South America: Chapter XI

(by William Henry Koebel)

The Colony of Peru


With South America now definitely settled, we may glance at the various provinces which constituted the Spanish American Continent.

For a long while after the first establishment of the Spanish dominion the divisions between the various districts remained far fewer in number than was later the case.
South America may be said to have been partitioned off in the early days into four main divisions.

The northernmost of these was commonly known as Terra Firma, and comprised New Granada and the neighbouring districts.
This area is now occupied by the Republics of Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

To the south of Terra Firma the Viceroyalty of Peru extended itself, bordered on the south by the Province of Chile; while to the east, occupying the remainder of the Continent as far as the Brazilian frontier, and stretching over the fertile plains to the south, was the great Province of Paraguay, which included the territories now contained in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and part of Bolivia.

Seeing that the head-quarters of the Colonial Government was vested in Peru, it would be as well to deal with this portion of the Continent first.
Peru constituted in the first place the sole Viceroyalty, and subsequently the senior Viceroyalty, of Spanish South America.

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Lima, its capital and the seat of government, took care to distinguish itself from any other colonial city of the Continent.
Certainly no other town possessed such buildings and architectural decorations as those of which Lima could boast.


The home of the Viceroy, it was a city of pomp, processions, and stately movements.
These, as a matter of fact, were by no means out of place, when the great importance of the spot from a governmental point of view is considered.

Every matter of consequence, in whatever province it may have had its origin, was referred for settlement to Lima, and it was here that the Viceroy and his Court gave judgments, the effects of which were echoed thousands of miles away.

Of all the Viceroyalties in the world, that of Peru was undoubtedly the proudest during the earlier Spanish colonial period, for the holder of the high office governed not merely a country, but the greater half of a vast Continent.


Seeing that the colonial policy of Spain invariably tended to pit one of her subordinate Powers against another in order to avoid the acquirement of too much authority on the part of any special person, it was only natural that the authority of the Viceroy, although great, was not supreme even in his own dominion.

There were matters which had to be referred to the Court of Spain, but even in these the importance of Lima remained in one sense unimpaired, for Lima then became the mouthpiece of the Continent, and it was through her officials that the case was presented for the deliberations which pursued their leisurely course in Europe.

The palace of the Viceroy represented, naturally, one of the chief buildings in the capital.
Impressive as was the authority of this high official, he was wont to live even his private life in great state. As a rule he would set apart a short while in the morning and afternoon for the personal reception of petitions.


There were, of course, numerous public functions in which it was his duty to take part.
Thus, on the arrival of any new laws or decrees from Spain, the Viceroy was accustomed to proceed to the Council Hall, where these were delivered to him.
He would then salute the documents by kissing the King's signature and by laying the paper on his head.

Many of these Viceroys were notably honourable men, who refrained from taking a greater share than was necessary in the financial arrangements of the New World.
At the same time, the opportunities for self-enrichment during the five years' tenure of office were quite unusually numerous.

Not a few of the occupants of this post took advantage of these, and the extravagant manner of their subsequent life in Spain upheld to the full the popular tales which were current concerning the fabulous wealth of the Americas.


To go back to the early days of Peru, the inception of this colony, as has been said, was attended by even more violent disturbances than those common to its neighbours.

We have already seen how, each the victim of strenuous jealousies, Almagro was executed at the instance of Pizarro, and how Pizarro himself a few years later was assassinated by the adherents of the dead Almagro's party, who now succeeded in raising to power his son, the younger Almagro.

This, however, by no means ended the era of catastrophe and chaos into which the great but youthful colony of Peru was now plunged.
Very shortly after the death of Pizarro, Cristobal Vaca de Castro arrived in Peru on a mission from the Court of Spain to investigate the causes of the disturbances and warlike rumours which had reached the Mother Country.

De Castro found himself in opposition to the younger Almagro, and a battle was fought.
Almagro's forces were defeated, and he himself, although he escaped for a while to Cuzco, was captured and executed.


