Presented here is a fine collection relating to the British Invasions of the Río De La Plata (1806-7), highlighted by an original contemporary manuscript map of the Second Battle of Buenos Aires (July-August 1807); also featuring seven portraits of British generals commanding the expeditions, plus one small printed map of the region. All of these items were apparently assembled into an album, perhaps during the 1840s.
The anonymous manuscript map, “Battle Plan of the Attack on Buenos Ayres July 5, 1807.” (circa 1807-8) is importantly one of only very few surviving contemporary manuscript maps of the Second British Attack upon Buenos Aires, a seminal event in Argentine history, and a major international aspect of the ongoing Napoleonic Wars. While a sketch map of relatively small size, as opposed to a finally drafted, formal composition, it nevertheless features all seminal aspects of the multi-pronged British operation against the city. The victory of the Spanish-Argentine forces against what was supposed to be a British juggernaut was a major shock to Whitehall, discouraging further British invasions of Latin America. Regionally, it was one of the catalysts of the Argentine Independence movement.
The British Invasions of the Río de la Plata (1806-7)
Ever since Sir Francis Drake’s marauding expedition against Spain’s New World ports during his Circumnavigation of World (1577-80), England (later Britain) had coveted a share of the astounding riches of Latin America. While the likes of Sir Henry Morgan and Commodore George Anson and scored great hauls from privateering raids, what Whitehall and the British merchant class truly desired was permanent access to the Spanish American market, if not a fixed, well-located, trading base in South America.
The Río de la Plata estuary, featuring what is now Argentina’s Buenos Aires region and modern Uruguay, possessed excellent natural harbours, fine agricultural land and commodious access into the interior of South America. As early as 1711, when the colonial administrator John Pullen sent a proposal to Whitehall, the Río de la Plata was considered perhaps to be the most promising location for a permanent British trading base, or colony, amidst Spanish America. However, this design was not acted upon.
In spite of the six Anglo-Spanish wars fought between 1702 and 1783, Britain never managed to gain access to the Spanish American market, which was tightly closed within Madrid’s mercantilist system. Even the once-promising Asiento Contract, which promised Britain a large share of the immensely lucrative Spanish American slave trade, included as part of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), was never realized in any meaningful way. Moreover, Britain never succeeded in conquering and holding significant Spanish New World possessions. Given the Royal Navy’s overwhelming dominance of the seas, this was an enduring source of frustration for both Whitehall and the City.
From the 1780s, until the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, Whitehall flirted with various proposals to invade parts of South America. Spain was ailing and it was widely regarded that it could not mount a serious defense against a concerted strike targeting one of its American gems. Several invasion proposals were motioned, many by Francisco de Miranda, a controversial Venezuelan soldier and revolutionary, who was long resident in London. Of note, a 1796 proposal written by the financier and MP, Nicholas Vansittart, specifically identified the Río de la Plata as the ideal beachhead for a British invasion of South America. This plan received added credibility in 1800, when it was endorsed and improved by General Thomas Maitland, a highly respected militarily commander.
In 1804, the so-called ‘Maitland Plan’ was discussed between Prime Minister William Pitt, First Lord of the Admiralty Viscount Melville, Miranda and the brilliant, yet roguish, naval officer Commodore Sir Home Riggs Popham. All agreed that mounting an invasion of the Río de la Plata was a stellar idea in principal. However, Pitt held off authorizing the expedition, as the right time had to be chosen, amidst the dramatic backdrop of the interrelated events of the ongoing Napoleonic Wars.
At the end of 1804, Whitehall dispatched a force to invade of the Dutch Cape Colony (South Africa). Major-General David Baird commanded this expedition, while Popham commanded the flotilla carrying the force. The invasion of the Cape was brilliantly successful.
Shortly thereafter, Popham received orders to conduct a naval patrol of the coasts of Argentina/Uruguay, with the mandate of interdicting enemy ships (Spain and Britain were then officially at war). It was at this point that Popham went rogue. He was deeply in debt and desperately needed a vast sum of money. He came up with the idea of executing the Maitland Plan without London’s knowledge or approval. Popham was long in contact the William Porter White (1769-1842), an unscrupulous American merchant, who had been resident in Buenos Aires for seven years. White opined that Spain’s hold upon the Río de la Plata region was weak. The region’s Viceroy, the Marquis de Sobremonte, was highly unipolar, and the local people were chafing under Madrid’s oppressive and economically anemic rule. Moreover, Buenos Aires was poorly defended, as most of Sobremote’s best troops had been sent far away into the interior to battle Amerindian rebels. White believed that the city’s elite would rally to the Union Jack if they were promised economic and political freedom.
