Battle of Cartagena de Indias
Part of the War of Jenkins' Ear and the War of the Austrian Succession

British attack on Cartagena de Indias by Luis Fernández Gordillo.
Oil on canvas, Naval Museum of Madrid
Date13 March – 20 May 1741
Location10°23′07″N 75°32′19″W / 10.38528°N 75.53861°W / 10.38528; -75.53861

Spanish victory[1]

  • British withdrawal with substantial losses.
  • Spain consolidates its supremacy in South America.
 Great Britain Spain Spain
Commanders and leaders
Edward Vernon
Thomas Wentworth
John Grant  
Charles Knowles[2]
Sebastián de Eslava
Blas de Lezo
Jose Polanco Campuzano
Carlos Desnaux

27,400–30,000 military personnel:[3][4]

  • 12,000 regulars, marines and militia[5]
  • 15,398 Royal Navy sailors[6]
29 ships of the line
22 frigates[7]
71 sloops-of-war
2 hospital ships
80 troop ships
50 merchant ships[8]

3,000–4,000 military personnel:[9]

  • 2,700 regulars[10]
  • 600 sailors and 300 militia[11][12]
  • 600 Indian archers
  • 6 ships of the line and numerous shore-based guns
Casualties and losses
9,500–11,500 dead[13][14][15]
7,500 wounded and sick
1,500 guns lost[16]
6 Royal Navy ships lost[17][18]
17 Royal Navy ships of the line heavily damaged[15][19]
4 frigates and 27 transports lost[20]
800 dead[21]
1,200 wounded[22]
6 ships lost
5 forts
3 batteries
Battle of Cartagena de Indias is located in Colombia
Battle of Cartagena de Indias
Location within Colombia

The Battle of Cartagena de Indias (Spanish: Sitio de Cartagena de Indias, lit.'Siege of Cartagena de Indias') took place during the 1739 to 1748 War of Jenkins' Ear between Spain and Great Britain. The result of long-standing commercial tensions, the war was primarily fought in the Caribbean; the British tried to capture key Spanish ports in the region, including Porto Bello and Chagres in Panama, Havana, and Cartagena de Indias in present-day Colombia.

Two previous naval attacks in 1740 had failed and for the third attempt in March 1741, the British had opted for a combined naval and land attack. After a series of unsuccessful assaults in the campaign, the British were forced to retreat, having suffered over 9,500–11,500 fatalities, in great part to disease, and considerable material losses.[23] Some units suffered death rates of 80 to 90 percent. The victory demonstrated Spain's ability to defend its position and largely ended military operations in this area. Both countries shifted their focus to the wider European War of the Austrian Succession and hostilities ended with the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.[24]


Botanical study, captioned "The Manzanilla Tree taken at Bocca chica to show / the men that they might neither cut not sleep near it, a bow was / pin'd at the top of every Sergeant's tent, in order to make the soldiers / acquainted with and to avoid it… F.M: J.G: (?) March the 12th 1741" – a reference to Vernon's invasion fleet, before the battle. Manzanilla (Hippomane mancinella) fruit are poisonous when eaten, and the sap causes blistering.

The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession, gave British merchants access to Spanish colonies in the Americas, which had hitherto been closed off via mercantilist policies by Spain. This included the Asiento de Negros, a monopoly to supply 5,000 slaves a year to Spanish America, and the Navio de Permiso, permitting two ships a year to transport 500 tons of goods each for sale in Porto Bello or Veracruz.[25] These concessions were assigned to the South Sea Company, which was taken over by the British government after becoming bankrupt in 1720.[26] In the 18th century, European wars were often fought over trade privileges overseas, which the then dominant theory of mercantilism viewed as a finite resource. This meant if British trade increased, Spanish trade had to therefore diminish and so the role of a government was to restrict foreign competition.[27]

As the French previously discovered, high costs meant the majority of the profits which could be gained from the concessions were in smuggling contraband goods, which evaded import duties and deprived the Spanish colonial authorities of much needed revenue. The Spanish Crown was also entitled to 25% of the profits made by the South Sea Company, which were rarely paid, despite their conviction it was immensely profitable. Between 1717 and 1733, only eight merchant ships were sent from Britain to the Americas and the asiento has been described as a "commercial illusion".[28]

These tensions were increased by Spanish resentment at British control of Gibraltar and Menorca, which were confirmed by the Treaty of Utrecht. In the Anglo-Spanish War of 1727 to 1729, Spain laid siege to Gibraltar, while Britain blockaded Portobello; both attempts failed and the two countries made peace in the Treaty of Seville but the underlying issues for the conflict remained unresolved. British merchants wanted easier access to lucrative Spanish markets in the Caribbean Basin, where demand from colonists had created a large black market.[29]

The Spanish were permitted to board British vessels trading with their colonies in the Americas; during a search for illegal goods in 1731, Welshman Robert Jenkins, captain of the Rebecca, claimed a Spanish coast guard officer had severed his ear.[30] The legend this was later exhibited to the House of Commons has no basis in fact but proved useful in persuading the British public to support a war with Spain. Pressure from the British public for a declaration of war arose out of a combination of a political campaign to remove Robert Walpole, the long-serving Prime Minister, and a desire for greater commercial access in Spanish America. On 23 October 1739, Britain declared war on Spain.[31]

Spanish Caribbean

The Spanish Caribbean trade had a network of four main ports: Vera Cruz; Cartagena; Porto Bello; and the main port through which all the trade of those three ports came, Havana. On 22 November 1739 the British captured Porto Bello in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The British attack was part of an attempt to damage the Spanish economy. The poorly defended port was attacked by six British ships of the line[32] under the command of Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon.[33] The relative ease of this capture, although the city was abandoned immediately after the battle, caused jubilation in Britain.

