Volume 7, Number 3

March 2010

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Richard Crofton, Irish Soldier in
New Granada’s Battle of El Santuario in 1829:
A Work in Progress and Search for More Information

By Matthew Brown
University of Bristol


Hoping to capitalise on the collective knowledge of the IMSLA readership, historian Matthew Brown engages his audience in his work-in-progress, a book on the Battle of El Santuario. Best known for his excellent work on the British and Irish Legions in the Spanish American wars for independence, he now turns his attention to a more focused study of the personnel involved in a single battle, El Santuario (1829). In this article, Brown walks us through his research process in search of documents and details related to the life of Irish soldier Richard Crofton. Any clues or information can be sent to the author (Matthew.Brown@bristol.ac.uk).

Ricardo José Crofton is the most mysterious of all the Irish mercenaries who served in the Wars of Independence in Colombia and Venezuela. [1] He achieved his greatest notoriety when leading a mock execution of Vice-President Francisco de Paula Santander in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1829. He served General Daniel O’Leary at the Battle of El Santuario in 1829, and was one of the few foreign adventurers who remained strictly loyal to Simón Bolívar even after El Libertador (The Liberator) had lost power, begun his journey into exile, and died in December 1830.

I am researching Richard Crofton’s biographical details as part of a collective biography of all of the veterans of the Battle of El Santuario (17 October 1829), which includes Colombians, Venezuelans, Germans, Italians, North Americans and Uruguayans, as well as Irishmen.

Crofton is among the most difficult to pin down. He has left no service records in the military archives in Bogotá. We do not know his age, whether he married, nor where he came from. [2] No images of him have survived. His South American descendants, if he had any, did not petition the Venezuelan government for a pension as relations of an illustrious Prócer (National Hero). Online genealogies of the Irish Croftons similarly cast no light on the identity of their adventurous precursor. So at present, Richard Crofton effectively disappears from the historical record when he was exiled from New Granada (present-day Colombia) in 1832.

In the following discussion, I provide a brief summary of what we do know about Richard Crofton, and make an appeal for any information that historians or genealogists may have about this most mysterious missing person. Was he a mercenary or a spy? Did he make it back to Ireland? Was he an agent of British imperialism?

Military historian Eric Lambert stated - without providing documentary citation - that Crofton was ‘an Irishman and a former Corporal in the British Army’. [3] I have searched for the birth notice of a Richard Crofton in the incomplete Catholic Church baptism records held by the National Library of Ireland. There are very few Croftons there, so I searched for the births registered in the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin. This is where the birth of a Protestant (Church of Ireland) Richard Crofton would be expected to have been registered. Although the Reverend Henry Crofton’s many children are listed here, none of them was called Richard.

Leaving his birth and following the lead of his presumed military service, I have sought, but not found, any reference to Crofton in the British Army discharge papers for this period (WO 97), nor in the desertion papers (WO 25/2938). Neither was he at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. [4] This leaves us with only Colombian sources for the details of Crofton’s biography.

In the absence of any surviving sources attesting to his participation in the South American wars of independence, [5] Crofton first comes to our attention in March 1828 when he declared his loyalty to Simón Bolívar’s regime with an obsequious publication signed by him and his subaltern officers. The Mounted Grenadiers declared that they felt ‘a terrible pain’ in seeing Bolívar leaving Bogotá. They supported the ‘wise measures you have adopted to protect the security and prosperity of the republic’ and they offered Bolívar ‘their absolute dedication to sustain and defend Colombia’. They concluded by professing ‘their support and love’ for the man they saw as ‘destined to preserve the nation from the evils that threaten it’. [6]

Crofton’s reputation as an arch-Bolivarian was enhanced that same year when he spectacularly decapitated a figurine representing Vice-President Santander at a garden party hosted by Manuela Sáenz in the Quinta de Bolívar in Bogotá, and led a firing squad which was ordered to carry out a mock execution on a dummy representing Santander. [7] The event gained Crofton great infamy amongst Santander’s supporters in Bogotá, and they saw his subsequent dramatic promotion to the rank of Coronel as a mark of Bolívar’s government’s ‘decadence’. [8] Antonio José de Sucre thought that this set a terrible precedent.  He commented: ‘How can the army have discipline or ethics when any rebel who raises a weapon against his superior officer, or expresses the intention to murder him, is promoted rather than punished’? [9] General José María Córdova observed that Crofton had been ‘promoting conspiracies and disorder’ against Santander. [10]

