After the British conquest of Buenos Aires General Beresford invited the citizens to take the oath of allegiance to King George. The names of those who did so, if we had them, would certainly shed some light on the antecedents of the May revolution. According to Captain Alexander Gillespie of the Royal Marines, whom Beresford had made commissary for prisoners, they numbered 58. Unfortunately the list has disappeared. In the Gleanings and Remarks Collected during Many Months Residence at Rueños Ayres and within the Upper Country, which Gillespie published at Leeds in 1818, with a second edition in the following year, we are told that he brought the document back to England and presented it to the government. Much effort has gone into the quest for it. The Argentine historian, Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Roberts, who combed the British archives very thoroughly for his work Las invasiones inglesas, published in 1938, found no trace of it and, though he accepted that it had existed, concluded that Gillespie’s claim to have presented it to the Foreign Office in 1810 was an attempt to blow up his own services in order to support claims for recognition.1
Twenty years later, in November 1958, Dr. Miguel Cárcano of the Argentine Academy of History wrote to Professor R. A. Humphreys of University College, London, requesting that search be made in Oxford, but neither the Bodleian nor any of the Oxford colleges had the paper. However, Argentine documents showed conclusively that Gillespie had it in 1807, and Professor Humphreys was able to tell Dr. Cárcano that a strange coincidence had brought him into possession of the receipt acknowledging Gillespie’s deposit in 1810. It was contained in a book sent to him twenty years ago by a bookseller in Guernsey.
Again twenty years later, in 1978, I had occasion to examine the correspondence with Gillespie, now at the Public Record Office, Kew, and also came across a memorial from him to a later Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, presented in 1823 with an outline of his services and a request for recognition. Although the list or lists have not come to light (if they still exist), this material shows that despite Gillespie’s vaunting style his statements are generally true as far as they can be verified, and that Roberts was, for once, incorrect.
In his memorial Alexander Gillespie tells us that he was one of the five sons of Principal Gillespie of St. Andrews, a former royal chaplain. They all entered the armed forces, and Alexander embarked as a marine on the Monarch on October 31, 1778. He was put on half-pay in 1803 and offered his services on the resumption of hostilities. He was finally accepted by Sir Home Popham who took him on board the Diadem for the expedition to reoccupy the Cape of Good Hope in 1805. Gillespie landed with the army and after the short campaign was placed in charge of a detachment to guard prisoners. In April 1806, he sailed with the Diadem on Popham’s buccaneering expedition to Buenos Aires, where he was “auxiliary” to its capture, being “without solicitation or expectation appointed commissary for prisoners by the present Lord Beresford.”
The appointment ran from the day of the conquest, June 27. It fell to Gillespie to register the Spanish officers who gave their parole rather than be sent to England. He also kept the record of those individuals who were willing to become British subjects. The signatures were given at his lodgings, the Inn of the Three Kings, some perhaps furtively, under cover of darkness. When Liniers recovered the city on August 11, Gillespie became a prisoner himself. In the Gleanings, he tells us of his experiences, not unpleasant, at San Antonio de Areco. In January 1807, as Auchmuty prepared to take Montevideo, the British captives were moved up-country. Beresford made his escape, but Gillespie spent several weeks in the foothills of the Andes at Calamachita.
After Auchmuty took Montevideo in February 1807, the military authorities in Buenos Aires became interested in the lists, wishing to know who had given parole and who had joined the enemy. In the Gleanings, Gillespie tells us that Liniers sent orders to seize the lists and mentions the arrival of a Captain Martínez from whom he concealed them. Captain Martínez carried two papers which summoned Gillespie to “deliver up the book containing the signatures of parole from the Spanish officers who became prisoners at the capture of Buenos Aires by the English. . .. These two documents in the Spanish original are now in the Transport Office”—that is, Liniers’ orders. Two drafts from the Argentine National Archive confirm Gillespie’s story. The first, marked reservado, is addressed to Dn. Juan del Pino Manrique.
