MundoAndino Home : Chile Guide at Mundo Andino

Chincha Islands War

The Chincha Islands War was a series of coastal and naval battles between Spain and its former colonies of Peru and Chile from 1864 to 1866, that began with Spain's seizure of the guano-rich Chincha Islands, part of a series of attempts by Isabel II of Spain to reassert her country's lost influence in its former South American empire. The war saw the use of ironclads, including the Spanish ship Numancia, the first ironclad to circumnavigate the world.


Military expenditure had greatly increased during Isabel's reign, with Spain becoming as a consequence the world's fourth naval power. Isabel's reign saw Spain engaged in colonial adventures in the 1850s and 1860s in regions as disparate as Morocco, Indochina, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic (which it briefly reoccupied.)

At the end of 1862, Isabel sent a "scientific expedition" to South American waters, with a second, hidden purpose of backing the financial and legal claims of Spanish citizens living in the Americas. The expedition was under the command of Admiral Luis Hernandez Pinzon a direct descendant of the Pinzon brothers who accompanied Christopher Columbus in the discovery of America. His squadron was composed of three warships: the twin steam frigates Triunfo and Resolucion and the schooner Virgen de Covadonga.

The Spaniards arrived at the port of Valparaiso, Chile, on April 18, 1863. Spain had recognized Chilean independence since the 1840s, and both countries had diplomatic relations, thus the expedition was very cordially received and the Admiral exchanged visits with the local authorities. They left Chile in July in the best of terms and moved on to Peru. Even though Spain had never recognized Peruvian independence (achieved in 1821), the squadron received a very friendly welcome at the port of Callao. They stayed in port for a few weeks and then moved on towards San Francisco, California. This was the moment when the problems started.

Talambo incident

On August 4, 1863 a confusing incident took place at the Talambo hacienda, in Lambayeque, Peru. For reasons not at all clear, a fight broke out between two Spaniards living there and 40 local people. As a result, one Spaniard died and four were injured.

When news of the incident reached Admiral Pinzon, he returned with his fleet to Peru on November 13 and demanded a government apology and reparations to the affected Spanish citizens. The Peruvians responded that it was an internal police matter, better handled by their justice system and that no apology was due. At this juncture, the Spanish government in Madrid decided to also demand the payment of former Peruvian debts stemming from the War of Independence, and it sent deputy Eusebio de Salazar y Mazaredo to settle the issue directly with the Peruvian authorities.

Salazar arrived in March 1864, with the title of Royal Commissary. This was a deliberate insult to the government of Peru, because a Commissary is a colonial functionary and not an ambassador, the proper title for a diplomatic functionary sent to negotiate with an independent state. From there on, the negotiations between him and the Peruvian minister of Foreign Affairs, Juan A. Ribeyro, were doomed to fail.

Chincha islands occupation

On April 14, 1864, as a retaliation for the indemnity that Peru was refusing to pay, the Spanish fleet seized the lightly defended Chincha Islands, the principal source of Peruvian guano. There, the Spaniards placed the Peruvian governor Ramon Valle Riestra under arrest aboard the Resolucion, occupied the islands with 400 Spanish marines, and raised the Spanish flag. Spain considered these islands an important bargaining tool, because they were a major source of resources for Peru and produced almost 60% of all governmental revenue.

The Spanish squadron also blockaded the principal Peruvian ports, disrupting commerce and fostering a high level of resentment in all Latin America. They expected little resistance from Peru, believing its military prowess to be negligible. Even a proposal to exchange the islands with the British for Gibraltar was considered for a time. During this blockade the Spanish lost the Triunfo after an accidental fire destroyed it.

The recently assumed Spanish Prime Minister, Ramon Maria Narvaez did not approve of the unilateral position of Admiral Pinzon and replaced him with Vice Admiral Juan Manuel Pareja, ex-Minister of the Navy. Admiral Pareja had been born in Peru and his father, Brigadier Antonio Pareja, had died in Chile on 1813, fighting for the King during the Chilean War of Independence. Very soon though, Narvaez's opinion changed and he sent another four warships to strengthen their Pacific fleet.

Admiral Pareja arrived in Peru in December 1864, and immediately opened negotiations with General Manuel Ignacio de Vivanco, the special representative of Peruvian Presidente Juan Antonio Pezet. The Vivanco-Pareja Treaty was signed on January 27, 1865, on board the frigate Villa de Madrid. Nonetheless national opinion considered it derogatory to Peruvian national honor. When the Peruvian Congress refused to ratify it, a general uprising followed and the government of General Pezet fell on November 7th.

War with Chile

In the meantime, anti-Spanish sentiments in several South American countries such as Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador were increasing. It was obvious that the Spaniards had no intentions of conquering their former colonies. However, Peru and its neighbors were suspicious about the possibility of the re-establishment of the Spanish Empire. For this reason it was not surprising that when the Spanish gunboat Vencedora stopped at a Chilean port for coal, President Jose Joaquin Perez declared that coal was a war supply that could not be sold to a belligerent nation.

