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Chincha Islands War (1864–1866)
Conflict with Spain (1864-1866)

Although allusions to guano occur in the writings of travelers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the credit of directing the attention of Europe to this curious and useful product is due to Humboldt. In 1804 he took from the Chincha Islands a sample which the eminent chemist, Klaproth, and then Fourcroy and Yauquelin, analyzed. This great natural fertilizer had been found in many parts of the world, in greater or lesser abundance, but it very seldom proved up to the standard of that from the Chincha Islands, the greatest of the great ancient deposits of Peru, but which were soon almost effete, after having yielded many million tons.

The Chincha Islands are small, rock, and in some parts rising several hundred feet above the sea level. To one unfamiliar with the subject they do not appear to be the producers of wealth "to stagger the dreams of Oriental imagination." Yet it was so. It is doubtful if there be another spot of the same size from which so much wealth has been shipped as from the guano deposits of these famous islands. The deposits were trom the most recent to the very old. In some cases on the Chincha Islands they reached a depth of 160 to 180 feet. The lower strata of such deposits might be thousands of years old.

Nowhere else in the world are marine birds found in so great quantities as along the west coast of South America from Panama south to Chile. The great majority of these birds have their roosts and breeding places on the Peruvian Islands or on points of the mainland. Their presence in such immense numbers is due to the quantities of fish found along these coasts, upon which the birds feed. Cormorants, pelicans, sea gulls, marine crows, etc., in clouds numbering hundreds of thousands may be seen at any time flying low to or from the islands or hunting their food. But the birds alone could not have produced the Peruvian guano; it was necessary to have the rainless climate of these islands in order to accomplish the result.

For a long time the Chincha Islands furnished nearly all the guano that found its way to Europe. In 1840 a firm of merchants of Lima sent a large cargo of guano to England; but it was not until 1842 that the regular trade in guano began. Some time in 1853 the Peruvian Government sent out a commission, formed by a number of well-known engineers and naturalists, with the view to ascertaining the exact amount of guano in existence at the north, middle and south Chincha Islands. According to careful calculations, the islands were considered to contain 12.376,100 effective tons. Therefore it goes without saying that the three Chincha Islands had, in their better times, constituted the greatest and richest guano deposits that had ever been worked.

After the Battle of Ayacucho, all Latin American countries except Peru, had signed peace treaties with Spain, by which this nation recognized their independence. This had not been an obstacle to various acts of goodwill between Peru and Spain took place, but certainly there were no official relations.

In March, the Peruvian Government became involved in a very serious difficulty with Spain. The Cabinet of Madrid sent Senhor Mazarredo to Lima, in order to arrange with the Peruvian Government certain questions arising out of claims of Spanish residents against Peru. There was an incident in the Talambo hacienda, which was killed a Spanish national. Talambo is little more than a large farm in the northern part of Peru, the exclusive property of Senor Manuel Salcedo, a wealthy and educated gentleman, who, desiring to iinprove the immense tracts of land which had for ages remained untilled, owing to the want of hands, sent agents to Spain to invite over a large number of colonists for the purpose of cultivating cotton on his estates.

Things went on thus prosperously till the 4th August 1863, when, a dispute having arisen between some of the Peruvian laborers and a number of the Spanish colonists, one of the latter was killed and four were wounded: the casualties on the other side being one man killed and five wounded. This Talambo brawl, for it deserves no higher title, was put forward as a casus belli. The important point to be noted is that the Spanish Government interfered while the Peruvian courts of justice were still occupied with the matter. There was no pretence for accusing Peruvian justice of needless delay, as the conflict at Talambo only took place in August, 1863, and there had been a rapid succession of judgments and appeals, and the highest judicial authority had still to pronounce final sentence.

In this context, in mid-1863 a Spanish squadron consisting of the frigates Resolution and Our Lady of Triumph and the Covadonga schooner was presented in the Pacific. They were carrying a scientific expedition with the purpose of studying the ancient Spanish possessions.

Admiral Pinzon, in command of the Spanish force in the Pacific, and then at Panama, resolved to forego an intended cruise to Guayaquil and sail at once for Callao, with the object of inquiring into the matter. Propelled by steam, the Spanish flag-ship Resolucion reached that port on the 14th December 1863, and on the following day the Admiral, having hired a residence at Lima, entered into communication with the Peruvian authorities for the purpose of obtaining the punishment of the guilty parties in the affair of Talambo.

The Spanish admiral Luis Hernandez Pinzón, protested to the Peruvian government, and abetted by Eusebio Salazar and Mazarredo, whose post of Special Commissioner for Peru had not been recognized by the Peruvian government, caused in retaliation, the Spanish forces captured 14 April 1864 the Chincha Islands, whence came most of the guano that Peru exported.