Crofton earned even more hatred in the wake of the 25 September 1828 assassination attempt on Bolívar. As the Commander of the Mounted Grenadiers in Bogotá, Crofton was charged with re-establishing order in the city. Reports differ as to Crofton’s role. According to one observer, Crofton’s actions amounted to hiding at home until the commotion had subsided, and then making his way ‘without any order, at the head of a cavalry unit, to kill General Santander’. [11] When Bolívar came out of hiding himself, Crofton was one of those who flocked to his side shouting ‘We will be lost without you, We will be Victims all of us, Colombia will fall apart!’ [12]

Ricardo Crofton was amongst the most stringent Bolivarian loyalists in Bogotá in the last days of September 1828. [13] According to the official report in the Gaceta de Colombia, he worked with Francisco de Urdaneta and José María Córdovato suppress the uprising. Crofton led his cavalry to the outskirts of town in search of the conspirators. [14] Once order had been restored, Crofton was placed in charge of guarding the prisoners, who included Vice-President Santander. [15] In fulfilling this duty Crofton was apparently rough, aggressive and vindictive, grabbing one prisoner, Horment, by the scruff of the neck and shaking him (for which he was reprimanded by Bolívar). [16] Ezequiel Rojas asserted that Crofton had fabricated witnesses in order to convict him, and acted in a violent and unreasonable manner. [17] Marcelo Tenorio, a Mason and merchant, recalled seeing Crofton being aggressive towards the prisoners in his custody, including Santander, for which Crofton was reprimanded by José María Córdova. Córdova reminded Crofton that ‘your illustrious prisoner must be treated with the consideration and respect he deserves’. [18] One Colombian who came across Crofton in these years, Joaquin Posada Gutierrez, described Crofton as a ‘barbarous Irishman of the lowest order’. [19]

Crofton did not always stay on the right side of the law. In July 1829 he was tried for insubordination by a court-martial in Bogotá. The Presiding Officer was General Daniel Florencio O’Leary. We do not know what the charge was, but it may have been related either to the above instances of violent behaviour or to his involvement in conspiracies against Santander. We do know, however, that Crofton was not convicted of anything, and that he returned to the army in time to join O’Leary’s expedition to Antioquia in September the same year. [20] Much later, O’Leary mentioned Crofton’s name as a man he could trust. [21] It seems likely that O’Leary was pivotal in recruiting Crofton to his expedition in full knowledge of his reputation for violence, vindictiveness and fiercely partisan Bolivarianism.

At the battle of El Santuario in Antioquia on 17 October 1829, Richard Crofton commanded the cavalry, with Rupert Hand as his second-in-command. [22] Their cavalry charge put Córdova’s troops to flight, and Crofton himself pursued many of the rebels from the battlefield. When he returned he asked Hand for an update on Córdova’s location, the second-in-command replied ‘Here is his blood’, lifting up the sword that had killed the rebel commander. [23] It is well-established by all testimonies that Crofton played no direct part in Córdova’s death.

After the Battle of El Santuario, Crofton and Hand were quartered in Medellín and then Rionegro as part of the ‘pacification’ of Antioquia. [24] The central government authorities retained many doubts about Crofton’s merits once the battle was over. Even when he had plenty of other matters to exercise his thoughts, Minister of War Rafael Urdaneta remained worried about Crofton. Urdaneta warned O’Leary that when he returned to Bogotá and left Antioquia under the command of Coronel Carlos Castelli and Francisco de Urdaneta, there would no longer be ‘a general of your rank who could impose sufficient respect upon Señor Coronel Crofton, whose disobedient nature may irritate or disgust the Antioquians. I suggest that you send him back to Bogotá to avoid such problems, leaving the cavalry under Comandante Hand’s command’. [25]

O’Leary chose to keep Crofton with him until March 1830, by which time they had marched from Antioquia to O’Leary’s new position in Cúcuta, when Bolívar ordered O’Leary to send Crofton and Rupert Hand to Cartagena, in response to ‘the outcry raised against foreigners’ in Bogotá, according to Mary English who was with O’Leary, Crofton and Hand in Cúcuta in March 1830. [26] Daniel O’Leary reluctantly complied with Bolívar’s order. ‘It is a shame to send them away now’, he wrote. ‘Crofton has completely reformed himself. His conduct in Antioquia was irreproachable and I have heard no bad words spoken against him’. [27] Crofton was taken ill in Rosario and his departure was delayed, though he eventually rode for Riohacha to serve under General Mariano Montilla. [28]

