From Cape Santa Maria to La Fortuna
The story behind the series
5 October 1804: Battle of Cape Santa María – southern Portugal – 4 large British frigates, with no prior declaration of war, attacked 4 Spanish frigates with a cargo of silver. The Mercedes sank, and the other ships were captured.
At the outset of the battle the Mercedes was blown into the air, causing the death of most of its crew and sinking its enormous treasure. The Spanish frigates had left Montevideo with more than 6,000,000 silver pesos on board.
The captain of the Mercedes was José Manuel de Goicoa y Labart. He was born in San Sebastián in 1757, and joined the Navy at 19 years of age. Another Gipuzkoa nobleman whose sense of honour and sacrifice led him to die in combat at sea.
He joined up as a sea cadet in 1776 at the same time as his countryman Cosme Damián Churruca (Mutriku 1761), who was to die a year later at the Battle of Trafalgar. In addition to this common fate, both sailors coincided on various expeditions.
Chart drawn up by Churruca on the North American Atlas expedition (1792-1795). At the time Goicoa was stationed in Santo Domingo. In 1788 both of them were involved in the 2nd hydrographic expedition to the Strait of Magallanes. They were both assigned to the fleet led by Admiral José de Mazarredo and were in Brest between 1799 and 1800, where the fleet was blocked.
When he returned, Goicoa was promoted to brigadier, and in 1802 to assistant to the Major General of Cartagena.
Admiral Mazarredo, from Bilbao, was involved in pacifying the “Zamacolada” mutiny which broke out in the Bilbao estuary in July 1804. The Crown sent 4,000 troops to Bizkaia, and the first of these arrived on 21 September.
The mutiny broke out when the Bizkaia Juntas Generales approved Simón Bernardo de Zamacola’s project to build the “Peace Port” in Abando to replace Bilbao, in exchange for mandatory military service.