Header - www.cementeriobritanico.org
Powered by Eduardo A. Kesting
Home Historias Instituciones Personajes Links Eventos Contactenos
Historias, Instituciones, Personajes

de Eduardo Alejandro Kesting

“The Black Frigate”

by Dr. Eduardo C. Gerding

The Buenos Aires Herald on Sunday-History

-October 24 th , 2004.,p 6 and 8.

Irish Migration Studies in Latin America

-Irish Argentine Historical Society-

Cumann Staire na nEireannach san Airgintin.-


The Southern Cross

-Año 129 - Nro. 5895 - Diciembre 2004, p 12.

Frigate Hercules and Spanish Gobernadora

Frigate Hercules and Spanish Gobernadora

Photograph taken by the author at the Museo Naval de la Nación ( Tigre )

Oil painting ( 70 cm x 100 cm ) by Emilio Biggeri ( 1966 )

The origin


The origin of our first Flagship has been a controversial issue and a motive for sharp remarks among well known historians. The Hercules was of Russian origin according  to a Memorandum presented on August 5th, 1817 by Lieutenant Colonel William Brown to the Lords of His Majesty Treasure. Brown confirmed such origin again in 1855 in a document requested by General Bartolomé Mitre which was translated into Spanish by General Tomás Guido.


The Times of London dated December 21st, 1818 and April 7th 1819 published an  official statement made by the Admiralty Court which began with this revealing statement : “ In the case of the ship Hercules, otherwise the Duke of Palma “ . Whatever could have been the Duke of Palma´s history it still waits to be revealed.


According to Sergei Klimovsky, Scientific Secretary of the Russian Central Naval Museum, the main Russian shipyards where such frigate could have been built in the 1800s were: Okhta Admiralty, Saint Petersburg and Arkhangelsk Admiralty, Arkhangelsk, White Sea .The vessels which could have been the Duke of Palma during his service in the Russian Navy probably may be: 44-guns frigate Speshny, 1800,

Arkhangelsk, 20.09.1807 captured in Portsmouth by Englishmen; 38-guns frigate Legky, 1800, Arkhangelsk, 27.09.1809 delivered to France; 60-guns ship-of-the line Finland, 1790 captured from Swedes, 1813 sold to England; 64-guns ship-of-the line Retvizan, 1790 captured from Swedes, 1813 sold to England.


The acquisition


On December 1813, the Minister of War Juan Larrea signed an agreement with Bostonian Guillermo Pío White ( whose partner was Mr Pedro Lezica ) by which this last was to provide the means for a naval squad that could grant success on the Spanish naval forces.

Signatures of John Goodfellow and William P. White

Signatures of John Goodfellow and William P. White from the original  pay bill written in English , part of Mr. José Lucio de Ocampo´s private collection which was later bestowed to the Naval School.

( Kindly submitted by Ms Elsa Poveda-Museum of the Escuela Naval Militar ). Mr. John Goodfellow sold the Hercules , her cargo ( 90 tons of salt and 60 tons of charcoal ) as well as her Russian papers by $25,000 of which $12,500 were paid cash and the rest through a credit of $12,500 from the Custom house. The Hercules most probably entered Buenos Ayres about 1813 although there are no documents availing this last. Our Ship Nº 1 was officially incorporated to the Navy on January 4th 1814 under the command of Eliseo Smith.

Guillermo Pío White ( 1770-1842 )

Guillermo Pío White ( 1770-1842 )

He was the son of Evenie and Abigail Porta. White arrived to the Río de la Plata in 1803 as purser of the merchant ship Príncipe Concepción which set sail from the Island of France ( Mauricio).

Crew and guns


The 149 crew was composed by 14 naval officers, 87 soldiers and 42 countrymen. This powerful 350 tons warship had 38 m length and 5,8 m depth of hold. She had two decks. Admiral Brown´s cabin was under the spar deck.


On the beginning the Frigate was armed with four cannons of 24, eight cannons of 18, twelve cannons of 8, six cannons of 6 plus 6 stone mortars. She was later armed with four long cannons of 24, eight cannons of 18, twelve of 12, six of 9, six of 6 and 6 stone mortars. This summed up 42 pieces. By 1814/15 the Hercules was lined up with copper in La Ensenada.

A 24 pdr naval cannon

A 24 pdr naval cannon ( Kindly submitted by the Official Site of the USS Constitution )

Crew and guns


The 149 crew was composed by 14 naval officers, 87 soldiers and 42 countrymen. This powerful 350 tons warship had 38 m length and 5,8 m depth of hold. She had two decks. Admiral Brown´s cabin was under the spar deck. On the beginning the Frigate was armed with four cannons of 24, eight cannons of 18, twelve cannons of 8, six cannons of 6 plus 6 stone mortars. She was later armed with four long cannons of 24, eight cannons of 18, twelve of 12, six of 9, six of 6 and 6 stone mortars. This summed up 42 pieces. By 1814/15 the Hercules was lined up with copper in La Ensenada.