Popham was confident of victory, and assumed that once Buenos Aires was in British hands, that Whitehall would forgive his ‘broken arrow’ action. Moreover, he would be sure to receive a fortune in prize money. General Baird and his chief lieutenant, General William Carr Beresford, were also in need of funds, and enthusiastically backed the plan. Baird was not to join Popham’s scheme personally, but gave over his vaunted 71st Regiment to serve on the mission. Beresford was made the leader of the expedition (he was senior to Popham), such that he would become the acting governor of the Río de la Plata in the event that the mission was successful. In all, the Beresford-Popham expedition had 2,000 extremely well armed and experienced troops, thought to be more than enough to steamroll the supposedly unmotivated, ill-prepared force defending Buenos Aires.
On June 25, 1806, the British expedition landed in Argentina, taking Quilmes, near Buenos Aires. Sobremont fled the city, and the British marched in to easily occupy Buenos Aires on June 27. Amazingly, the bumbling Sobremonte managed to loose possession of the province’s portable treasury, which was seized by the British, and placed in Popham’s hands. This proved to contain more than enough gold and silver to enrich all of the expeditions principals.
On the surface, everything was looking up for Beresford’s occupying force. Much of the city’s elite publicly swore their loyalty to the Union Jack, in exchange for British guarantees to uphold their economic and religious privileges. Outwardly, Buenos Aires’s common folk showed little inclination to contest the new regime.
However, not all was well. Secretly, many civic leaders despised the British. They feared loosing their monopoly on colonial trade with Spain, and being swamped by competition from British merchants. They also resented Popham’s blatant theft of the public treasury. While there was little love for the Spanish regime, it was thought better to dance with devil you knew. In the words of the future revolutionary hero Manuel Belgrano, “Queremos al antiguo amo o a ninguno” [“We want the old Master or none at all”].
Beresford, whose career so far had shown him to be an excellent soldier, became uncharacteristically complacent, and seemingly out of his depth. He proved almost totally ignorant of popular sentiment and did little to prepare Buenos Aires for a possible Spanish counter-attack. Popham, for his part, was utterly preoccupied counting his prize money.
Meanwhile, across the Río de la Plata estuary, in Montevideo, Santiago de Liniers, a highly competent French-born Spanish general, mounted a plan to retake Buenos Aires. On August 4, 1806, Liniers’ force landed at Las Conchas, just north of the city. On August 10, Liniers moved in to take the northern and western suburbs of the Buenos Aires. Encouraged by the Spanish advance, those within Buenos Aires who opposed the British sprang to action and cleared the way for Liniers’ force to enter the city proper. Chaotic urban combat ensued, and Beresford’s men, trained in field battles, proved to be totally inept at this form of warfare. The British were overwhelmed and Beresford surrendered to Liniers on August 14. Beresford and most of his army were taken as prisoners of war, while Popham sailed back home (with his loot).
Whitehall was enraged by the humiliation of one of Britain’s finest generals and the capture of one of its most esteemed regiments at the hands of a supposedly rag-tag colonial force. Popham was blamed for initiating the rogue action, although due to his deep political connections (and probably bribes from the prize money), amazingly avoided a court martial, merely getting a light slap on the wrist in the form of a letter of censure. Beresford later escaped Spanish custody and made his way back home. He avoided any blame whatsoever, and subsequently became a hero of the Peninsular War.
While Whitehall resented Popham’s maverick behaviour and was profoundly humiliated by the defeat at Buenos Aires, yet still believed that the notion of conquering the Río de la Plata was sound, and so decided to give it another go. To realize this objective, noting was left to chance.
Late in 1806, a force of 15,000, under the leadership of Brigadier-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty (later joined and superseded as commander by Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke) was assembled. The American-born Auchmuty was a brave and resourceful leader, ideally suited for such a mission. His well-equipped force was considered to be very large for a Trans-Atlantic expedition, and was expected to easily mow down any possible opposition that could be encountered in the Río de la Plata.
