Hall of Fame Member
- Oct 9, 2004
Robert Walpole - Britain's first Prime Minister. He was PM from 1721 to 1742.
The War of Jenkins' Ear was a conflict between Great Britain and Spain that lasted from 1739 to 1748. After 1742 it merged into the larger War of the Austrian Succession.
Under the 1729 Treaty of Seville, the British had agreed not to trade with the Spanish colonies. To verify the treaty, the Spanish were permitted to board British vessels in Spanish waters. After one such incident in 1731, Robert Jenkins, captain of the ship Rebecca, claimed that the Spanish coast guard had severed his ear, and in 1738 exhibited it to the House of Commons - hence the name of the conflict. The British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, reluctantly declared war on October 23, 1739.
One of the key actions was the British capture, on November 21, 1739, of the silver exporting town of Puerto Bello (then in New Granada, now Panama), in an attempt to damage Spain's finances. The poorly defended port was attacked by six ships of the line under Admiral Edward Vernon. The battle demonstrated the vulnerability of Spanish trading practices, and led them to fundamentally change them. Rather than trading at centralised ports with large treasure fleets, they began using small numbers of ships trading at a wide variety of ports. They also began to travel around Cape Horn to trade on the West coast. Puerto Bello's economy was severely damaged, and did not recover until the building of the Panama Canal. In Britain the victory was greeted with much celebration, and in 1740, at a dinner in honour of Vernon in London, the song God Save the King, now the British national anthem, was performed in public for the first time. The London street Portobello Road was named after the victory. Spain had long ceased to be a first class power but its empire was still by far the largest, with great riches in metals and trade long sought by rival powers. With the Puerto Bello victory it was now thought that the conquest of Spain's American colonies would be relatively easy.
On March, 1741, Sir Edward Vernon (known by the nickname of "Old Grog" - and who prescribed a ration of rum to each man on his ships) led a fleet of 186 ships and 23,600 men to the city of Cartagena de Indias defended by 6,000 men and 6 ships. After a month of intense artillery fire and combat against the Spanish and colonial defenders under the command of the Viceroy Sebastián de Eslava; Don Blas de Lezo; Don Melchor de Navarrete and Don Carlos Des Naux, the British fleet was ordered to withdraw after suffering heavy casualties from combat and disease. The depleted force later attempted to seize Cuba with similar results. A 1742 Spanish counter-attack upon Georgia at the Battle of Bloody Marsh was also defeated.
The war was marked by several unsuccessful British invasions of Florida and of the Spanish Main. It was also characterised by relatively indecisive naval operations and enormous privateering by both sides. The war eventually died down due to lack of troops (as resources were diverted by war in Europe) - many had succumbed to disease - without any gain of territory on either side, thereby effectively ending the British imperial ambition of seizing the Spanish Americas.
However, something did change as a result - for the first time the British began referring to "Americans" rather than "colonials".
In 1742, the war merged with and became a minor side-show of the much larger War of Austrian Succession.