The Combat of Martin Garcia


On March 10th the Hercules joined by the Julieta, the Tortugas, the Fortunata and the felucca San Luis faced the strong Spanish naval forces led by Captain Jacinto de Romarate. This last had six war ships, brigs, gunboats and a land battery with four cannons. There was a fierce combat after which the Hercules was stranded. The American born officer Benjamin Franklin Seaver, commander of the Julieta, was killed in action. The Hercules defended herself until March 12 at 10 AM. As a result of this combat Commander Elias Smith, Lieutenant Robert Stacy and 45 sailors were killed by grapeshot. There were about 50 wounded which imposed a heavy task for the surgeon Bernard Campbell. The Flagship received no less than 82 cannon blows and was repaired in the same war zone. Plumb plates were placed under the water line and the hull covered with leathers and tar. Henceforth it was nicknamed as the Black Frigate.  Richard Baxter, an English born officer was appointed as the new commander.

On March 17, Brown attacked the island Martin Garcia together with the Julieta and the Zephir. The Hercules engaged in combat with the Spanish warships Esperanza and Carmen.


A land attack was organized and it was then that William Brown ordered the fife and the drum to play Saint Patrick’s Day in the Morning which acted as a real booster among the troops.


By April 20th, 1814 Montevideo was blocked by our forces. There were not major engagements in April. On May 14th a combat started but the sea conditions stopped a full attack.


Combat del Buceo


On May 16th the Hercules, the Belfast, the Zephir and the small coasting Schooner Itati backboned by the Agreeable engaged in fight with the Spanish warships Neptuno, San José and La Paloma in front of Buceo. On May 17th, during the persecution, Admiral Brown received a cannon shot which broke one of his legs. The Spanish warship Maria was seized and brought to Buenos Ayres just like the Neptuno , the Paloma and the San José. The Mercurio was chased up to the very port of Montevideo. By June 1814 the Spanish crown had lost Montevideo.


The Hercules returned to Buenos Ayres leaving Captain Russell commanding the blockade of Montevideo. On June 23rd 1814 , Montevideo surrendered the whole Spanish squad.


On August 1814 , our squad was auctioned but the Hercules was bestowed to Admiral Brown by the United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata’s government.


The Frigate was then lined up with copper and armed with twenty-nine cannons of 24, 12 and 8 pounds. The letter of marque was issued on September 1st,1815. She departed from Buenos Ayres on September 15, 1815 commanded by Michael Brown as William Brown was not to get involved in privateer actions.


Notwithstanding, once in the Rio de la Plata William Brown took the command, his second in chief being David Chitty. Miguel Brown took command of the Trinidad. The Hercules navigated around Cape Horn and in front of Chiloé seized the Schooner Mercedes. Later, in front of Morro Quemado she captured the Frigate Gobernadora which was sailing from Guayaquil to Lima. On January 16, 1816 the Brig San Pablo is captured and becomes Brown’s hospital ship. On January 18, our forces captured a pilot’s boat and on the 19th a místico ( small coasting vessel ) which was sailing from Pisco was sunk.


On January 20th our naval forces arrived to Callao and on the 21st they started bombarding the castles of Rimac. During 20 days the biggest Spanish stronghold was blocked by five ships waving the flag of Buenos Ayres.


On January 21st the Frigate Fuente Hermosa was sunk. On January 23rd after a fierce combat the Frigate Consecuencia which set sail from Cadiz was captured. Among the passengers was Brigadier Juan M. Mendiburu. The Consecuencia became later La Argentina which was to be commanded by French naval officer Hipólito Bouchard.


On January 25th the warship La Candelaria was captured.


1816-Guayaquil is attacked


On January 29th,1816 Admiral Brown set sail in the Trinidad for Guayaquil and on February 18th he attacked the batteries of Punta Piedras which he captured after a long struggle. Brown captured the Schooner Carmen and attacked the battery Elizalde. He then attacked de San Carlos castle but the Trinidad got stranded as a result of the quick ebb of the Guayas river.


As a result of this, Brown was captured by the Spanish forces but was rescued by the gallant action of the Consecuencia and the Hercules . Miguel Brown and Chitty took part in the exchange of prisoners. Our forces released the Spanish prisoners and their mail and set free the Candelaria, the Gobernadora, a mistico and two small vessels. The Trinidad was lost and William Brown returned to the Hercules.

