Lotus-Eaters Attacked by Argentine Ships

Lotus-Eaters Attacked by Argentine Ships

Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2014

For several days in 1818 the flag of Argentina flew over Monterey after an attack by privateer Hippolyte de Bouchard and his two ships, the Argentina and the Santa Rosa.  The small group of defenders at the Spanish garrison El Castillo, then located near the present Serra monument in the Presidio, mounted an effective defense with cannon shots from the fort and a hastily devised shore battery which succeeded in preventing a landing at Monterey.  According to Peter Uhrowczik in his book, The Burning of Monterey, this was the only time in the history of California that a shore battery engaged in a gun battle with enemy ships.

But after Bouchard’s troops, including the Hawaiian crew from the Santa Rosa who were armed with spears, landed near the present site of Hopkins Marine Station or Lovers Point in Pacific Grove (there are differing opinions) and flanked the fort, the soldiers fled.  Prior to the battle the citizens of Monterey had been sent away and by the time the invaders had arrived the town was empty, except for one inebriated settler who was taken prisoner.

 A passage in The Burning of Monterey describes the arrival of Bouchard’s men: 

 “With the flag of the Provincias Unidas now flying at Monterey, the victors started ‘searching the houses for money, and breaking and ruining every thing’, according to Peter Corney [the English commander of the Santa Rosa].  Because the raid had not been a surprise, it is doubtful that they found any money or valuables.  The presidio, on the other hand, was ‘well stocked with provisions and goods of every description, which we commenced sending on board the Argentina.’  He adds: ‘The Sandwich Islanders (the Hawaiians), who were quite naked when they landed, were soon dressed in the Spanish fashion.’”

 Three men from the Santa Rosa had been taken prisoner by the Spanish and Bouchard wanted them returned.  Bouchard’s request to Governor Sola for their return in exchange for saving the town was either not received or ignored, and after three days he set fire to the buildings in Monterey.  Houses were burned, as well as troop housing on the Presidio.  No damage was done to the Presidio church, nor to houses not belonging to the Spanish.  Bouchard and his men made repairs to the heavily damaged Santa Rosa, and departed Monterey in late November.

No residents of Monterey were harmed, and apparently Monterey was rebuilt in short order. While Bouchard’s attack is a fascinating chapter in the history of Alta California and Monterey, it had little or no lasting impact.

 An American Guide Series document from the Work Projects Administration describes the Monterey Peninsula of 1818, and provides an interesting account of the attack:

 “Despite the rich pastoral atmosphere that enfolded the land in lazy splendor, trouble was ahead for the lotus-eaters of Monterey.  Mexico, desiring to populate Alta California, sent north as colonists her undesirables, mostly petty offenders.  This the proud and sensitive Californians resented as an affront to their patriotic devotion to the land which they had come to regard as destined for independence.  Revolution was afoot in South America and the names of Bolivar, San Martin, and Mirand were quickening the pulses of the dissatisfied and the ambitious.  In the Argentine zeal for the new republican creed was spreading.

 The United States, flushed with newly acquired independence, supported the colonists in their struggle against Spain.  Many American ships, fitted out at Baltimore, were privateers on the fringe of international law.  In 1818 the apprehensive Californians at Monterey were warned of the approach, from the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands of two ships ostensibly bringing independence from the south.  On November 20 the vessels, the Argentina under Captain Hippolyte de Bouchard, who had served as sergeant major in the Buenos Aires navy, and the Santa Rosa, alias the Cheka, alias the Baca, alias the Liberty, under an Englishman, Peter Corney, were sighted off Point Pinos by an excited sentry; they flew the flag of Argentina.  Peevish, despotic Pablo Vicente de Sola, last of the Spanish governors, had made some preparations, sending livestock and articles of value to the missions inland.

 That night the Santa Rosa anchored close to the shore and the following morning fighting began.  The Santa Rosa asked for supplies and was refused; there was a blast from the vessel’s cannon and the Montereños replied when Corporal Jose Vallejo opened up with his improvised shore battery.  Corney, it is said, lowered the Santa Rosa’s flag, but Vallejo, ordered to cease firing, refused to obey.  Then Joseph Chapman, an American, came ashore with two sailors and the three were promptly arrested.