The British expedition’s first target was Montevideo, a major port in the Banda Oriental (modern Uruguay), that occupied a small peninsula at the northern entrance of Río de la Plata. Montevideo was a formidable target, surrounded by thick walls and defended by 5,000 Spanish regulars.
Auchmuty’s management of the operation against Montevideo was highly competent. After landing, on January 20, 1807, his forces seize the isthmus that connected Montevideo to the mainland, thereby cutting the city off from the outside world, so commencing what became known as the Siege of Montevideo (Sitio de Montevideo).
Auchmuty knew he had to finish the job quickly, as a Spanish relief force was thought to be on its way to the area. He dedicated 6,000 of his men to assault the city’s walls. On February 3, 1807, the British rushed against Montevideo’s defenses, and were able to open a breach with surprising ease. However, the Auchmuty’s men met ferocious resistance once inside the city, and were forced back to the walls. However, a second British breach was opened on the opposite side of the city, overwhelming the defenders.
Realizing that his position was untenable, the Spanish commander, Ruiz Huidobro, accepted Auchmuty’s terms of an unconditional surrender (although Auchmuty informally promised to treat the Spanish prisoners benevolently). The battle, which ended the same day it had begun, had proven bloody. The Spanish had suffered 1,500 casualties, while the British endured 500 casualties. However, Auchmuty’s victory left Britain in absolute control of one of South America’s finest natural harbours and the perfect base for attacking Buenos Aires, only a short distance across the Río de la Plata estuary.
On May 10, 1807, Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke arrived in Montevideo to succeed Auchmuty as the overall commander of the Río de la Plata invasion. This proved to be unfortunate, as while Whitelocke was a stellar naval administrator, he was amazingly bereft of battle command experience. Had Auchmuty retained overall command, what subsequently transpired would likely have turned out differently.
As explained in greater detail below, within the description of the “Battle Plan of the Attack on Buenos Ayres”, in July 1807, Whitelocke led a shambolic operation against Buenos Aires, resulting in the loss or capture of most of his advance force. While seizing Buenos Aires was not in the cards, it must be remembered that the British control of Montevideo remained firm, if not unassailable.
On August 12, 1807, Whitelocke, while still in control of some of Buenos Aires’ suburbs, made a fateful decision. That day he signed an armistice with Liniers, whereby he agreed to completely withdraw all British forces from the Río de la Plata region, including Montevideo. In return, Liners would release all British prisoners of war, while agreeing to provide medical care and subsequent passage home to immobile wounded Britons.
Upon Whitelocke’s return to London, his ‘surrender’ agreement was met with universal condemnation. While Whitehall and the press were angry about the fiasco in Buenos Aires, they were even more incensed by Whitelocke’s puzzling decision to ‘throw away’ Montevideo. Whitelocke was drummed out of the army, although many of his commanders were allowed to remained in service, with many redeeming their reputations in subsequent campaigns against Napoleon’s legions. Auchmuty, due to his stellar handing of the Siege of Montevideo was the only major officers to return from South America with enhanced esteem.
On the Río de la Plata scene, Liniers was promoted to Viceroy, in recognition of his brave and resourceful defense of Buenos Aires. However, the serenity of his administration would be short lived. The fact that the defense of Buenos Aires had largely relied upon local militia, as opposed to Spanish regulars, revealed the impotence of Spanish power to those already chafing under Madrid’s yolk. It was surmised that if the people of the Río de la Plata could defeat the legendary Redcoats, that they could likewise dispense with their unpopular overlords. In this way, the bungled British Invasions of the Río de la Plata were seminal causes of the Argentine War of Independence (1810-18), resulting in Argentina declaring its sovereignty as a republic, in 1816.
Ironically, while the British Invasions of the Río de la Plata were a failure, Britain shortly gained one of the key objectives of the expeditions. Argentina and Uruguay (which attained its independence in 1828) opened close links with London, such that Britain became those nations’ prime overseas trading partner and source of foreign investment, a situation that lasted to World War I. British companies made colossal fortunes, while British funds fueled the explosive growth of Buenos Aires and Montevideo to become amongst the finest and most cosmopolitan cites in the Americas.
