The Pirates Own Book:
Authentic Narratives of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers

THE BLOODY CAREER AND EXECUTION OF VINCENT BENAVIDES A PIRATE ON THE WEST COAST OF SOUTH AMERICA


Vincent Benavides was the son of the gaoler of Quirihue in the district of Conception. He was a man of ferocious manners, and had been guilty of several murders. Upon the breaking out of the revolutionary war, he entered the patriot army as a private soldier; and was a serjeant of grenadiers at the time of the first Chilian revolution. He, however, deserted to the Spaniards, and was taken prisoner in their service, when they sustained, on the plains of Maypo, on the 5th of April, 1818, that defeat which decided their fortunes in that part of America, and secured the independence of Chili. Benavides, his brother, and some other traitors to the Chilian cause, were sentenced to death, and brought forth in the Plaza, or public square of Santiago, in order to be shot. Benavides, though terribly wounded by the discharge, was not killed; but he had the presence of mind to counterfeit death in so perfect a manner, that the imposture was not suspected. The bodies of the traitors were not buried, but dragged away to a distance, and there left to be devoured by the gallinazos or vultures. The serjeant who had the superintendence of this part of the ceremony, had a personal hatred to Benavides, on account of that person having murdered some of his relations; and, to gratify his revenge, he drew his sword, and gave the dead body, (as he thought,) a severe gash in the side, as they were dragging it along. The resolute Benavides had fortitude to bear this also, without flinching or even showing the least indication of life; and one cannot help regretting that so determined a power of endurance had not been turned to a better purpose.

Benavides lay like a dead man, in the heap of carcasses, until it became dark; and then, pierced with shot, and gashed by the sword as he was, he crawled to a neighboring cottage, the inhabitants of which received him with the greatest kindness, and attended him with the greatest care.

The daring ruffian, who knew the value of his own talents and courage, being aware that General San Martin was planning the expedition to Peru, a service in which there would be much of desperation and danger, sent word to the General that he was alive, and invited him to a secret conference at midnight, in the same Plaza in which it was believed Benavides had been shot. The signal agreed upon, was, that they should strike fire three times with their flints, as that was not likely to be answered by any but the proper party, and yet was not calculated to awaken suspicion.

San Martin, alone, and provided with a brace of pistols, met the desperado; and after a long conference, it was agreed that Benavides should, in the mean time, go out against the Araucan Indians; but that he should hold himself in readiness to proceed to Peru, when the expedition suited.

Having procured the requisite passports, he proceeded to Chili, where, having again diverted the Chilians, he succeeded in persuading the commander of the Spanish troops, that he had force sufficient to carry on the war against Chili; and the commander in consequence retired to Valdivia, and left Benavides commander of the whole frontier on the Biobio.

Having thus cleared the coast of the Spanish commander, he went over to the Araucans, or rather, he formed a band of armed robbers, who committed every cruelty, and were guilty of every perfidy in the south of Chili. Whereever Benavides came, his footsteps were marked with blood, and the old men, the women, and the children, were butchered lest they should give notice of his motions.

When he had rendered himself formidable by land, he resolved to be equally powerful upon the sea. He equipped a corsair, with instructions to capture the vessels of all nations; and as Araucan is directly opposite the island of Santa Maria, where vessels put in for refreshment, after having doubled Cape Horn, his situation was well adapted for his purpose. He was but too successful. The first of his prizes was the American ship Hero, which he took by surprise in the night; the second, was the Herculia, a brig belonging to the same country. While the unconscious crew were proceeding, as usual, to catch seals on this island, lying about three leagues from the main land of Arauca, an armed body of men rushed from the woods, and overpowering them, tied their hands behind them, and left them under a guard on the beach. These were no other than the pirates, who now took the Herculia's own boats, and going on board, surprised the captain and four of his crew, who had remained to take care of the brig; and having brought off the prisoners from the beach, threw them all into the hold, closing the hatches over them. They then tripped the vessel's anchor, and sailing over in triumph to Arauca, were received by Benavides, with a salute of musketry fired under the Spanish flag, which it was their chief's pleasure to hoist on that day. In the course of the next night, Benavides ordered the captain and his crew to be removed to a house on shore, at some distance from the town; then taking them out, one by one, he stripped and pillaged them of all they possessed, threatening them the whole time with drawn swords and loaded muskets. Next morning he paid the prisoners a visit and ordered them to the capital, called together the principal people of the town, and desired each to select one as a servant. The captain and four others not happening to please the fancy of any one, Benavides, after saying he would himself take charge of the captain, gave directions, on pain of instant death, that some one should hold themselves responsible for the other prisoners. Some days after this they were called together, and required to serve as soldiers in the pirates army; an order to which they consented, knowing well by what they had already seen, that the consequence of refusal would be fatal.

