The Battle of Porto Bello
(or the Battle of Portobello
) was a 1739 battle between a British naval force aiming to capture the settlement of Portobelo
in Panama, and its Spanish defenders. It took place during the War of the Austrian Succession
, in the early stages of the war sometimes known as The War of Jenkin's Ear
. It resulted in a descisive and popularly acclaimed British victory.
The settlement of Portobello
was a major Spanish naval base on the Gulf of Mexico
. Following the failure of an earlier British naval force to take Porto Bello in 1729, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon
had repeatedly claimed he could capture it with just "six ships". Following his appointment to command the Jamaica Station
, Vernon organised an expedition with just six ships, despite criticism that this was far too few. Vernon was a strong advocate of small squadrons hitting hard and moving fast.
Vernon's force appeared off Porto Bello on November 20 1739
. After a twenty four hour seige, the Spanish garrison surrendered. The British occupied the town for three weeks, destroying the fortress and other key buildings and ending the settlement's main function as a major Spanish maritime base, before withdrawing.
The capture of Porto Bello became seen as a popular triumph throughout the British Empire and the name Portobello
became frequently used to commemorate the battle such as the Portobello Road
in London, and Porto Bello
. It was particullarly well received in America, where the Spanish had been preying on British shipping.
Admiral Vernon became a popular hero, and himself was commemorated in several names perhaps most famously Mount Vernon the estate of George Washington. Vernon was a notable opponent of the British government, and in the wake of the victory he was one of the advocates of a more belligerent approach towards Britain's enemies.
The effect on Porto Bello was devestating, and the economy of the town did not recover fully until the building of the Panama Canal more than a century later.
- Rodgers, N.A.M. The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815.
- Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire. Penguin Books (2008)