The Collection in Focus:
[MAP – SECOND BATTLE OF BUENOS AIRES:]
“Battle Plan of the Attack on Buenos Ayres July 5, 1807.”
[n.p., circa 1807 – 1808].
Manuscript, pen and ink and watercolour on laid, watermarked paper (Very Good, clean and bright, soft old vertical centerfold, unidentified partial watermark), 13.3 x 20.8 cm (5.2 x 8.2 inches).
An original manuscript sketch map of the Second Battle of Buenos Aires (1807), although small, it features all major details of the action; likely made by a British participant in the operation; one of only a small number of known surviving contemporary manuscript maps of the battle.
This original contemporary manuscript sketch map depicts the action of the Second Battle of Buenos Aires (July 4-5, 1807), being the bungled British attack upon the city. Importantly, the map is one of only a small number of known contemporary manuscript maps of the event. The map, likely made shortly after the battle by an anonymous British officer, is a somewhat crude, yet attractive and brightly coloured. Importantly, in spite of its diminutive size, it is quite detailed, showcasing all major aspects of the operation. The map even has a scale, of 1500 yards (upper right).
The map focuses on the City of Buenos Aires, the urban areas of which are represented by a light orange block, while major edifices and locations are outlined in dark orange, nine of which are identified by letters (A – I) explained in the key (upper left): “A. Cathedral”; “B. St. Domingo’s Church” (Convento de Santo Domingo); “C. Residentia” (Iglesia y Residencia Jesuítica de Nuestra Señora de Belén); “D. Mole”; “E. St. Francisco” (Basílica y Convento de San Francisco); “F. Fort”; “G. Catlilina Convent” (Monasterio de Santa Catalina); “H. Place of Reembarkation”; and “I. Great Square”. Other key marked locations include the “Almaza de Palaora”; “Plaza de los Toros” (Bull Ring); and the “Las Recolletas” (Monasterio de la Recoleta).
On June 15, 1807, the British flotilla arrived off of Buenos Aires, having sailed from Montevideo, carrying a force of 8,000 well-armed professionals soldiers. Their orders were to take the city and avenge the humiliating British defeat of the previous year. The British force far outnumbered the regulars defending Buenos Aires and, in theory, the mission should have been short work. However, Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke, the commander of the expedition, although a highly regarded military administrator, had scant combat experience, and virtually no firsthand knowledge of urban warfare.
Whitelocke dithered, allowing Buenos Aires’ defenders, under Santiago de Liners, to organize. The city’s mayor, Martín de Álzaga, rallied the citizens to dig trenches, fortify buildings, erect barricades, and stock up on provisions. Had Whitelocke stuck quickly upon his arrival he would undoubtedly overwhelmed the city.
Whitelocke’s prevarication was much criticized by his subordinates. Notably, one of his most competent offices, Colonel Robert Craufurd, recalled that he thought Whitelocke “a traitor as well as a time and vacillating fool”.
On July 1, Whitelocke finally made his move, besting Liniers in a sharp battle outside of the city. Amazingly, however, Whitlelocke, once again, failed to press his advantage by striking into the city. He held back his forces, demanding the surrender of the city, which Liniers summarily rebuffed.
Whitelocke then made his headquarters at “Mr. White’s House” (located on the map just west of the city), the residence of Popham’s old friend, the merchant and British spy William Porter White.
As shown on the present map, on July 4, 1807, after seemingly eternal procrastination, Whitelocke finally assembled the British forces into along the western outskirts of Buenos Aires, divided into ten combat groups, as named on the present map. The groups on the left-hand side, namely the 6th Dragoons, the 45th Regiment and the 9th Light Rangers, under Major Jasper Nicolls, were to take the southernmost section of the city, around the Iglesia de la Residencia. The central force, the Light Battalion and the 95th Regiment (featuring a special brigade of sharpshooters, scouts and skirmishers), under Craufurd, plus the 88th Regiment under Colonel Alexander Duff, were given the unenviable task of taking the heart of the city, targeting the “F. Fort” and “I. Great Square”. The forces on the right-hand side, under the immediate command of Whitelocke, had the easiest task, taking the northern part of the city, plus the adjacent outskirts by the river.
