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and the special ones granted to the Gordon & Murphy mercantile consor-
In 1806 as British trade began to seriously suffer from the Napoleonic
blockade, the Privy Council in London extended a considerable number of
licenses to allow trade between Veracruz and the principal ports of Jamaica,
the Bahamas and Trinidad. Gordon & Murphy™s previous experience in
neutral trade explains why they should have obtain many of these permits,
ensuring that, in principle, their vessels would not be captured by the
British frigates of war crusading in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
More surprising is the fact that the British authorities should have allowed
this ¬rm to hire monthly mail ships (which were paid for by Madrid) to
freely send the of¬cial correspondence of the Spanish crown between Lisbon,
Jamaica, and Veracruz, under the supervision of the feared British frigates.75
(See Table 6.1.)
The house of Gordon & Murphy acquired several sailing ships to ful-
¬ll this mail service under contract with the Spanish government. Every
month, from the beginning of 1806 to mid-1808, the mail packets would
leave Kingston, Jamaica, for Veracruz, carrying Spanish government cor-
respondence. That this exchange between enemy ports should have taken
place on such a regular basis seems extraordinary, considering that Spain was
at war with Great Britain. Nonetheless, it is important to realize that there
were in¬‚uential trading interests involved on both sides. An example is
provided by the Memorial of the Merchants of Kingston, Jamaica, presented
in February 1805 to Vice Admiral John Thomas Duckworth, commander
in chief of the British Navy ¬‚eet in the West Indies. In this text, more
than eighty of the leading merchants of Kingston protested the capture by
a British frigate of a Spanish vessel, signi¬cantly named La Paz, carrying
considerable specie and merchandise. The merchants argued:
It is scarcely necessary to inform you that the trade carried on between this Island
and the Spanish Settlements is of the utmost advantage to the Colony and to the
Empire at large, affording a most extensive market for British manufactures, in
exchange for the precious metals and raw materials necessary for the manufactures
of Great Britain.76

The British vice admiral in charge of naval forces at Kingston replied that
he was aware of the importance of the “Spanish trade” and that the captain

74 F. Crouzet, L™Economie Britannique, vol. 1, pp. 179“182.
75 The viceroy followed closely the arrival of these ships that brought correspondence from the Spanish
ministers. AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 233, exp. 1193, exp. 1200, f. 101, f. 85, exp. 1218
exp. 117, exp. 1227, f. 130, exp. 1258, exp. 165.
76 The Royal Gazette (Kingston, Jamaica) February 2“March 2 1805, “Postscript,” p. 20, a copy of
which is to be found in AGN, Marina, vol. 121, fs. 368“380.
206 Bankruptcy of Empire

Table 6.1. Shipsa Sent from Veracruz to Jamaica by the Gordon & Murphy Consortium,

Value of Value of Merchandise
Name of Ship Date of Departure Silver Carried (in Silver Pesos)
Merrimack July 7, 1806 128,284 234,084
Ordinario January 1, 1807 28,655
Eliza y Ana February 5, 1807 45,410 124,600
Ordinario March 23, 1807 42,000 63,262
Ordinario April 3, 1807 30,000 68,775
Extraordinario April 24, 1807 30,000 51,270
Indiano May 12, 1807 127,177
Alcance May 26, 1807 200,000 97,800
Ordinario May 28, 1807 93,371
Heraldo August 16, 1807 203,747
Tomasito August 22, 1807 9,000 104,400
Ordinario October 20, 1807 113,946
Libertad October 26, 1807 190,140 9,988
Extraordinario October 31, 1807 200,000 126,945
Neutralidad November 7, 1807 150,000 393,971
Rally November 7, 1807 133,490
Manuela November 22, 1807 72,757
Pepe December 8, 1807 50,000 6,600
Statira January 17, 1808 160,000 174,121
Volador January 31, 1808 23,962
Princesa de Brasil February 16, 1808 60,760
Pepe February 17, 1808 300,000 45,600
o March 2, 1808 50,000 5,622
J´ piter
u March 7, 1808 75,067 16,072
Voladora March 29, 1808 300,000
total value (silver pesos) 1,959,901 2,380,976
a Ships that carried Spanish royal mail.
Source: John Alexander Jackson, “The Mexican Silver Schemes,” (1980), Ph.D. thesis, University of
North Carolina, 1980, p. 219.

