Francisco Burdett O'Connor

Francisco Burdett O'Connor (12 June 1791 - 5 October 1871) (born Francis Burdett O'Connor) was an officer in the Irish Legion of Simón Bolívar's army in Venezuela. He later became chief of staff to Antonio José de Sucre and minister of war in Bolivia.[1]

Francisco Burdett O'Connor in old age


Francis Burdett O'Connor was born in Cork, Ireland, into a prominent Protestant family. His parents were Roger O'Connor and Wilhamena Bowen. His uncle Arthur O'Connor (1753-1852) was the agent in France for Robert Emmet's rebellion of the United Irishmen. His brother was the MP and Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor (1794-1855).[2] He spent much of his childhood in Dangan Castle, former childhood home of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

O'Connor's father Roger was known for his eccentricities. After his wife died in 1806, he became increasingly erratic. Matters worsened in 1809 when there was a serious fire that destroyed part of the house. Francisco wrote in his autobiography 60 years later that he had accidentally started the fire himself when melting lead to create bullets.[3] In 1817 his father was arrested for allegedly organising a mail robbery. He was acquitted, but local rumours continued to blame him for the crime. The family no longer felt welcome in the area. Francis and his brother Feargus decided to leave, stealing horses from their brother Roderic, travelling to London and asking to be taken in by family friend M.P. Francis Burdett. Burdett looked after them, and Francisco later added his name to his surname.

Venezuela and ColombiaEdit

In 1819, Francis O'Connor enlisted in the Latin American independence cause of Simon Bolivar, and sailed from Dublin with 100 officers and 101 men of the Irish Legion under the command of Colonel William Aylmer. The force arrived at Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela in September 1819 to find that conditions were squalid and nothing was prepared.[1] After losses through death and desertion, in March 1820 the force attacked the city of Riohacha on the mainland, which they temporarily occupied. Later the force was involved in the siege of Cartagena and the campaign against Santa Marta. However, the Irish soldiers became demoralized by the cautious and inept conduct of the war by General Mariano Montilla and indiscipline evolved into mutiny. In June, 1820 the force was disarmed and shipped to Jamaica.[4]

Peru and BoliviaEdit

A Bolivian stamp commemorating O'Connor

O’Connor joined the United Army of Liberation in Peru in 1824, and six months later Bolívar appointed him chief of staff. He fought at the Battle of Junín in August 1824 against heavy odds and chose the site of the Battle of Ayacucho. In 1825 Antonio José de Sucre chose him to direct the Campaign in Upper Peru, the final operation of the war, the pursuit and elimination of general Pedro Antonio Olañeta, the last royalist commander to offer resistance.[5]

In 1826 Francisco O'Connor was appointed military governor of Tarija. In 1827, he published a proclamation encouraging Irish people to settle in the 'New Erin' of Tarija. He was involved in the later wars between the successor states in South America, helping to defeat an Argentine army at the Battle of Montenegro in Bolivia on 24 June 1838.

He died in Tarija on 5 October 1871 at eighty years of age.[1] His memoirs entitled Independencia Americana: Recuerdos de Francisco Burdett O'Connor were published in 1895.[6]


  1. ^ a b c James Dunkerley (2000). Warriors and scribes: essays on the history and politics of Latin America. Verso. ISBN 1-85984-754-4.
  2. ^ Graham Wallas (1895). "O'Connor, Feargus" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 41. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 400.
  3. ^ Francisco Burdett O'Connor, Recuerdos (1895) (La Paz, 1972), p. 5.
  4. ^ Brian McGinn (November 1991). "Venezuela's Irish Legacy". Irish America Magazine (New York) Vol. VII, No. XI. pp. 34–37. Archived from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2009.
  5. ^ James Dunkerley (2000). Americana: the Americas in the world around 1850 (or 'seeing the elephant' as the theme for an imaginary western. Verso. p. 461ff. ISBN 1-85984-753-6.
  6. ^ Mary N. Harris. "Irish Historical Writing on Latin America, and on Irish Links with Latin America" (PDF). National University of Ireland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 November 2008. Retrieved 9 May 2009.