Agustín Arturo Prat Chacón (April 3, 1848, near Ninhue - May 21, 1879, Iquique, Peru) was a Chilean navy officer. He was killed shortly after boarding the Peruvian armored monitor Huáscar at the Naval Battle of Iquique after the ship under his command, the Esmeralda, was rammed by the Peruvian monitor. Prat, as captain of the Esmeralda, was the first to board the Huáscar.
Before his martyrdom, Prat had taken part in several major naval engagements, including battles at Papudo (1865), a coastal city north of Valparaiso, and at the Battle of Abtao (1866), at the islet of Abtao across from Chiloé Island. Following his death, his name became a rallying cry for Chilean forces, and Arturo Prat has since been considered a national hero.
Prat's name is commemorated on numerous plazas (squares), streets, buildings and other structures in Chile. His name has been commemorated by four of Chile's major warships, including a USS Brooklyn class cruiser in the 1950s, a British County class destroyer from 1983 to 2006, and most recently a Dutch Jacob van Heemskerck class frigate transferred to Chile as Capitan Prat in 2006. One of Chile's Antarctic research facilities, Arturo Prat Station, is named after him. His portrait also appears on the 10,000 Chilean peso bill.
Prat, the fourth (and only surviving) son of Agustín Prat and Rosario Chacón, was born at the San Agustín de Puñual Hacienda in south-central Chile on April 3 1848. He entered the Naval Academy on August 28 1858 at the age of 10 years thanks to one of the scholarships created by President Manuel Montt Torres. There were two scholarships per province: one for Arauco went to Prat, and the other went to Luis Uribe. Both had the same benefactor, Don Jacinto Chacón (uncle of Arturo and stepfather of Uribe), resulting in the two youths considering each other as brothers.
At the time, the academy was directed by Frenchman Juan Julio Feillet and was backed by another Frenchman, Don Anatolio Desmadryl. Young Arturo and his friend Luis were part of the so-called "class of the heroes" including, among others, Carlos Condell de la Haza, Juan José Latorre and Jorge Montt Álvarez.
During his first year, Prat was often distracted and struggled in his studies, especially mathematics. Nethertheless, just as he had in his previous school, he overcame these difficulties and went on to win a silver medal for his accomplishments.
In 1859, his second year as a cadet, he comenced a nautical apprenticeship – a requirement for second-year students. His first voyage of training was completed in the steamer Independencia, with sail and rigging maneuvers, followed later by practice in seamanship and artillery.
In January 1860, Arturo Prat boarded, for the first time, the "Esmeralda," the ship which would be the scene of his glory. His nautical apprenticeship continued: embarkation and disembarkation, combat simulation, etc. In July 1861, he left the Naval Academy as "primera antigüedad" (the most distinguished in the course). He obtained the grade of midshipman without examination.
During this period, Prat distinguished himself in an incident involving the Infernal, a French ship that was carrying explosive materials. On October 1, 1861, it (fittingly) caught on fire while in the Bay of Valparaiso. The Esmeralda, which was nearby, sent boats to save the wreck, one of which was steered by Arturo Prat, who would struggle for two hours against the fire.
Commanding the Esmeralda at the time was Juan Williams Rebolledo, who planned the recovery of the Chilean steamer Matías Cousiño and the capture of the Spanish schooner Covadonga. The naval battle of Papudo occurred on December 26 and rapidly went the way of the Chilean force which was superior in firepower and was able to capture the defeated ship. The capture of the Covadonga resulted in the promotion by one grade of all sailors participating in the battle, converting Prat into an ensign (equivalent to a second lieutenant in the army).
Wishing to offset their losses at Papudo, the Spanish fleet sought another confrontation with the allied navies (Peru and Ecuador added to Chile's side). Their desire for vengeance was fulfilled at Chiloé in the battle of Abtao on February 7 1866. Artillery combat occurred only between the Covadonga and the Spanish ships Villa de Madrid and Blanca, as the other allied ships were unused due to a lack of coal and the rocky estuary. Prat then served on the Covadonga, the ship which luckily resisted the Spanish bombardment. There were no losses on the allied side, while the Spanish suffered two deaths.
