The 60-gun British privateer Lord Clive, sunk in combat off the coast of Uruguay in 1763 during a raid that might have changed the history of Latin America, will be brought up from the floor of the River Plate.
If that ship had not failed in the attempt to take the city of Colonia, nowadays we might all be speaking English in Latin America,” said Argentine treasure-hunter Ruben Collado, who found the wreck.
The ship lies just 350 meters (380 yards) off Colonia del Sacramento.
Spain and Britain were on opposite sides in the Seven Years War, a multifaceted European conflict that extended to the Americas, West Africa, India and the Philippines.
British merchants desperate to break Madrid’s monopoly on trade with Spanish colonies in the New World saw in the war a chance to force their way into the South American market.
The Lord Clive – launched in 1697 as the Royal Navy vessel HMS Kingston – was sold in 1762 to privateers linked to the British East India Company.
The Clive arrived in the River Plate in 1763, carrying guns intended for would-be rebels in Spanish bastions such as Buenos Aires, Lima and Santiago.
When the British raiders found Spanish defenders on the alert in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, they headed to Colonia del Sacramento, a Portuguese stronghold 180 kilometers (111 miles) west of Montevideo.
Under the command of Capt. Robert McNamara, the small British force intended to take on supplies at the Portuguese post.
What the British didn’t know was that their Portuguese allies had lost Colonia to Spanish troops two months earlier.
At noon on Jan. 6, 1763, the Lord Clive’s 32 port-side cannons opened fire but the squat buildings and huts of Colonia remained untouched because of McNamara’s faulty ballistic calculations: with the ship so close to the coast, the shells sailed harmlessly over the targets.