When Chile Invaded Baja
By David Kier
San Jose del Cabo in 1847.
During the years when most Latin American nations declared their
independence from Spain (1810 to 1822), the enemies of Spain such as
France and England helped the newly independent nations battle their
In December 1818, British Lord Thomas Cochrane was made an admiral
of the Chilean navy. Cochrane and his small fleet first assisted
neighboring Peru. Cochrane’s forces were made up mostly of European
mercenaries seeking Spanish gold and silver. Only a few Chilean patriots
and Indians were among the crew of his seven ships.
The 1819 blockade of Peru lasted several months and two ships were
dispatched to seek food and wealth from other Spanish territories. The
two ships were the Independencia with Captain Robert Wilkinson (and
44 sailors) and the Araucano with Captain Robert Simpson in charge of
a crew of 28.
In December 1821, the Araucano arrived at Acapulco for supplies but
the Mexican government declined to allow any trade. They even
detained Captain Simpson for a few days before asking him to leave.
A sketch of the Loreto mission circa 1800.
In February 1822, under orders from Admiral Cochrane, the two
captains, Simpson and Wilkinson, sailed north once more and their
target was the Baja California mission villages. Under the guise that
they were helping Mexico defeat Spain, these ships set out to make
opportunities anywhere Spain was still officially in charge.
Mexico had defeated Spain in a surrender on September 27, 1821, but
the far-off provinces of the Californias were still considered Spanish in
early 1822, awaiting the news. The following dates and details vary
somewhat between sources but will provide a glimpse into how Chile
briefly invaded Baja California.
On February 17, 1822, the crew of the Independencia attacked San José
del Cabo and they took all that they could, including valuables from the
mission church. A landing party of nine traveled north to Todos Santos
and attempted to loot the mission there. Not content with what the
mission provided, some of the men began to have their way with the
local women. The town’s people had not interfered with the
desecration of their mission but their outrage at this new activity
exploded in a show of resistance. They inflicted five casualties and
captured the remaining invaders. The prisoners were taken to San
Antonio. However, with the threat by Captain Wilkinson that he would
destroy both Todos Santos and San Antonio, the prisoners were
Model of the Araucano at the Museo Naval in Valparaiso, Chile. Photo
from A Maritime History of Baja California
by Ed Vernon.
Early in March of 1822, the Araucano arrived at the Baja California
capital of Loreto and requested to purchase cattle to butcher for meat.
The people of Loreto were warned about these foreign invaders after
what transpired to the south and many fled to the hills. Loreto could
not produce the quantity of food the crew wanted and at that point
many of the Chilean ship’s European crew mutinied and took to looting
the mission, taking the pearls that had adorned the statue of the Virgin.
Other buildings were sacked and many documents were also
The last Spanish governor of Baja California, José Darío Argüello,
escaped to San José de Comondú before the raiders could capture him.
In his haste, a prized silver serving set was left at his residence. It was
snatched up easily by the raiders.
The mutineers, led by Henry Good, sailed away as pirates leaving
Captain Simpson and the loyal Chilean crew members behind. Simpson
and several Chileans managed to escape, seize a small boat, and sail
south to the Independencia which was anchored off San José del Cabo.
The Independencia, now with both captains, sailed to Loreto. Wilkinson
and Simpson convinced Loreto’s presidio commander, José María Mata,
that Chile and Mexico were allies and gained the release of the
remaining Chileans. Mata had recently learned of Mexico’s victory over
Spain and was one of several officials in Baja California to pledge loyalty
to their new nation.
The Todos Santos mission as it appeared in 1919.
The pirates on board the Araucano sailed south to Peru dropping off
some crew not wishing to continue then west to Tahiti, arriving in June
This colorful chapter in Baja California’s history story is but another
example of the discoveries that can be found when one explores Baja
I wish to thank Brent C. Dickerson who is the author of a soon-to- be-
published book for sparking my interest into this story during an
informational email exchange. Other references on the Chilean Invasion
A Maritime History of Baja California by Edward W. Vernon, 2009
Pirates in Baja California by Peter Gerhard, 1963
A History of Lower California by Pablo L. Martinez, 1960
History of the North Mexican States and Texas by Hubert Howe
The Pirates at Tahiti by Samuel Henry, 1822
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler, author of 'Baja California - Land Of Missions' and co-author of 'The Old Missions of Baja and Alta California 1697-1834'. Visit the Old Missions website.Updated: Oct 26, 2017 01:07 PM