Prat was promoted to a Lieutenant on September 9. The future hero returned to Naval School, but this time as an instructor. From 1871, he was the Second Commander of the Esmeralda, leading to his appointment to several positions in the school (teacher, subdirector, internal director), and was assigned to teach courses such as Naval Order, Law, Naval Tactics and Cosmography. Additionally, he was responsible for docking the corvette for four years (1871-1874) in the port of Mejillones. He received the title of Graduated Corvette Captain (equivalent to Lieutenant Commander) in 1873 and Capitán de Corbeta Efectivo in 1874. He was a dedicated teacher who fought against the lack of resources available to provide quality education. He himself translated textbooks from French to Spanish.
Around that time, Prat faced an unusual situation. On May 24, 1875, the Esmeralda was in the port of Valparaíso while Prat was on sick leave. The commander of the ship, Luis Alfredo Lynch, was also on leave so Lieutenant Constantino Bannen was left in charge. A storm began in the bay and the Valdivia broke its ties and went right towards the Esmeralda, which then impacted with the Maipo. It appeared that the destruction of the Esmeralda would be unavoidable. When Prat and Lynch returned, they managed to get transported back to the ship by boat, but the violent waves kept them from embarking. Arturo Prat threw himself into the water and swam to the ship to climb a rope (as Lynch had done just before him). He worked feverishly with a rope tied from his waist to the mast to accomplish rescue maneuvers resulting in the ship stopping with its bow against the beach and securing it there with riggings. Luis Alfredo Lynch would later remember Prat's "unflappable calm in the face of danger".
The reparation of the Esmeralda was long and hard and cost 100,000 pesos. Lynch had to face charges of dereliction of duty, however he was saved by a tie in the voting. Throughout the trial, Arturo Prat was always faithful to his superior, helping him however he could.
After the tests of May 1876 and only three years before the War of the Pacific, the Chilean government closed the Naval School explaining that Chile no longer needed naval officers.
Prat, who left Condell in charge of the Esmeralda, disembarked and, because of his studies in law, was named helper of the Maritime Government of Valparaíso. It was December 1876, he was already a graduated commander, but he would only return to the ship of his destiny once the war started.
In 1870, Prat began the path of becoming a lawyer. Prat had always had an interest in law and therefore decided to pursue his law degree. He entered as a secondary student in Humanities at the Liceo de Valparaíso and the National Institute (Instituto Nacional). In 1871, he received his diploma in Philosophy and Humanities — a prerequisite for studying law. One of his examiners was the renowned Chilean historian Diego Barros Arana.
In the following year, he began his studies in Property Law in the Faculty of Law of the University of Chile. He studied onboard the "Esmeralda", which was located in Mejillones. Upon returning from his mission, he requested to take his examinations in Valparaíso where he passed the required subjects.
In 1875, he began practicing law at a law firm in the port town as a prerequisite to receiving his license.
In July of the following year, Prat passed his remaining courses and was then ready to complete his licensing. In order to graduate, he was required to pass an examination on a randomly-chosen area of law. He was assigned Roman Law, which he managed to pass between 24-26 July 1876, while his thesis "Observaciones sobre la ley electoral vigente" (Observations on the current electoral law) was approved. There remained one final step before receiving his license — a final exam before the judges of the Supreme Court.
On 31 July 1876, at 11 a.m., the lieutenant commander passed through the corridors of Supreme Court of Justice in full dress uniform wearing his sword at his belt; he had come to take his examination before the highest judges, the final requirement to practise law. However, much to his surprise, Prat was told that the judges had decided not to hear examinations that day. Prat that he had an appointment for that day, that he had very little free time as a naval officer, and requested a meeting with Manuel Montt Torres, the Supreme Court president. Having convinced Montt to recieve him, and to much applause from the court, Prat went on to become a lawyer at the age of 28.
Prior to his final exam, Prat had already conducted legal work while defending the engineer Ricardo Owen, accused of disobedience, and also his friend and classmate Luis Uribe, accused of disobedience and contempt to his superiors. He succeeded the first time, but he was not so successful with the defence of his friend, who was condemned to six months of jail by six votes. The amnesty of the President saved Uribe and his naval career from that fate.
He aspired to be a Navy auditor, but he was only sworn as "assistant" (mainly because of his lack of experience), assigned the legal aspects of the Navy General Command. Prat performed a complete remodeling of the army's legal system, starting with the Navigation Law. He presented 152 modifications to it, many of which were approved. He was also in charge of the regularization of the promotion system, proposing changes to avoid social relations, politics and other factors, making it a merit and seniority based system. Prat died without this navy code having been published.