Whitelocke elected to have his forces rush into the city, instead of first softening up the enemy with artillery barrages (which would have been the textbook play). As shown on the map, by the corresponding coloured lines, the battle groups proceeded inwards. They clearly did not understand the nature of urban warfare, and severely underestimated the resolve of the city’s defenders. Liniers’ force was composed of a combination of small number of Spanish regulars, a larger force of colonial militiamen and 686 African slaves. Their training and armaments were of a far lower quality that that of the British; however, they were well prepared, competently led and, comparatively, better motivated.
The British units that entered the densely populated centre of the city were met by fierce resistance. Spanish-Argentine fighters subjected the invaders to continuous gunfire, while citizens poured hot oil and boiling water upon the Redcoats as they navigated the obstacle-strewn streets. Craufurd and his men were overwhelmed by 5,000 defenders at the Plaza del Mercado, and promptly surrendered at “B. St. Domingo’s Church” (Convento de Santo Domingo), while Duff surrendered at a nearby church. This event has been commemorated by locals ever since as La Defensa (The Defence).
Major Nicoll’s forces managed to take their target at “C. Residentia” (Iglesia y Residencia Jesuítica de Nuestra Señora de Belén), on the south side of town, holding it against Spanish counter attacks. On the other side of town, the British forces were repulsed from the urbanized area, but managed to take and hold the suburban districts around the Plaza de los Toros, extending north to Las Recolletas (Monasterio de la Recoleta), an area note noted map as the “Ground occupied by the English on the 5th of July”.
By the end of July 5, the British, while occupying the northern and southern extremities of Buenos Aires, had almost completely failed in their mission, as almost the entire city proper remained in Spanish hands. Moreover, the British had suffered over 1,000 casualties, including 70 offices, while 3,000 more Redcoats had been captured.
Whitelocke proposed a 24-hour truce to Liniers, a notion that was, not surprisingly, rejected. The Spaniards turned their artillery on Whitelocke’s demoralized troops, who retreated further out to a point to the north of the Plaza de los Toros. From there, an easy standoff ensued. The British camp remained in place, while the Spanish-Argentines retained the city, with nether side being strong enough or sufficiently confident to engage the other. Finally, on August 12, 1807, Whitelocke, under a flag of parley, signed what would become an infamous accord with Liniers. Promptly thereafter, the British left the scene at the point marked on the map as “H. Place of Reembarkation”, never again to return to Buenos Aires as invaders.
The present map was likely made by an anonymous British participant in the Second Battle of Buenos Aires, and was drafted shortly after the event itself. The style, hues of watercolour and the laid paper (with an unidentified partial watermark) are consistent with the period.
Importantly, the present map does not appear to have been copied from any other known map. Indeed, the only other contemporary manuscript maps of the Second Battle of Buenos Aires of which were are aware are three maps contained within an atlas factice held by the John Carter Brown Library (JCB), entitled “Manuscript Maps for the South American Campaigns of 1806-7”. The atlas features 24 exquisite contemprary manuscript maps and views made by British officers who participated in the two Invasions of the Río de la Plata.
Two of the JCB maps are finely finished and coloured manuscripts, drafted by anonymous hands that had clearly had formal training in cartography. They are the related to the creation of a printed map, Plan of the City of Buenos Ayres, published within the book The Proceedings of a General Court Martial: Held at Chelsea…for the Trial of Liet. Gen. Whitelocke (London, 1808).
The first map, “Buenos Ayres in the Rio de la Plata / Plan of Buenos Ayres shewing the disposition of the British Troops at the Assault on 5th. July 1807, This Plan is reduced from the large Spanish Atlas belonging to General Berresford [sic]” (n.p., circa 1808), measures 29.7 x 44.4 cm. Please see link:
The second JCB map, “Plano de la Ciudad de Buenos Ayres situada en el Rio de la Plata…” [n.p., circa 1808] (29.7 x 44.4 cm), is similar to the prior. Please see link:
The third JCB map, [Anon., Plan of Buenos Aires, Argentina, n.p., circa 1808] (38 x 30 cm), bears the closest resemblance to the present map, although the circumstances of the creation of the two maps does no seem to be directly related. However, this map and the present map feature many of the same details, with respect to the major sites of interest and the movement of the British regiments, although their styles are markedly different. Please see link:
The Portraits of British Generals
2 (three parts).
