Chile is an enormously long, thin country. It has a coastline that stretches all the way from the bottom of South America, where it can be very chilly indeed, and north to Peru With such a long coastline and with Chile long a part of the Spanish Empire, it was hardly likely to escape attacks by us, and it didn’t.
Pretty much as soon as we made it round Cape Horn, we had our eyes set on the Chilean coast and not in a friendly way.
Francis Drake dropped in to sack Valparaiso on 5 December 1578 and capture a ship laden with gold and wine, which must have been handy. Perhaps even handier, he also got hold of the ship’s pilot who happened to have a map of the coast. Then, in the 1590s, Richard Hawkins popped in for a spot of looting and plundering. And George Anson, on his amazing round-the-world mission (see Peru), was to cruise along the Chilean coast in the eighteenth century.
In 1814, we fought the Battle of Valparaiso, but not, interestingly, against the Spanish or Chileans. No, instead it was against the Americans. With the War of 1812 still blazing (since confusingly it wasn’t just a War of 1812, but also a War of 1813, 1814 and 1815) on land far to the north, the frigate USS Essex had headed south to raid British whaling fleets. The frigate HMS Phoebe and the sloop HMS Cherub were dispatched to find the Americans and finally cornered them in Valparaiso. Eventually, the USS Essex and the sloop USS Essex Junior were brought to battle and the US ships were captured.
In 1810, a national junta had proclaimed Chile an independent state within the Spanish monarchy. By 1818, it was proclaimed an independent republic and by December of that year, a British veteran of the Napeolonic wars, Thomas Cochrane, was in command of the newly created Chilean navy and hiring large numbers of British sailors and organising it along British lines. He led this navy in the dramatic capture of the powerfully fortified Chilean city of Valdivia (from the Spanish) in 1820.
Soon after Chilean independence, instead of invading Valparaiso, we took to having a base here. It’s a fascinating but comparatively little-known fact about the Royal Navy that from about 1826 to 1837 its South America Station, and from 1837 to 1865 its Pacific Station, had their headquarters at Valparaiso, the place Drake had raided all those years before. HMS Beagle dropped in here in 1834 on its second voyage. In 1854, a number of ships, including HMS President, HMS Amphitrite, HMS Pique, HMS Trincomalee (now located at Hartlepool) and HMS Virago set sail from here to attack Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka during the Crimean War (see Russia).
Today, a large and impressive arch, the Arco Británico, in Valparaiso, commemorates people like Cochrane who fought on behalf of Chile.