This was Arturo Prat's thesis book, which contained many clues about his political thoughts. It was written within the framework of the promulgation of the new electoral law during Federico Errázuriz Zañartu's government, in which the Greater Taxpayer Institution and Parliament Member Cumulative Vote were established.
Prat analyzes this law with the perspective that it would make possible further progress towards electoral freedom. He points out the contradictions and obscurity of the text, but he stresses that it is an "eminently liberal" law. Prat ends saying: ''...deep-down a good law, it needs serious and important reforms with respect to regulations if it is to achieve the lofty objective it is destined to: to be the effective guarantee that the voting result is the happy expression of the national will."
The text reveals Prat's political ideas, clearly reflecting the common liberalism of the times, and demonstrates a great naivety (not even with all of its indications could the law prevent the intervention of the executive power.)
In the voyage of repatriation of O'Higgins mortal remains from Peru, Prat brought presents for Carmela: a sewing box, a fan, a silver cross, and an ivory card holder.
The relationship was very obvious, but Prat was bothered when others mentioned it. In addition to his shyness, he was annoyed because he was afraid to formalize an engagement because he had no money to support the marriage.
When he learned that he would be promoted to Corvette Captain, he finally decided to ask for Carmela's hand, in 1873. The only love letter from Prat to his fiancée that has survived is dated shortly after:
My Carmela, my life, my treasure, I have to tell you, that I adore you every day more fervently, I cannot do it now because I am afraid I could fall ill. Receive the passionate heart of your Arturo.
On 5 May 1873 the wedding bells sounded over the San Agustín de Valparaíso church. A beautiful red carpet was laid, over which the radiant 22-year-old bride passed on her way to the altar. Her parents had died when she was a girl, and she had been raised by her siblings, through whom she had contact with the Chacón family. The Chacóns adopted her as a member of the family. Tall, slender and beautiful, she met with a sturdy Arturo Prat, with large forehead due to his baldness, thick beard and steady step. The minister, José Francisco Salas, blessed them at 10:30 am. They were man and wife.
Their relationship as spouses was based on a love that did not fade during the six years they lived together. Prat treated his wife as an equal, as a partner (something really rare in that society), putting her in charge of the family budget; and he, on the other hand, helped with some house chores: "At every moment I seem to find you exhausted from rocking our daughter, without me being next to you and sharing, albeit a bit, your labors...".
By that time Carmela was already pregnant with their first daughter. Prat wrote of his daughter's birth:
The fifth of march Carmela de la Concepción was born at 9:35 a.m., under the circumstances that I had to go to Santiago just the day before... The fifth of April she was baptised in the Church of the Holy Spirit, the godparents being Conchita with José Jesús...
It seems to me that she was to be very vivacious, smiling, playful... Last night I dreamt about her and she seemed to know me and with her little face a bit sad, she extended her little arms to hug me...
But like Prat's older brothers who died very young, the girl inherited a very frail and sickly build. Arturo writes to Carmela: "Keep using homeopathy for my little daughter and inform me after she is healthy." He has, undoubtedly, the hope that the method that (he supposed) cured his weak condition, would work the same wonders in little Carmela. But it didn't work, the child's life was extinguishing more and more every day, to the despair of the helpless parents, who put all their strengths in their prayers.
Poor little angel! I cannot see her any more, at least I want her to be healthy.
Adding to Prat's despair, at the end of the annual season, he had to be transferred to the center of the country, on the Abtao, a steamer that should have arrived but had not. On Sunday 13 December the boat finally arrived, and he wrote to his wife: "Later then I will be seeing you, as I will see my little child who I hope is completely healthy..." But the girl had died one week before on 5 December. At dusk, a devastating letter arrived from his wife: "My beloved Arturo, our dear little angel is still not well; I feel my heart fainting from pain and you are not here to hold me... If it were possible for you to come, that would be my only comfort. Don't despair my wellbeing, think of your unhappy Carmela." Adding to Prat's desperation, the steamboat would not leave until the 18th.
All his hopes were destroyed in that trip, days later, when he was given a condolence letter in an intermediate port, signed by Juan José Latorre. Arturo wrote at the foot of Carmela's previous letter: “The 5th of December, at past 1 hour and 3 minutes after midnight, my daughter Carmela de la Concepción died. This is the letter destined to announce it to me. The sadness it reveals should have made me see, but hope is so sweet."