Vernon was given command over one quarter of the Royal Navy, which formed part of a major combined arms amphibious expedition under the overall command of Lord Cathcart.[34] The first goal of the expedition was to capture Havana, the most important of the Spanish ports because it had facilities where ships could be refitted and, by 1740, it had become Spain's largest and most active shipyard.[35] Lord Cathcart died en route and it remained unclear who was in command overall. Cathcart's death resulted in dissension in the British command, preventing the coordination needed for this complex operation.[36]

The despatch of the large fleet and troop contingent had been demanded by the British public[37] led by merchant lobbyists,[38] and the South Sea Company in particular, which refused to accept the compromise agreements made by the Spanish and British governments. The Duke of Newcastle[39][38] advocated the public's demands before Parliament. Vice-admiral Vernon was an active and ardent supporter[40] of war against Spain and advocated offensive actions both in Parliament and before the British Admiralty.[41] The decision to mount a large expedition to the West Indies was reached in December 1739.[42] Walpole, who opposed the war categorically,[43] and Vernon, who favoured small squadron actions, were both dissatisfied with the situation. Vernon, despite his earlier failed raid on Cartagena, was not convinced that a large-scale attack on a heavily fortified city would prove to be as successful as his smaller Portobello assault had been. He feared in particular that a prolonged siege would lead to heavy attrition from disease, a typical situation given the medical knowledge of the time.[44]


Britain's objective was to capture and retain[45] Spain's four ports in the Caribbean basin. By taking control of these ports, the British would effectively control the entry and exit routes to South America. The British would have bases from which to launch attacks into the interior, and Spain would have limited access to deep water ports on the eastern coast of their American colonies and therefore be unable to resupply their inland forces. Control of these ports would also provide the British a foothold to later attack the rest of the Spanish Empire in the Americas.[46] However, Britain had no place to build and refit ships in the Caribbean, as Spain did with the dockyards[47] at Havana, and without a dockyard no fleet could remain in the area for any length of time without breaking down. A quick capture of Havana and its dry dock was imperative and it was the favored objective of Newcastle and Sir Charles Wager, First Lord of the Admiralty,[48] but Britain's divided ministry left the course of the campaign up to Vernon and others at a council of war held in Jamaica. They followed Vernon, who preferred Cartagena as their initial objective as it was a good port and to windward of Britain's existing Caribbean bases and Vernon thought Havana was too well defended to be the initial target.[49]

City of Cartagena de Indias

Map of Cartagena de Indias from Gentleman's Magazine 1740

Founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533, Cartagena of the Indies in the 18th century was a large and rich city of over 10,000 people. It was the capital of the province of Cartagena and had significant fortifications that had been recently repaired, enlarged and improved with outlying forts, batteries and works. Its harbour, considered by some observers to be one of the finest in the world, served the galleons of the commercial fleet (Galeones a Tierra Firme y Perú) that annually assembled at Havana to convoy the immense revenues of gold and silver from New Granada and Peru to Spain.[50]

The shallow coastal shelf extending out from the city walls prevented a direct attack from the sea, while a high water table hindered sapping and exposed unacclimatised troops to disease.[51] After Cartagena's capture in 1585 by an English force under Sir Francis Drake, its fortifications were rebuilt by the Italian engineer Battista Antonelli.[52] Neglect allowed the French privateer Baron de Pointis to sack the town in 1697 but Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor largely rebuilt Cartagena's defences before his death in 1732.[53]

The city faces the Caribbean to the west; to the south its bay has two entrances: Boca Chica (Little Mouth) and Boca Grande (Big Mouth). Boca Chica historically was the deep water entrance and was so narrow it allowed the passage of only one ship at a time. This entrance was defended on one side by the Fort San Luis with a couple of small outworks on the peninsula of Tierra Bomba, and on the other side by the fascine battery Baradera. Beyond Boca Chica was the lagoon of the outer harbour with an entry channel into the inner harbour between two peninsulas, each defended by a fort. The walls of the city itself mounted some 160 cannon, while the suburbs had 140 guns. The city was surrounded by a moat and its gates were guarded by recently built bastions. The suburbs were also surrounded by a moat. On a hill about a quarter mile south of the city stood Fort San Lazaro, a square fifty feet on a side with three demi-bastions. The fort's position commanded the city itself and the plain around the hill.[54] Another small hill nearby defended the fort, but there was no fresh water source available outside Cartagena and the fort. The road from the best landing point, the beach at Texar de Gracias, ran three miles to Fort Lazaro.[55]


A map of the trading part of the West Indies created 1741 in honour of Vernon shows Boca Chica, Cartagena – 2nd from the bottom left
Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister of Great Britain, from the studio of Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1740

The battle pitted a British invasion force of 124 ships[56] including: 29 ships of the line,[57][58] 22 frigates, two hospital ships, various fire ships and bomb ships armed with a total of some 2,000 cannon, 80 troop transports and 50 merchant ships. There were at least 27,400 military personnel, of which the land force totaled 12,000[59] including: two British regular infantry regiments, the 15th Foot and 24th Foot, 6,000 newly raised marines[60] and some 3,600 American colonial troops, commanded by Colonel William Gooch (the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia), in four battalions designated as Gooch's American Regiment, arriving from the North American colonies on another 40 transports.[61]

The Spanish force defending Cartagena was composed of 2,700 to 3,000 Spanish regulars[62] from the regiments Aragon, España and that of Toledo, Lisboa and Navarra just arrived in October 1740, brought by Vice-admiral Torres; a colonial regiment from Cartagena; an unspecified number of sailors; 5 companies of militia and 600 Indian archers, perhaps 4,000[63] to 6,000 defenders,[64] manning six ships of the line and strategic fortifications—under the command of the Governor General of Cartagena, Don Blas de Lezo and the Viceroy of New Granada, Sebastián de Eslava.