This is a page from an album (33.4 x 27.2 cm / 13.1 x 10.7 inches) onto which is pasted three items related to Beresford. General William Carr, Lord Beresford (1768 -1854) was a consequential Anglo-Irish army officer. He was the illegitimate son of the Marquess of Waterford, entering the army in 1785. He served with great distinction at Toulon (1793), in Egypt (1799-1803), and at the Cape of Good Hope (1806). His disastrous involvement in the First British Invasion of the Río de la Plata is seen as an aberration in an otherwise distinguished military career. After being made a POW in Buenos Aires, in August 1806, Beresford was confined for six months, under pleasant conditions, but managed to make his escape, returning to England in the spring of 1807.
Beresford was a favourite of the Duke of Wellington who, in 1809, ensured his appointment as the Commander-in-Chief of the Portuguese Army, spearheading the liberation of that county, and, ironically, Spain. In spite of suffering occasional ‘nervous breakdowns’, Beresford proved highly effective, as he professionalized and motivated his troops, leading them to several key victories. The Portuguese Regent made him the Marquis de Campo Maior. Even to this day, Beresford is remembered favourably in Portugal. After the Napoleonic Wars, his frail nerves led to his appointment to the honourific and stress-free post of Governor of Jersey, a role he held from 1821 until his death in 1854.
[William Carr BERESFORD].
London, J. & J. Cundle, Albion Press, 1814.
Mezzotint, tipped onto a scrapbook page (Very Good, slightly toned), 17.3 x 10.1 cm (6.8 x 4 inches).
A fine profile mezzotint portrait of Beresford.
[William Carr BERESFORD].
William-Carr Beresford, D.C.L. Viscount Beresford.
[London]: P.W. Tomkins, .
Mezzotint, tipped onto a scrapbook page (Very Good, slightly toned), 15.5 x 9.2 cm (6.1 x 3.6 inches).
A fine quarter-length portrait of Beresford, with a facsimile signature below, after a painting by Sir W. Beechey, engraved by Peltro William Tompkins.
William Carr BERESFORD.
Mss. letter, pen on paper, to a Mr. Baily, concerning an autograph, 1 pp., tipped onto scrapbook page, May 25th, [no year written], (Very Good) 17.8 x 11.4 cm (7 x 4.5 inches).
A short note, presumably by Beresford, to a Mr. Bailey, regarding an autograph.
[William Carr BERESFORD].
His Excellency Sir Wm Carr Beresford, K.B. Grand Cross of the Portugueze Military Order of the Tower and Sword. Marquis of Campo Maior. Marshal & Com- mander in Chief of the Portugueze Armies, Captain General of Spain &c &c &c. Proof.
London: Edward Orme, Jany. 26th, 1814.
Mezzotint on thick paper (Very Good, minor toning, light glue stain upper-right corner) 22.8 x 15.7 cm (9 x 6.2 inches).
A ‘Proof’ profile portrait of Beresford, after an original work drafted in Spain from life by Carlo Amatucor.
[Charles BROKE VERE].
To His Grace the Duke of Wellington, K.G. &c. &c. &c. this portrait of Major General Sir Charles Broke Vere, K.C.B. Member for East Suffolk. Is hereby respectfully dedicated by His Grace’s Obedient Humble Servt. Robert Deck.
London: Colnaghi & Puckle et al., 1839.
Mezzotint on thick paper (Good, evenly toned with marginal chipping on left side, with small loss to upper-left blank margin), 34.3 x 25.7 cm (13.5 x 10.1 inches).
This is an especially large and exquisite mezzotint portrait of Charles Broke Vere, after a painting by George Patten, engraved by Thomas Lupton. Major-General Sir Charles Broke Vere (1779 – 1843) was an English army officer. He served with great distinction as Auchmuty’s second in command at the Siege of Montevideo (1807). After returning to Europe, he joined Wellington’s staff and led his troops with considerable success during the Peninsular War. Vere later played major role in the victory at the Battle of Waterloo (1815), earning him widespread celebrity for the rest of his life. He subsequently served as the aide-de-camp to King William IV and as a Tory MP.