When the war broke out, Prat was assigned to assistant of the Navy General Command, a position he tried to reject.
When Don Rafael Sotomayor Baeza was required to go to Antofagasta with instructions from the Government, he requested an assistant, and Prat was assigned to the job. Being both of them aboard the armored , he was assigned to notify Iquique's authorities that they have been blocked by the Chilean army, which he did without letting the hostile position of the people daunt him.
He was assigned Covadonga's command. On 3 May the corvette Abtao, under lieutenant commander Carlos Condell de la Haza's command, and the Covadonga, under Prat's command, set sail towards Iquique arriving on 10 May.
To achieve the plan that Admiral Juan Williams Rebolledo had conceived, consisting of attacking the Peruvian squadron in El Callao's port, he assigned as Abtao's commander Manuel Thompson, who commanded the corvette Esmeralda until then. Arturo Prat replaced him, and Carlos Condell de la Haza was designated Covadonga's commander.
On 16 May, the squadron set sail to Callao Port, with the intention of surprising the Peruvian warships, but the same day Peruvian monitor Huáscar and armored frigate Independencia set sail from that port, towards Arica, to carry reinforcements, armaments, ammunition and provisions, so both squadrons missed each other on their trips.
It was 21 May 1879, 6:30 in the morning, when the fog cleared, Covadonga's lookout shouted: "Smoke to the north!". But, owing to thick marine fog, they were not able to identify the newly arrived ships, but after a few moments they thought it was the Peruvian squadron coming back.
At 6:45 a.m., a sailor by Condell's side asked for the telescope, and in a moment of clarity he observed the warships' rigging and said to Condell: "It's the Huáscar and the Independencia". "What basis do you have to assert that?" asked Condell, and the sailor answered "From the shape of the platform on top of the foremast".
Immediately Condell ordered a shot to be fired in the air to warn the Esmeralda, still anchored in the port. The ships were indeed the Independencia and the Huáscar.
In that same moment, the Peruvian admiral Grau roused his crew: "Crewmembers of the Huáscar, Iquique is at sight, there are our afflicted fellow countrymen from Tarapacá, and also the enemy, still unpunished. It's time to punish them! I hope you will know how. Long live Peru!"
Carlos Condell de la Haza warned Prat, and he, seeing the difference between their forces and the enemies', pronounced his famous impassioned speech before his brothers in arms:
Lads, the battle will be unfair, but, cheer and courage. Our flag has never been hauled down before the enemy and I hope this will not be the occasion to do it. From my part, I assure you that as long as I live, this flag will blow in its place, and if I die, my officers will know how to fulfill their duties.
The Esmeralda was an old wooden corvette weighing 850 tons and 200 horsepower, with eight 40-pound cannons, four 30-pounders and two of 6 pounds. When the action began, Prat ordered Condell to follow his course and the Covadonga met with the Esmeralda and the Lamar in the middle of the bay.
At 8:15, the first volley hit between the ships, and Prat ordered the Esmeralda to start moving, followed by the Covadonga. At 8:25 a second volley fell and a shot from the Huáscar hit fully on the starboard (right) side, passed through Esmeralda's side, killing the surgeon Videla, beheading his assistant, and mortally wounding another sailor.
The transporter Lamar hoisted the US flag and fled to the South, and Condell changed his course and went behind that ship. Grau ordered the Independencia to block Covadonga and Lamar's way. Prat observed Condell's action and asked himself: "What is Condell doing?" Condell ignored Prat's order and followed the Lamar, but the warship did get away from the Covadonga, and the Independencia under control of Juan Guillermo Moore followed him. On the other hand, the monitor Huáscar weighed 1,130 tons and had armour plating 4½-inches thick, with two 300-pound cannon in a revolving turret and 11 knots maximum speed.
The Admiral Miguel Grau Seminario, Huáscar's captain directed the Independencia to chase the Covadonga, while he finished the Esmeralda. Prat went down to his cabin, dressed in his parade uniform, and put away his wife's picture and other mementoes and returned to the command post. Prat quickly positioned the ship in front of the coast, 200 meters from it, forcing the Huáscar to shoot with a parabolic trajectory to avoid hitting the Peruvian village, whose people gathered in crowds to see the battle. (This had been an important factor in the escape of the Huáscar, then in Peruvian rebel hands, from Admiral de Horsey's British squadron consisting of HMS Shah and HMS Amazon, off Ilo two years earlier in 1877.)
