Catalog Archive
Auction 164, Lot 369

Rare View of Battle of Portobelo

"To James Vernon Esqr: One of the Honble Commissioners of Excise ... This Plate Representing the Taking of Porto Bello by Adml: Vernon Novr. 22d 1739...", Toms, William Henry

Subject: Portobelo, Panama

Period: 1740 (dated)


Color: Black & White

25.9 x 16 inches
65.8 x 40.6 cm
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This dramatic engraving 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, published on March 3, 1740, depicts the storming of Iron Castle Fort located at the entrance to the bay. The British galleons can be seen firing on the fort while British soldiers row small boats to shore. The top of the mast of a ship can be seen sinking at bottom right, with a wooden barrel floating nearby. Engraved by William Henry Toms and published by Samuel Scott. This engraving is very rare, with no dealer or auction listings and only a few examples found in institutions.

References: Kapp (MCC-73) #51.

Condition: B+

A sharp impression with light toning and soiling, and archival repairs to a 2" centerfold separation at top and two an edge tear that enters 1" into image at top left.

Estimate: $700 - $1,000

Sold for: $3,500

Closed on 9/13/2017