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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Chronology of the failed British assault on Santa Cruz de Tenerife of July 25, 1797

Information panel showing the Chronology of the assault of July 25, 1797
at the San Cristóbal Castle Interpretation Centre in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

In the spring of 1797, two English frigates boarded a Spanish frigate and a French corvette in Santa Cruz bay and, taking advantage of the darkness, took them out of the bay with little resistance. This action made Rear Admiral Horatio Nelson think that it would be easy to take over the port of Santa Cruz, and he proposed to Admiral Jervis an ambitious plan to prevent Spain from continuing to use the Canarian ports of call between America and Africa. On July 15, the English would abandon the blockade of the port of Cádiz and headed for Tenerife.


At dawn, the lookout at the Igueste watchtower spotted a British fleet on the horizon, made up of four ships of the line, three frigates, a cutter and a bomb vessel, communicating it to the Castillo de San Cristóbal by means of bonfires. In total 2,000 marines came and their ships carried 393 guns.

Once the alarm was sounded, General Gutiérrez, General Commander of the Canary Islands, brought together his staff and put the plan into operation; that is, to vacate the public offices of the Treasury, Tobacco, Post Office, commercial warehouses, and for women, the elderly and children to go up to La Laguna in search of refuge.

1,000 men from the Canarian Militia Regiments of Abona, Güimar, La Laguna, La Orotava and Garachico arrived in Santa Cruz, who would join the 600 soldiers of the Canary Islands Infantry Battalion; the 387 artillerymen defending the castles and batteries with its 89 guns; the 60 men of the Cuban and Havana Flags, the 110 sailors of the French corvette La Mutine, the pilots and sailors of the merchant ships stationed in the bay, and the volunteer countrymen.


At dawn, 23 boats full of Englishmen tried to land on Bufadero beach, but the assault was aborted thanks to a peasant woman from San Andrés who was going to the market to sell her wares and alerted the soldiers of the Paso Alto castle. At ten o'clock in the morning, three English frigates approached the Valleseco beach, and 1,200 men disembarked and seized the Mesa del Ramonal. Quickly, a detachment commanded by the Marquis de la Fuente de las Palmas occupied the height of Paso Alto, placing itself in front of the enemy.

At dusk, 300 men from the Infantry battalion, plus 50 Rozadores de La Laguna (volunteer countrymen who used rozaderas - sickles / farm implements - as weapons), prevented the English troops from advancing through those places.

During the night 500 militiamen joined, led by the mayor of Taganana, Andrés Perdomo Álvarez. At the same time, the English forces, taking advantage of the darkness, began the descent towards the beach and returned to their ships.

JULY 23-24

At three in the afternoon, the enemy squad set out to sea and headed southeast, losing sight of the height of Barranco Hondo. Despite the apparent withdrawal, during the night, at the suggestion of Lieutenant Francisco Grandy Giraud, a cannon - El Tigre - was placed in a new opening in the Santo Domingo bastion, in order to cover the Alameda beach that was located unguarded. At six in the morning of the 24th, the British squad appeared again off Santa Cruz, anchoring off Valleseco. At nine o'clock it was joined by a new 50-gun ship, of which the attacking force already has nine units.

Nelson gathered his officers on the flagship, HMS Theseus, to study the strategy they would carry out to take Santa Cruz. Such was his faith in victory that he even decided to take part in the attack, leading the landing force.

At seven in the afternoon, a frigate and a bomb vessel approached the coast and began to bombard the castle of Paso Alto, dropping a total of 43 bombs that did not cause appreciable damage. To this action, the fort responded with the fire of its pieces. 


In the early morning, the British landing craft are divided into several groups. The one that went to the dock and the Castillo San Cristóbal split in two. One of them, commanded by Captain Troubridge, managed to reach the dock stairs and disabled the seven guns in its battery. Then they tried to reach the castle but, when they were rejected, they made a detour and hid in the upper part of the Plaza de la Pila (Plaza de la Candelaria) where, at four in the morning, when they were discovered by the soldiers of the Canary Islands Battalion, they fled and took refuge in the Santo Domingo convent, now the Centro de Arte La Recova (Recova Art Centre) and Guimerá Theater.

However, the second group of boats, in which Admiral Nelson was approaching, could not achieve it due to the strong waves, going to beach their keels at the Alameda beach. When Nelson prepared to jump ashore and drew his sword to encourage the men he was hit by shrapnel from the Tigre cannon. Nelson's launch would return to the flagship, where his right arm was amputated at his shoulder. The cutter, Fox, which was escorting the aforementioned boats, was hit below the waterline and, amid a terrifying fire, sank into the bay with its 300 sailors, gunpowder and assault material.

Another group of boats, commanded by Samuel Hood, managed to land on the Carnicería beach and climbed the Santos ravine, until they were also protected in the Dominican convent.

At dawn, from the bell tower of the convent, they began to send signals to their boats asking for help, at the same time that they ordered General Gutiérrez to hand over the plaza, under the threat of setting the town on fire, to which Gutiérrez turned a deaf ear. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Grandy had returned to service the dock battery; so that, an hour later, when 15 boats full of English sailors headed there, with the intention of helping the companions who were in the convent, the cannons opened fire on them, sinking several boats, so who returned to their ships. At seven in the morning, when discouragement spread in the English troops, they asked to parley; For this, Commander Samuel Hood was led blindfolded to the castle of San Cristóbal, where he still dared to demand that General Gutiérrez surrender; he agreed to capitulate to the firm reply received: "There are still men and gunpowder left in the plaza for its defense." Immediately, a boat with Samuel Hood and Carlos Adán, captain of the sea (port pilot), went to the British flagship, where Nelson is informed of the conditions of the capitulation, to which he agreed and signed with his left hand.


At nine o'clock in the morning, in the Plaza de la Candelaria, bread, fruit and wine were distributed to the defeated British, and were then transferred to their ships in the boats of the Santa Cruz fishermen or in their own boats that had been left intact. The following day the wounded who had been treated at the two hospitals in Santa Cruz would be re-embarked. Nelson, impressed by such a kind act of chivalry of the Tenerife people, addressed a letter to General Gutiérrez - signed with his left hand - in which he expressed his gratitude for such deference, at the same time that he became the messenger of his own defeat. In gratitude, he gave him night vision glasses, a cheese and a barrel of English beer, to which Gutiérrez corresponded with another letter and gave him two limetones (demijohn) of local wine. The people of Santa Cruz could not imagine what that victory would mean for the future of his modest town. Four days later, the Mayor Real met the authorities and residents of the Place and Port in the church of Pilar, agreeing to designate copatrons to the Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) and the Apostle Santiago (Saint James), on whose day the triumph over the English had been consummated.

General Gutiérrez brought the matter to the court and, six years later, on August 28, 1803, King Carlos IV (Charles IV of Spain) granted the privilege of Villazgo (city status), added the qualifier of Noble, and granted the city its own coat of arms. Since then, it would be renamed: Muy Leal, Noble e Invicta Villa, Puerto y Plaza de Santa Cruz de Santiago de Tenerife (Very Loyal, Noble and Invicta Villa, Port and Plaza de Santa Cruz de Santiago de Tenerife).

* Official chronicler of Santa Cruz de Tenerife 

Cronología de la Gesta del 25 de julio de 1797

Re-enactment of the La Gesta Batalla.

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