General Buendía, commander of the Peruvian garrison of Iquique, had artillery cannons placed on the beach and sent an emissary in a fast rowing boat with a warning to the Huáscar that the Esmeralda was loaded with torpedoes. (Again, these had been used by Admiral de Horsey off Iquique in 1877.) Grau stopped 600m (660 yd.) from her and began shooting with the 300-pound cannons, not hitting her for an hour and a half, owing to the Peruvian sailors' inexperience in the handling of the monitor's Coles turret. The Chilean crew answered with their 30-pound cannons and gunfire, shots that rebounded uselessly from the Huáscar's plated armour.
At the coast, the Peruvians installed a 9-pound-cannon battery and began to bomb the Chilean ship. A grenade reached her, killing three men. Prat order the warship to move, slowly maneuvering at scarcely 4 knots, for her engine was defective and one the boilers had burst. He stopped 1,000&nbp; from the city and 250 m from land, where they would stand until their sinking. This move allowed Grau to see the absence of the torpedoes that supposedly filled the Esmeralda. One of Huáscar's shots hit directly on board, beheading the ordering bugler and mutilating the gun crews . The decks were stained with the blood of the fallen.
The position of the Esmeralda was desperate when it began to receive both Huáscar and Iquique's beach's cannon shots. Even Grau from his armoured tower exclaimed: “It's remarkable how these Chileans fight”, impressed by the courage shown by the enemy.
At 11:30am, Grau, seeing the useless slaughter that was taking place in the dismantled and disgraced corvette and wanting to end the combat, which had been nearly 4 hours long until that moment, ordered his ship to ram into the Esmeralda. The monitor backed to get enough impulse and charged bow-first into starboard side of the ship. When Prat saw the enemy warship colliding into his, near the stern, he raised his sword and cried: "Let's board, boys!", but due to the roar of the battle, only the sergeant Juan de Dios Aldea heard it, and both he and Prat and a sailor named Arsenio jumped aboard the other ship. Arsenio unfortunately slipped and fell down because of the impact, so only the two officers got to the monitor. Sergeant Aldea, armed with a boarding hatchet and a pistol, received a burst from the artillery tower and fell mortally injured. Only Prat continued advancing, amazing the Peruvian crew with his tremendous courage. Grau gave the order to capture the Chilean captain alive.
Prat got to the enemy's deck and advanced towards to command tower, but he was hit by a bullet. Nevertheless he did not fall and could stand on his knee, but a sailor from the artillery tower struck him dead with a shot in the forehead.
From the Esmeralda they saw with horror their captain's sacrifice, and when Grau tried another charge, now against the Esmeralda's bow, Ignacio Serrano cried again "Stand by for boarding!" and he boarded the Huáscar with ten more men , but they were massacred by shots from the mounted Gatling guns and the monitor's crew. Ignacio Serrano was then the only survivor and had received several wounds in the groin, and his shouts were terrible due to the pain. Grau quickly had him picked up and carried to the infirmary in a state of shock, where they left him next to the dying sergeant Aldea.
A third ram, this time into the middle of the Esmeralda, was fatal and sentenced the ship to death. Nobody else could jump to the other ship, as the Esmeralda was already sinking. The last shot was fired by the first lieutenant Riquelme, who sunk with the artillery piece. The Chilean flag was the last thing to touch the water. It was 12.10pm. Grau expressed grief for Prat's death and paid his respects.
After the battle, Admiral Grau gave orders that Prat's personal objects (diary, uniform and sword among others) were to be returned to his widow. Carmela Carvajal received them, as well as a letter from the Peruvian Admiral, affirming his rival's personal qualities, his gentility and his high moral values. Grau was later named "The Knight of the Seas".
Grau also ordered the rescue of the surviving Chilean sailors, immediately after they repaired their boats, and gave them dry clothes and food. He kept them in the stern hold, because if they went back to the beach, the crowd would certainly kill them.
In the confrontation of Iquique, that day Chile lost an old wooden ship, but Prat's death allowed the mobilization of the Chilean population to support the war, and that would be one of the factors of the Chilean victory in the War of the Pacific, the most important being the superiority of the Chilean fleet.