He came, he saw, albeit with one eye, but never conquered. Admiral Horacio Nelson suffered the loss of his right arm and 226 of his men but is still held in high esteem in Tenerife despite his intention to seize the island.
It was 25th July 1797, the British Navy was mighty and Tenerife was a strategic trading post so it should have been a pushover for Nelson’s three frigates and a cutter as they descended on Santa Cruz just after midnight. They didn’t reckon on the fighting spirit of the locals who had spotted the ships the day before. Nelson was stepping out of a landing boat when he was caught by musket fire which shattered his right arm just as the cutter was sunk by the Tigre canon. So much for invading.
The term stiff upper lip could have been invented for the pint-sized Admiral. His boat took him back to a surviving ship and although he was in excruciating pain he still talked a good fight.
“I have yet my legs left and one arm, tell the surgeon to make haste and get his instruments. I know I must lose my right arm, so the sooner it is off the better.”
Back in Santa Cruz, Captain Troubridge marched into town with what was left of the landing force but realising they were beaten he threatened to burn the town down if his terms of surrender weren’t met. From that point it all became bizarrely civilised. The Spanish Governor, Juan Antonio Gutierrez, a great admirer of the reputation of the British Navy and in particularly Nelson, arranged for the British injured to be ferried back to their ships and sent some fine Canarian wine. Nelson now minus his arm sent the governer a barrel of beer and later wrote in his journal.
“It is right that we should notice the noble and generous conduct of Don Juan Antonio Gutierrez.”
The mutual respect didn’t end there. Up in the La Paz district of Santa Cruz you can still find Calle Horacio Nelson and down at the dockside, looking dirty and neglected these days, there is a monument to the two leaders. Los Amigos de la Tertulia had the glass case built in July 1998 containing sculpted heads of the two leaders and the scroll with the terms of surrender. The Tigre canon is now housed in the Military Museum just off Avenida de Anaga, just a salty breeze away from the Atlantic.
The anniversary of the Tenerife stand is commemorated each year to varying degrees. The last big march and re-enactment, shown in these photos, was in 2008. The redevelopment of the port road and the recession look to have scuppered any big events this year but if there are any late changes, TM will let you know. Maybe on 25th July I will raise a toast to the sea and these two men of honour that were united by a common indomitable spirit.
Nelson quotes from The Life Of Nelson by Robert Southey.
LATE NEWS – Santa Cruz council bails out Nelson celebrations
Honour will be satisfied, a late injection of 40,000 euros from Santa Cruz council has ensured a programme of events leading to the 25 July anniversary of Nelson’s defeat. That’s half of last years budget and 6 times cheaper than the big 2008 bash. Here are the main events.
Fri 23 July – from 6pm – Canarian forces march from Plaza Weyler to Plaza Candelaria.
Sat 24 July – Noon to 2pm Re-enactment of first troops landing at Castillo Negra (near Auditorium)
8pm – British surrender at Plaza Isla de Madera
9.45pm – Procession to Iglesia de la Concepcion
Sun 25 July – Noon – Formal surrender to Spanish governer at Plaza Candelaria .