Brigadier General Sir Samuel Auchmuty, Kt. Commander in Chief of his Britannic Majesty’s Force at the taking by assault of Monte Video in South America on the 3rd of February 1807.
London: Arthur Cardon, 1807.
Mezzotint (Very Good), 22.7 x 13.5 cm (9 x 5.1 inches).
A fine quarter-length portrait of Samuel Auchmuty, published shortly after the Siege of Montevideo (1807), after a painting by Abbot. General Sir Samuel Auchmuty (1756 – 1822) had the distinction of being one of the few American-born senior British Army commanders. Auchmuty was born in New York City, the son a reverend, and graduated from King’s College (the predecessor to Columbia University). A Loyalist, he fought on British side throughout the American Revolution, before moving to Britain in 1783. In 1790, he sailed to India, serving on the staff of Lord Cornwallis for seven years, seeing much action in Mysore. From 1800 to 1803, he fought with distinction in Egypt. His masterly conquest of Montevideo in 1807 ensured that he was the only major officer to return home from the disastrous Second British Invasion of the Río de la Plata with an enhanced reputation. He was promoted to Major General and, in 1811, led the successful operation to conquer Java (Indonesia) from the Dutch. He was subsequently appointed to the highly prestigious post of Commander-in-Chief in Ireland.
Lieut. General Whitelocke.
[London]: H. D. Symonds, March 31, 1808.
Mezzotint (Very Good, slight marginal foxing), 21.2 x 13 cm (8.3 x 5.1 inches).
This is the best-known image of Whitelocke, which appeared in the Universal Magazine shortly after the general’s ignominious return to London from Buenos Aires. The portrait was engraved by J. Hopwood, from a painting by Hastings. Lieutenant-General John Whitelocke (1757 – 1833) justifiably took the brunt of the blame for the catastrophic Second Río de la Plata Invasion.
Whitelocke joined the army in 1778 and served in Jamaica, seeing action during the brutal British invasion of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) (1793-8). Upon his return to England he was made the Lieutenant-Governor of Portsmouth and the Commander for the Southwest District of England. His distinguished himself for organizing the home defence against Napoleon’s threatened invasion of Britain, and oversaw a highly successful army recruitment drive. Unfortunately, his superiors equated success as an administrator with competence as a battle commander, when they appointed Whitelocke to lead the Second Invasion of the Río de la Plata. While the conquest of Buenos Aires would have been a challenging job for any a commander, Whitelocke utterly botched the operation with his prevarication, his underestimation of the opposition, as well as his complete lack of understanding of urban warfare. However, it was his surrender of Montevideo, a valuable port solidly in British control that truly angered both Whitehall and the London Press. In a lengthy, highly publicized trial, Whitelocke was court-martialed, and drummed out of the army. He was, however, allowed to live a quiet retirement in Buckinghamshire.
A Small, but Fine Sea Chart of the Río de la Plata
[MAP: RÍO DE LA PLATA].
Chart of the Rio de la Plata, and Plan of the Harbour of Monte Video and Town of St Philip.
London: H.D. Symonds, November 24, 1806.
Copper engraving (Very Good, save of having imprint trimmed off of lower blank margin, original soft vertical fold), 19.1 x 25.2 cm (7.5 x 9.9 inches).
A small, but high quality, sea chart embracing the entire Río de la Plata estuary, noting all major cites, towns, headlands, and points of coastal elevation, plus copious hydrographic information. It was largely based on new information returned to England by officers of the Royal Navy in the wake of the First Río de la Plata Invasion. The chart was published within an influential work on the region, Samuel Hall Wilcocke’s History of the Viceroyalty of Buenos Ayres; Containing the Most Accurate Details Relative to the Topography, History, Commerce, Population, Government, &c. &c. of that Valuable Colony (London, ).
References: Mss. Map Unrecorded. Cf. [for Historical Background:] I. Fletcher, The Waters of Oblivion: The British Invasion of the Rio de la Plata, 1806–1807 (Staplehurst, (Kent, 2006); J.D. Grainger (ed.), The Royal Navy in the River Plate 1806 – 1807, Navy Records Society, vol. 135 (London, 1996); B. Hughes, The British Invasion of the River Plate 1806-1807: How the Redcoats Were Humbled and a Nation Was Born (South Yorks., 2014).