Benavides, though unquestionably a ferocious savage, was, nevertheless, a man of resource, full of activity, and of considerable energy of character. He converted the whale spears and harpoons into lances for his cavalry, and halberts for his sergeants; and out of the sails he made trowsers for half of his army; the carpenters he set to work making baggage carts and repairing his boats; the armourers he kept perpetually at work, mending muskets, and making pikes; managing in this way, to turn the skill of every one of his prisoners to some useful account. He treated the officers, too, not unkindly, allowed them to live in his house, and was very anxious on all occasions, to have their advice respecting the equipment of his troops.

Upon one occasion, when walking with the captain of the Herculia, he remarked, that his army was now almost complete in every respect, except in one essential particular, and it cut him, he said to the soul, to think of such a deficiency; he had no trumpets for his cavalry, and added, that it was utterly impossible to make the fellows believe themselves dragoons, unless they heard a blast in their ears at every turn; and neither men nor horses would ever do their duty properly, if not roused to it by the sound of a trumpet; in short he declared, some device must be hit upon to supply this equipment. The captain, willing to ingratiate himself with the pirate, after a little reflection, suggested to him, that trumpets might easily be made of copper sheets on the bottoms of the vessels he had taken. "Very true," cried the delighted chief, "how came I not to think of that before?" Instantly all hands were employed in ripping off the copper, and the armourers being set to work under his personal superintendence, the whole camp, before night, resounded with the warlike blasts of the cavalry.

The captain of the ship, who had given him the brilliant idea of the copper trumpets, had by these means, so far won upon his good will and confidence, as to be allowed a considerable range to walk on. He of course, was always looking out for some plan of escape, and at length an opportunity occurring, he, with the mate of the Ocean, and nine of his crew, seized two whale boats, imprudently left on the banks of the river, and rowed off. Before quitting the shore, they took the precaution of staving all the other boats, to prevent pursuit, and accordingly, though their escape was immediately discovered, they succeeded in getting so much the start of the people whom Benavides sent in pursuit of them, that they reached St. Mary's Island in safety. Here they caught several seals upon which they subsisted very miserably till they reached Valparaiso. It was in consequence of their report of Benavides proceedings made to Sir Thomas Hardy, the commander-in-chief, that he deemed it proper to send a ship to rescue if possible, the remaining unfortunate captives at Arauca.

Benavides having manned the Herculia, it suited the mate, (the captain and crew being detained as hostages,) to sail with the brig to Chili, and seek aid from the Spanish governor. The Herculia returned with a twenty-four pounder, two field-pieces, eleven Spanish officers, and twenty soldiers, together with the most flattering letters and congratulations to the worthy ally of his Most Catholic Majesty. Soon after this he captured the Perseverance, English whaler, and the American brig Ocean, bound for Lima, with several thousand stand of arms on board. The captain of the Herculia, with the mate of the Ocean, and several men, after suffering great hardships, landed at Valparaiso, and gave notice of the proceedings of Benavides; and in consequence, Sir Thomas Hardy directed Captain Hall to proceed to Arauca with the convoy, to set the captives free, if possible.

It was for the accomplishment of this service that Capt. Hall sailed from Valparaiso; and he called at Conception on his way, in order to glean information respecting the pirate. Here the Captain ascertained that Benavides was between two considerable bodies of Chilian force, on the Chilian side of the Biobio, and one of those bodies between him and the river.

Having to wait two days at Conception for information, Captain Hall occupied them in observing the place; the country he describes as green and fertile, and having none of the dry and desert character of the environs of Valparaiso. Abundance of vegetables, wood, and also coals, are found on the shores of the bay.

On the 12th of October, the captain heard of the defeat of Benavides, and his flight, alone, across the Biobio into the Araucan country; and also that two of the Americans whom he had taken with him had made their escape, and were on board the Chacabuco. As these were the only persons who could give Captain Hall information respecting the prisoners of whom he was in quest, he set out in search of the vessel, and after two days' search, found her at anchor near the island of Mocha. From thence he learned that the captain of the Ocean, with several English and American seamen had been left at Arauca, when Benavides went on his expedition, and he sailed for that place immediately.

He was too late, however; the Chilian forces had already made a successful attack, and the Indians had fled, setting fire to the town and the ships. The Indians, who were in league with the Chilians, were every way as wild as those who arrayed themselves under Benavides. Capt. Hall, upon his return to Conception, though dissuaded from it by the governor, visited the Indian encampment.