A landing party from Argentina advanced and Bouchard, under a flag of truce, demanded the surrender of Alta California.  Sola says he told the captain there would be no surrender “while there was a man alive in the province.”  So Bouchard landed his entire force –the Spaniards said 400, but that was more than the total aboard both ships—and Sola, outnumbered, retreated to the Rancho del Rey near the present site of Salinas.  The invaders remained in Monterey more than a week sacking the town and burning most of the buildings before they left on December 1.  So ended the first invasion of the California coast.  The damage was repaired and the Montereños settled down to what they hoped would be security and peace.”

 Monterey was just one stop for Captain de Bouchard, born in France, but who had become a citizen of Argentina in 1813.  Earlier, he had circumnavigated the globe on the Argentina in search of Spanish ships to harass as a privateer under the flag of Argentina.  Bouchard (he is called Hipolito in Spanish) is considered a hero by Argentina, and was honored locally in 1987 when the Argentine Ambassador to the United States visited Monterey and along with Monterey city officials placed a wreath at the base of the monument on the Presidio commemorating the battle.  Others outside of Argentina who had been visited by the privateer regarded him with less admiration.

 According to the California State Military Museum, “though regarded as a pirate, he was a corsair from the then very young free state of the United Provinces of the River Plate (the direct ancestor of the present-day Argentine Republic) since he had a legal “corsair license” against any property of Spain all over the world.”  But shortly before he arrived in Monterey, his letter of marque had expired.  He was technically a pirate in November of 1818.

 When Bouchard sailed from Hawaii with the goal of attacking Spanish interests in Alta California in October of 1818, he learned about Monterey as an attractive target from the Russians at Bodega Bay, who had been trading with the Spanish in Monterey but felt no warm feelings toward them.  Peter Corney, the English commander of the Santa Rosa, had previously visited Monterey and was familiar with the harbor and had also noted the poor condition of the cannons there, doubtlessly making an attack against the Spanish more appealing.

 Following the “Battle of Monterey”, as it is often known, as the citizens rebuilt and restocked, Bouchard and Corney sailed south minus the three crew members taken prisoner by the Spanish but with their own prisoner, a Mexican named Molina who was found in the fort.  Mayo Hayes O’Donnell, in a column in the Monterey Peninsula Herald of December 1962 reports:

 “Bouchard headed southward for Santa Barbara.  Instead of going directly there, he landed about 20 miles northwest of the Presidio of Santa Barbara to plunder El Rancho del Refugio.  While some of the Argentineans were butchering cattle, others hurried on to the ranch buildings, about a mile from the beach.  After ransacking the house and storerooms and finding little of value, they set fire to the buildings.  Finding some Palomino horses, the pride of the ranch, they cut their throats. 

 Bouchard had planned to attack Santa Barbara next.  A heavy northwest storm, however, compelled him to anchor for three days in the lee of Santa Cruz Island.  Then, as the sea was still running high, making it too dangerous to land his fusiliers on the beach, he decided to give up his project of overthrowing the Spanish authority in Alta California. Yet he did not want to leave California without the three captured men, one of which was Lt. Lowell of Boston.  Anchoring off Santa Barbara, he sent a messenger to De la Guerra (commandant of the Presidio of Santa Barbara), to propose an exchange of prisoners.

 This De la Guerra agreed to do, expecting Bouchard to have several prisoners.  But when he learned that Molina, found drunk in the Monterey Presidio was the only one, he hesitated until Bouchard promised to leave Alta California at once.

 Notwithstanding this promise, Bouchard made one more landing in Alta California, at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  About all he got was more fresh beef.  The padres had carried their valuables to Pala Mission, and had sent their wine supply to the mission under the protection of some Christian Indians.  Not so much of it arrived, however; the Indians could not resist the temptation of lightening their loads as they went along.

 Thus ended Bouchard’s invasion of California.  He sailed southward and harried the coast of Mexico.  After the Argentine navy was disbanded, Bouchard served in the Peruvian navy as a commander.  From that time on, his future is uncertain.  Some writers say he turned to commerce and was murdered in the interior of the country.”

 The Monterey Public Library has considerable information about Bouchard and his adventures in Monterey and elsewhere.  One comprehensive source is The Burning of Monterey by Peter Uhrowczik (979.476 UHR) which is available for checkout, as well as many other sources available for use in the California History Room. 

By:  David Spradling   June 16, 2014










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