responsible was new and had been unacquainted with the nature and impor-
tance of the neutral trade in the West Indies.
Similar uncertainty about the irregular commerce was also felt by royal
of¬cials in New Spain. The correspondence of Viceroy Iturrigaray reveals as
much, but he had no alternative but to comply with the instructions from
Madrid sent by royal functionaries, Soler and Espinosa. That the viceroy
obeyed these orders without protest has been attributed by some historians
to his obsequious character, but this view does not take into account the
Royal Treasury and the Gordon & Murphy Consortium, 1806“1808 207

special circumstances of the war.77 By reducing the danger of British attacks
against the ships that entered and departed from the port of Veracruz, neutral
trade actually offered many advantages to the royal administration since it
facilitated the shipment of ¬scal surpluses to the metropolis and also to the
main Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, including Cuba, Santo Domingo,
and Puerto Rico, which needed Mexican silver for payment of army, navy,
and even civil administrations there.78
Before receiving the news of the new international agreements regarding
neutral trade, the viceroy had prohibited all coastal trade in the Gulf of
Mexico. But once it was con¬rmed that the British frigates were no longer
persecuting the majority of licensed neutral ships, he renewed permits and
authorized a series of convoys to carry funds from Mexico to different points
in the Spanish Caribbean. According to a report by Ciriaco de Cevallos,
military commander of Veracruz, 18 expeditions left port between January
and September 1806 for Louisiana, Florida, Campeche, and Cuba, but unlike
the previous war (when the British Navy had attacked many Spanish ships
as well as those with a neutral ¬‚ag), the expeditions sailed safely.79 Indeed,
as Cevallos emphasized, it was remarkable that between September 1805
and September 1806 “ when there were 364 departures and arrivals at
Veracruz, including 64 neutral vessels and 82 ships coming directly from
Spain “ none were seized.80 The Veracruz military commander reported:

In fact, in spite of cruising near the shore by the (British) enemy by the frigates
Sourvaillante, Diana, Boston, Fortunate, Friquard, and Piqu´, as well as the brigantines
Viper and Port Mahon and other ¬ghting ships (English corsairs from Jamaica), not
one Spanish craft has been captured in the Gulf of all the 200 departures from this
port to the seas of Europe and islands of the Barlovento (Caribbean). This seems

77 Iturrigaray™s venal character is mentioned in J. A. Calder´ n Quijano, Virreyes de la Nueva Espa˜ a,
o n
p. 240. Criticisms of his venality were common in Mexican historiography during the ¬rst half of
the nineteenth century, as can be seen in the acid comments in Lucas Alam´ n, Historia de M´xico,
a e
vol. 5, pp. 46“49.
78 The viceroy™s correspondence concerning the dispatch of the different situados could provides material
for an interesting study of New Spain and the defense of the empire. An important issue discussed
is the French occupation of Santo Domingo, ¬nanced in part by funds from New Spain. Iturri-
garay™s references to the grave military and ¬nancial situation in the Caribbean are constant: AGN,
Correspondencia de Virreyes, vols. 213“238.
79 Between 1796 and 1802, 186 Spanish ships were lost to the English frigates and corsairs, which
represented a loss of about twenty-two million pesos: John Fisher, Commercial Relations between Spain
and Spanish America in the Era of Free Trade, 1778“1796 (Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Centre
for Latin American Studies, 1985), p. 48. (Monograph Series, 13).
80 For the complete text of Cevallos™ report to Iturrigaray, September 9, 1806, including a detailed list
of all the ships that entered and departed Veracruz between September 1805 and September 1806,
see AGN, Marina, vol. 229, fs. 9“21.
208 Bankruptcy of Empire

incredible, when in the previous war scarcely one in ten of the ships that left
Veracruz for the peninsula arrived safely, but it is nonetheless true.81
The agreements on neutral trade between Spain and England explain the
dynamism of trade in Veracruz in these critical years. However, the English
were not passive actors. As Cevallos noted, the British Navy was supervising
maritime activity in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico with great care to
assure that corsairs (especially French) did not interfere in a trade bene¬ting
many Jamaica merchants as well as English trade and industry.
But even these circumstances of armed neutrality do not fully explain the
surprising decision of Spain™s ¬nancial of¬cials to authorize various British
Navy frigates to approach Veracruz between 1806 and 1807 and load vast
quantities of silver belonging to the royal treasury and to the Consolidation
Fund. The viceroy himself was surprised by these transactions, although he
saw himself obliged to facilitate them.

British Warships and Silver Exports from Veracruz, 1806“1808
The ¬rst British warship to present itself at the port of Veracruz (during the
naval war between Spain and England) was the Resistance, which arrived at
the end of December 1806 to collect silver and commodities on Gordon &
Murphy™s account. On receiving news of the arrival of enemy vessel, Viceroy
Iturrigaray authorized payment of the drafts and gave permission for the
ship be loaded, but with mixed sentiments. In a letter to Finance Minister
Soler, the viceroy underlined his discom¬ture:
I state . . . the most delicate question regarding the visit to Veracruz of the English
war frigate, Resistance, that requested permission to enter the harbor in order to take
on board the silver pesos . . . Not having agreed to this strange pretension . . . the
transshipment was carried out at sea; it sailed at last with 3,100,000 pesos which
amounted to the total of the royal drafts (issued by the Consolidation Fund) and
set out for England with the of¬cial correspondence for the month, without having
had more news of the voyage, apart from vague rumors that this ship has arrived
in London.”82
The viceroy later added that he had received news that on the way to
England the same warship had captured a Spanish merchant vessel, the Bella
Elisa, taking its cargo to London. Apparently the merchant ship belonged
to one of the Gordon & Murphy expeditions, having sailed with special
permissions from both the Spanish and British governments. To clarify