In 1543 Blasco Nuñez Vela, the first Viceroy appointed by Spain, arrived in Peru, where he found de Castro in charge of the Government.
Nuñez Vela's methods proved themselves arbitrary in the extreme.

Scarcely had he landed when he sent an abrupt command to de Castro to resign his post, and to place himself forthwith in attendance on the new Viceroy.
This action roused the anger of the Pizarro faction. Its adherents revolted and established themselves at Cuzco.

It was precisely at this moment that a totally new factor in the way of officialdom presented itself in Peru.
With the advent of the Royal Audience, a court of judges, newly founded and sent out from Spain, the situation grew still more wildly complicated.

The Royal Audience, its dignity and unanimity shattered by the turmoil in the midst of which it found itself, divided its forces equally on either side.
A battle was fought between the Viceroy and the forces of Gonzales Pizarro, in the course of which the latter obtained a decided victory, and Blasco Nuñez de Vela was slain.


Having witnessed an almost continuous process of downfall of the various authorities, it is only natural that the sense of loyalty to Spain should have become somewhat obscured in the minds of the Peruvians.
As a result, many of the colonists now urged independence of government, and begged Gonzales Pizarro to accept the throne of Peru.

Spain, judging that the matter had gone too far to be dealt with by any force but one of a magnitude which would have been inconvenient in the extreme to dispatch to so great a distance, now had resource to diplomacy.


An ecclesiastic, Pedro de la Gasca, famed for his subtle methods and diplomatic strategy, was despatched to the disturbed colony.
Gonzales Pizarro refused to acknowledge this new official, although a command to this effect was impressed upon him by a letter sent by the King of Spain.

The rupture was now complete.
In the first instance the loyal troops were decisively defeated by Gonzales Pizarro; but very shortly afterwards the deep methods of La Gasca bore fruit.

He was joined by troops from Chile, and by numerous forces from various other districts, while Pizarro's men began to desert him, continuing the process until the bold leader was left practically alone.
Seeing there was no help for it, Gonzales Pizarro surrendered, and was in turn beheaded.


It is curious to remark that in these early and disturbed days of Peru no single leader was left to die a natural death.

A second Viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, was now appointed.
He proved himself an able ruler, but, unfortunately, he died before he had occupied his post for two years. A further epoch of rebellion now followed, until Don Andres Hurtado de Mendoza, Marquis de Cañete, was sent out from Spain to occupy the Viceroyalty.

It was undoubtedly due to the strong rule of this important noble that affairs in Peru promised to settle themselves definitely.
After his death, however, in 1561, his successor, Don Zuñiga, Count de Nieva, was assassinated almost as soon as he took possession of his post.

It was during the government of one of Zuñiga's successors, Toledo, that the young Inca, Tupac-Amaru, was executed in the great central square of Cuzco.
The horror which this act is said to have instilled in the minds of the Indians is indescribable.
The race had now sunk into a permanent state of melancholy.


All this while Spain had been unceasing in her demands for gold and silver, and it was necessary to work the mines strenuously in order to satisfy the greed of the Mother Country.
As time went on, indeed, the difficulties which lay in the path of a conscientious Viceroy tended to increase rather than to diminish.

It is true that the country did not now depend entirely for its prosperity upon its gold, for the valuable drugs and other natural products were now obtaining some recognition, and the cereals and general agricultural growths introduced from Europe were now becoming of genuine importance.

Other matters, however, were beginning to cause deep anxiety to the ruling Powers.
The buccaneers had now made their appearance in the Pacific, and the alarm spread by their presence frequently caused an entire cessation of trade.
The jealousies, moreover, between the Spaniards and the colonials tended to increase, as the arrogance of the former grew and the resentment of the latter deepened.


True to her policy to discourage any attempt at authority on the part of the colonists, Spain had continued strenuously to refuse to appoint any but Spaniards to the highest posts.

No single Viceroy, for instance, from first to last, was American born, although the holders of this high office included in their numbers four grandees, two priests, one Bishop, one Archbishop, three licentiates, and a number of military officers.