Preliminary maneuvers

The expedition was very slow leaving Britain. Initially, contrary winds delayed the sailing until most of the shipboard provisions were consumed and a steep increase of sickness[65] occurred among the ships' crews. Then, news of the sailing of the French squadrons and a Spanish squadron caused further delay while the British fleet was reinforced in response.[66] The expedition suffered from manpower shortages in the navy, which required drafting two full infantry regiments, the 34th and 36th; to fill crew requirements Cathcart was ordered by the government to transfer 600 of his marines to provide marines for the men of war.[67] These delays cost the British three months of valuable campaign time. The 3,600 Americans were transported to Jamaica from New York on 40 transports escorted by some British men of war and arrived much sooner on 3 December 1740. The Americans were originally under the command of General Spotswood, Governor of Virginia, who was to be second-in command under Cathcart, however Spotswood died and was replaced by Gooch as commander of the Americans. They found on their arrival that no arrangements had been made by the British government for their provisions.[68] The lack of provisions and the climate immediately began to take a toll on the Americans, while the fleet from Britain was suffering from typhus, scurvy and dysentery;[69] by January 1741 the land forces had already suffered 500 dead, including Lord Cathcart the commander in chief, and 1,500 sick.[67] With both Cathcart and Spotswood dead, command of the land forces went to Thomas Wentworth, who had no previous combat command experience. In Jamaica, 300 enslaved Africans were added to the expedition as a work battalion. Additional delays before and after embarking from Jamaica cost more precious time, including a brief skirmish with a French squadron. Both the British and the Spanish were well aware that with the onset of the two-month rainy season in May, the so-called "sickly season", which would last from May to November,[70] would also begin.[71]

The Spanish had received reinforcements but were already suffering severely from diseases as well. Similar to the British, but not as disruptive to operations, there was dissension between Lezo and Eslava. In particular, Lezo favoured a very strong, all-out defense of Boca Chica channel; Eslava's opposition led to an under-manning of some of the forward defenses, allowing the British an easier initial landing.[72]

Attack on Fort San Luis at Boca Chica

Sebastián de Eslava, Viceroy of New Granada from an 18th-century painting

The British expedition arrived off Cartagena on 13 March with no overall commander but with decisions being made by councils of war, with General Wentworth commanding the land forces and Vernon the sea forces. The navy had lost so many sailors by this time as a result of the epidemics that one third of the land forces were needed to fill out the crews.[73] Although the city of Cartagena was fronted on one side by the ocean, the shore and surf were so rough as to preclude any attempt to approach it from sea. The other access channel, Boca Grande, was too shallow to allow the passage of ocean-going ships. The channel of Boca Chica was the only deep-draft passage into the harbour of Cartagena. It ran between two narrow peninsulas and was defended on one side by the fort of San Luis, Boca Chica Castle, with four bastions having some 49 cannon, 3 mortars and a garrison of 300 soldiers under the command of the chief engineer, Carlos Desnaux. A boom stretched from the island of La Bomba to the southern peninsula on which was Fort San Jose with 13 cannon and 150 soldiers. Also supporting the entrance were the six Spanish line ships.[74]

Before settling to disembark, Vernon silenced the batteries of the fortresses of Chamba, San Felipe and Santiago defended by Lorenzo Alderete from Malaga. After attacking the fort of Punta Abanicos in the Barú Peninsula, defended by Jose Polanco Campuzano from Santo Domingo[75][76] and a week of bombardment, the British planned to land near the smaller access channel, Boca Chica, with 300 grenadiers. The Spanish defenders of two small, nearby forts, San Iago and San Philip, were driven off by a division of three ships of the fleet under Chaloner Ogle which suffered some 120 casualties with the Shrewsbury alone losing 100 killed and wounded as well as taking serious damage from cannon fire from Fort San Luis.[77] The grenadiers landed that evening and were followed on 22 March by the whole of the British land forces: the two regular regiments and the six regiments of marines.[78] Of the American land forces, only 300 were allowed ashore as most of the American troops of the four battalions had been dispersed to serve aboard the ships of the line to replace Vernon's losses in sailors and were not available for amphibious operations.[79] They were followed in a few days by the artillery. After the army made camp, the Americans and the Jamaicans constructed a battery in two weeks[80] and its twenty 24 pounder guns began battering the fort. A squadron of five ships, consisting of the Boyne, Prince Frederick, Hampton Court, Tilbury, and Suffolk, led inshore by Commodore Lestock, also attempted to batter the fort into submission for two days but had the worst of it, making no impression on the fort and having many men killed and three ships heavily damaged and disabled.[81]

The British artillery on land, after three days of firing night and day, made a breach in the main fort[77] while part of the fleet assisted. Another part of the fleet engaged the Spanish ships, two of which Lezo scuttled and another, the Galicia, he set on fire. The two scuttled Spanish ships partially blocked the channel and the Galicia was captured by the British before it could sink. The British attacked Fort San Luis by land and sea on 5 April. The infantry advanced on the breach; however, the Spanish had already retreated to fortifications in the inner harbour. Over the following week, the landing force re-embarked and entered the harbour. The operation against Boca Chica cost the British army 120 killed and wounded, additionally 250 died from the diseases of yellow fever and malaria, and 600 sick were hospitalized.[82]

Attack on Fort San Lazaro

Monument in Plaza de Colón (Madrid) built to commemorate Spanish Admiral Blas de Lezo

The next council of war decided to attempt to isolate Cartagena from the land side by an assault of Fort San Lazaro, called in some accounts San Felipe de Barajas. With the capture of San Luis and other outlying defensive works, the fleet passed through the Boca Chica channel into the lagoon that made up the harbor of Cartagena. The Spanish withdrew to concentrate their forces at Fort San Lazaro and the city. Vernon goaded Wentworth into an ill-considered, badly planned assault on the fort, an outlying strong-point of Cartagena, which Vernon refused to support with the fleet making specious excuses about the depth of the harbor. The ships cleared the beach with cannon fire and Wentworth landed on 16 April at Texar de Gracias.[83]

After the British gained the inner harbour and captured some outlying forts, de Lezo strengthened the last main bastion of Fort San Lazaro by digging a trench around it and clearing a field of fire on the approach. He had to hold the fort as it commanded the city[84] and, in British hands, a bombardment would force Cartagena to surrender in a short time. Lezo defended the trench with some 650 soldiers and garrisoned the fort with another 300, while keeping a reserve of 200 marines and sailors. The British advanced from the beach and had to pass a narrow defile. There they met a Spanish force that briefly contested that passage before giving way.[85]

