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The captains of British warships that arrived to Veracruz to collect the silver received a percentage
that oscillated between 1.5 and 2.0% of the total value of the treasure loaded. For a description of one
of the negotiations with British captains, see G. Jim´ nez Codinach, Gran Breta˜ a y la independencia
e n
de M´xico, pp. 139“141.
200 Bankruptcy of Empire

Caja de
Royal bills
Licences, paper
and mercury
Juan Murphy

Bills of
Bills of exchange
and silver
London Textiles
Silver and

Hamburg Jamaica
Bills of exchange
Textiles, paper
Silver and mercury
T. Murphy
mercury Royal bills and licences

Silver coin Royal bills and licences

Royal Treasury

Fiscal merchandise, royal orders, bills and trading licenses

Silver and bills of exchange

Figure 6.2. Transatlantic Operations of the Gordon Murphy Consortium, 1806“1808.
Source: Drawn by Carlos Marichal.

to their good relations with both the British government and the Spanish
administration and also to the mobilization of their extensive network of
mercantile agents in northern Europe, Spain, the Caribbean, and the port
of Veracruz.61

61 For further details on Gordon & Murphy™s network of international contacts, see Guadalupe Jim´ nez
Codinach, “Veracruz, almac´ n de plata en el Atl´ ntico. La Casa de Gordon y Murphy, 1805“1824,”
e a
Historia Mexicana, xxxviii, 2 [150]; S. Stein, “Crisis metropolitana”; and F. Crouzet, L™Economie
Britannique, vol. 1, pp. 175“185.
Royal Treasury and the Gordon & Murphy Consortium, 1806“1808 201

Gordon & Murphy™s “Neutral” Expeditions to Veracruz during the
Second Naval War with England, 1806“1808
A small number of neutral ships began to reach the principal port of New
Spain from mid-1805, but it would not be until the following year that
the expeditions arrived in large numbers. According to studies by historian
Robert Smith, six neutral ships arrived at Veracruz from the United States
in 1805, thirty-six in 1806, ¬fty in 1807, and twenty-seven in 1808.62
At the same time, there arrived twenty ships to Veracruz chartered by
Gordon & Murphy between 1806 and 1808, while eighteen additional
ships were dispatched from Jamaica to their account. The ships dispatched
from Europe (from Hamburg, Lisbon, Oporto, C´ diz, or Malaga) were few
in number than those from the United States but they had considerably
heavier tonnage than those arriving to the Mexican port from New York,
Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans.63 Indeed, between 1805 and
1808, probably no other Caribbean port witnessed such intense trading
This mercantile dynamism can only be explained if one takes into account
that both the Spanish and British governments shared interests in making
transatlantic commerce and the transfer of silver from Mexico a wartime
priority. Neutral shipping dominated not only imports but also exports.
The latter included raw materials (cochineal, sugar, vanilla, and cotton) as
well as enormous quantities of silver, in part on behalf of the Consolidation
Fund and in part on the accounts of the Mexican royal treasuries. But, it can
be emphasized once again that the main objective of the Spanish Finance
Ministry in authorizing Gordon & Murphy to extract some ten million pesos
of Mexican silver was to cover the purchase and dispatch of mercury, paper,
and other items needed urgently by the royal administration in Mexico.
The most important item of merchandise sent was mercury (which came
from quicksilver mines in Germany and from Almaden). The ¬rst mercury
consignment from Germany was carried by the Seculum, a neutral ship that
left Hamburg in March 1806, arriving at Veracruz at the beginning of
May.64 Other ships, hired by Thomas Murphy, with mercury cargos were
the Gosport from C´ diz, which arrived to Veracruz on January 12, 1807; the

62 Robert S. Smith, “Shipping in the Port of Veracruz,” 13, Table 5. The statistics from the Merchant
Guild (Consulado) published by M. Lerdo de Tejada, Comercio exterior de M´xico, do not include complete
information about the origin of the neutral ships arriving from Europe.
63 See R. Smith, “Shipping in the Port of Veracruz” for general information about tonnage of vessels
entering Veracruz. The majority of the North American schooners utilized by ¬rms such as Oliver
did not weigh over 150 tons; see S. Bruchey, R. Oliver, Merchant of Baltimore, p. 301. A review of
documents in AGN, Marina, vols. 224“226, 233, 234, indicates that the neutral ships from Europe
had a tonnage varying between 250 and 1,000 tons.
64 AGN, Marina, vol. 229, fs. 9“14.
202 Bankruptcy of Empire

