Monday 18 December 2017

Honouring the hero of Ecuador

Drogheda man Thomas Charles Wright helped free South America from Spanish rule. Next year marks the 150th anniversary of his death and the chance to mark his life with a fitting memorial. Hubert Murphy reports

Queensboro, Baltray
Queensboro, Baltray

200 years ago this year, a dashing and footloose young British naval officer decided he'd had enough of such a life and departed for waters new - to South America.

The rest became history, folklore, fact and fiction - but either way, Thomas Charles Wright became one of the most famous sailors and statesmen in the world.

And what's more he was from Aston Lodge, situated at Queensboro on the Baltray Road!

Now, two centuries after he set sail for South America, a campaign is being launched to erect a permanent memorial to Wright after members of his family - all called Wright - found their way to Beaulieu House in recent years.

The last three members visited just two weeks ago and have been tasked with finding out if backing can come from Ecuador, as well as Drogheda, to fund the project.

Local historian Noel Bailey admits he's been fascinated by the ongoing links established with the South American country, due to the Drogheda man.

Wright was born at Queensborough on January 22 1799 and entered the naval service at the age of 11, attending college in Portsmouth.

His first commission was when he was 13, boarding the 64-gun Newcastle, whose first action was chasing the American USS Constitution, commanded by Charles Stewart Parnell's grandfather, right across the Atlantic.

Home on leave in 1817, his biographer, Alberto Edwardo Wright, said that Wright took to fishing in the Boyne and pondered on his life, craving a new challenge.

He met exiled South American patriots, then preparing an expedition which sailed from England to join the revolutionary forces of Simon Bolivar and Jose deSan Martin. They left London with 10,000 muskets on the Dowson, seeing land off Venezula on April 21, 1818. There were 200 men on board, within nine years, only officers Wright and a fellow Irishman, Harris, were alive.

He is remembered most of all for his outstanding bravery in the fierce battle for Quito which was fought on the foothills of Mount Pinchincha on 24 May, 1822, in which the South Americans won a great victory that liberated Ecuador.

A year later, he was appointed by the Liberator Bolivar, to organise a naval force in the Pacific. He commanded the 18 gun brigantine 'Chimborazo' and she faced down the Spanish squadron flagship, the 74 gun battleship 'Asia'. Wright won a fierce fight for the port of Callao and sent the Spanish back, beaten and crippled. In 1826, Spanish rule was over.

Incredibly, the Spanish fleet had also been beaten in a battle in the Caribbean, one ship commanded by Dick Wright, a cousin of Thomas.

Wright went on to play a leading role in establishing the new Republic of Ecuador and was its first admiral, and governor of the great port city of Guayaquil from 1835-1845 . He was the right hand man of President Rocafuerte and he married his niece, Maria de Los Angeles and after her death, her sister, Pepita.

A military coup ended Rocafuerte's rule in 1845 and Wright went into voluntary exile. He returned in 1860 and helped bring parliamentary government to the country after uncovering a plot by then dictator Moreno to sell Ecuador to Napoleon III.

How he died has different versions.

One is that due to his exposing the dictator, his house was placed under siege by the government and the Bishop of Guayaquil had to push past them to administer the last Rights on December 10, 1868, 150 years ago next year.

Others say he died of exhaustion after a session of wild boar hunting and drinking too much ice-cold beer.

In 1972 the republic of Ecuador issued a postage stamp in his honour to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the State, and "La Batalla Pinchincha".

It is said there is an expanse of land close to his home place called Wright's Fields while his ancestor as a burgess of Drogheda dating back to 1447.

Noel feels the interest in Wright is huge and seeing that the 150th anniversary of his death is next year, he should be remembered.

'Other Irish people, like Admiral William Browne and John Barry have been recognised. I think it's time Thomas Charles Wright was honoured too.'

Drogheda Independent

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