Gooch's marines, 43rd regiment of foot from the Cloathing Book of 1740

The only British engineer with the expedition had been killed at Fort San Luis; no one could construct a battery to breach the walls. The British decided to storm the fort outright in a coup de main, walls unbreached, during a night attack. The night attack would allow the assault of the northern side of the fort facing Cartagena because, in the dark, the guns of Cartagena would not be able to give supporting fire. The southern side had the lowest and most vulnerable walls and the grenadiers would attempt to quickly storm and carry the parapets. But the attack started late and the initial advance on Lazaro was made near dawn, at 4:00 am 20 April, by a forlorn hope of 50 picked men followed by 450 grenadiers commanded by Colonel Wynyard. The main body was 1,000 men of the 15th and 24th regiments commanded by Colonel Grant, then a mixed company from the 34th and 36th regiments[86] and some unarmed Americans carrying scaling-ladders for the fort's high walls and wool packs[87] to fill in the trench. Finally, there was a reserve of 500 marines under Colonel Wolfe.[88]

The column was led by two Spanish deserters as guides who misled the British on the southern low walled side. Wynyard was led to a steep approach and, as the grenadiers scrambled up the slope, they were received with a deadly volley of musket fire at thirty yards/metres from the Spanish in the entrenchments. The grenadiers deployed into line and advanced, slowly trading fire. On the north face, Grant fell early and the leaderless troops exchanged fire with the Spanish. Most of the Americans dropped the ladders they carried and took cover. Those ladders brought forward were too short by 10 feet (3 m).[89] After an hour, the sun rose, and as the guns of Cartagena opened fire on the British, casualties mounted. At 8:00 am, when a column of Spanish infantry coming from the gates of Cartagena threatened to cut the British off from their ships, Wentworth ordered a retreat. The assault failed, with a loss of 600 casualties from a force of approximately 2,000. Sickness and disease increased the casualties of the expedition. During the period surrounding the attack on Fort San Lazaro, Wentworth's land forces were reduced from 6,500 effectives to 3,200.[90][91]

British withdrawal

Don Blas de Lezo's plan had been that, given the overwhelming force against him, he would attempt to conduct a fighting withdrawal and delay the British long enough until the start of the rainy season at the end of April. The tropical downpours would delay campaigning for another 2 months. Further, the longer the enemy had to remain mostly crowded on ships at sea and in the open on land, the more likely that insufficient supply, discomfort and especially disease would become his allies and the deadly enemies of the British. De Lezo was aided by the contempt that Vernon and Wentworth had for each other, which prevented their cooperation after the initial landing.[92][36]

Another important factor in the defeat of the British force was the fact that Cartagena's defensive fortifications had been repaired and improved over the past year. Although De Lezo was pressed to the limit, his plan worked and the Spanish prevailed. The rains came and the British had to board their ships, where close quarters made disease even more deadly. By 25 April, Vernon and the council decided to retreat to Jamaica, and by mid-May they were gone. By 7 May, only 1,700 men of the land forces were fit for service and no more than 1,000 in condition to land against the enemy; within a month of leaving Cartagena, another 1,100 died. British strength was reduced to 1,400 and American to 1,300.[93]

The expedition and battle lasted for 67 days and ended with the British fleet withdrawing in defeat, with 18,000 dead or incapacitated, mostly by disease.[23] The Spanish also suffered severely from disease including Blas de Lezo himself, who died a few weeks after falling ill from the plague from unburied bodies.[94] In addition a total of 50 British ships were lost, badly damaged, disabled or abandoned for lack of crews. There were nineteen ships of the line damaged, four frigates and twenty-seven transports lost.[95] Of the 3,600 American colonists, who had volunteered, lured by promises of land[96] and mountains of gold,[97] most died of yellow fever, dysentery, and outright starvation. Only 300[98] returned home, including Lawrence Washington, who renamed his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon after Admiral Vernon.

During the early stage of the battle, when the Spanish forces had retreated from different defense points to regroup in the larger fortress of San Lazaro, feeling victory in his hands Vernon dispatched a messenger, Captain Laws, to Britain to inform King George of the British forces' entry to the inner bay on 17 May. The souvenir industry, in expectation of a triumph that never came, had been busily manufacturing commemorative medals for the occasion. They were mainly made by button-makers, who copied a few basic designs and are generally of very poor quality. The largest collections of these medals can be found in the United Kingdom and the United States. Commemorative china was also produced but its survival has been rarer. In one of the medals Admiral Vernon was shown looking down upon the "defeated" Spanish admiral Don Blas de Lezo who appeared kneeling down. A contemporary song was composed by a sailor from the Shrewsbury that prematurely celebrated the victory:

Vernon's Glory; or, The Spaniards Defeat.

Being an account of the taking of Carthagena by Vice-admiral Vernon...
"...and the town surrender[ed]

To Admiral Vernon, the scourge of Spain".[99]

The main reasons for the British defeat were the failure of the British to find united leadership after the commander in chief, General Charles Cathcart, died of dysentery en route; the logistic inability to land siege artillery and ammunition near to Cartagena; the impediments made by Vernon that prevented involvement of his line ships to support the infantry forces; and the effective Spanish maneuvers carried out by the viceroy Sebastián de Eslava, Admiral Blas de Lezo and Colonel Carlos Suivillars.[100]

There is no evidence for the claim made in recent years by works published in Spain that Admiral Vernon sent a letter to Blas de Lezo saying that "We have decided to retreat, but we will return to Cartagena after we take reinforcements in Jamaica", to which Blas de Lezo supposedly responded: "In order to come to Cartagena, the English King must build a better and larger fleet, because yours now is only suitable to transport coal from Ireland to London".[101] Coal was not transported from Ireland to England, the reverse being the case.


