Catalog Archive
Auction 166, Lot 328

Very Rare Broadside of Vernon's Capture of Portobelo, Panama

"The Harbour, Town, & Forts of Porto-Bello in ye West Indies; Taken by Admiral Vernon, 1739", Overton, Henry

Subject: Portobelo, Panama

Period: 1740 (circa)


Color: Black & White

14.1 x 9.6 inches
35.8 x 24.4 cm
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This fascinating 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, published in the Daily Post on April 12, 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 and ascend the rocky cliffs. The sixth ship, Princess Louisa, appears at bottom right, just outside of the bay. The town of Portobelo erroneously appears at top center, with Spanish ships guarding the city, instead of to the right, adjacent to the fortified Gloria Castle. Fort Jeronimo is also mislocated, appearing in the center of the bay extending from a jetty from the left, rather than from the right. A lettered key identifies the ships and key locations. The view is based on a sketch drawn by William Richardson, whose first-hand account of the battle and its aftermath is included below the view. The publisher's imprint appears at bottom right: Printed, and Sold by Henry Overton, at the White Horse, without Newgate.

This engraving is very rare, with no dealer or auction listings in the last 40 years, and only one known example recorded in an institution (at the Institute of Jamaica per Kit Kapp). Full sheet with text measures 15.0 x 20.7".

References: Kapp (MCC-73) #53.

Condition: B

A nice impression with light toning. There are a number of short tears and one 3.5" tear in the title below the view that have been archivally repaired on verso. Two chips (one in the title at top and one in the title below the view at left) have been replaced with old paper with some loss of text. Two small holes within the city of Portobelo have also been archivally repaired with very minor loss of image. The sheet has been trimmed, without apparent loss of image (as no other images of this broadside could be found for comparison).

Estimate: $1,600 - $2,000

Sold for: $1,200

Closed on 2/14/2018