Scurvy aboard


The Hercules set sails to the Galapagos islands where the prizes were shared out. Admiral Brown obtained the Halcon and Bouchard the Consecuencia, the pilot’s boat Carmen went to Pedro Dautant. The Hercules and the Halcon navigated then to Colombia in a painful journey as most of the crew was suffering of scurvy. A 55 men crew departed on June 1816 from San Buenaventura, visited the Island of Pascua and then sailed around Cape Horn. They had to feed themselves mostly of turtle, maize and ron. The cargo was lightened in the Gulf of Penas and then they set sailed to the Malvinas islands. A maelstrom forced them to stop in Brazil near the Cabo Frío. In this last place they met the British Brig Jane which informed them about the political news at the Río de la Plata.


Trouble in Barbados


William Brown, following his officer’s advice entered in Carlisle Bay near Barbuda on September 25th, 1818. According to The Gentleman’s Magazine 1816, Vol. 11 ( page 552 ) and The Times, April 22nd,1818 this is what happened thereafter.


The Black Frigate was mounting a t that time 22 guns and had a 56 men crew with a valuable cargo of quicksilver, silks, steel, dry goods and spice, supposed to be worth a million dollars, the produce of plundered towns and vessels in the Pacific Ocean


Antigua y Barbados están situadas en el medio de las islas Leeward Islands en el Caribe oriental, aproximadamente 17 grados al norte del Ecuador. Al sur se encuentran las islas de Montserrat y Guadalupe, y al norte y al oeste están Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Barts, y St. Martin.

Antigua y Barbados

The Hercules was seized a day or two later but released upon Brown consenting to accompany Captain Sterling from the Sloop of war HMS Brazen to Antigua and report to the Admiral there. She was seized a second time while at sea under the Navigation Laws, and condemned on November 13rd by the Vice Admiralty court of Antigua.


On appeal was made to the High Court of Admiralty in England in 1817, and a claim brought by John Garcias Esq. on behalf of his Catholic Majesty Ferdinand VII. The seizer refused to give an issue to the libel in this claim until the issue between him and William Brown was disposed of, on the ground that the King of Spain was no party to the original proceedings, and it would only embarrass the question; that is the sentence of the Court should be reversed. The different claimants might settle their disputes inter se, with which the seizer could have nothing to do.


Sir William Scott said it was impossible for the Court to receive any claim for the Independent government of Buenos Ayres which had never been recognized by the British government. Therefore there was no reason whatever for refusing to answer the claim on behalf of the Spanish government, that he had no hesitation in directing an issue to be given to the libel as prayed.


Eventually the claimants withdrew, and in December 1820 the court made a decree in Brown’s favor. Brown and his men were released but they lost the Frigate and the cargo.


The Black Frigate´s final days


There are two theories on the Black Frigate’s final days:


1) According to the Courier of London, April 4 1817 the ship was auctioned in Antigua and became part of the fleet of the Venezuelan Admiral Brion. This new was reproduced by Le Moniteur Universel of Paris on April 10, 1817.


2) According to the Evening Post of New York, August 5, 1818 the Hercules arrived to Habana from Antigua and was sold there.


Final words


The have been at least 20 drawings of the Hercules painted by renowned artists like Commodore José Murature, Eduardo De Martino ( a former Austrian naval officer ) and Captain Emilio Biggeri showing how much this warship is appreciated among naval officers. On May 1970 ,the Argentine Navy received a Type 42 Class Frigate named Hercules (D-1) built at Barrow-in-Furness ( UK ). Argentina lacks an original man-o-war like the HMS Victory berthed in No. 2 Dock, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, England or even a replica like the Dutch East Indiaman Amsterdam at the Scheepvaart Museum ( Amsterdam, The Netherlands ).


A real size replica of the Hercules would be built and installed in a dry dock near the Moy river. Mr. O’Hara , owner of Foxford supermarket, is the President and founder of the Foxford Admiral Brown Society. Many Argentine-Irish societies are giving support to this project including Mrs. Mary Robinson former President of Ireland (1990-1997 ).


From the misty depths of history, the story of the Black Frigate touches our deep feelings and continue inspiring the best traditions among worldwide seafaring lovers.


Dr Eduardo C. Gerding received his High School degree in 1967 at the Cardinal Newman College ( A Christian Brother’s College ). Medicine Doctor in 1974 at the Jesuit Universidad del Salvador. Retired from the Navy as Lieutenant Commander, former chief of Gastroenterology at the Buenos Aires Naval Hospital. Works at the Health Division of the Argentine Naval Hydrographic Service. Life Member of the US Naval Institute. His ancestor Eduard Gerding from the Kingdom of Hanover entered the country in 1830, was partner of William MacCann and founded The Strangers Club the oldest club in South America.



Article in Spanish Language

    Other  Articles

   Other  Articles