Following the news of the disaster Robert Walpole's government soon collapsed.[102] Spain retained control over its most strategically important colonies, including the vitally crucial port in the Caribbean that helped secure the defense of the Spanish Main and its trans-Atlantic trade with Spain.

News of Britain's defeat reached Europe at the end of June, 1741 and had immense repercussions. It caused George II of Great Britain, who had been acting as mediator between Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria Theresa supporting Austria over Prussian seizure of Silesia in December 1740, to withdraw Britain's guarantees of armed support for the Pragmatic Sanction. That encouraged France and Spain, the Bourbon allies, revealed to also be allied with Prussia, to move militarily against a now isolated Austria.[103] A greater and wider war, the War of the Austrian Succession, now began.

The staggering losses suffered by the British compromised all the subsequent actions by Vernon and Wentworth in the Caribbean and most ended in acrimonious failure[104] despite reinforcements of 1,000 troops from Jamaica and 3,000 regular infantry from Britain.[105] Vernon and Wentworth were both recalled to Britain in September 1742, with Chaloner Ogle taking command of a very sickly fleet that had less than half its sailors fit for duty.[106] By the time the Caribbean campaign ended in May 1742 ninety percent of the army had died from combat and sickness.[14][107] Several other British attacks took place in the Caribbean with little consequence on the geopolitical situation in the Atlantic. The weakened British forces led by Charles Knowles made raids upon the Venezuelan coast, attacking La Guaira in February 1743 and Puerto Cabello in April, though neither operation was particularly successful.[31]

The failure to take Cartagena caused what was left of the naval forces assigned to Vernon to remain in the Caribbean longer. This resulted in the weakened Mediterranean squadron being unable to prevent the Spanish from twice convoying troops totalling 25,000 to Italy in November and December 1741.[108] It was not until Commodore Richard Lestock, commander of one of Vernon's divisions at Cartagena, returned to Europe with ships from the Caribbean fleet, that Britain reinforced its presence in the Mediterranean.[109]

Historian Reed Browning describes the British Cartagena expedition as "stupidly disastrous" and quotes Horace Walpole, whose father was Vernon's bitter enemy, writing in 1744: "We have already lost seven millions of money and thirty thousand men in the Spanish war and all the fruit of all this blood and treasure is the glory of having Admiral Vernon's head on alehouse signs." The inscription on Vernon's marble memorial in Westminster Abbey reflects the bitter dispute between the naval and land forces at the siege of Cartagena: "He subdued Chagre, and at Carthagena conquered as far as naval forces could carry victory".[110]

In 2014, whilst on his royal visit to Colombia, Prince Charles in cooperation with the city authorities unveiled a plaque which commemorated the British casualties of the battle. After complaints from city residents that the Spanish defenders were not mentioned on the plaque and that it was placed near a statue of de Lezo, the city authorities decided to remove the plaque, that by the time had been already vandalised. Mayor Dionisio Velez stated that it had not been his intention to "stir this controversy, or hurt the feelings of people".[111]

Popular culture

Scottish folk/pirate metal band Alestorm has a song entitled "1741 (The Battle of Cartagena)" on their 2014 album Sunset on the Golden Age, which chronicles the battle.