Se qe el Quaderno de Juramentados para en poder del Comisdo. de Prisioneros, qe parece serlo Dn. Alexandra Gallespie. Sea qn fuere, Vm mañosamente le sorprehenderá, y sin perderlo de vista entregará el oficio incluso, qe leerá Vm pa imponerse de su obgeto, y si a pesar de mi oibilidad se escusase, valiéndose de la fuerza reconocerá sus papeles, y hallando dho Quaderno le dexará Vm el resguardo circunstanciado qe le pidiese, y me lo remitirá en primera ocasión segura.
Dios gue a Vm ms. as.
En Bs. Ayres, Ab1 27, 807
The accompanying summons to Gillespie ran:
Es absolutamente indispensable qe Vm entregue el Quaderno de Juramentos prestados por los oficiales y demás al tpo de la rendición de la capital de Buenos Ayres, y respecto aqe a continuación de esta orden, le dará a Vm recibo el Comisdo Dn. Juan del Pino en qe expresará la foliación util, y demás circunstas qe Vm exija, espero qe no será menester más, pa qe Vm se preste a su entregue, bajo el seguro de qea su tpo se le devolverá.
Dios gue a Vm mos aos.
Bs. As. En Abl 27 1807 Snr D. Alexandro Gallespie
Martínez promised Gillespie that if he handed over the document, it would be returned. Gillespie denied having it, and said that he would only give up the key to his “potak,” or petaca, if forced to do so. In view of his continued refusal, Martínez took him aside and pointed out that he could not appear to fail in his duty in front of his own men. He would have to be permitted to feel inside the petaca. And if he found the document he would have no alternative but to seize it. The solution was not hard to find. With the help of a lieutenant of marines, Martínez was able to search the wrong box on the well-known principle of obedezco, pero no cumplo. There was, of course, no difficulty in supplying him with letters certifying that he had carried out his instructions. In the Gleanings, Gillespie prints a letter he says he addressed to Liniers on June 6, 1807, declaring that he had placed the documents in a safe place: “should the Diadem ever fall into your hands, perhaps you may find them there.”
As a result of Whitelocke’s capitulation after the events of July 5, all prisoners were released. The news reached Gillespie on July 31, and a few days later he started on the long journey to the coast, reaching Buenos Aires early in September. He hired a launch to get to Montevideo, arriving in Britain at the end of 1807.
On reaching Ireland, Gillespie purchased some linen, which was seized by the English customs for non-payment of duty. He wrote a series of letters to the Treasury but failed to get a refund. He presumably received his modest share of the Buenos Aires prize money. At the Cape, Popham had made a private agreement with Baird and Beresford to divide the eighth reserved for commanding officers. He later made agreements with Beresford and with his own captains. It was they who now challenged Popham’s claim. In a suit brought by Ross Donnelly of the Narcissus, Sir J. Mansfield ruled that Popham’s rank was captain, not commodore, and that he was not entitled to claim a commanding officer’s share. Baird was, although he had never left the Cape. Popham seems to have thought of suing Beresford—at least, Beresford, now marshal of the Portuguese army and in the thick of the peninsular war—told his brother of reports to this effect although he did not see how Popham could make out a case.
Except for the delays, this perhaps did not affect Gillespie, who, however, had his own grievance. As a locally appointed staff officer at Buenos Aires, he was entitled to additional pay of ten shillings a day. He claimed 559 days, from the date of his appointment until his return to England. In support of this, Gillespie applied to Beresford for a certificate. He replied from Fornos de Algodres in Portugal on May 12, 1810.
I certify that I appointed Capt. Alexr Gillespie of the Royal Marines Commissary for Prisoners in the Town of Buenos Ayres on the 27 of June 1806, in which capacity he served till the fall of the Place on the 12 of August following, when he marched a prisoner up country, and having been released in the month of September 1807, and ultimately arriving in England in the December following, for which period it is presumed he is entitled to the Staff Pay attached to such a situation, signed W. C. Beresford, Head Quarters, Fornos de Algodres.