When the captain and his associates entered the courtyard, they observed a party seated on the ground, round a great tub of wine, who hailed their entrance with loud shouts, or rather yells, and boisterously demanded their business; to all appearance very little pleased with the interruption. The interpreter became alarmed, and wished them to retire; but this the captain thought imprudent, as each man had his long spear close at hand, resting against the eaves of the house. Had they attempted to escape they must have been taken, and possibly sacrificed, by these drunken savages. As their best chance seemed to lie in treating them without any show of distrust, they advanced to the circle with a good humored confidence, which appeased them considerably. One of the party rose and embraced them in the Indian fashion, which they had learned from the gentlemen who had been prisoners with Benavides. After this ceremony they roared out to them to sit down on the ground, and with the most boisterous hospitality, insisted on their drinking with them; a request which they cheerfully complied with. Their anger soon vanished, and was succeeded by mirth and satisfaction, which speedily became as outrageous as their displeasure had been at first. Seizing a favorable opportunity, Captain Hall stated his wish to have an interview with their chief, upon which a message was sent to him; but he did not think fit to show himself for a considerable time, during which they remained with the party round the tub, who continued swilling their wine like so many hogs. Their heads soon became affected, and their obstreperous mirth increasing every minute, the situation of the strangers became by no means agreeable.

At length Peneleo's door opened, and the chief made his appearance; he did not condescend, however, to cross the threshold, but leaned against the door post to prevent falling, being by some degrees more drunk than any of his people. A more finished picture of a savage cannot be conceived. He was a tall, broad shouldered man; with a prodigiously large head, and a square-shaped bloated face, from which peeped out two very small eyes, partly hid by an immense superfluity of black, coarse, oily, straight hair, covering his cheeks, hanging over his shoulders, and rendering his head somewhat the shape and size of a bee-hive. Over his shoulders was thrown a poncho of coarse blanket stuff. He received them very gruffly, and appeared irritated and sulky at having been disturbed; he was still more offended when he learned that they wished to see his captive. They in vain endeavored to explain their real views; but he grunted out his answer in a tone and manner which showed them plainly that he neither did, nor wished to understand them.

Whilst in conversation with Peneleo, they stole an occasional glance at his apartment. By the side of the fire burning in the middle of the floor, was seated a young Indian woman, with long black hair reaching to the ground; this, they conceived, could be no other than one of the unfortunate persons they were in search of; and they were somewhat disappointed to observe, that the lady was neither in tears, nor apparently very miserable; they therefore came away impressed with the unsentimental idea, that the amiable Peneleo had already made some impression on her young heart.

Two Indians, who were not so drunk as the rest, followed them to the outside of the court, and told them that several foreigners had been taken by the Chilians in the battle near Chilian, and were now safe. The interpreter hinted to them that this was probably invented by these cunning people, on hearing their questions in the court; but he advised them, as a matter of policy, to give them each a piece of money, and to get away as far as they could.

Captain Hall returned to Conception on the 23d of October, reached Valparaiso on the 26th, and in two weeks thereafter, the men of whom he was in search, made their appearance.

The bloody career of Benavides now drew near to a close. The defeat on the Chilian side of the Biobio, and the burning of Arauca with the loss of his vessels, he never recovered. At length, in the end of December 1821, discovering the miserable state to which he was reduced, he entreated the Intendant of Conception, that he might be received on giving himself up along with his partisans. This generous chief accepted his offer, and informed the supreme government; but in the meantime Benavides embarked in a launch, at the mouth of the river Lebo, and fled, with the intention of joining a division of the enemy's army, which he supposed to be at some one of the ports on the south coast of Peru. It was indeed absurd to expect any good faith from such an intriguer; for in his letters at this time, he offered his services to Chili and promised fidelity, while his real intention was still to follow the enemy. He finally left the unhappy province of Conception, the theatre of so many miserable scenes, overwhelmed with the misery which he had caused, without ever recollecting that it was in that province that he had first drawn his breath.

His despair in the boat made his conduct insupportable to those who accompanied him, and they rejoiced when they were obliged to put into the harbor of Topocalma in search of water of which they had run short. He was now arrested by some patriotic individuals. From the notorious nature of his crimes, alone, even the most impartial stranger would have condemned him to the last punishment; but the supreme government wished to hear what he had to say for himself, and ordered him to be tried according to the laws. It appearing on his trial that he had placed himself beyond the laws of society, such punishment was awarded him as any one of his crimes deserved. As a pirate, he merited death, and as a destroyer of whole towns, it became necessary to put him to death in such a manner as might satisfy outraged humanity, and terrify others who should dare to imitate him. In pursuance of the sentence passed upon him, he was dragged from the prison in a pannier tied to the tail of a mule, and was hanged in the great square; his head and hands were afterwards cut off, in order to their being placed upon high poles, to point out the places of his horrid crimes, Santa Juona, Tarpellanca and Arauca.
 

The head of Benavides stuck on a pole

The head of Benavides stuck on a pole.

 
Page 215 Illustration

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