  1. ^ Anderson, MS (1995). The War of Austrian Succession 1740–1748 (Modern Wars In Perspective). Routledge. p. 18. ISBN 978-0582059504.
  2. ^ "Col. John Grant, of Carron". Clan MacFarlane and associated clans genealogy. Archived from the original on 14 March 2023. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  3. ^ Beatson 1804, Vol. III, pp. 25–27.
    Browning 1993, p. 60, gives a total overall strength as perhaps 30,000 men.
  4. ^ A remarkable piece of Spanish intelligence on this expedition is found almost a year prior to the arrival of this fleet. The Governor of Spanish Florida learned from English colonists taken prisoner in the recapture of Fort Mose during the siege of St. Augustine that "they have learned of the preparation in England of a considerable expedition against Havanna, consisting of 30 ships of the line, and of a landing party of 10,000 men. I am sending this dispatch to give you this information as possibly of great importance to the service of the King." Letter from Governor Montiano, 6 July 1740, Collections of the Georgia Historical Society. (Vol. VII. – Part I) Published by Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Ga. For an in depth analysis of the intelligence and spies used by both sides. See: Rivas Ibañez 2008.
  5. ^ Beatson, Hart, Duncan, Lord Mahon, Hume & other historians give a total of 12,000 land forces beginning the expedition. Including 3,600 North American colonial marines—Colonel William Gooch's 43rd Regiment, commanded by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Considered the origin of the United States Marine Corps.
  6. ^ Beatson 1804, Vol. III, pp. 25–26, gives Royal Navy crews total of 15,398—he does not give crew totals for the 135 transports and supply ships which likely numbered 3000 to 5000, Reed Browning's estimate of 30,000 for the total force would leave a balance of some 2600 for transport crews. Hume 1825, pp. 108–113, "The conjoined squadrons consisted of nine and twenty ships of the line...The number of seamen amounted to 15,000: that of land forces...12,000." Samuel 1923, pp. 236–242, 'Admiral Vernon, " reinforced by twenty-five ships of the line and 9,000 soldiers...".
  7. ^ Beatson 1804, Vol III, pp. 25–26. List of ships of the line under Vernon is 8 of 80 guns, 5 of 70 guns, 14 of 60 guns, 2 of 50 guns and 22 frigates. Also Hart 1922, p. 140, gives 22.
  8. ^ Smollett & Hume 1848, p. 391, Ogle's fleet being sent to Vernon for the expedition against Cartagena is stated to be "one hundred and seventy sail" when added to Vernon's squadron something very close to 186 ships is achieved and includes the supply ships and transports not mentioned elsewhere. The author, Smollett, of course, was with this expedition as surgeon and therefore an eyewitness..
  9. ^ Hart 1922, p. 146.
    Browning 1993, p. 60, estimates 3,000.
  10. ^ Fernández Duro 1902, p. 247, however, gives 1,100 regulars and 400 marines.
  11. ^ This number is possibly underestimated in sources as the 6 Spanish ships of the line must have had crews similar to those British ships of that size had, i.e. 400–600 each, so that the total of 4,000 for garrison of Cartagena was mostly sailors.
  12. ^ Hart 1922, p. 146, gives 300 militia.
  13. ^ Geggus, David (1979). "Yellow Fever in the 1790s: The British Army in occupied Saint Domingue". Medical History. 23 (1): 50. doi:10.1017/S0025727300051012. PMC 1082398. PMID 368468., "... of the 12,000 British and Americans who laid siege to Cartagena in 1741 seventy percent perished, including seventy-seven per cent of the British." therefore: 8,400 from yellow fever alone, over 6,000 British soldiers at the siege.
    Similarly, Harbron 2004, p. 108, "...yellow fever ... killed perhaps 9,000 sailors and troops in the British forces.".
    Hart 1922, p. 151. "So great were the losses to the troops through disease and battle that not over one third of the land troops appear to have returned with the fleet to Jamaica." This would indicate considerably more than 8,000 dead.
    Likewise, Coxe 1815, p. 24 states that Havana is attacked by "...3,000 men, the discouraged and exhausted remnant of the troops which had been repulsed at Cartagena ...". Coxe also gives the overall loss of the expedition during the campaign as 20,000 lives lost.
    Beatson 1804, Vol. I, p. 111, gives the army's strength as down to 3,000 in Jamaica.
  14. ^ a b Duncan, Francis (1879). History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. In two volumes – Vol. 1. London: John Murray. p. 123. Archived from the original on 13 March 2024. Retrieved 10 February 2021.," reduced was this force in two years by disaster and disease, that not a tenth part returned to England...'thus ended in shame, disappointment, and loss, the most important, most expensive, and best concerted expedition that Great Britain was ever engaged in'...". So too, Fortescue 1899, p. 76. "Of the regiments that had sailed from St. Helen's under Cathcart in all the pride and confidence of strength, nine in every ten had perished.".
  15. ^ a b Fernández Duro 1902, p. 250.
  16. ^ Anon 2008. This article states 1500 British guns captured, lost or damaged, but this number needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however, the article does contain references.
  17. ^ Fernández Duro 1902, p. 250, "...tuvieron que incendiar seis navios y otros 17 quedaron con necesidad de grandes reparos para poder servir...".
  18. ^ . "...departing May 20th, five ships were burnt due to a lack of crew. Another sank on its way to Jamaica" El desastre del ataque británico a Cartagena de Indias. Archived 31 March 2022 at the Wayback Machine Revista de Historia Naval.
  19. ^ The Hispanic American Historical Review, Volume 2, Baltimore, 1922, p. 64, gives: "... 18 of the largest... repairing considerable damage.".
  20. ^ Anon 2008.
  21. ^ Marley, David. Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present, ABC-CLIO (1998). ISBN 0874368375, p. 259, gives 600 dead.
  22. ^ All Spanish losses from: Anon 2008.
  23. ^ a b Fortescue 1899, pp. 72–79, gives a detailed account of the rapid and devastating withering away of the land forces to disease.
  24. ^ Browning, Reed (1994). The War of the Austrian Succession. Sutton Publishing. p. 393. ISBN 978-0750905787.
  25. ^ Browning 1993, p. 21.
  26. ^ Rivas Ibañez 2008, p. 16.
  27. ^ Rothbard, Murray (23 April 2010). "Mercantilism as the Economic Side of Absolutism". Good summary of the concept. Archived from the original on 1 February 2020. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  28. ^ Anderson, MS (1976). Europe in the Eighteenth Century, 1713–1783: (A General History of Europe). Longman. p. 293. ISBN 978-0582486720.
