Thursday, July 21, 2022

Heroines of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Picture of Santa Cruz around the 18th century, the work of Víctor Ezquerro

During the defence of Santa Cruz against the siege by Nelson's troops in 1797, the water carriers played a fundamental role

In the history of Santa Cruz, several testimonies are collected that show the heroic behaviour of several women at crucial moments.

In the spring of 1656, Admiral Robert Blake left England in command of a powerful squadron with the mission of preventing maritime communications between Spain and America. Aware that a fleet of two galleons and nine merchant ships from Havana, under the command of Admiral Diego de Egues Viamont, was anchored in the port of Santa Cruz to repair a mast of the flagship ship, he set course for the island.

Warned of the arrival of 33 British ships, by a sailboat from Gran Canaria, they unloaded all the silver and deposited it in La Laguna, a place where they also sent the elderly, women and children so that they would be safe.

On the morning of April 30, 1657, more than 12,000 men located in the castles, batteries and the defensive wall, offered a glorious resistance to the English; but, as the enemies came to board the ships, Admiral Diego de Egues decided to burn them. After 10 hours of intense combat, the British squadron withdrew, taking in tow the dismantled Spanish ships where they believed the treasure remained.

In those years, the main castle of San Cristóbal was commanded by Don Fernando Guerra de Ayala and, as was usual for the governor of the fortress, his wife, Doña Hipólita Cibo Sopranis, lived there, who refused to go to a safe place, alleging that her presence in the Castle would not be completely useless; For this reason, without leaving the high platform of the fortress, under the shrapnel launched by the enemy ships, she collaborated with the soldiers by fetching ammunition, loading weapons, encouraging the artillerymen, comforting the wounded and bringing water to those who requested it.

As the illustrious Viera y Clavijo said, "because of her heroic behaviour that she had no right to demand of her, Doña Hipólita deserves a place among those who honor her gender."

For this victory, King Felipe IV (Philip IV of Spain) granted to the Coat of Arms of Santa Cruz the First Lion's Head, extracted from the English coat of arms.

On July 21, 1797, the lookout of the Anaga watchtower spotted a large English fleet on the horizon, under the command of Rear Admiral Horacio Nelson, made up of 9 ships with 2,000 men on board and 393 cannons, quickly raising the alarm to the San Cristobal castle.

With uproar in Santa Cruz, the Commander General of the Canary Islands, Antonio Gutiérrez, ordered the deployment of the existing military units and summoned the Militia Regiments of Garachico, La Orotava, La Laguna, Abona and Güímar, while at the same time, they sent to La Laguna, to be placed in a safe place, the elderly, women and children, along with documents, funds, valuable objects from the churches, etc.

In the early morning of the 22nd, the English tried to neutralize the Paso Alto fortress, a key point in the defence of the port, to then reach the castle of San Cristóbal, but the landing boats were detected by a peasant woman who was walking along the narrow coastal path from the San Andrés Valley to sell her products in the market. 

As mayor Domingo Vicente Marrero describes in his chronicle, upon noticing how a large number of landing craft approached our coast, accelerating its pace until it reached the gate of the Paso Alto castle, with shouting, and even throwing stones inside the enclosure, she alerted the garrison, frustrating this first attack attempt. The English, seeing that they no longer had the element of surprise, headed back towards their ships.

Two days later, on July 24, the English landed at El Bufadero and managed to reach the mountain known as Mesa del Ramonal, where the Spanish forces that were located in Paso Alto prevented their advance. Due to the fact that these soldiers and militiamen from Tenerife had to remain several days in this spot, without any shade where they could shelter from a blazing sun, it was necessary for someone to bring them water and food. A group of brave water carriers from Santa Cruz volunteered to climb the steep escarpments, bringing them water, fruit and food. The titanic effort made by these women to ascend the rugged slope, surely barefoot, loaded to the point of exhaustion, was under the scorching summer sun, and exposed to the fire of the attackers. Truly heroic behaviour of those women, because we have evidence that they took more than one trip.

The aguadoras (water carriers), a profession carried out by some women from Santa Cruz, who were in charge of carrying water containers on their heads, from the fountains of La Pila, in the Plaza de La Candelaria, or that of Morales, in the neighbourhood of El Cabo, to homes in the city, receiving remuneration in return.

Given the important mission that those humble women carried out in the society of their time, the City Council of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the year 2000, paid them a well-deserved tribute next to the Santo Domingo stream, very close to the Guimerá Theater, with a sculpture by Medín Martín.

The Tertulia Amigos del 25 de Julio has also paid them a modest tribute to their courage and patriotism, raising a milestone at the entrance of the Yacht Club.

The capitulation of Horacio Nelson would suppose for the Shield of Santa Cruz its Third Lion's Head, extracted from the English coat of arms.

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