Arrival of the first British Packet at Buenos Aires, 1824

Chichester fired on upon arrival

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When Countess of Chichester arrived at Buenos Aires on 16th April 1824, there was an incident which nearly marred this auspicious occasion. The details are related in a letter of protest from Woodbine Parish to Bernardino Rivadavia, dated the same day.

The undersigned regrets extremely to address M. Rivadavia upon a very unpleasant circumstance which has occurred this morning in the Outer Roads with respect to the Packet arrived from England.

It appears that when the Packet approached the Buenos Ayrean Brig of War, she was hailed and asked from where she came, the answer to this was ‘that she was the British Packet from England’; upon this she was desired to anchor, which was immediately complied with.

About an hour afterwards the Master, with Mr. Poussett one of His Majesty’s Vice-Consuls for this place (who has arrived in this vessel), embarked in their boat to proceed ashore with the bags of Despatches and Letters.

They had hardly left the Packet when a shot was fired at them by the Brig of War, and this was repeated a few minutes afterwards with Ball which struck the sea at a very short distance from the boat.

These gentlemen however proceeded ashore, where the undersigned had taken care that a proper person should direct them to proceed to the Captain of the Port’s office conformably to the Decree passed on the 10th instant.

The undersigned cannot but regret that such an occurrence should have taken place at a moment when he had expected every arrangement to be made for the proper reception of these vessels in consequence of the Decree above alluded to.

After his personal communications with M. Rivadavia, he cannot persuade himself for a moment that it is the intention of the Government of Buenos Ayres to countenance such a proceeding, and he hopes (as he believes to be the case) that it has solely originated in a mistake on the part of the commander of the Brig of War, but he is under the necessity of officially requesting M. Rivadavia to raise an immediate enquiry to be made into the circumstances of this transaction, and furnish him with such an explanation with respect to it, as the undersigned hopes it may be satisfactory to his Government to receive.

At the same time, Parish attempted to pacify the understandably irate commander of the packet, Capt. Little, R.N., in a letter dated 18th April.

I have just received your letter with respect to the unwarrantable conduct of the Brig of War towards your boat, rendered the more so by its being a direct violation of a decree which had just been passed by this Government with respect to the reception of H.M.’s Packets in this port.

I understand however that by some unfortunate mistake this decree had not been properly communicated to the Officer Commanding the Brig who acted upon old instructions connected with the quarantine regulations of the Port, which prohibited the landing of any Boat previously to the vessel being visited by the Port Officer.

I thought it my duty upon being informed of the circumstances of the case by Mr. Poussett to make an immediate Representation of the case to this Government and I trust, as I have every reason to believe from verbal assurances made to me that I shall receive from them such a note in reply as will be satisfactory.

Rivadavia replied to Parish on 22nd April.

The Secretary of the Government and for Foreign Affairs, impressed with the communication which H.B.M.’s Consul-General has done him the honour to address him under the date of the 16th inst., requesting an official reply upon the subject of the affair of the National Brig of War the Aranzazus, the Guardship in the outer Roads, with the British Packet which anchored in this port on the same day, has the honour to state to him, that the occurrence in question has been the subject of the most profound dissatisfaction to the Government of this country, and has been disapproved by a corresponding intimation made to the officer commanding the Aranzazus, who notwithstanding that owing to the circumstance of its being Easter week, he had not received from his superior officer the orders consequent on the Decree of the 10th inst, relative to the Packets, ought not to have proceeded in the manner he did, but should have gone on board the vessel which arrived to acquaint her Captain with the Port Regulations.

It is however at the same time satisfactory to the undersigned Secretary of the Government to be able to communicate to the Consul-General that orders have been issued which will suffice to prevent for the future any occurrence contrary to those Principles and friendly sentiments which animate the Government of this country towards all nations, and more especially towards Great Britain and her commerce.

These last three letters have been quoted from the Woodbine Parish Papers at the National Archives, FO 354/3.

Parish included his report on this incident in his letter to Francis Freeling dated 27th April:

An unfortunate mistake occurred on the Packet’s arrival. Her Boat was fired at on coming ashore by the guardship which is stationed in the outer roads to prevent vessels communicating with the shore till they have been visited by the Captain of the Port. (It is) a great grievance here, and a continual source of Inconvenience from the great distance at which ships lie at anchor from the shore, and the frequency of (bad) weather which prevents the possibility of any boats getting off.

To obviate all this I got the 1st article of the Decree agreed to, and as it appeared from the Public Papers two days before, I thought it my duty to require an official explanation from the Government for so gross an attack. I have furnished Capt. Little with a copy of their reply which he will I suppose forward to you, and which is a very (great) satisfaction for what took place; and I trust we shall have no more such complaints.

(Post Office Archives, Packet Report 26E, included in 37E, Post 39/27).

Richard Poussett, who came out as a passenger on the Countess of Chichester to take his appointment as one of the British vice-consuls in Buenos Aires, described the hazards of navigating the River Plate in a letter to Thomas Musgrave, the Falmouth Packet Agent.

I am happy to be able to inform you by the Countess of Chichester that we made a most delightful voyage to this anchorage in 68 days. We were so fortunate as to fall in with H.M.S. Briton at Monte Video commanded by Capt. Sir Murray Maxwell, who after informing us of the dangers of this truly terrific River, kindly allowed his Master to pilot us up.

Capt. Little at first declined but Sir Murray pressed the necessity in such terms as to make Capt. Little think seriously of the responsibility of the ship and mail and finally acquiesced, particularly finding my anxiety much increased.

We had a good proof of the dangerous navigation a day or two afterwards when the Cossack of Liverpool, Alexander Keir master, who had been up and down the River twice or thrice, was totally lost on the 19th and now lay sunk in five fathoms water on the southern extremity of the Ortiz Bank. Of this for further particulars, I refer you to Capt. Little.

(Post Office Archives, Packet Report 26E).
Quoted from Howat, Jeremy N T, South American Packets, pages 45-48.

© The form of presentation of this information is the copyright of Jeremy Howat, November 2006