  29. ^ Richmond 1920, p. 2.
  30. ^ Harbron, John D. (1998). Trafalgar and the Spanish navy. Conway Maritime Press. p. 3. ISBN 0-87021-695-3.
  31. ^ a b Rodger 2005, p. 238.
  32. ^ Beatson 1804, Vol. III, p. 17, 3 ships: 70 guns, 2 ships: 60 guns, 1 ship: 50 guns.
  33. ^ Ruiz, Bruce. "Admiral Vernon and portobello". Panama Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 24 September 2007.
  34. ^ Browning 1993, p. 22, "They [the British] had over 120 ships of the line in their fleet, while France had but 50 and Spain 40". In Mitch Williamson's article, British Naval Supremacy: Some Factors Newly Considered 2002, he states the Royal Navy's War Establishment Manpower at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748 is 44,861—so Vernon's total of over 15,000 sailors represents at least 25% of Royal Navy manpower.
  35. ^ Harbron 2004, pp. 15–17. Havana built nearly 50% more Ships of the Line than any other Spanish dockyard during the 18th century.
  36. ^ a b Rodger 2005, p. 237. "... his [Vernon's] ruthless exploitation of the army, his unscrupulous skill at claiming credit for every success and blaming the soldiers for every failure, eventually destroyed any possibility of harmonious combined operations."
  37. ^ Rodger 2005, pp. 237–238, "The government was unable to resist the public clamor for a major expedition to the Caribbean." Also: Harbron 2004, p. 237.
  38. ^ a b Richmond 1920, p. 12.
  39. ^ Pares 1963, p. 85.
  40. ^ Le Fevre & Harding 2000, pp. 163–164.
  41. ^ Ford 1907, p. 124, "Destroy their settlements in America, and Spain falls. My opinion is that a strong squadron be sent to the West Indies, to distress the enemy in their very vitals, to destroy their mines, to seize their treasures, to take their ships, to ruin their settlements. Let them be attacked in as many places as possible at the same time...If once Porto-Bello and Cartagena were taken, then all will be lost to them." Vernon at the Admiralty meeting.
  42. ^ Richmond 1920, p. 101.
  43. ^ Ford 1907, pp. 143–144.
  44. ^ Rodger 2005, p. 236.
  45. ^ Pares 1963, pp. 66, 68, 92–93. Also, Le Fevre & Harding 2000, p. 168, " taking and holding some of her (Spain's) important colonies.". Similarly, Richmond 1920, p. 16.
  46. ^ Ford 1907, p. 140, "In that way there would have been secured for Britain the whole trade with the coast of Chili (sic) and Peru, and with the western coast of Mexico, thus crippling the power of Spain...".
  47. ^ Rodger 2005, p. 233.
  48. ^ Rivas Ibañez 2008, p. 156.
  49. ^ Dull 2009, p. 46. Also, Rivas Ibañez 2008, p. 180.
  50. ^ Harbron 2004, pp. 13–14.
  51. ^ Marks 1999, pp. 20–21.
  52. ^ Marks 1999, p. 22.
  53. ^ Marks 1999, p. 25.
  54. ^ Beatson 1804, Vol. III, pp. 24–25.
  55. ^ Rivas Ibañez 2008, pp. 185–186.
  56. ^ Brooke, James (8 October 1995). "Cartagena, Caribbean Jewel". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 February 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2021.
  57. ^ Beatson 1804, pp. 25–27. List of ships of the line under Vernon is 8 of 80 guns, 5 of 70 guns, 14 of 60 guns, 2 of 50 guns and 22 frigates and other warships. Additionally, the list gives a detail breakdown of the 12,000 troops: the 15th and 24th regiments of foot, 2,000; 6,000 marines; 2,500 American and some others. Ship of the Line crews total 11,000+, no numbers are given for the frigate and transport crews on that page. On the following page a list of frigates and their crews is given for the Cartagena expedition that corresponds to that of Vernon's fleet list with a few minor variations. The total for Royal Navy sailors then (at least as paper strength, full complements) is: 15,398. This total does not include the 12,000 soldiers, nor any civilian seamen, nor the crews for the over 120 transports.
  58. ^ Hume, David. The History of England, London, 1825, p. 109, "...with an equal number of frigates, fire ships, and bomb ketches...". When compared with a nearly contemporary amphibious expedition described in Pritchard 1995, p. 4 as: 10 Ships of the Line, 45 troop transports and some 10,000 sailors and soldiers it can be seen that Vernon's fleet has nearly three times as many Ships of the Line and nearly three times the soldiers and sailors and that by analogy Vernon's fleet would have around three times the total ships or more, i.e. at least 165 ships.
  59. ^ Smollett & Hume 1848, p. 392.
  60. ^ Richmond 1920, p. 101, "... regiments miscalled marines ..." not the marine contingents of warships therefore.
  61. ^ Hart 1922, p. 139. Similarly, Trustees of the Public Libraries, et al. The State Records of North Carolina, Vol. XI, (1895–1907), Goldsboro, NC: Nash brothers, pp. 42–45, state in a note that the number of companies which actually sailed was 36 containing 3,600 men. Also, Marshall & Low 2001, p. 119, gives 3,600 and p. 302. gives 3,500.
  62. ^ Letter to Torres, 13 Jan. 1741, AGS, Estado Francia, Legajo 4408: "Al mismo tiempo y por propio conducto, ha participado que por carta de 28 de noviembre escrita desde Londres se daba por sujeto apreciable que se habían mudado las instrucciones de M. Carthcart que la escuadra del almirante Ogle que conduce las tropas de su cargo en lugar de ir a la Habana ira a Cartagena, por hallarse los ingleses bien informados de que no hemos enviado más de 2000 hombres y 600 reclutas".
  63. ^ Hart 1922, p. 146, gives 4,000.
    Browning 1993, p. 60, estimates 3,000.
  64. ^ Lemaitre, Eduardo (1998). Breve Historia de Cartagena. Medellin: Editorial Colina. ISBN 9586380904.
  65. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 62, "The fleet was very sickly...".
    Baugh 2002, p. 140: "The worst naval typhus epidemic of the century occurred between August 1739 and October 1740 ... 25,000 fell ill and were sent to hospital ships, sick quarters and hospitals; of these, 2750 died and 1965 deserted." This represents over 50% of the seamen employed by the Navy at that time.
    Similarly, Rodger 2005, p. 308, "A serious epidemic [of typhus] over the hard winters of 1739–41 wrecked the Navy's mobilization, with men falling sick faster than they could be recruited." Typhus was generally a cold weather disease.
  66. ^ Rivas Ibañez 2008, p. 166, relates reports that October 1000 sailors and 400 soldiers were sick.
  67. ^ a b Fortescue 1899, pp. 61–62.
  68. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 62.
  69. ^ Krimmin, Patriaca Kathleen (2007). "British Naval Health, 1700–1800, Improvement over time?". In Hudson, Geoffrey L. (ed.). British military and naval medicine, 1600–1830. Amsterdam / New York City: Rodopi. p. 184. ISBN 978-9042022720. The Sick and Hurt Board recorded nearly 10,000 men sick ashore in England alone in 1740.
