Spain offers joint exhibition of Mercedes frigate to six Latin American countries


Minister of Culture and Sports, Mikel Isetaheld various bilateral meetings in Mexico with colleagues from several countries and invited Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia and Uruguay to jointly launch an exhibition on the history of the frigate Our Lady of Mercedes and her cargo. According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture, “will work on a joint museum project, the details of which are to be determined, with the aim of creating a joint and traveling exhibition.”

Iseta recalled that the appearance of a set of materials recovered from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes wreck “evokes a special moment when political, commercial and cultural relations between Spain and America were very close.”

The project applies to countries those passed by the frigate (Peru and Uruguay) or in those who minted coins and distributed (Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile and Mexico). In particular, the places where the frigate moored during its last voyage were El Callao (Peru) and Montevideo (Uruguay). Based on the transported flows, it is assumed that the vast majority of the coins were minted at the Royal Mint of Lima (Peru). This contribution is quantitatively followed by the coinage of Potosí (Bolivia). There are also items from the mints of Popayan (Colombia), Mexico and Santiago de Chile.


The context of the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes is a situation of instability between Spain and England regarding the transit of goods from the 18th to 19th centuries. Fearing an English blockade, since 1796 a number of goods and assets had been piling up in Lima, waiting for the right moment to be transported to Spain. With the signing of the Peace of Amiens in 1802, the Spanish monarch Carlos IV ordered a fleet to be sent to collect these flows. In 1803, two military frigates, Clara and Mercedes, left Ferrol for Callao (Lima). In March 1804, both frigates, together with Asuncion and Fama, sailed from El Callao with funds accumulated in Lima and moored in Montevideo (Uruguay), where Asuncion replaced Medea. From there, this small fleet will go to Spain, the Ministry of Culture reminded.

The British squadron off the coast of the Portuguese Algarve launched an attack during which the Mercedes ammunition depot was hit, which exploded, most of the crew and passengers perished, and the cargo sank in the Atlantic. The rest of the Spanish frigates were captured and taken to England. As a direct consequence of these events, a new military conflict begins between Spain, allied with Napoleonic France, and England, one of the most famous consequences of which will be Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Crash detection and suit

May 2007 American company Odyssey announced the discovery of a sunken ship with a large batch of coins. The Spanish government, suspecting that said find might be part of a Spanish Navy ship, initiated a lengthy lawsuit that was resolved in 2012 in its favor. The legal grounds on which the claim is based are based on the principles of the law of the sea and the 2001 UNESCO Convention, which stipulates that assets associated with state-owned ships belong to the state that was flying the flag of the ship at the time of its wreck. This was the case with the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, a warship of the Spanish Navy. sank in the line of duty while transporting goods and property to Spain..

At the same time and on this legal basis, the objects included in the wreck will become part of the Spanish historical heritage and thus be protected by Law 16/1985 on the Spanish Historical Heritage. After the return of the stolen set, the items included in its composition were overwhelmingly numismatic in nature, by order of the Ministry of May 21, 2014, they were transferred for storage to the National Museum of Underwater Archeology ARQVA, located in Cartagena (Murcia).

Likewise, a series of archaeological campaigns were launched at the crash site to seek his best scientific knowledge.

Among the items found, a huge numismatic set (streams) is transported by a frigate bound for Spain: about 600,000 coins, of which the majority are silver and about 200 gold coins. To these objects is added a batch of materials that the company was supposed to collect as collateral. Between 2016 and 2018, the Ministry of Culture and Sports uncovered a number of samples that the company had left on site to examine whether they were of less material value, could help identify the ship, or were simply difficult to identify. Among them stand out two large bronze artillery piecesalready outdated at that time.



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