This certificate was accompanied by a letter from Lieutenant Colonel Arbuthnot, who had been with Beresford at Buenos Aires and was now his military secretary:
I am directed by His Excellency Marshall Beresford to transmit you the annexed certificate which is similar to those he has already granted to the officers of the Army who had staff situations in South America and as the greatest part of them have received the pay attached to the situation they held in the Country His Excellency hopes that it will in a like manner be granted to you by the Transport Board.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedt. and humble servant,
Robt. Arbuthnot, Lieut.-Col., Military Secretary
Had Gillespie been in the army these helpful recommendations might have enabled him to win his point, but as a marine his fate came under the Admiralty, of which the Transport Board formed a dependency. The board rejected the claim.
But soon after Beresford sent his certificate, the May revolution occurred in Buenos Aires, and the party of independence took power. The news reached London on August 6, 1810. It at once suggested to Gillespie a different approach. On August 8 he addressed a letter to the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, “upon the subject of my being the depositary of a record of perhaps useful reference to His Majesty’s government, as containing names who might one day appear conspicuous upon the annals of dynasty or war amongst the chequered events in those convulsed colonies.” He goes on to mention having received the signatures of “fifty respectable inhabitants of Buenos Aires expressive of their allegiance and attachment to the British Government.”2
The letter as preserved in the Record Office reads:
From my acquaintance with the Country and the genius of its natives, I contemplate the late revolution at Buenos Aires as introductory to a permanent government more enlightened in its views and liberal in its principles than any one which has preceded it. I contemplate the event as involving in its consequences the commercial interests of my country, and notwithstanding the documents as well as the ideas that arise from them may be remote in their utility and object, still a future good may proceed out of Both, and it is under this sanguine anticipation I now do myself the honour of submitting them to your Notice.
Foreseeing the reconquest of Buenos Ayres, I had early concealed underground the Books containing the paroles of the Spanish officers whom we made prisoners upon its surrender and the signatures of allegiance by many of its most respectable inhabitants to the British government.
This was spontaneous on their part, and done at a crisis holding out few motives of personal advantage, but on the contrary many perilous results under a reverse of fortune to themselves, their families and their properties. I therefore must conclude that their intentions were pure and their regard for our Nation sincere.
I beg, Sir, to represent to you that I am now in possession of this Instrument, and when commanded shall with much pleasure deposit it with you. It will identify to His Majesty’s Ministers the names of those men who in less happy times view’d us with a friendly Eye and dared to attest their sentiments. It may serve as a key to the general feelings of that community thro the medium of those individuals whenever free discussion of reciprocal interests shall be allowed or an intercourse permitted.
I trust your liberal notions will ascribe this approach to its true design—an anxious zeal to promote as far as I can the solid and lasting good of our Island.
Gillespie subscribed himself “Captain, Royal Marines, formerly Commissary of prisoners, South America.” It is unlikely that Spencer Perceval, then preoccupied by the ever increasing demands of Wellington’s army in the Peninsula, paid much attention to the letter. It passed to the Foreign Office, then the domain of Henry, Marquess of Wellesley, Wellington’s brother. In his book Gillespie tells us that his letter was soon followed by an order to lodge the instrument with the under-secretary, William Richard Hamilton. Hamilton (1777-1859) combined diplomacy with antiquarian research and was then the author of a book on Egyptology inspired by the discovery of the Rosetta Stone; he was later a trustee of the British Museum. The letter to Gillespie has not been preserved in the Foreign Office records, but Gillespie’s reply has: It is dated Woolwich, September 3.
I propose to do myself the honour of waiting on you upon Tuesday first at half-past 12 o’clock with the book which contains the signatures of allegiance by many of the commercial inhabitants of Buenos Ayres while under British dominion.
Having had reference to these names, I observe from a comparison with the list of those who comprise the present rulers of that City one gentleman Don Francisco Jose Castelli, standing next in relation to Saavedra, the Chief. My remarks attached to his subscription are the following—A very clever fellow, has visited Europe and North America, speaks English fluently and is well attached to this country—He is a native of Lima, and has very comprehensive views of politics and commerce.
I feel happy that the loose suggestions which I did myself the honour to submit to the Right Honourable Mr. Perceval have been in my respect realized to me, and I doubt not but the record deposited with you may prove of much future Benefit.
This letter is endorsed “Capt. Gillespie, D.R. Sept. 3 1810 a. Signatures to the oath of allegiance at Buenos Ayres, 3208.”