This is almost the end of Crofton’s involvement in Colombian history. He re-appears briefly on the Caribbean coast, where he seems to have informally mediated between the Colombian military, Simón Bolívar, and British Royal Navy in mid-1830. Florentino González recounted in his memoirs that as he was waiting on a boat in Cartagena harbour in order to go into exile on 1 July 1830 (González had been in prison in Cartagena for several months for his political activities), Ricardo Crofton passed by him in an English frigate along with one of Simón Bolívar’s assistants. Bolívar himself was in Cartagena at the time preparing his own exile, and Crofton informed Bolívar of González’s presence and ordered his arrest. Help came not from Bolívar but from the British Consul, Mr Watts, who provided González with a safe-conduct pass on a British ship to Jamaica, from where he travelled to Venezuela. [29]

Crofton was exiled from New Granada in January 1832. [30] He did not give evidence at the trial of Rupert Hand, though others – including Francisco de Urdaneta – quoted him in their testimonies. [31] Some of the exiles, possibly including Crofton, were imprisoned in small damp cells in Boca Chica, Cartagena, before being sent to Curaçao. [32] After this we know nothing for certain about Richard Crofton. Perhaps he stayed in the Caribbean, or travelled to North America, or returned to Britain or Ireland. Possibly the ill health noted by O’Leary in 1830 led to Crofton’s early death in 1832 or soon after.

The 1841 United Kingdom Census has two possible candidates who could be our Richard Crofton. One was thirty-five years old, living in Chester-le-Street (County Durham, England) with Mary Crofton, aged thirty, who was either his wife or sister, and his father George, aged seventy-five. This Richard Crofton, however, would have been just twenty-three at the Battle of El Santuario and thus might be too young to fit the bill. The alternative is the Richard Crofton who in 1841 was aged forty and living in Preston, Lancashire, England. He would have been twenty-eight at time of the Battle of El Santuario, the same age as O’Leary and José María Córdova. But in 1841 he was living with his wife Amy Crofton also aged forty; together they had eight children, the eldest of whom was eighteen and therefore had been born in 1823. If Amy Crofton had accompanied Richard Crofton to Bogotá, and if the eldest children were born in New Granada, then this could be still be our man. There are no surviving references to Crofton’s family during his time in Colombia, however, so probably (though not conclusively) this is not our Crofton either. [33]

What Richard Crofton did next remains a mystery. We know as little about his life after Colombia as we do about his experiences before he crossed the Atlantic. All we know is that this Irishman was a celebrated and notorious defender of Simón Bolívar’s dictatorship in Colombia in 1828, 1829 and 1830. We still do not really know why.

Matthew Brown



1. The others are studied in Matthew Brown, Adventuring through Spanish Colonies: Simón Bolívar, Foreign Mercenaries and the Birth of New Nations (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006).

2. Looking for Crofton, I have searched in national and provincial archives in Bogotá, Caracas, Medellín, Rionegro, El Santuario, London, Dublin and Belfast.

3. Eric Lambert, ‘General O' Leary and South America’, Irish Sword, 11:43 (1973), p68. Crofton does not appear at all in Alfred Hasbrouck, Foreign Legionaries in the Liberation of Spanish South America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1928).

4. The Waterloo Medal Roll, compiled from the Muster Rolls (Darlington, East Sussex: The Naval and Military Press, 1992).

5. In December 1827 Primer Comandante Ricardo José Crofton received 2,700 pesos as haberes militares for his services. Only the receipt survives, so the dates Crofton was being paid for remain unknown. ‘Haber Militar Declarado: Año 1827, Mes de Octubre, #2500 al #2599’, Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, Casa de Moneda, Db5494, Receipt #2504, signed Bogotá, 20 December 1827.

6. Ricardo José Crofton et al, Excelentísimo señor Libertador (Bogotá: Valentín Espinosa, 1828), in BNC, Fondo Quijano 261, Pieza 200.

7. Santander, Escritos autobiográficos 1820-1840  (Bogotá: Fundación para la Conmemoración del Bicentenario del Natalicio y el Sesquicentenario de la Muerte del General Francisco de la Paula Santander, 1988), p82, and José María Cordoves Moure, Reminiscencias de Santafe y Bogotá (Madrid, 1962).

8. Pilar Moreno de Angel, Santander (Bogotá: Editorial Kelly, 1988), p435.

9. Antonio José de Sucre to O’Leary, 26 August 1829, in O’Leary, Memorias, Vol. 4, pp511-2.

10. Córdova to Bolívar, 28 January 1829, Popayán, Archivo General de la Nación, Bogotá, Colombia, Sección La República, Secretario de Guerra y Marina, Vol.140, f.1077.

