Auction 159, Lot 333

Scarce Broadside of Battle of Portobelo

"A Perspective View of ye Harbour, Castles, & Town of Porto Bello: with ye Disposition of ye Ships Under ye Command of Vice Admiral Vernon...", Bowles

Subject: Portobelo, Panama

Period: 1740 (dated)


Color: Black & White

19.2 x 15 inches
48.8 x 38.1 cm

This scarce broadside depicts the Battle of Porto Bello (or Portobelo), a conflict between Britain and Spain during the War of Jenkins' Ear, part of the War of the Austrian Succession. Portobelo was a strategic Spanish transfer point for gold and silver coming from South America. After taking part in a failed attempt to capture a fully laden Spanish treasure ship departing from Portobelo in 1727, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon made claims that he could capture the historic port with just six ships. In November 1739, Vernon organized a squadron of six ships to capture the settlement. Due to strong easterly winds, Vernon was initially forced to focus his efforts on the harbor fort (here labeled The Iron Castle). The British caught the Spanish off guard and quickly gained control, forcing the Spanish to surrender the fort. Subsequently, Vernon shifted his efforts to the town of Portobelo, resulting in Spanish surrender of the port. The capture of Portobelo was seen as a big triumph in Britain and America, and the names Portobelo and Vernon were used in commemoration (including Portobelo Road in London, the Portobelo district of Edinburgh, and Mount Vernon in Virginia, the home of George Washington). The British occupied Portobelo for only three weeks, destroying the fortress and key buildings before withdrawing.

This view locates five of Vernon's ships (Norwich, Burford, Strafford, Worcester and Hampton Court) engaged in battle with the Iron Castle on the point, with numerous Spanish soldiers on land that appear to be retreating. The sixth ship, Princess Louisa, appears at bottom left, just ouside of the bay. The town of Portobelo appears at top right, with the fortified Gloria Castle adjacent to the town, firing its cannons upon the encroaching British ships. Spanish ships guard the city. A lettered key identifies the ships and key locations.

Below the view is "'An account of Admiral Vernon's taking Porto Bello, as published by Authority." The account is based on letters written from Vernon to Thomas Pelham-Holles, the Duke of Newcastle and Secretary of the State, which were dispatched to London by Captain James Rentone on December 12, 1739, arriving in London on March 13, 1740. The account describes the lead-up to the battle beginning on November 5, 1739, the battle itself, and the aftermath through December 7. Published by Thomas and John Bowles on April 21, 1740. The view with the text measures 21.3 x 24.3".

This broadside is extremely scarce, with no dealer or auction listings in the last 40 years, and only 2 library holdings found at the British Library and John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.

References: Kapp (MCC-73) #52.

Condition: B+

Minor toning with a few minute worm holes, two faint stains in the sky, and two large chips confined to the right and left blank margins that have been professionally repaired with old paper.

Estimate: $800 - $1,000

Sold for: $700

Closed on 9/14/2016