However, from the Spanish point of view, such an embargo could not be taken as proof of Chilean neutrality, since two Peruvian steamers had left the port of Valparaiso with weapons and Chilean volunteers to fight for Peru. In consequence, Vice Admiral Jose Manuel Pareja took a hard line and demanded sanctions against Chile, even heavier than those imposed upon Peru. He then took part of his squadron composed of four wooden ships to Chile, while the Numancia and the Covadonga remained to guard Callao.

On September 17, 1865, Admiral Pareja arrived at Valparaiso on his flagship, the Villa de Madrid, and demanded that the Spanish flag be given a 21-gun salute. He purposefully chose the day before the anniversary of Chilean independence (September 18th) to present his demand. Under the circumstances, the Chileans refused and war was declared a week later, on September 24.

The just named Spanish Prime Minister Leopoldo O'Donnell, who replaced Narvaez, ordered Admiral Pareja to withdraw, but the Spanish admiral chose to ignore and disobey his direct orders. Since he had no troops with which to attempt a landing, he decided instead to impose a blockade of the main Chilean ports. Even so, his plan was doomed, for in order to blockade Chile's of coastline, Pareja would have needed a fleet several times larger than what he had at his disposal. The blockade of the port of Valparaiso, however, caused such great economic damage to Chilean and foreign interests, that the neutral naval warships of the United States and the United Kingdom lodged a formal protest.

Naval battle of Papudo

Before Chile and Peru were even formally aligned, Spain suffered a humiliating naval defeat at the Naval Battle of Papudo on November 26, 1865. There, the Chilean corvette Esmeralda captured the Spanish schooner Covadonga, taking the crew prisoner and capturing the Admiral's war correspondence. This loss was too much for Admiral Pareja's pride, and two days later he committed suicide on his flagship. After the Spanish Admiral's death, the general command of the Spanish fleet in the Pacific was assumed by Commodore Casto Mendez Nunez, who was soon promoted to rear admiral.

War with Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia

On November 7, 1865, because of his unwillingness to declare war against Spain and his discredit for having signed the Vivanco-Pareja Treaty, Peruvian President Juan Antonio Pezet was forced out of office and replaced by his vice president, General Pedro Diez Canseco.

General Diez Canseco also tried to avoid war with Spain, and that in turn also caused his downfall. Only 20 days later, on November 26 General Mariano Ignacio Prado, leader of the nationalist movement, deposed him. The new government immediately declared its solidarity with Chile and its intention to declare war against Spain to clear its national honor.

On December 5, 1865, Chile and Peru formally signed an alliance against Spain. The Peruvian Congress ratified this alliance on January 12, and two days later, on January 14, 1866, Peru finally declared war on Spain. Immediately after, a Peruvian squadron under the command of Captain Lizardo Montero, composed of the steam frigates Amazonas and Apurimac, set out to join the Chilean fleet.

Ecuador joined the alliance on January 30, 1866 by declaring war on Spain that same day. Bolivia, under the command of General Mariano Melgarejo, did the same on March 22, 1866. In this way, all the ports of the Pacific coast of South America became closed and hostile to the Spanish fleet. On the other hand, Argentina and Brazil refused to join the alliance, involved as they were in the War of the Triple Alliance.

Naval battle of Abtao

Admiral Mendez Nunez then sent two of his most powerful ships south to destroy the combined Chilean-Peruvian fleet. This squadron had been placed under the command of Peruvian Captain Manuel Villar and had taken refuge at Abtao, a well protected inlet near the gulf of Chiloe, in southern Chile. On February 7, 1866, the Spanish squadron appeared at the entrance, but the Spaniards were afraid to risk their ironclads in shallow water. A cannonade lasting several hours was exchanged with very little effect. In spite of being at anchor, without steam, and some ships even with their engines under overhaul, the Allied fought with energy and determination. The Covadonga, under the command of Lieutenant Manuel Thomson, managed to fire over an island and scored several hits on the frigate Blanca. The battle ended indecisively without further developments. Afraid of the shallow water and realizing that a long range gun duel served no purpose but to waste ammunition, the Spanish commanders retreated.

Williams and the Esmeralda were not at the anchorage that day. The commodore had sailed to Ancud for coaling. On the way back to Valparaiso, the Spanish squadron captured the Chilean steamboat Paquete del Maule that was transporting part of the crew for the new Peruvian ironclads Huascar and Independencia.

Valparaiso bombardment

The Spanish could not attack the land forces and they had been frustrated in engaging the allied squadron at sea. The Spanish ships were isolated, short of supplies, and without any hope of victory. When the Chilean government ordered that all vessels communicating with the Spanish fleet should not be allowed to enter Chilean ports, Admiral Mendez Nunez decided to take punitive action against South American ports. On March 31st the Spanish fleet shelled and burned the town and port of Valparaiso, and destroyed the Chilean merchant fleet. All told, thirty-three vessels were burned or sunk. It was the total ruin of the Chilean merchant marine. Twelve years later the total tonnage under the Chilean flag was still less than half of what it had been in 1865.