In his book Gillespie does not actually say that he saw Hamilton, but he prints Hamilton’s receipt:
Received this day, from the hands of Captain Alexander Gillespie, of the Royal Marines, a book containing the oath of allegiance to His Britannick Majesty, signed at Buenos Ayres in the course of July 1806 by fifty-eight Inhabitants of that City, together with the Paroles of Spanish and Creole Officers of the Regular and Provincial army of Buenos Ayres, commencing the 1st day of July, 1806. The same to be deposited in the Foreign Office
Signed W. R. Hamilton
There is no copy of this receipt in the Foreign Office records, but the original turned up in a book sent to Professor Humphreys many years ago. He has kindly presented it to me. The text is as printed by Gillespie, but for small differences of punctuation and capitalization. Hamilton began to write “I” and then changed his mind, moving to the following line to write “received,” and “in the course of July” replaces “on the fourth of July.” Perhaps Hamilton asked when the signatures were given and Gillespie replied with the date the list was opened, correcting the slight misunderstanding for print. The receipt is endorsed “No. 5. Mr. Hamilton Foreign Office, receipt for record of officers and natives, B. Ayres, 4 Sept. 1810.” The No. 5 does not correspond to the Foreign Office’s filing system and was Gillespie’s number. Presumably no copy was kept by Hamilton. Neither the receipt nor the book itself was entered in the departmental daybook or given a number.
Three weeks passed. Then on September 26 Gillespie appealed to Hamilton for help in pressing his claim:
Craven Coffee House
26 Septr 1810
Permit me the freedom of an appeal to your high knowledge of official forms and transactions under my present case. About to embark in a ship whose destination is most probably foreign I shall be compelled to relinquish and perhaps forego the claims with which the accompanying documents will attest to you I hold against the Public. God knows they were most dearly earned, and altho not exceeding £276-10-0, still the sum seems to me under my approaching destinies of peculiar importance, and still more so as I shall leave behind a wife and five children far from living in independent circumstances.
The rest of my address to the Transport Board, the actual source of application, and the proper Board, was unavailing without any cause assigned, but I immediately had a reference of the Treasury. Betwixt those departments I have exerted every Energy, but without effect. From the latter I have solicited a partial advance of seventy pounds to meet my present contingencies, and until a final adjustment, but with like success.
Your liberal and comprehensive views will know that under any event an officer must obey his orders and that devoid of personal fortune his credit seldom stands high. Amidst all of my difficulties, and many they have been, I trust my conduct has ever risen above them. The occasion on which I venture to enlarge is another in my life which calls for all my firmness and I take authority to glance at the outline when I thus unbosom myself to a stranger.
I am aware of the delicacy requisite in taking counsel from a Public Character upon a public question. Forgive me, Sir, for a very free approach. In requesting your advice I derive no warrant except from your generous feelings as a gentleman, and your human consideration as a man.
I have the honour to be, Sir, with the respect which is due,
Your very faithful and most devoted humble servant,
Capt., Royal Marines
The documents attached are copies of Beresford’s certificate and Arbuthnot’s covering letter.
Once more no copy has been preserved of Hamilton’s approach to the Transport Board. He was evidently in the habit of sending personal notes which were not copied or entered. But the result is seen from a reply he had from Sir Rupert George, dated from the Transport Office, October 8, 1810.
Capt. Gillespie has appealed both to the Admiralty and Treasury against the decision of the Board upon his claim. Capt. Gillespie has been allowed 10/. per diem during the time he officiated as Commissary of Prisoners of War which was from his appointment to the capture of Buenos Ayres, but he claims Pay during the time he was Prisoner of War and till his arrival in England, which is unprecedented in the Naval Department, and not likely to be allowed by the Admiralty.
I am, dear Sir,
very faithfully yours,
The letter is endorsed “Sir Rupert George. D. Oct. 8. R. II, 1810. answer on Capt. Gillespie. B. agrees.”