  70. ^ Rivas Ibañez 2008, p. 180, "... Vernon told Cathcart that it was crucial to avoid the sickly season, which lasted from May to November.".
  71. ^ Rodger 2005, pp. 160–161.
    Fortescue 1899, p. 68.
    Baugh 2002, pp. 140–141
  72. ^ Anon 2008 gives details of conflict between Lezo and Eslava.
  73. ^ Dull 2009, p. 46, "... more than a third of them were needed to fill out the crews...". Also, Le Fevre & Harding 2000, p. 169.
  74. ^ Ford 1907, p. 153.
  75. ^ Hargreaves- Mawdsley, W.N. (1968). Spain under the Bourbons, 1700–1833: A collection of documents. Macmillan & Co. pp. 100–102.
  76. ^ "The Battle of Cartagena de Indias". Grandes Batallas. Archived from the original on 20 April 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  77. ^ a b Smollett & Roscoe 1844, p. 606
  78. ^ Ford 1907, p. 154. Also, The London Gazette, Number 8015, May 1741, p. 1, "... the two Regiments of Harrison and Wentworth, and the six Regiments Marines landed without opposition.".
  79. ^ Offen 2009, pp. 37–38.
  80. ^ Offen 2009, p. 31.
  81. ^ Beatson 1804, Vol. II, pp. 93–84. Also, Clowes, W. Laird. The Royal Navy, a history from the earliest times to present, London, 1898, Vol. III, pp. 71–72. Smollett & Roscoe 1844, 606
  82. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 66.
  83. ^ Fortescue 1899, pp. 66–69.
    Beatson 1804, Vol. I, p. 101
  84. ^ Rivas Ibañez 2008, p. 179.
  85. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 67.
    Beatson 1804, Vol. I, p. 102.
  86. ^ released from duty as ships' crew.
  87. ^ Similar to a sand bag but filled with wool 5 feet high 15 inches in diameter. Duane, William. A Military Dictionary: Or, Explanation of the Several Systems of Discipline, Philadelphia, 1810, p. 639.
  88. ^ The father of James Wolfe of Quebec fame.
  89. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 70.
  90. ^ Knowles, Charles (1743). An Account of the expedition to Carthagena. London: M. Cooper. p. 45. Similarly, The Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. 11, 1741, p. 331. Also, Fortescue 1899, p. 72.
  91. ^ Samuel 1923, pp. 236–242, 'Admiral Vernon, " reinforced by twenty-five ships of the line and 9,000 soldiers...of the six thousand that had been landed more than half were either dead or dying." Lord Mahon. History of England from the Peace of Utrecht to the Peace of Versailles, Vol. III, Boston, 1853, p. 64, "... he found, in less than two days, his effective force (emphasis added) dwindle from 6600 to 3200 men." Similarly, Tindal, Nicolas (1759). The continuation of Mr. Rapin's History of England. Vol. VII. London: T. Osborne. p. 509. "... they were reduced from 6,645 to 3,200, of whom 1200 were Americans, and unfit for service.".
  92. ^ Smollett & Hume 1848, p. 394, "...each proved more eager for the disgrace of his rival than zealous for the honour of the nation." Also, Fortescue 1899, p. 79,"Nevertheless, it was Vernon who was mainly responsible for the fatal friction between the army and the navy.".
  93. ^ Fortescue 1899, pp. 73–74.
    Similarly, Hart 1922, p. 151, "So great were the losses to the troops through disease and battle that not over one third of the land troops appear to have returned with the fleet to Jamaica.".
  94. ^ Meisel Ujueta, Alfonso (1982). Blas de Lezo:vida legendaria del marino Vasco. Barranquilla, Colombia: Litografía Dovel. p. 1982.
  95. ^ "..departing May 20th, five ships were burnt due to a lack of crew. Another sank on its way to Jamaica". Don Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta un Ejemplo Del Espíritu Militar Español Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine gives a total of 50 ships lost.
  96. ^ Pares 1963, pp. 92–93.
    Offen 2009, pp. 3, 63–64.
  97. ^ Conway 2006, p. 230.
  98. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 76. Also, Marshall & Low 2001, p. 278, gives loss as "four-fifths".
  99. ^ Navy Records Society (Great Britain) Publications of the Navy Records Society Vol. XXXIII, Naval Songs and Ballards,1907, pp. 181–184, a must read, absolutely hilarious in context, it also has specific details about the fleets that correspond to other sources such as "Thirty ships of the line...", "Don Blas with six ships...".
  100. ^ Membrillo Becerra, Francisco Javier (2011). La Batalla de Cartagena de Indias (in Spanish). Caligrama. pp. 267–275. ISBN 978-8461538942.
  101. ^ Victoria, Pablo (2005). El día que España derrotó a Inglaterra: de cómo Blas de Lezo, tuerto, manco y cojo, venció en Cartagena de Indias a la otra "Armada Invencible". Altera. p. 262. ISBN 8441435111.
  102. ^ For a good account of the mood of London and Vernon's enmity to Walpole see: Ford 1907, pp. 141–145,"The debate in Parliament was one [of] the most exciting and memorable ever heard...the climax lay in Walpole's alleged misconduct in relation to the war, and that, in turn, practically meant his failure to give proper support to Admiral Vernon....But Walpole's victory was of the sort that presages ultimate defeat."; p. 147, "In January, 1742, Pulteney again marshalled his forces, and moved for the appointment of a committee to examine papers capable of affording evidence as to the conduct of the war with Spain." Walpole would resign the first week of February, 1742.
  103. ^ Browning 1993, pp. 58–66, " 'now America must be fought for in Europe', Britain's Lord Hardwicke. If Britain could not prevail where it could muster all its maritime advantages, what fatality might await it when it engaged-as now it must-under severe disadvantages?".
  104. ^ Dull 2009, p. 47.
    Conway 2006, p. 14, " ... arguments between the naval and military commanders made effective cooperation impossible.". Animosity was such that Gov. Trelawny of Jamaica and Sir Chaloner Ogle drew swords on each other at a council.
    Fortescue 1899, p. 76.
  105. ^ Fortescue 1899, p. 75, Royal Scots, the 6th, the 27th foot.
  106. ^ Baugh 2002, p. 141, "In early 1742, only 3,000 of 6,600 on Sir Chanon Ogle's large West India squadron were fit for duty.".
  107. ^ Coxe 1815 [page needed], also gives the overall loss of the expedition during the campaign as 20,000 lives lost, and Browning 1993, p. 382 considers this "not implausible."
  108. ^ Conway 2006, p. 16.
  109. ^ Browning 1993, pp. 80–81.
  110. ^ "Edward Vernon". Westminster Abbey. Archived from the original on 25 May 2020. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  111. ^ "Plaque unveiled by Prince Charles in Colombia is removed". BBC News. 8 November 2014. Archived from the original on 27 March 2019. Retrieved 17 March 2019.


Further reading

Primary sources