Thomas Charles James
officer in Simón Bolívar's army and
founder of the Ecuadorian naval school, was born on 26 January
1799 in Queensborough, Drogheda, County Louth, the son of Thomas Wright and
Mary Montgomery. In 1810 Thomas was sent to the naval college at
Portsmouth, and two years later joined the H.M.S. Newcastle
under the command of George Stewart. He sailed in that vessel to
serve with the squadron under Borlase Warren, engaged in
blockading the Atlantic coast of the United States. He was
promoted and went home on leave in 1817. Dating from that time
Thomas Wright seems to have been under the influence of the same
radical and republican ideas that had inspired the French
In November 1817 Wright enlisted as
officer in the British Legion of Bolívar. He sailed on the
brigantine Dowson with 200 other volunteers and valuable
ammunition, and after a series of delays, dangers, and
adventures landed on Margarita Island off the Venezuelan coast
on 3 April 1818. Nine years later, Wright and another Irishman,
Harris, were the only survivors of the thirty-two officers who
had left on the Dowson.
At Angostura (present-day Ciudad
Bolívar), Wright first met Simón Bolívar, for whom he quickly
developed boundless admiration. His first action was at Trapiche
de Gamarra on 27 March 1819. His victory there inspired Bolívar
to undertake his audacious New Granada campaign and the march
across the Andes.
Wright played important roles in the
battles of Pantano de Vargas and Gamesa in July 1819, and in the
decisive victory at Boyacá in August of the same year, after
which he was promoted to captain. In 1820 he was sent back with
his Rifles regiment to the coastal plain to operate in the
jungle east of the Magdalena against the Spanish forces based on
Santa Marta. The battle at Ciénaga de Santa Marta on 10 November
1820 resulted in the fall of this town. Conveyed by sea to
Maracaibo, the Rifles participated on 21 June 1821 in Bolívar's
decisive victory at Carabobo. Cartagena was taken and the Rifles
were brought in boats up the Magdalena en route to Popayán. They
formed part of the contingent led by Bolívar in the second of
his legendary Andean campaigns. After winning the battle at
Bomboná on 7 April 1822, Wright was twice mentioned in Bolívar's
order of the day for his exceptional skill and courage. From
February 1822 Wright was acting lieutenant-colonel, a rank which
was confirmed early in 1823, when he was serving under Sucre,
who joined forces with Bolívar at Quito, Ecuador.
Wright was sent to Guayaquil in
order to improvise a naval force and patrol northwards between
that Ecuadorian city and Panamá. In September 1824, after
Bolívar's great victory at Junín and Sucre's at Ayacucho, the
Spanish made their last bid to turn the tide and sent a fleet to
break the republican blockade in the Peruvian stronghold of
Callao. Wright had had a busy year assuring supplies by sea for
Bolívar's and Sucre's armies. He had greatly impressed Bolívar,
who had appointed him commodore of the Pacific squadron that
joined the patriot naval force off Callao. Trying to force their
way out, the royalist ships became closely engaged with the
blockaders. The brigantine Chimborazo sustained three
water-line hits and was in collision with the ship of the line
Asia, but by virtue of his consummate skill Wright
manoeuvred himself free and avoided being driven ashore. In
January 1826 Callao capitulated and Spanish rule in South
America was ended. Meanwhile Wright on the Chimborazo had
ferried Bolívar from port to port all along the liberated
Pacific coast as far as the Chilean border.
Thomas Wright settled in Guayaquil
in 1826, and founded the nautical school that is still
functioning there. In 1828 the Peruvian government sent the
corvette Libertad to blockade Guayaquil. Wright had
studied intimately the unique swells and currents of the Gulf of
Guayaquil and he used his knowledge to drive off the Libertad.
Wright's Guayaquileña suffered sixty casualties out of
the ninety-six men onboard.
Wright took part at sea and land in
the fighting that ended with the delimitation of the
Ecuador-Peru boundary, and he was specially commended by Sucre
after the victory at Portada de Tarqui. Ecuador achieved
independence on 8 August 1830, and Wright became one of the new
republic's leading citizens. He married María de los Angeles
Victoria Rico, the niece of Vicente Rocafuerte, president of
Ecuador in 1835-1839 and 1843-1845. Wright converted to Roman
Catholicism before the wedding. After María's death, Wright took
her sister Pepita as his second wife. He was then commander of
the Ecuadorian navy and governor of Guayaquil. His courage
during a yellow fever epidemic in 1840 was remarkable.
plot in 1845 overthrew the liberal regime supported by Wright
and he went into exile in Chile for fifteen years. In Chile he
met and exerted a great influence upon the Ecuadorian exile Eloy
Alfaro, who would be president in 1897-1913. Wright returned to
Ecuador in 1860 and was involved in various liberal conspiracies
against the despot Moreno. With his house still surrounded by
police, Thomas Wright died on 10 December 1868.
Cabezas y Cabezas, César,
Biografía del General Almirante Tomás Carlos Wright Montgomery,
1799-1868 (Guayaquil: IHME, 1944).
- Hasbrouck, Alfred.
Foreign Legionaries in the Liberation of Spanish South America.
New York: Columbia University, 1928.
- Ireland, John E. de Courcy.
“Thomas Charles Wright: Soldier of Bolívar; Founder of the
Ecuadorian Navy” in The Irish Sword Vol. VI N° 25
(Winter 1964), pp. 271-275.
- Wright, Eduardo, 'El General de
División Tomás Carlos Wright' in Boletín del Centro de
Investigaciones Históricas 5:7 (Quito, 1937), pp. 412-414.