11. Joaquín Posada Gutiérrez, Memorias históricas políticas del General Joaquín Posada Gutierrez (Bogotá: Imprenta Nacional, 1929, first edition 1863), Vol. 1, p190, also Moreno de Angel, Santander, p453.

12. Posada Gutiérrez, Memorias históricas políticas, Vol. 1, p190.

13. Crofton’s own account of these matters has disappeared. Declaración del coronel R J Crofton, Manuscrito original sobre la conspiración de 25 de setiembre de 1828 is recorded in the Catalogue of the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Fondo Pineda as being (before re-cataloguing in the 1990s) in Vitrina 18, Vol. 7, 484, Pieza 36 (MSS 196). In 2002, I was informed that it could no longer be found.

14. Gaceta de Colombia, 28 September 1828, copied by Robert Ker Porter, Diario, 1 November 1828, p356. Less positively, Manuela Sáenz later remembered that Crofton’s principal contribution had been to ‘get in the way’ of other officers. Sáenz to O’Leary, 10 August 1850, Paita, in O’Leary, Narración, Vol. 3, p335.

15. Santander, Escritos autobiográficos, p86.

16. Cited in Eduardo Posada, ‘La libertadora’, Boletín de Historia e Antiguedades, 15:169 (1925), p26.

17. Ezequiel Rojas, El doctor Ezequiel Rojas ante el tribunal de la opinión (Bogotá: Echeverria Hermanos, 1862), pp28-9.

18. Horacio Rodríguez Plata, ‘Santander en el Exilio’, pp92-93, cited in Moreno de Angel, Santander, p471.

19. Posada Gutierrez, Memorias, Vol. 1, p190.

20. Estado Mayor Avendaño to O'Leary, 11 July 1829, Bogotá, reproduced in M.S. Sanchez, ‘O’Leary y su misión a Antioquia: Documentos’, BHA 17:196 (1928), Doc. 2, and O’Leary, Narración, Vol. 3, p462.

21. O’Leary to J.M. Restrepo, 25 February 1849, Bogotá, reproduced in Rayfield, ‘O’Leary y Córdova’, p172.

22. On Rupert Hand, see Matthew Brown, ‘How did Rupert Hand escape from jail? Colombia and the Atlantic Empires, 1830-33’ History 95: 317 (January 2010), available online (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hist.2010.95.issue-317/issuetoc) pp. 25-44.

23. Testimony of Tomás Murray, 24 October 1831, Bogotá, in Enrique Ortega Ricaurte, Asesinato de Córdova (Bogotá: Editorial Kelly, 1942) p115.

24. Carmelo Fernández, Memorias de Carmelo Fernández (Caracas: Biblioteca de la Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1973), p67.

25. R. Urdaneta to O'Leary, 2 November 1829, Bogotá, in O’Leary, Narración, Vol. 3, pp484-485.

26. Mary Greenup to William Greenup, 30 April 1830, Cúcuta, in English Papers, Suffolk County Record Office, Ipswich, HA 157/ 1 /54.

27. O’Leary to Bolívar, 22 March 1830, Rosario de Cúcuta, in Fundación John Boulton, Caracas, Sección Manuel Antonio Matos, M21-A02-E1-C532.

28. O’Leary to Bolívar, 31 March 1830, Rosario de Cúcuta, in FJB SMAM, M21-A02-E1-C534, and O’Leary to Bolívar, 24 March 1830, Rosario de Cúcuta, in FJB SMAM, M21-A02-E1-C533.

29. Florentino González, Memorias (Medellín: Editorial Bedout, 1971), p174.

30. Crofton’s name was on the list of foreigners expelled from New Granada by José María Obando on 23 January 1832, reproduced in Jaime Duarte French, América del Norte a Sur: Corsarios o Libertadores? (Bogotá: Banco Popular, 1975), p520.

31. Testimony of Francisco de Urdaneta, 1 December 1831, Bogotá, in Ortega Ricaurte, ed., Asesinato de Córdova, p.117, and Testimony of Juan Antonio Montoya, 26 November 1831, Santa Fe de Antioquia, in Ortega Ricaurte, ed., Asesinato de Córdova, p130.

32. TNA FO 18/86, reports of Consul Watts.

33. United Kingdom Census for 1841 consulted online at TNA 10 July 2008.

Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2010

Published: 02 March 2010
Edited: 12 October 2010

Brown, Matthew, 'Richard Crofton, Irish Soldier in New Granada’s Battle of El Santuario in 1829: A Work in Progress and Search for More Information' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 7:3 (March 2010), pp. 317-321. Available online  (www.irlandeses.org/imsla1003.htm), accessed .

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