In the early period, Venezuela, then under Spanish control, received a fair amount of attention from British pirates and privateers. One such was Henry Morgan (him again, see Nicaragua and Panama) who, in a varied career, even picked up the rank of admiral in the Royal Navy. On one raid in 1669, Morgan sacked Maracaibo, now Venezuela’s second city, then he pressed on into Lake Maracaibo, looking for more loot. On his return to the coast shortly afterwards, Morgan encountered a defended Spanish fort and three Spanish ships. He destroyed one ship, blew up another by getting a boat packed with gunpowder close to it, and the third ship decided it had had enough and surrendered. Then Morgan pretended to attack the fort from land and while the garrison were distracted he got his sea force past it to safety.
In the eighteenth century, the Royal Navy had a go at the Venezuelan coast. Not very successfully, though. In fact, quite unsuccessfully. During the delightfully named War of Jenkins’ Ear in 1743, Commodore Charles Knowles, with the seventy-gun HMS Suffolk, was sent to attack Puerto Cabello and La Guaira. Unfortunately for Knowles, the defenders seem to have known he was coming and his attacks were repelled.
During the fight to free Venezuela (from Spanish rule), as elsewhere, British volunteers played a crucial role. In particular, at the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821, the British Legions fought with tremendous courage, capturing enemy positions on vital hills and suffering heavy casualties, before Bolivar’s army finally crushed the main enemy force in Venezuela, thus guaranteeing independence.
Since Venezuela became independent from Spain, we’ve had a couple more brushes with the country. The Venezuelan Crisis of 1895 saw the border between Venezuela and British Guiana finally defined after some very tense times, in which eventually we accepted that the US had a right to intervene in events in the area under the Monroe Doctrine.
Then in 1902–03 there was another Venezuelan Crisis and this time we invaded. We wanted debts and damages paid. In a slightly unlikely alliance of Britain, Germany and Italy, we sent ships to recover our money. Kipling was so upset about us getting too close to Germany on this mission that he wrote a poem, The Rowers, with reference to the event. President Castro (not the Cuban one) seems to have reckoned that after the crisis of 1895 he might have the US on his side this time. It was a bad miscalculation. With our allies, we launched a blockade of Venezuela, and among a range of other actions, brushed aside or sank the Venezuelan navy, landed troops to rescue our citizens and bombarded the Venezuelan fortifications at Puerto Cabello. Eventually, we got the money we believed we were owed.