On the 10th of April 1864 the Spanish squadron appeared at the port of Callao with the intention to seize the Peruvian squadron which, not being in condition to accept tho combat for want of munitions, put itself under shelter of the batteries of the fort "del Puente." Admiral Pinzon sent a despatch to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which he declared that the conduct of the Peruvian Government toward Spain had obliged him to take possession of the Chincha Islands until further orders arrived from the cabinet of Madrid, and furthermore that he retained as hostages several officers of the Peruvian navy to bo answerable for any injury inflicted upon Spanish subjects. To this note was added a declaration, in which, after stating that truce only continued between Spain and Peru, the independence of Peru not being recognized, and that right of property to the Chincha Islands could be revindicated by Spain, Messrs. Pinzon and Mazarredo signified that they had resolved to take possession of all the islands and vessels of war of Peru.

Pinzon and Mazarredo having agreed together, and the Spanish vessels having anchored at tho Chincha Islands, they summoned the Governor and the Commander of the transport Iquiquo to surrender, allowing them a term of fifteen minutes, and threatening to bombard the island in case of resistance. The Peruvian force on the islands amounted only to 150 men charged to guard 200 convict prisoners. Tho Governor protested in the name of the Government and the Republic against such an abuse of power, and the Spaniards landed to the number of 400 to 500, taking possession of the islands, hoisting tho colors of Spain, and arresting tho governor, the captain of the port, and the commander and officers of the Iquique.

The report of these outrages produced an extraordinary excitement throughout Peru. The British subjects of Lima and Callao met at the house of the British Charge d'Affaires, and resolved to petition their Government for immediate intervention, in order to secure a speedy adjustment of the existing difficulties. Similar resolutions were passed by a meeting of French residents. The Italians and Germans were still more emphatic in their protest against the Spanish aggression, and organized companies of volunteers who placed themselves at the disposal of the Government. The excitement produced in the other republics of South America was equally intense, and on all sides ofters of aid were made to the Peruvian Government.

In order to meet the necessities of the situation, the Government applied to the Permanent Commission of Congress, asking for authority to raise a loan of twelve millions of dollars, increase the navy up to twenty vessels of war, and the army to the strength that might be necessary. The Permanent Commission voted unanimously to authorize the Executive to raise a loan of fifty millions, augment the army to thirty thousand men, and the navy to twenty vessels, with the obligation to give an account of the use made of this authority to the ordinary Congress in July.

In virtue of this authority, the Government gave the order that every battalion of infantry and of marines be increased to the number of one thousand men, the regiments of cavalry to five hundred, and the corps of gendarmes to such a number as seemed necessary, calling all Peruvians wanting to take an active part in the national defence, to a voluntary enrolment. Active measures were taken to put the navy on a war footing.

Spain sent a new envoy to Peru, Gen. Pareja, who was the bearer of an ultimatum, in which the Spanish Government asked from that of Peru a prompt and complete satisfaction for all its grievances, threatening, at the same time, that if this demand should not be complied with, the Spanish squadron would take possession of the principal ports of the republic and destroy the Peruvian squadron.

Spain strengthened its Pacific Fleet with frigates Blanca, Berengere and Villa de Madrid, the Winning schooner and armored Numancia. The Peruvian government, unable to cope with such a threat, was forced to sign a treaty known as Vivanco-Pareja, which ended the conflict but was promptly rejected by the nation. Colonel Mariano Ignacio Prado rose in Arequipa and after nearly a year of civil war managed to seize power, repudiating the said treaty and restarting hostilities. He had previously signed an agreement with Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador which joined, so to act together against Spain and neutralize any attempt to restore its dominance in America.

When war with Spain occured, the Peruvian squadron had no ships capable of dealing directly with the powerful Spanish naval force, since they were still under construction in England armored Huáscar and the armored frigate Independencia. Most people in Spain thought that Peru and Chile were not worthy to fight against their glorious armada. Such a perception was based upon prejudices because both countries, as former colonies, were seen as inferior. Another reason was the lack of knowledge of the South American reality as well as the presumption by most Western powers of a moral and material superiority over other countries or territories of their time. For many Spaniards as most Europeans, there was no difference between Peru and Morocco or between Chile and the Dominican Republic and so they thought they could be easily defeated. That was a big mistake that would carry fatal consequences,

Peru's four main ships were sent to southern Chile, where they were to await the arrival of the two new armored then to act together against the enemy force. Three of these ships, the Apurimac frigate and the Union and America, recently acquired in France, corvettes took part in the naval battle at Abtao occurred on February 7, 1866 in the channel Challahué, forming between the island Abtao and the mainland. This was also in that time the Chilean schooner Covadonga, making up all these ships called Escuadra Allied under the command of Captain Peruvian Navio Manuel Villar rejected brilliantly attack the Spanish frigates Villa of Madrid and Blanca, fighting for several hours until the enemy ships chose to retire.

When the Chincha deposits, in about 1872, were declared to be practically exhausted, their further working was stopped except for use in Peru. Then the guanos on the Macabi and Guanape Islands were exported to Europe, from 1870 to 1874 about 1,000,000 tons having been shipped. Since then the Lobos Islands were worked, as also the islands of Ballestas.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:46:48 ZULU