After a while, as was only natural, the tendency arose to split up the main areas of colonial government.
Thus, in 1718, the Viceroyalty of Santa Fé de Bogotá was established, and in 1777 that of Buenos Aires.

Neither of these innovations had occurred a day too soon.
With the growing population and the increasing political and commercial importance of the Continent, the strained machinery with which it had been attempted to govern all matters from a single centre had broken down and become useless so far as the remoter provinces were concerned. In the course of the settlements and of the industrial progress, such as it was, the claims and rights of the aborigines had become a negligible factor.
Indeed, from any but an industrial point of view, the existence of the descendants of the Incas had practically been ignored.


In 1632 a minor revolution of Indians occurred, which resulted in a quaint species of naval engagement on Lake Titicaca, with the native balsas, or rafts, posing as diminutive battleships.

In 1661 there was another outbreak.
This was organized by Antonio Gallado, who succeeded in gaining possession of the town of La Paz, in which neighbourhood the Spanish authority became almost extinct for three years.

It was not until 1780, however, that the Spaniards met with the first really serious shock of Indian insurrection since the first extinction of the power of the Incas. This belated attempt was destined to be the last.

The revolution had its origin in the system of forced labour which, despite the warnings and commands that from time to time were received on the subject from Spain, was continued to be imposed on the Indians.


In addition to this the unfortunate people were made to suffer further wrongs sufficient to rouse the most meek to rebellion.
Thus by the laws of the Indies officials were appointed to provide the Indians with goods at certain prices.

This system became abused to the point that the Spanish officials would distribute as much of these goods as they thought fit among the Indians at a price arbitrarily named by themselves.
In consequence of this the impoverished folk were obliged to pay enormous and unfair prices for goods of which they were probably in no need of whatever, and did not desire.


An intelligent Indian, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, determined on a desperate effort to alleviate the condition of his people.
Condorcanqui had received a far more generous education than the majority of his fellows, and had studied at the College of San Bernardo, in Cuzco.

He spoke the Castilian tongue perfectly, and was thus enabled to hold a minor official post in the Spanish service.
Claiming descent from the Royal Incas, he subsequently added the name of Tupac-Amaru to his own.


Dutch and spanish vessels engaged off Callao, the port of Lima. Peru
Dutch and Spanish vessels engaged off Callao, the port of Lima. Peru

It was on November 4, 1780, that Tupac-Amaru, by which name he was now universally known, made his first move.

Gathering some trusty men about him, he captured a Spanish corregidor, Arriaga, and, charging that official with offences against the Indians, caused him to be executed.
On this the Indians flocked to their new defender's standard, and he was soon at the head of 6,000 men.

Tupac-Amaru now determined on an extensive campaign. After an attack on Cuzco, he marched with 60,000 Indians to besiege La Paz itself, while the isolated Spanish forces were overwhelmed in all directions.


La Paz succeeded in resisting the desperate onslaught of the Indian army, and the tide of fortune now turned against the Inca leader.
After a battle waged in the open, he was captured and put to a horrible death.
His tongue was torn out by the executioner; each of his limbs was attached to a horse, then, the four horses being furiously driven in different directions, his body was torn into four portions.

It was in this way that the unfortunate Tupac-Amaru died, the last of the Inca race who attempted to assert the rights of his people.


With the exception of rare revolts such as these, and of the periodical onslaughts which the buccaneers of all nations made upon the Pacific ports, it is a little remarkable to consider how few dramatic episodes took place during the colonial era in Peru.

It is true that one or two events occurred deserving of note. Thus, in 1551, the University of San Marcos was established at Lima, and was the first institution of the kind to be founded in the New World.

In 1573 occurred the first auto-da-fé, followed by numerous other such grim ceremonies, for Lima was naturally the head-quarters of the Inquisition.
In 1746 the capital suffered from a terrible catastrophe, being visited by an earthquake which shattered the senior city of the Continent, while at the same time a great tidal wave swept away the port of the capital, Callao.


Beyond this one Viceroy succeeded another; the mines continued to be worked, and, in response to the incessant clamourings of Spain, the miners were flogged and driven willy-nilly to their unwelcome task.

