Hipólito (Hypolite) Bouchard was born around 1785 in St. Tropéz, France, and by 1811 was sailing for the revolutionaries of the La Plata River region of Argentina. He was granted Argentine citizenship in 1813. In 1817 he circumnavigated the globe in the Argentina, harassing Spanish merchant ships wherever he found them. On the return trip, while visiting Hawaii, Bouchard managed to recover a second Argentine ship, whose crew had mutinied and sold the vessel to King Kamehameha. After leaving Hawaii, Bouchard began raiding the coast of Spanish Alta California.
Word of Bouchard's intentions had reached the Spanish, and they were well organized, although half of the soldiers were still elsewhere, guarding the missions within Monterey's jurisdiction.
The original gun emplacement, El Castillo, located on the hill to the west of the harbor (now the site of the Serra monument), was armed with ten brass twelve pound cannons with a good supply of copper shot. In spite of the weaponry the gun emplacement was generally described as "a miserable battery" and "altogether inadequate to what it is intended for." Because of this, and the warning that Bouchard was raiding the coast, the Spanish quickly added a temporary gun battery along the beach just north of the Custom House. From there it commanded the anchorage.
About the middle of October, 1818, Bouchard, commanding the Argentina, along with the Santa Rosa, entered Monterey Bay. They apparently arrived near dark. Bouchard's Argentina remained in the middle of the bay while the Santa Rosa, under the command of Englishman Peter Corney, anchored so close in the harbor that the guns of El Castillo could only reach the highest parts of its masts.
During the night Corney refused to identify himself, although he was well within shouting distance of land. He offered to identify himself the next morning. But as soon as it was light enough to make out his targets, Corney began firing on the principal homes of the Royal Presidio, most likely in support of a landing party. He knew he had nothing to fear from El Castillo.
The second gun emplacement, unknown to Bouchard, returned fire, effectively trapping the Santa Rosa. If the frigate moved away from shore it would be exposed to fire from El Castillo. With substantial damage near the waterline, Corney ordered a surrender, and the firing stopped. They moved all of the artillery to the undamaged side, raising the damaged side of the frigate higher out of the water. Then they manned the lifeboats. But instead of seeking the safety of the shore, the heavily armed crew joined the Argentina, still hovering safely out of range.
They sailed about 2.5 miles to the west and landed 400 men and two well-mounted cannons near where the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Hopkins Marine Station are now situated. The force passed behind El Castillo, capturing it, and forcing the governor to abandon the presidio. The soldiers and their families beat a hasty retreat to an outlying ranch near Salinas. The padres at Mission San Carlos in Carmel retreated far up the Carmel Valley to a place called San Clemente, most likely at the Wright Cabin, on what is now Rancho San Carlos.
Bouchard's men ransacked the presidio and took everything they could carry from the homes. They then set them all on fire. Bouchard destroyed El Castillo's cannons by loading them, burying them barrel-down half way into the ground, then firing them.
The governor sent for reinforcements from the San Francisco and Santa Barbara presidios, but in the end Bouchard repaired his damaged frigate and sailed out of Monterey on his own. They sacked and burned a ranch north of Santa Barbara and burned parts of Mission San Juan Capistrano, then sailed south, never to return.
In the original version of this essay, we referred to Captain Bouchard as a pirate (as so he must have appeared to the residents of Monterey). This prompted a letter from a professor in Argentina clarifying the legal standing of Bouchard [edited slightly]:Captain Bouchard was a corsair from the then very young free state of the "United Provinces of Rio de la Plata River," (direct ancestor of the present Argentine Republic). He was encharted from the government to have a legal "corsair license" against any property of the Spanish Empire all over the world.We very much appreciate the clarification.
As you may see reading a very interesting book about those Bouchard's trips "El Corsario del Plata" by Daniel E. Cichero, Bouchard marked with a red cross each door of an American's house to be avoided during any confiscation, protecting in that way interests of Americans.
So, he attacked and confiscated only properties of Spanish administration, an enemy in those times. Then, as you may know, both countries were involved in a (very cruel) independence war.
- Bancroft, H.H., History of California, Vol. 1: 1542-1800 (Wallace Hebberd, Santa Barbara, CA, 1963; original 1886).
- Osio, Antonio Maria, The History of Alta California: A Memoir of Mexican California (translated by R.M. Beebe and R.M. Senkewicz. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI, 1996).
- Uhrowczik, Peter, The Burning of Monterey: The 1818 Attack on California by the Privateer Bouchard (CYRIL Books, Los Gatos, CA, 2001).