190th anniversary of the martyrdom of Derryman Robert Boyd in failed Málaga rising
On December 11, 1831 - 190 years ago last Saturday - Robert Boyd was taken out in the morning and executed on the beach of San Andrés.
In Málaga in that day the young Derryman - as a non-Catholic - might have expected to have been buried upright in the sand where he had fallen, as was the custom.
Thanks to the intervention of the British Consul William Mark, his remains were instead among the first interred in a new Anglican cemetery in the city.
Boyd was among 49 rebels executed for participating in the Spanish liberal General José María de Torrijos y Uriarte’s failed uprising against the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII.
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Today he is remembered as a hero and there are several monuments and memorials in his honour. In the Plaza de Merced in Málaga city, for example, his name is engraved on a large neo-classical obelisk alongside that of General Torrijos and the other martyrs.
A plaque on this impressive cenotaph reads: ‘To the 49 victims, who for their love of ther country and liberty were sacrificed in this city, on December 11, 1831’.
Elsewhere, in the Cementerio Inglés de Málaga (Málaga’s ‘English’ cemetery) where Boyd’s remains now lie, another obelisk and another tribute: ‘To the memory of Mr Robert Boyd Esquire, native of Londonderry, shot together with General Torrijos and 47 comrades on the Málaga beaches of San Andrés, on December 11, 1831 for defending the constitution and liberty of the Spanish people’.
Here in his home town a remembrance can be found in St. Augustine’s up on the Derry Walls. It reads: ‘Sacred to the memory of Robert Boyd of this city Esquire and sometime Lieutenant of the Bengal Army who with 53 [some of Torrijos’ men were killed when they landed in Málaga from Gibraltar] brave and devoted companions fell at Málaga on December 11, 1831 in a bold but successless attempt to overthrow despotism in Spain and to advance the sacred cause of religion and liberty in that degraded country aged 26.’
According to the Dictionary of Ulster Biography (DUB)Boyd came into fateful communication with Torrijos in London.
“This contact was made through a group of liberal-intellectual figures, known as the ‘Cambridge Apostles’ as they had all studied at that University.
“The group centred around the poet John Sterling, and had created a student debating society characterised politically by fierce international liberalism,” the dictionary explains.
General Torrijos was a veteran of the Peninsular War which has been waged by Spain against Napoleonic France. But after the restoration of the Bourbons he became a champion of a liberal constitution for Spain and this drew him into conflict with the resurgent monarchy.
“Boyd took a keen interest in Torrijos and his cause, and decided to support him, including providing generous financial backing. They assembled a body of 53 men, acquired a ship and sailed to Gibraltar in November 1831, from where they planned to land in Spain itself at Málaga, about 60 miles away.”
The DUB outlines how Torrijos and his comrades believed they could depend on support for their rising from the Governor of Málaga but were apparently betrayed.
“Torrijos was planning to rely on local support on landing, not least from the Governor of Málaga, General Vicente Gonzalez Moreno. Torrijos had received a letter from him in which (so he averred) the Governor assured him that he was on Torrijos’ side, allegedly burning to join ‘the glorious constitutional cause’.
“He was though anything but this, and Torrijos, Boyd and their small force found themselves greeted by a hostile, and as Torrijos and Boyd saw it, rudely treacherous Moreno and a force of several hundred. Torrijos is said to have questioned Moreno’s honour, receiving the riposte that he, Moreno, was indeed honourable as was demonstrated by his seizing enemies of the King,” the dictionary states.
The shoddy treatment of old Derry’s Siege city defenders after the raising of the blockade and the Relief of DerryFollowing their capture Boyd and his comrades were taken to the Convento del Carmen de San Andrés to await their grim fate. A letter to his brother William that was written while he awaited the firing squad survives. It is worth reproducing in full:
‘My dearest William,
‘The dismal news that this letter conveys, you I trust will break to my beloved and revered mother in the easiest and gentlest manner. Ere this letter reaches you I will be mouldering in my grave in a foreign land.
‘The preparations for death are going on rapidly around me and as I sit chained among my fellow-sufferers in the refectory where I write from, the harbingers of death robed in the livery of the grave are flitting around me agonising as the Spaniards have it, the poor wretches at their confession.
‘Violent have been the attacks they have made upon me to make me recant, and, if any such story should go abroad you will know what credit to attach to it.
‘I am thank God calm and perfectly resigned and at some future day I feel a presentiment that my spirit will claim retribution for my wrongs – Dark will be the deed that will be done this night in the Convento of the Carmelites – Accusation is conviction.
‘Think of me at times as I at this moment think only of the affliction that this news will bring upon my dear very dear brothers and sisters. Let them take my last my dying love and if the events of my life should pass before them, let them forget the follies of earlier times in the reflection that I fall in defence of what I hold dear and that there is not one dishonouring spot on the exit of your brother. He is the more fortunate. Yea he hath finished.
‘For him there is no longer any future. His life was pure, bright; without spot it was and cannot cease to be. No ominous hour knocks at his door with tidings of mishap. Far off is he, above desire or fear. No more submitted to the chance or change of the unsteady planets. Oh! It is well with him.
‘Last best of love to my mother – Adieu.
‘Yours till the last affectionately,
Mark you that I die like a gentleman and a soldier – I am to be shot with sixty others in about an hour.’