Nelson and the Battle of Santa Cruz

Admiral Horatio Nelson is probably best known for his victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, where he was killed. However, in the 1700s Tenerife was a stopping point for ships returning from the Americas, and between 22nd and 25th July 1797, the famous naval officer planned to attack the city of Santa Cruz in an attempt to conquer the island for the British Crown. If he had succeeded this battle could have altered the history of the Canary Islands and possibly Europe.

After two failed attempts, and angered by his failure, Nelson decided to personally oversee the next attack. The Admiral decided to attack Santa Cruz by disembarking in the town’s harbour at first light on the 25th July, however, the Spanish frigate San José spotted them and raised the alarm.

Under fire, only five boats were able to disembark, the rest crashed against the rocks. Admiral Nelson was travelling in the fourth of the five boats, but before he was able to land, he was struck by a cannon, shattering his arm and had to be evacuated. Severely wounded, the ships surgeon had no option but to amputate Lord Nelson’s right arm above the elbow.

Sir Horatio Nelson when wounded at Tenerife by Richard Westall.

Despite the intensity of the British attack, the troops soon realised they were fighting a losing battle. With his troops cornered and no chance of reinforcements, Commander Troubridge, surrendered.

The agreement was signed and sealed by Lieutenant General Antonio Gutiérrez de Otero, the commander representing Spain and Commander Samuel Hood, representing Great Britain. Gutiérrez allowed the British to leave providing Admiral Nelson agreed no British fleet would again attempt to attack the Canary Islands.

For the Tenerife islanders this is an important event in their history and as such each year it is commemorated on the nearest Saturday to July 25th by a series of events that includes a re-enactment of the battle.

In Plaza de Espana, soldiers in period uniforms give demonstrations of food preparation, how to load a musket, make a quill pen, old blacksmithing work and the type of tents and equipment use by armies of 1797. Soldiers are drilled and volunteers encouraged to participate. A cannon is fired over the pool at appropriate moments to great applause and at 7 o’clock in the evening members of Amigos del 25 Julio lay their wreath, at the bust of the man who saved Tenerife, General Gutierrez.

Then it is time for the battle – crowds of local people cheer their troops and every year the British attack and like every year, we are beaten.

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