Military Wiki
Action of San Mateo Bay
Part of the Anglo–Spanish War (1585)
Date24 June to 1 July 1594
LocationEsmeraldas River mouth, nowadays Ecuador
Result Spanish victory[1]
England Kingdom of England  Spain
Commanders and leaders
England Richard Hawkins  (POW) Spain Beltrán de Castro
1 discovery ship
1 pinnace
3 galleons
Casualties and losses
1 discovery ship captured
1 pinnace lost
27 killed
17 wounded
93 captured[2]
28 dead
22 wounded[1]

The Action of San Mateo Bay was a naval engagement which took place from 24 June to 1 July 1594 between the discovery ship Dainty under the command of English privateer Richard Hawkins and a Spanish squadron of three galleons commanded by Beltrán de Castro at the mouth of the Esmeraldas river, nowadays Ecuador.


In 1593 Hawkins, a nephew of Sir Francis Drake, purchased the Dainty, a ship originally built for his father as Repentance and used by him in his expeditions, and sailed for the West Indies, the Spanish Main and the South Seas.[3] It seems clear that his project was to prey on the overseas possessions of the Spanish crown. Hawkins, however, in an account of the voyage written 30 years afterwards, maintained that his expedition was undertaken purely for the purpose of geographical discovery. After visiting the coast of Brazil, the Dainty passed through the Straits of Magellan, and in due course reached Valparaíso, where he plundered the town and captured four vessels.[4]


After refreshing provisions for four days in Atacames Bay, Richard Hawkins spotted a vessel in open sea and ordered his pinnace to investigate.[1] At 9:00 A.M next day he weighed with his ship and took up station farther west off Cape San Francisco for two days before returning and discovering his dismasted consort in nearby San Mateo Bay.[1]

The English duo was preparing to sail out into the Pacific by the morning of 29 June when two other ships came around Cape San Francisco. Believing to be Spanish treasure ships from Peru, Hawkins sent his repaired pinnace to reconnoiter, only to see it chased back by Felipón's 14-gun galley-zabra. De Castro's San Francisco y Nuestra Señora del Rosario followed close astern and attempted to run aboard Dainty but was checked by a heavy broadside.[1] In the meanwhile, the pinnace's crew strove to regain their flagship and concentrate forces but was intercepted by the galley-zabra; a few survivors managed to clamber aboard over the bowspirit. Both sides then exchanged long-range salvos for the next couple of days, the English toppling Felipón's mainmast on 30 June before finally surrendering to the Spaniards by the afternoon of 1 July.[1] Hawkins suffered half a dozen wounds himself, 27 killed, 17 wounded, and 93 captured among his crew; Spanish losses totaled at 28 dead and 22 injured out of 300.[1]

De Castro installed Felipón as prize master and towed the badly damaged English flagship to the Pearl Islands, reaching Perico for a tumultous reception on 19 July. Despite being promised honorable terms by De Castro, Peruvian colonial authorities were of a different opinion and most of the English captives were tried by the Inquisition and condemned as galley slaves, while Hawkins was freed and eventually returned to England.[1] Hawkins second in command, John Oxenham, was instead put on trial and eventually executed at Lima for heresy.[5] Dainty was renamed to Nuestra Señora de la Visitación, also known as La Inglesa, and incorporated into the Peruvian Squadron of the Spanish navy. The Dainty was exhibited at Panama as a trophy of war: the first prize taken by the Spaniards in the Southern Seas.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Marley p.84
  2. Fernández Duro p. 99
  3. Southey, Robert (1834). The British admirals: With an introductory view of the naval history of England, Volume 3. Green & Longman, p. 286.
  4. Marley, pp. 82-83
  5. Lane, Kris E. (1998). Pillaging the empire: piracy in the Americas, 1500-1750. M.E. Sharpe, p. 56. ISBN 0-7656-0257-1
  6. Spate p.289


  • Fernández Duro, Cesáreo (1898). Armada Española desde la unión de los reinos de Castilla y Aragón. III. Madrid, Spain: Est. tipográfico "Sucesores de Rivadeneyra".  (Spanish)
  • David F. Marley (1998). Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0-87436-837-5
  • Spate, O. (1979). The Spanish lake Australian National University Press. ISBN 0-7081-0727-3

Coordinates: 1°1′2.6″N 79°36′30.5″W / 1.017389°N 79.608472°W / 1.017389; -79.608472

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