On a warm July night in 1797, with a high swell running, British ships were anchored off the coast of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. One of them, the Theseus, was the flag-ship of Horatio Nelson, recently promoted to Rear Admiral of the British navy, under orders from Admiral John Jervis to attack the fortifications in Santa Cruz, which protected the port and thence the inland city of La Laguna, the island’s capital. In total, between all the ships, they counted on 400 guns, and 4,000 fighting men.
Silently, boats launched from the ships under cover of dark on July 22nd, but the high swell proved too much and they had to turn back, but not before they had been spotted by sentries on the watchtowers of the long fortification, which ran the length of the town and beyond, from the Castillo de San Juan at one end, now dwarfed by Tenerife’s iconic Auditorium, to Castillo San Andres at the other end – now a tumble-down ruin in the village of the same name, next to the much-photographed beach of Las Teresitas.
General Antonio Gutiérrez, commander of the Spanish troops in the Tinerfeñan capital had had ample time to prepare a strategy, and gather a force of some 1,700 men, less than half that of the British, and made up of local militia and hunters as well as regular troops. The British had executed a lightning strike on Santa Cruz in April, and Gutiérrez had taken heed of the necessity to prepare for another, more ambitious attack.
He cleverly moved his forces around, fooling Nelson into believing that there were more men and gun power than there actually were. He thwarted a second attack, and Nelson withdrew along the coast to plan a new strategy.