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Historical ties between the British Royal Navy and the Chilean Navy

In 2010 Chile celebrated 200 years of independence. On 18th September 1810 the first Junta decreed their rebellion against Spain just two days after Mexico had done the same. That year several Latin American colonies followed suit. This came after Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1808 setting off unrest throughout Latin America. King Joao VI of Portugal and his court were installed in Rio de Janeiro by a British fleet and Brazil would never again be governed from Lisbon. The Marquis of Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, fought a series of battles in the Peninsula war against Napoleon’s generals winning every one of them and gradually drove the French out of Portugal and Spain. After he won the battle of Waterloo condemning Napoleon to exile some of the British sailors and soldiers who had enjoyed the Napoleonic wars went off to help the Latin American wars of independence.

In Chile the flamboyant Lord Cochrane, a Nelsonian seafarer, founded the Chilean navy and his memory is marked every year in an annual celebration at Westminster Abbey to which my wife, herself the daughter of a Chilean Naval Commander, and I always look forward. Cochrane later helped the Brazilians and the Greeks gain their independence and was the inspiration for fictional heroes like Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey. The first President of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins of Irish extraction, spent part of his youth at school in Richmond, Surrey where he learnt something of the liberal attitudes then prevalent in England. Another annual ceremony is held every year in that town which my wife in her capacity as Secretary of the Anglo-Chilean Society likes to attend. One of Bernardo O’Higgins’ first acts as President was to return to London and negotiate a loan of £1 million to help the new nation get started. It wasn’t until 1826 that the last Spanish soldiers were driven from Chilean soil on the island of Chiloe.

Dr David Pearson


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