charles unveiled a plaque which commemorates “the courage and suffering of all those who died in battle trying to take the city and Fort San Felipe under the command of Admiral Edward Vernon at Cartagena de Indias in 1741.”
The new plaque has riled up disgust and anger from local residents and historians alike, who claim that the British, who attacked Cartagena as part of a 67 day battle with Spanish forces, who held Cartagena as part of their Colonial empire at the time, were no better than common pirates.
One incensed Colombian resident took matters into his own hands and attacked the monument with a hammer on Wednesday, before being arrested by local tourism police.
Jaime Rendon, a member of the rightist Centro Democratico party and self-proclaimed “environmentalist,” told Blu Radio he took action because Cartagena Mayor Dionisio Velez “doesn’t listen, doesn’t see and doesn’t understand.”
Journalist Daniel Coronell tweeted: “The final straw: now Cartagena celebrates Vernon, his executioner.”
Colombians argue that the plaque honors yet another dark blot in the country’s painful and bloody history of colonization.
Cartagena’s mayor, Dionisio Velez, who presented the plaque to Prince Charles has been subjects to strong criticism.
“This is the biggest imprudence our mayor has committed” a local city guide told newspaper El Heraldo noting that he is embarrassed to show plaque to the tourists.
A look back to the uncomfortable past
The plaque commemorates the 1741 naval assault by Vice Admiral Vernon. This final attack on what was the gleaming jewel of Spanish Colonial power in Latin America, came after a number of attempted assaults on the Caribbean coast by Brits set on pillaging what was considered one of the most valued ports existing at the time.
1568 – Sir John Hawkins, a British mariner attempted to trick the Spanish Governor Martin de las Alasto open a foreign fair in the city to sell British goods with a view of invading the city. The Spanish governor refused, and Hawkins was forced to admit defeat after a seven day siege of the city. It is unknown how many local casualties were suffered during the siege.
1572 – the famous British politician and sea captain Sir Francis Drake attacked the walled city. As he attacked the majority of colonist Spaniards fled to the nearby village of Turbaco, leaving the port of Cartagena unprotected and helpless to the English assault. It is claimed that Drake burned nearly a quarter of the city to the ground and destroyed a nave of the Cathedral in Cartagena. The ransom for the city was estimated 107´000 Spanish reales (roughly 200 million USD in modern currency) an unknown amount of gems and jewels, 80 artillery pieces and other assorted goods.
1697 – The city faced its most destructive assault at the hands of the French in 1697. French Admiral Pointis conquered both fortresses which defended Cartagena with ease, losing only approximately sixty men. Between May 6th and 24th, the French plundered the city, accumulating loot valued at ten to twenty million lives. With pockets filled, Pointis then set sail directly for France, cheating his buccaneer allies of their promised share of the loot. Outraged, the buccaneers returned to Cartagena and plundered the city once more, this time untempered by the French military, in an orgy of rape, extortion and murder against the defenseless Cartagena residents.
1741 – Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon arrived in Cartagena in 1741 with 186 ships carrying around 28,600 troops. In spite of counting on a lesser number of troops, the Spanish Admiral Blas de Lezo defeated the British invasion after a two-month battle. Amid tensions between Spain and Britain in the 18th century, the Brits had decided to take over Spain’s four key Caribbean port cities. Being one of the key cities, Cartagena de las Indias was the second British target, after Panama’s Porto Bello. Thousands were lost on both sides, and figures for local residents in the booming Colonial city who lost their lives are un-accounted for.
- Colombian destroys plaque honoring 18th-century British attackers (EFE news)
- Duke of Edinburgh’s best gaffes (The Telegraph UK)
- A notorious place, Cartagena (pirates.hegewisch.net)
- Complaints in Colombia over Prince Charles plaque(BBC)
- The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain 1649–1815,Roger N.A.M, 2006
- Sir John Hawkins:Biography (Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk)