The Plan to Raise and Plunder the "Lord Clive" (sunk 1763)

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    Geoffrey Brooks


      In 2004 the maritime treasure hunter Sr. Ruben Collard claimed that his Argentine divers had discovered the wreck of the British privateer Lord Clive. This ship, the former HMS Kingston (built 1597, 60 guns, 4th rate ship-of-the-line purchased by the East India Company on 14 January 1762) was sunk on 6 January 1763 by Spanish coastal artillery with heavy loss of life while bombarding the forts at Colonia del Sacramento on the coast of what is now Uruguay.

      The reader who calls up “Ruben Collard: Lord Clive” on Yahoo Search will find newspaper articles and photos from May 1915 editions of the Guardian and Daily Telegraph, and “the story”. Collard estimates that the salved ship itself, plus contents including 100,000 gold coins, barrels of rum etc would have a value of US$64 million and that indeed is his incentive for raising the wreck. In May 2015 he declared that he had the go-ahead from the Government of Uruguay to begin work, and he announced that salvage work would begin in August 2015. One should now expect to find in the yacht marina of this small port “cranes, excavators and a workforce of about 80 men” for “everyone wants to invest, a few dollars might bring you five thousand or even a million in return!” Or nothing.

      I live in Buenos Aires and take the ferry across the River Plate to Colonia del Sacramento once a month. While waiting for the ferry back I usually spend a couple of hours in the Historic Quarter and stroll the sea wall which fronts the stretch of coast where Lord Clive attacked Fort Santa Rita.

      As confirmed by the local history museum and two tourist information boards on the sea wall providing those interested with a map of the coast, one finds this epitaph:

      “These waters watch over the wreck of the British privateer Lord Clive, sunk on 6 January 1763 while attacking Colonia del Sacramento in company with two Portuguese men o’war. The wreck lies within 150 metres of Santa Rita point.”

      Upon reading this for the first time I asked myself, ‘How can this wreck be so close inshore yet in the 250 years since Lord Clive sank, nobody ever found it before?’

      I am writing in June 2016, and the foreshore, the yacht marina, the offshore waters and islands, and the ferry terminal of this small, quiet Uruguayan town continue to be just as I have known them these past years.

      The fact is, the story as related by Sr. Collard does not fit the history. I suspect he may have found another wreck. If one looks at the photograph accompanying the Guardian article, the wreck at which Collard is pointing on the map (not scale) is not 125 metres from Santa Rita point, but some two miles or more offshore.

      In order that readers should not invest their dollars just yet, in Part Two tomorrow I shall retell the unvarnished and terrible story surrounding the loss of the Lord Clive as it appears in the history books of Uruguay and Argentina.

      Geoffrey Brooks

        typo above, HMS Kingston was built in 1697.
        The following history is based on several of the works of Rear Admiral Laurio Destefani, ArgNavy (ret’d)

        PART TWO

        The Argentine/Uruguay histories state that between 1763 and 1847, Great Britain made six unsuccessful attempts to set foot firmly in the territories of the Vice-Royalty of the River Plate. The incident involving the privateer Lord Clive is considered to be the First British Invasion of the River Plate.

        The small port of Colonia del Sacramento on the coast of modern Uruguay thirty miles from, and opposite, Buenos Aires, was founded in 1680. Because it was founded by the Portuguese in breach of the Treaty of Tordesillas, by which Portugal agreed to keep east of a line in the South Atlantic, it became the cause of numerous battles, upheavals and incomprehensible treaties argued out between the Portuguese and the Spanish Vice-Royalty.

        The British became involved as allies of the Portuguese through the Methuen Treay of 1707.

        In the Treaty of Madrid of 1750, the Portuguese had agreed to evacuate Colonia del Sacramento in exchange for large advances in Rio Grande del Sul and Paraguay. Using the minor War of the Jesuit Missions as an excuse to avoid their obligation, the Portuguese were then forcibly ejected from Colonia del Sacramento on 2 November 1762 by an armada commanded by Cevallos, Governor of Buenos Aires.

        Long before this eviction, the Portuguese ambassador to London obtained British support to convert the zone of Colonia del Sacramento into an Anglo-Portuguese commercial enclave using the British East India Company. An adventurer, John MacNamara, was appointed to command the expedition aboard the old 60-gun privateer Lord Clive ex-.HMS Kingston with the 40-gun ex-Royal Navy frigate Ambuscade in support. These two ships were in fact corsairs acting under Letters of Marque issued by the British Government authorizing them on its behalf if necessary to commit acts on the high seas which would otherwise be considered as piracy.

        At Lisbon these two privateers joined forces with Portuguese regular warships led by the frigate Gloria (38 guns) attended by six brigantines and carrying 600 troops. On 30 August 1762 the Anglo-Portuguese squadron under MacNamara’s command sailed for Maldonado to be informed on arrival on 1 December 1762 of the eviction of the Portuguese from Colonia del Sacramento the month before.

        On 4 December 1762 off Montevideo the expedition found the currents and shallows of the River Plate too daunting to launch an attack on Buenos Aires, and so on 2 January 1763 it was decided to attack Montevideo instead. When a coastal pilot informed MacNamara that his ships were of too deep a draught to enter the port, he decided to follow the coast northwards and launch a surprise attack on Colonia del Sacramento and so eject the troops of the Spanish Viceroy there.

        THE BATTLE

        The force arrived at Colonia del Sacramento at 0600 hrs on 6 January 1763. It was already warm, being midsummer, and the sky was cloudless. Nothing stirred ashore as the ships reconnoitred. MacNamara detailed Ambuscade to attack Fort San Pedro, the Gloria Fort San Miguel while Lord Clive would engage Fort Santa Rita.

        An intense bombardment began at noon. The two ships which eventually escaped, Gloria and the British Ambuscade, both wore the Portuguese flag and this would have its repurcussions after the battle. The range was 400 metres. The attackers fired a total of 3000 cannonballs, crossbar sho and grapeshot. At Fort Santa Rita the Spanish defenders were well sheltered behind low parapets and suffered only four dead during the entire action. In particular it was recorded that Lord Clive was always firing too high.

        By the fourth hour of battle the Lord Clive was seriously damaged and had forty dead. She was on fire from stem to stern and drifting inshore. From 400 metres the range had diminished to 150 metres. The shore batteries now heated cannonballs until they glowed red hot and fired them by mortars. One hit the Lord Clive amidships and exploded the magazines. This sank the ship almost immediately.

        The dead of the Lord Clive numbered 272 including MacNamara and the captain McDouall. 76 survivors reached shore by swimming, two by dinghy. 62 of these men were captured by the Spanish.

        The officers amongst the survivors were singled out for summary trial. Lord Clive was a ship in British ownership and not a warship. She had attacked a Spanish colony with intent to invade and pillage. Britain was not at war with Spain. There was also a question about the flag the ship had worn. The Letters of Marque could not possibly cover these circumstances and so the officers were condemned to death and hanged in the plaza of Fort Santa Rita.

        The other ranks were taken to Buenos Aires and distibuted amongst the provinces. Here they were well treated and some married into the local population. There are documents showing that at least six named members of these survivors volunteered to fight in the Argentine revolution against Spain in later years.

        Several days after the battle the Spaniards removed cannons from the wreck and then buried it under tons of rock.

        As regards the wreck of the Lord Clive which Sr Ruben Collars claims to have discovered: the Spaniards had three warships on patrol to protect Colonia del Sacramento. Upon sighting the Anglo-Portuguese armada they fled without firing a shot or alerting the local garrison. Off Isla San Gabriel two miles out (the island at Sr. Collard’s left shoulder in the British newspaper photograph, and also near to where his finger is pointing on the map of the other) the flagship Victoria was scuttled with all her guns and powder, and then her crew made good their escape aboard the two escorts, It may well be the Victoria which Sr Collard has dicovered.

        END (unless further information of interest comes to light in future visits to Colonia del Sacramento).

        Geoffrey Brooks


          Only one month after the battle, the Peace of Paris signed on 10 February 1763 by France, Spain, Portugal and Great Britain ended the Seven Years’ War between France and Spain. It was agreed therein that certain teritories gained on land by battle would be returned to the original occupants, and this included Colonia del Sacramento.

          Hearing this news, the Spaniards at Colonia del Sacramento, who had brought the Lord Clive to the foreshore of the Baluarte Santa Rita from the 6 metres of waters in which she sank in order to ransack the ship and remove the armaments, decided to demolish the city walls. The masonry was then used to bury the Lord Clive , possibly as a war grave, and as I understand it the wreck now forms part of the substratum on which the present sea wall was extended and built up.

          The Spaniards had no intention of respecting Portuguese possession of Colonia del Sacramento, and it returned into Spanish hands in 1777 when the Portuguese were again forcibly evicted, this time for good.

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