To many “the beautiful Mexican” might conjure up actress Salma Hayek, or may be associated with something like this classic Mariachi song extolling the marvels of the country and its women. However she played a legendary role in the history of the Gibbs family’s Spanish and South American ventures – the “Hermosa Mexicana”!
The story demonstrates the fortuitous collaboration of three brothers, Vicary, George and Antony, the sons of George Abraham Gibbs, coming together to create a unique opportunity that catalysed Antony’s trade with the new world, at a time when his activities in Spain were struggling with war, embargoes and pandemics. He had a large stock of wooden cloth and other English goods stuck in Cadiz, unable to sell them in Spain, risking confiscation and Antony’s financial ruin.
Sir Vicary Gibbs was the eldest of the eleven children of George Gibbs of Clyst St George. He was a very able student and gained the King’s Scholarship to Eton before going on to Kings College Cambridge. Called to the Bar in 1780, he became in 1795 Attorney General to the Prince of Wales and then from 1799 to 1804 Solicitor General to the Prince of Wales. In 1804 he became Chief Justice of the Court of Sessions for Chester. In 1804 he became Member of Parliament for Totnes in Devon and was knighted in February 1804 when he became Solicitor General in William Pitt’s Government. His residence then was in Bedford Square and he and his wife Frances, Cerjat, Kenneth always known as Kenny had a country House at Hayes in Kent.
Sir Vicary Gibbs resigned his office of Solicitor General on the death of William Pitt in January 1806. He became Attorney General in the Duke of Portland’s government, a post he retained for five years. In April 1807, he was elected M.P. for Great Bedwyn, and in the succeeding General Election of May 1807, he was elected as one of the two Members of Parliament for the University of Cambridge until May 1812.
George Gibbs of Redland sent an outline of Antony’s Plan to his brother, Sir Vicary Gibbs. George said that the business which Antony had in contemplation was of the greatest importance and must not be neglected.”
In early October 1805, Sir Vicary arranged for the application for a licence to be presented for a Spanish Merchant Vessel to take Antony Gibbs’ goods in Spain. Antony and George went to London and stayed with Sir Vicary and Lady Gibbs in Hayes Grove. Sir Vicary arranged for Antony to have an interview with the Secretary of the Treasury on October 15th. On the 18th he had interviews with the Duke of Montrose and George Rose, President and Vice President of the Board of Trade. On October 30th, Sir John Nicholl, King’s Advocate reported on the matter and referred it to the Privy Council who in the end about 14th December gave their assent to it.
Antony Gibbs’ scheme with his Spanish associate Antonio Vallarino was to procure an English Government Licence for a Spanish merchant vessel to take the greater part of his stock in Spain from Cadiz to South America. This was at a time when the British Navy was blockading Spanish ports and not allowing passage to any Spanish vessel, while British ships could run into troubles in Spanish controlled waters of the Americas.
Antony was undecided whether to send the goods to Lima, Vera Cruz or Buenos Aires. Eventually he decided on Lima. In December 1805, Antony and his eldest son, Henry, taking their licence with them, sailed out to meet Vallarino. This was Antony’s twelfth and last expedition abroad. They arrived in Lisbon on January 6th 1806. Because of the delays, Henry had to return to England to get the licence extended. Sir Vicary was able through his friend Lord Auckland, Privy Councillor and President of the Board of Trade to get the licence extended until December 1807. Their ship, the “Hermosa Mexicana” sailed on December 24th 1806 and Admiral Lord Collingwood arranged for her to sail in convoy with a British frigate bound for Buenos Aires, which the British had taken in June 1806.
News came through in October that the “Hermosa Mexicana” had arrived in Lima on 27th April 1807. Vallarino had already paid Antony for his goods, but there were profits to be reaped too. The return cargo was to be sent to Antony Gibbs in England. However the ship with Vallarino on board returned to Vigo in Spain. Despite fears to the contrary, Antony was in due course paid for his goods and his 12 per cent of the profits by Vallarino.
This was the beginning of Antony Gibbs’ links with Peru and Chile, just as they were gaining their independence from Spain (Spanish American wars of independence started in 1808)
My thanks to David Hogg for providing this tale of the Hermosa Mexicana / Beautiful Mexican.
Should you want to explore the development of Antony Gibbs & Sons trade in Chile, a recent paper “… retraces the changing alliances and practices of Antony Gibbs & Sons’ Lima agent during the transition from Spanish to independentist rule…”
British Trade and the Fall of the Spanish Empire – Changing Practices and Alliances of Antony Gibbs & Sons in Lima during the Transition from Viceregal to Independentist Rule (1820-1823)