Indiano from Lisbon, entering the same port on 12 March with 300,000
pounds of mercury; the Statira, also from Lisbon, which arrived on July 30,
1807, with 900 ¬‚asks of “iron with mercury”; the Jupiter, a North American
vessel bringing 3,333 ¬‚asks of mercury from C´ diz; the Portuguese ship,
Nuestra Se˜ ora de la Concepci´n, which left C´ diz with 200,000 pounds of
n o a
mercury, arriving at New Spain on October 10, 1807, and various smaller
craft that brought mercury and other merchandise from Europe to Jamaica
and thence to Veracruz.65
Other items urgently requested by Viceroy Iturrigaray included paper
bales for the great tobacco factories at Mexico City and Queretaro. The
tobacco monopoly in New Spain obtained an annual gross income of some
six million pesos per year from the sale of its products in the viceroyalty.
Of this sum, almost half went to pay for the costs of the tobacco leaf
itself, for paper supplies, and for the payment of salaries of approximately
10,000 workers in the two major Mexican cigar and cigarette factories.
After discounting costs, in the mid-1780s and early 1790s, the monopoly
could count on remitting almost four million pesos in net receipts to Spain.
But during times of naval war “ particularly from the late 1790s “ costs
increased notably as the prices of paper increased, a fact exacerbated by
the Crown prohibition of the manufacture of paper in the viceroyalty. As a
result, paper became one of the most important components of the cargos
carried by Murphy™s expeditions. For example, on October 6, 1806, the Bella
Elisa docked in Veracruz (from C´ diz), with 1,336,000 pounds of paper.
Another ship, the Herald that had sailed from Malaga, arrived on February
24, 1807, with 1,675 bales of paper, “for the cigars (cigarettes) of these
factories.” A few months later, on 24 April, the Danish vessel Neutralidad
arrived in Veracruz from Barcelona with 2,317 bales of paper and 57 reams
of white paper, both for the tobacco factory.66
Less important articles in terms of weight but of great interest to the
treasury of¬cials were stamped paper from Spain and the boxes of papal
indulgences, which were to be sold throughout the viceroyalty and pro-
duced considerable ¬scal income. For example, the Bella Eliza from Malaga
brought boxes of bulas weighing 43,500 pounds as well as 421 boxes of
of¬cial stamped paper (papel sellado) and 300 boxes of playing cards for the

65 Among the ships from Jamaica that brought between 150 and 200 quintiles of mercury were the
Tom´ s (which arrived in Veracruz, April 26, 1807), the Alcance (May 16, 1807), and the Correo
Ordinario (May 25, 1807). Information on mercury cargos is found in lists and licenses of ships
entering Veracruz in AGN, Marina, vols. 229, 234“236 and AGN, Reales C´dulas Originales, vol. 199,
exps. 27“29, 66“68, and 121“126.
66 On these and other Gordon & Murphy shipments, see AGN, Marina, vols. 233“236 and Reales
C´dulas Originales, vol. 197, exp. 143, f. 218, exp. 144, f. 220, exp. 145, f. 222, exp. 214, f. 306,
exp. 238, f. 340, exp. 283, f. 401; vol. 198, exp. 5, f. 7, exp. 6, f. 8, exp. 84, f. 111, exp. 85, f. 112,
exp. 155, f. 224, exp. 156, f. 226, exp. 245, f. 371.
Royal Treasury and the Gordon & Murphy Consortium, 1806“1808 203

respective state monopolies.67 These articles were necessary to ensure a high
level of tax collection by various treasury departments and hence to sustain
a constant ¬‚ow of funds to the metropolis.
In toto, Gordon & Murphy organized the expedition of thirty-eight
vessels to Veracruz between 1806 and 1808, thirteen from Spain (C´ diz, a
Malaga, Cartagena, and Barcelona), seven from neutral ports in Europe
and the United States (Hamburg, Oporto, Lisbon, Baltimore, and New
Orleans), and eighteen directly from Jamaica.68 The ships were mainly
North American, Danish, Portuguese, and German. In contrast to their
Anglo-Dutch rivals of the Hope/Baring group, Gordon & Murphy™s ships
brought a larger proportion of Spanish goods, including hats from Galicia,
Catalan cloth, Valencia silk, Catalan spirits and wine, and beer from San-
tander, among other articles. On the other hand, the packet ships sent
from Jamaica brought predominantly English textiles.69 The rivalry with
Hope/Baring was intense, but over time the different merchant houses came
to a tactical understanding to divide and control the markets of New Spain.
Robert Oliver, Baltimore merchant and correspondent of Hope, wrote in
the following terms to Gordon & Murphy of London in March 1807:

You know, without doubt, the nature and extent of our operations in Veracruz as
we know of yours in this port. Normally we send three or four ships to Veracruz
each month, and knowing that up to date information is important for you “ and
that you must obtain it “ we are disposed to allow our ships to take letters for you
on the condition that you inform us of ships and departure dates that you plan from
Europe to Veracruz, with a list of cargos. . . . 70

Whether this understanding successfully divided the Veracruz market
between the conglomerates is not known, but it is clear that the agents of
each merchant group understood the dangers of saturating this pro¬table
market with similar commodities.