Battle of Callao

Admiral Mendez Nunez, very unhappy with having destroyed a defenceless target as Valparaiso, and with the inconclusive result at Abtao, decided to change his plans and attack next a heavily defended port. As a result, the Admiral set upon the Peruvian port city of Callao. The Battle of Callao that took place on May 2nd ended up as a decisive strategic victory for Peru, and it effectively lowered Spanish morale to the point that the Admiral decided to retreat the fleet completely from South America.

After the battle, both sides claimed victory. The Peruvian defenders claimed that they had stopped the Spanish from trying to re-colonize South America and to have forced the Spaniards to withdraw their fleet, while the Spaniards claimed to have destroyed most of the Peruvian guns and harbor shelters. The reality was somewhere in the middle. Although some damage was indeed inflicted to the defenses of Callao, it was insufficient to create any permanent danger (the Spaniards had no troops to land anyway) or to stop the response from the city's defenses. On the other hand, even though the casualties on the Peruvian side were double in number the casualties of the Spanish side, the Spanish fleet ended up with 3 badly damaged ships and had to retreat even though they had the advantage of guns .


Whether the claim of re-colonization was a fact or an exaggeration is not really known, for even though the war might have simply been a way for Spain to regain some world prestige or to humiliate South America, the Spanish invasion of the Chincha Islands and their attempts to meddle with other South American countries seem to show a long-range Spanish intention of reasserting their influence in their former colonies. After the battle, with all the South American ports closed to them, the Spanish fleet withdrew from South American coasts, vacated the Chincha Islands and returned to Spain via the Philippines, having to complete a round-the-world trip in order to do so.

Order of battle


General Commanders

Vice-Admiral Luis Hernandez Pinzon (1863-1864)

Vice-Admiral Jose Manuel Pareja (1864-1865)

Rear-Admiral Casto Mendez Nunez (1865-1866)

! style="text-align: left; background: AACCCC;"|Vessel

! style="text-align: left; background: AACCCC;"|tons

! style="text-align: left; background: AACCCC;"|Speed

! style="text-align: center; background: AACCCC;"|Armour

! style="text-align: left; background: AACCCC;"|Main Artillery

! style="text-align: left; background: AACCCC;"|Built

! style="text-align: left; background: AACCCC;"|Notes


!colspan=7 background:93A2D0|Ironclad frigates

|----- | Numancia | 7,500-tons | | 5 1/2
Iron belt | 34 200-mm guns | 1863 | At the time among the most powerful ships of the world. |----

!colspan=7 bgcolor="AACCCC"|Screw-frigates

|----- | Villa de Madrid | 4,478-tons | | - | 30 200-mm guns
14 160-mm guns
2 150-mm howitzers
2 120-mm guns
2 80-mm guns | 1862 | |---- | Almansa | 3,980-tons | | - | 30 200-mm guns
14 160-mm guns
2 150-mm howitzers
2 120-mm guns
2 80-mm guns | 1864 | Arrived to the Pacific on April 1866
only days before the Battle of Callao |---- | Reina Blanca | 3,800-tons | | - | 68 guns | 1864 | |---- | Berenguela | 3,800-tons | | - | 36 guns | 1864 | |---- | Resolucion | 3,100-tons | | - | 1 220-mm guns
20 200-mm guns
14 160-mm guns
2 150-mm howitzers
2 120-mm guns
2 80-mm guns | 1861 | |---- | Nuestra Senora
del Triunfo
| 3,100-tons | | - | 1 220-mm guns
20 200-mm guns
14 160-mm guns
2 150-mm howitzers
2 120-mm guns
2 80-mm guns | 1861 | Lost in accidental fire in front of Pisco
on the night of 25 to 26 November 1864



Vencedora, Built 1861; Weight 778-tons; Speed ; weapons two 200 mm revolving guns and two 160 mm guns.

Virjen de Covadonga, Built 1864; Weight 445-tons; Speed ; Weapons two revolving 200 mm guns at the sides and one revolving 160 mm guns at the prow. Captured by Chile at Battle of Papudo on November 26, 1865.


Marques de la Victoria - 3 guns

Sail transports




General Commanders

Captain Lizardo Montero

Captain Manuel Villar


Apurimac - Built 1854; Weight 1,666-tons; Speed ; Weapons thirty-four guns

Amazonas - Built 1851; Weight 1,743-tons; Speed ; Weapons thirty-three 200 mm guns - Beached at Abtao, near Punta Quilque, 15 January 1886


Tumbes - Built 1854; Weight 250-tons; Speed ; Weapons two 68 pdr. guns


Chalaco - Built 1864 - 2 guns

Colon - Built 1864 - 2 guns

Ironclad monitors

Loa - Built 1854; Weight 648-tons; Speed ; Weapons four 32 pdr. guns

Victoria - Built 1865; 1 guns



Paquete del Maule - Captured by Spain; Speed ; armament 2 guns

Additional information

Military engagements

Battle of Papudo

Battle of Abtao

Valparaiso bombardment

Battle of Callao

See also

Chincha Islands War

Battle of Callao



Didn't find what you were looking for.
Need more information for your travel research or homework?
Ask your questions at the forum about 1866 in Chile or help others to find answers.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Chincha Islands War

Disclaimer - Privacy Policy - 2009