The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Seven

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, behind the scenes

I must begin with a correction: I have in the past referred to the USS Cyane steaming here and there. She had only sails for propulsion. Sorry about that.

The wider implications of destroying Greytown, a free port within an at least notional British protectorate that already caused tension between the United States and United Kingdom over their differing reads of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty hardly went unnoticed in Washington. Nor did the British connection go unnoticed in Greytown at the time. George N. Hollins notified the commander of a British ship in the harbor of his intentions. Greytown had offended against American property, persons, and one obnoxious American diplomat. As Greytown would give no satisfaction for the offenses, either to the Accessory Transit Company or to Solon Borland, the United States Navy would extract its satisfaction by force. 

Lieutenant W.D. Jolley of the HMS Bermuda had the questionable honor of receiving the news. He answered Hollins with a protest:

I consider it my duty to enter my most solemn protest against the course you then intimated to me that you intend to pursue towards the city of Greytown.

The inhabitants of this city, as well as the houses and property, are entirely defenseless and quite at your mercy. I do therefore notify you that such an act will be without precedent among civilized nations; and I bet to call your attention to the fact that a large amount of property of British subjects, as well as others, which it is my duty to protect, will be destroyed; but the force under my command is so totally inadequate for this protection against the Cyane, I can only enter this my protest.

USS Cyane

USS Cyane

Pretty cheeky of the Americans to answer offenses against American property in Greytown by destroying British property in Greytown, but Hollins did it. In an odd bit of nineteenth century courtesy, Hollins offered his regrets to Jolley that the Bermuda lacked the firepower to challenge the Cyane’s twenty-four guns.

Jolley does not reference Britain’s protectorate over the Mosquito Coast in his protest, but he hardly needed to. Regardless of the region and the port’s anomalous status, Hollins acted intentionally to destroy British property on the most dubious of grounds. Even if Hollins saw this as an isolated event, the rest of the world need not agree with him. With elements of the Democracy at home arguing that the nation should repudiate Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, his act at the order of a Democratic administration could look very easily like a power play. Solon Borland’s involvement as a partisan for just that cause could only make that impression harder to resist.

Meanwhile, the Accessory Transit Company got everything it wanted. The removal of Greytown meant the end of any dispute with its authorities. As an organization on the ground handy for any rebuilding, the company could very easily improve its standing and resolve its property disputes in its favor. Picking the quarrel worked famously for the commercial interests, even if it made the Americans in general look like irresponsible, wrathful maniacs.

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