67 This ship also brought 11,336 tercios of white paper: AGN, Reales C´dulas Originales, vol. 197,
exp. 142, f. 217 and vol. 198, exp. 188, f. 295.
68 This information is from G. Jim´ nez Codinach, “An Atlantic Silver Entrepot,” p. 18. The author
adds that the total value of the cargos was greater than 9 million pesos, without clarifying her
calculations. Compare the data with J. A. Jackson, “Mexican Silver Schemes,” pp. 215“226.
69 The ship list of the schooner Tom´ s, sailing from Jamaica, chartered by Gordon & Murphy supplied
a select list of Kingston merchant houses that habitually sent goods to Veracruz. Among the most
important were Dicks, Orn, and Clark; other that sent textiles to the Murphys in Veracruz were the
¬rms of Alexander, Miller, J. Bourke, Moffat, Hill and Longmore, Hatchwell and Retz, Sampson,
Lucas, and Henry West and Co. AGN, Marina, vol. 236, f. 195. For a full list of the principal
Jamaican traders and their declaration in favor of neutral trade, see The Royal Gazette (Kingston,
Jamaica) February 23“March 2, 1805, “Postscript,” p. 20, a copy of which is to be found in AGN,
Marina, vol. 121, fs. 368“380.
70 S. Bruchey, R. Oliver, Merchant of Baltimore, p. 316.
204 Bankruptcy of Empire

The total value of the cargos carried by ships chartered by the Gordon &
Murphy consortium between 1806 and 1808 is dif¬cult to estimate because
of the complicated accounts, although the value was considerable for the
period and involved several million pesos.71 The information is not complete
because the merchandise brought by the neutral ships used simulated bills:
the lading lists were deliberately falsi¬ed to deceive the British Navy. Even
so, some ships contracted for Gordon & Murphy were con¬scated by British
frigates and their cargos were auctioned in Jamaica. It is surprising that a
greater percentage of ships were not captured.

The Agreements with the British Government
and Jamaica-to-Veracruz Mail Packets
We have previously summarized several reasons why the British govern-
ment did not seriously impede neutral trade with Veracruz and approved
the business transactions of consortia such as Hope/Baring and Gordon &
Murphy, ensuring access to Mexico, the world™s largest producer of silver.
We have already suggested that there were powerful trading interests in
Great Britain that insisted on the importance of a regular supply of precious
metals from Spanish America to ¬nance trade with India and China and
that, equally important, the British government needed the Mexican sil-
ver to provide subsidies to its European allies ¬ghting against Napoleon.72
However, there were other bene¬ts for the English economy, derived from
the activities of the neutral merchant ¬‚eets of both consortia since a consid-
erable part of the consignments sent to Veracruz were made up of English
textiles. Historians have established that, in fact, the markets of Mexico
and the rest of Spanish America became particularly important to English
industry precisely as it began suffering as a result of Napoleon™s continen-
tal blockade imposed in 1806.73 More speci¬cally, the historian Francois ¸
Crouzet, doyen of studies on the international aspects of the economy in
the Napoleonic age, has argued that British textile exports to Spanish and
Portuguese America avoided the closure of a great number of factories and
helped maintain the dynamism of the industrial revolution in Britain, dur-
ing the crisis years of 1806“1808. In his classic work on the Continental
Blockade, Crouzet explained in detail the different kinds of neutral licenses

71 Our extensive revision of the Naval (Marina) records in the National Archive (Archivo General de
la Naci´n) shows that the records of the Gordon & Murphy shipments are more dispersed and less
complete that those of their rival, Hope/Baring, which makes it dif¬cult to reconstruct the joint
accounts of both ¬‚eets.
72 The best source on this subject is J. H. Sherwig, Guineas and Gunpowder.
73 See F. Crouzet, L™Economie Britannique, vol. 1, Chapters 4 and 5. Statistical estimates of Veracruz
trade for this period are found in J. Cuenca, “Comercio y hacienda.”
Royal Treasury and the Gordon & Murphy Consortium, 1806“1808 205


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