As time went on the relative importance of Peru compared to the neighbouring States tended to diminish rather than to increase. The most profitable and most easily worked of the then known gold and silver mines had been practically denuded of their treasure.

There were others in plenty, but these were more remote, and the difficulty of communication which then prevailed was sufficiently great to render impossible any attempt at a remunerative working of these.

With the decrease in the working of minerals greater attention was now paid to the pastoral and agricultural industries, and with the growth of these the value and importance of the neighbouring countries increased vastly.

This state of affairs was at length acknowledged by the Court of Spain, and was emphasized in 1776 when Buenos Aires was made the seat of a Viceroyalty, and was thus released from the last shred of supervision on the part of the Peruvian officials.


We are now approaching the stage of the War of Independence.

This, in Peru, as elsewhere, was heralded by the newly-acquired liberal spirit of the colonials, which, in spite of repressions and precautions on the part of Spain, could no longer be kept in check. It is true that in Peru, the chief centre of Spanish officialdom in the Continent, these manifestations were rather slower in asserting themselves than in the neighbouring countries, but this was inevitable when the extent of the moral influence employed by the numerous officials, and the active discouragement exerted by the important garrison of the Spanish headquarters of the Continent, are taken into consideration.


Curiously enough, the history of one of Peru's last Viceroys is permeated with an atmosphere of romance in which the careers of his predecessors were almost entirely lacking.

Ambrose O'Higgins, the most striking figure of all the lengthy line of Viceroys, had started life as a bare-footed Irish boy.
He is said to have been employed by Lady Bective to run errands at Dangan Castle, Co. Meath.

Through the influence of an uncle in Spain, a priest, the lad was sent to Cadiz.
From there, having in the meanwhile become familiar with the Spanish tongue, he proceeded to South America, landed in Buenos Aires, and then travelled westwards across the Andes, arriving in safety on the Pacific coast.

Here he appears to have adopted the profession of an itinerant trader, journeying to and fro through the territories of the Viceroyalty of Peru and the Government of Chile.
His career during this period of his existence was unbrokenly humble, and certainly the adventurous Irishman himself, even in his wildest moments, could scarcely have possessed any inkling of the marvellous future which awaited him.


The first step in this direction was made in one of his excursions to the south, when by a fortunate chance he obtained an opportunity to demonstrate his inherent warlike qualities in the battles against the Araucanian Indians.

Having once got his foot upon the official ladder, O'Higgins never stepped back.
The Home Government of Spain appeared to regard his career with a benevolent interest.

He obtained the rank of Colonel; from this he was promoted to that of Brigadier-General, and was made Count of Balenar.

A little later he was made Major-General, and in 1792 he attained to the rank of Captain-General of Chile, and the title of Marquis of Osorno was conferred upon him.
Two years later he was promoted once again, this time to the rank of Lieutenant-General.


The progressive policy of O'Higgins occasionally brought him into collision with some of the more retrogressive officials; but the strength of his character appears to have prevailed throughout, and it is certainly to the credit of Spain that it singled out and upheld so courageous and broad-minded an official.

O'Higgins's greatest office, however, was still before him.
In 1796 he was created Viceroy of Peru, and thus became the highest official throughout the New World.

No fairy story has ever produced a more startling study of career and contrast than that which had fallen to the lot of the erstwhile bare-footed Irish boy.


The remarkable history of the family of O'Higgins, however, does not end even here.
Ambrose O'Higgins was undoubtedly the most brilliant Viceroy who had ever served Spain in the New World.

The candle of this high office, as it were, flamed up in a great, but transient, flicker ere it was for ever extinguished, and it was O'Higgins who fed this flame.
With the passing of Ambrose O'Higgins we are confronted with the next generation of his family.

As the father had done in the interests of regal Spain, so did the son in the service of the southern patriots. Bernardo O'Higgins, indeed, was destined to accomplish yet greater things in the cause of the Independence of South America.


Ambrose O'Higgins was one of Spain's last Viceroys; his son Bernardo became one of the first Presidents of the New Republican World.



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