Here the correspondence ends and the trail grows cold. Gillespie’s last active service was in 1816, when he volunteered from the Bulwark, flagship at Sheerness, to exchange with Captain Marshall into the Albion to go to Algiers. In his memorial he tells Lord Liverpool that before the battle he was confined to a sickbed, but was carried on deck on a chair and for ten hours assisting in changing the direction of the guns, a service which was “publicly and handsomely acknowledged.” He was landed at Gibraltar and returned to England. At his own request, and aided by a medical report, he was retired on January 1, 1817, his departure being announced by General Winter before a parade of officers at Chatham. He settled at Headingley, near Leeds, where he published the Gleanings in 1818 and 1819. He offered his services during the troubles of 1819, but they were declined. Finally, he submitted his memorial to Lord Liverpool in June 1823, depicting himself as beset with pecuniary difficulties and with the infirmities of a broken constitution after nearly forty years of faithful service in three wars and in every clime. He had four daughters, grown up but unmarried, Mary Vischer, Isabella, Margaret Maitland, and Ann Norton Gillespie. Considering how forlorn they must have been at his dis-solution, he sought the protection of some charitable organization. In his submission he does not now emphasize the delivery of the book of signatures as a service, but claims that after his own captivity he had “the joy of to rescue from an unrelenting proscription fifty-eight respectable subjects of the Spanish Government who had secretly sworn allegiance to the British Dynasty while it held the capital, by resisting the surrender and afterwards concealing the attached records of that deed from a military force which was specially directed by the ruling authorities to wrest them” from him. Many officers who had signed their paroles in the same volume were restrained from unsheathing their swords against Britain by his firmness.
Hamilton must have been convinced of Gillespie’s genuineness, or at least of his plight, or he would hardly have taken up his case with the Transport Board. He may have been less convinced that the information it contained was as important as Gillespie claimed. The contents were not passed on to the British agent in Buenos Aires, or so far as I know turned to account in any way.
Gillespie had built up his case for its importance on a mistake. His only note on a named individual was garbled. Although Boberts thought that Gillespie had identified three members of the government of 1810 on his list, the only one given by Gillespie is that of Castelli. He had seen that the second member after Saavedra was Juan José Castelli. In his letter he refers to him as “Dr. Francisco Castelli,” quoting his own note “a very clever fellow.” Roberts accepted that Castelli was intended, although rejecting Gillespie’s decision.3
But not only is the name wrong: the description seems inapplicable to Castelli. When eight years later Gillespie published the Gleanings, he did not specify any of the 58 signatories, and had perhaps come to realize his mistake.
It would seem likely that one name on the list may have been that of Francisco Antonio de Cabello y Mesa, the former editor of the Telégrafo Mercantil in 1802. The American Thomas Waine is said to have taken a file of it to show to Popham at the Cape, and this may have been the deciding factor in persuading Popham to embark on his adventure, overcoming the doubts expressed by Baird. As a soldier, Cabello held the rank of lieutenant-colonel; he came under suspicion in April 1807, when orders were issued for the seizure of the parole list from Gillespie. He was one of those who were captured by and collaborated with the English at Montevideo, becoming one of the editors of the famous but short-lived bilingual weekly La Estrella del Sur/The Southern Star, first printed in May and closed after the seventh issue in July, a casualty of Whitlocke’s capitulation.
Cabello’s name does appear on a parole list, the General Entry-Book of Montevideo, 1807. He was apparently among those taken at the storming of the town and is described as forty-three years of age, 5 feet, 3½ inches in height, hair black, eyes dark, nose rather long, complexion dark, person slender, marks or wounds none. He was one of a batch of about 123 destined to be sent as prisoners to England.
Those most likely to succumb to Beresford’s invitation were the merchants who in the early days of the British conquest must have anticipated great advantages from collaboration. Gillespie confirms this when he speaks of the “signatures of allegiance of many of the commercial inhabitants of Buenos Ayres.” Cabello’s connection with the Telégrafo placed him much in contact with proponents of freer trade and it seems probable that the lost list refers chiefly to men who shared these views.
Roberts, Las invasiones inglesas (Buenos Aires, 1938).
Gillespie, Gleanings and Remarks Collected during Many Months Residence at Buenos Ayres and within the Upper Country (Leeds, 1818).
Roberts, Las invasiones, pp. 112-113.
The author is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies at the University of British Columbia.