Colombia has a lengthy coastline, is handy for the Caribbean, and has been controlled for quite long periods by Spain, so, as you would expect, it has received quite a few unfriendly visits from us.
As often in this part of the world, privateers, pirates and raiders led the way. In 1568 Sir John Hawkins allegedly had a cunning idea to take Cartagena, a port built by the Spanish on the Colombian coast, by persuading the governor to open up a foreign fair in the city, with Hawkins then planning to sack the city afterwards. The plan failed, and so did Hawkins’ subsequent attack on the town.
In 1586 the English returned. This time it was Sir Francis Drake leading the attack, and this time Cartagena wasn’t so lucky. The attack caused considerable damage and the Spanish had to pay Drake an enormous ransom to get their town back.
Then in the early seventeenth century we even had our own colony on what is now Colombian territory. From 1631 to 1641, the Providence Island Company ran a settlement on, you guessed it, Providence Island, now called Providencia or Old Providence. John Pym, later to find fame in the English Civil War, was its treasurer and, in fact, the company was to help bring together a number of people who would be leading figures on the Parliamentary side in the conflict of the 1640s. Things went downhill for the Providence Island Company in 1641, though, when a Spanish fleet overran it. And by that stage, people in England were slightly distracted by other issues, such as looming civil war and slaughter.
And as so often where privateers, pirates and raiders first went, the British Navy followed. Not always terribly successfully, of course. For instance, we found ourselves fighting the French off Cartagena in the so-called Action of August 1702, which took place, you won’t be surprised to know, in August 1702. The British commander, Vice Admiral Benbow, was wounded and eventually died from his wounds, but not before he had ordered the court-martialing of some captains on a variety of charges, with two of them eventually being shot for cowardice.
And we didn’t have a lot more luck in 1741. Admiral Edward Vernon mounted a major invasion, attempting to take Cartagena. Vernon had 186 ships, and from Britain and America 23,600 men, 12,000 of them infantry. Somewhere in there was George Washington’s brother, Lawrence Washington. But after weeks of heavy fighting and losing men both to the defenders and disease, Vernon was forced to abandon the siege. In the nineteenth century, we probably made our most significant military effort in Colombia. This, however, was unofficial or semi-official rather than official. With the battle under way to free South America from Spain, significant numbers of Britons went to the continent to fight in the liberation wars. Many of these were experienced veterans of the Napoleonic Wars and the British government gave tacit support to the effort. Eventually, most Brits fighting for Simon Bolivar against the Spanish were combined into a brigade called the British Legions. At the Battle of Boyaca in 1819, which led to the liberation of Colombia, they carried banners featuring the British flag, and Bolivar credited them with playing a significant role in the eventual victory in Colombia.