81 Ibid.
82 Letter from Iturrigaray to Soler, dated May 23, 1807, in AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 233,
exp. 1231, f.136.
Royal Treasury and the Gordon & Murphy Consortium, 1806“1808 209

this situation, Anthony Palyart, an agent of the consortium, traveled from
Veracruz to Jamaica, but his negotiations with British authorities were
unsatisfactory. In May 1807, the same Palyart returned to Veracruz on the
English warship Thames. The viceroy wrote to Soler:
In these circumstances, I have just witnessed the visit of the English war frigate
named Thames, bringing the already mentioned agent (Palyart) in order to receive
the 2 million pesos on board; a million and a quarter to be drawn upon the Royal
treasuries of this Kingdom, four hundred thousand pesos upon the Guatemalan
Consolidation Fund (Caja de Consolidaci´n de Vales de Guatemala) and the remainder
to be delivered by the Militia Colonel, Don Lorenzo Angulo de Guardamino, to
whom the Royal Drafts have also been endorsed.83
On this occasion the viceroy was even more uncertain about authorizing
the transshipment of the large sum of two million silver pesos to the British
warship, as he recalled the bellicose conduct of its predecessor. He also
feared that he might contradict a recent circular sent out by the Spanish
naval authorities which declared all English property as legitimate prize,
including those loaded on neutral ships. The viceroy informed the captain
of the Thames that he could not deliver the bullion and, at the same time,
wrote to Soler to ¬nd out if the contract with Gordon & Murphy had been
It would appear that the viceroy soon received contrary orders since the
Thames returned to Veracruz at the end of August, and the transaction
was completed. The military governor of the port ordered that the frigate
keep its distance “from the sight and coast of Veracruz,” although in the
meantime, he ordered that the treasure be loaded onto a neutral ship, the
Minerva, because “this would be the way to carry the silver to the point at
which the British frigate was anchored, waiting for the transshipment.”85
During the autumn of 1807 and the beginning of the following winter,
there were two additional transfers of treasure to British warships, to the
tune of more 1,500,000 silver pesos. (See Table 6.2) At the end of February
1808, another frigate, the Diamond, turned up at the anchorage of Anton
Lizard, near to Veracruz, having come to pick up two million pesos on
behalf of the Gordon & Murphy consortium, but the viceroy informed his
superiors that he had scarcely a half of this sum available:
A million pesos were transferred on board and it (the Diamond) sailed on 25 February
last, without waiting for the other million because its commander made clear that
he could no longer delay his departure. . . . 86

Ibid., f.137.
AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 233, exp. 1253, fs. 159“161.
AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 233, exp. 1362, f. 288.
AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 236, exp. 1510, fs. 133“134.
210 Bankruptcy of Empire

Table 6.2. Remittances of Silver from Mexican Treasuries on Ships of British Navy, 1806“1808

Name of British Silver Remitted
Date of Departure Warship (in Pesos)
December 29, 1806/(contract with Gordon & Murphy) Resistance 3,100,000
August 24, 1807/(contract with Hope house) Diana 3,829,835
August 25, 1807/(contract with Gordon & Murphy) Thames 2,000,000
February 25, 1808/(contract with Gordon & Murphy) Diamond 1,000,000
August 30, 1808/(contract with Gordon & Murphy) Topaz 1,000,000
November 25, 1808/(remittances for the Central Junta at C´ diz)
a Diamond 1,696,344
Melpomene 1,605,446
October 29, 1807(contract with Gordon & Murphy) Veteran 551,641
February 3, 1808(contract with Gordon & Murphy) Adamant 1,000,000
Sources: AGN, Correspondencia de Virreyes, vol. 233, exp. 1231, fs. 136“137; exp. 1326, fs. 244“245; exp. 1328,
f. 247; vol. 236, exp. 1510, fs. 133“134; AGN, Marina, vol. 244, fs. 81“83; and Canga Arguelles, (1834), vol. 1,
p. 162.

A few weeks later, another British frigate, the Topaz, arrived with the
purpose of loading the remaining one million pesos that its twin ship, the
Diamond, had not been able to take. At the end of March 1808 the loading
was complete and the Topaz set sail for England.
The silver delivered to the Topaz was not the last silver cargo sent on
British frigates, for in later years the colonial authorities in Mexico agreed
on various occasions to send large sums to Spain in British naval vessels.87
But, by then the situation had changed altogether. From July 1808, Great
Britain was no longer the enemy of the Spanish crown and had become its
principal ally in the struggle against the French armies which had invaded
the Spanish peninsula.
In summary, it can be observed that during the last stages of the naval
war between Spain and England (December 1806 to April 1808), British
war frigates arrived in Veracruz on six opportunities on behalf of the Gordon
& Murphy ¬rm, loading a total of 8,651,641 silver pesos which were trans-
ported to England. (See Table 6.2.) These funds were of great importance


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