The battle of Quintero 1587: Confrontation and expulsion of the pirate Thomas Cavendish

Hispanismo Chile

Thomas Cavendish (1555-1592) was from a wealthy noble family in England, but due to his adventurous and playboyish character he lost all his inheritance. In his eagerness to recover wealth, he obtained a privateer’s licence from the British Crown and as such set out to attack and rob Spanish ports in America, just as Francis Drake had done years earlier.

Thus, he set sail from Plymouth harbour in 1586 for the Pacific ports. On crossing the Strait of Magellan he came across the ruins of Nombre de Jesús and Puerto Rey Don Felipe which were settlements left four years earlier by Sarmiento de Gamboa, who had been ordered by the Viceroy of Peru to fortify and protect the strait. Of these Spanish garrisons, only Don Tomás Hernández remained, the rest having died of starvation. Cavendish renamed the place Port Famine, put Hernández on board and sailed north to attack Valparaíso.

His plans were thwarted when he reached Valparaíso as a dense fog covered the entire bay and it was not possible to land or make any attack. So he headed north to Quintero, anchoring in the bay on 9 April 1587, disembarking with Tomás Hernández as interpreter, where he met three horsemen armed with spears and adagardas (shields), and the following day Canvedish sailed with more than 50 corsairs for 10 to 12 kilometres without locating any town to carry out his misdeeds.

Thanks to Hernández informing the three soldiers, the authorities were warned of the intentions of the privateer’s flotilla of three ships. Faced with the seriousness of the situation, the corregidor Don Alfonso Campofrio y Carvajal hurriedly sent troops from Santiago to confront them, and the confrontation between them took place on the morning of April 11, 1587. This was Chile’s first battle against foreign forces on national territory, the Creole defence managed to produce several casualties among the corsairs who had to flee fighting until they reached the boats in the Loncura sector, the barrage from one of the ships allowed the invaders to reach their ships.

Finally, they set sail on 15 April, bound for Arica, which was an important port linked to the silver mines of Postosí, where he seized two ships for which he asked for ransom, which was not paid, finally sinking them. He continued sailing but did not dare to attack either Pisco or El Callao because of their fortifications. He managed to make his way to Guayaquil and Acapulco, where he captured the galleon Santa Ana, then he sailed to the Philippines to later return to England via the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic; Queen Elizabeth of England was very pleased with his “exploits” and ill-gotten wealth, since the booty was almost as large as Drake’s.


This post was translated from:

(2021) ‘La batalla de Quintero 1587: Enfrentamiento y expulsión del corsario Thomas Cavendish’, 21 April. Available at: (Accessed: 28 June 2021).

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1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea.

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