On this day…
9 January 1891
On this day in 1891, the Imperial was commandeered by the Chilean government.
Davy Jefferson Davies was chief officer of the steamship Imperial when civil war broke out. The entire Chilean navy had defected in a spectacular coup, leaving the president, Balmaceda, with barely any ships.
Balmaceda needed to transport 4,000 troops along the coast as a defence against the rebels. The Imperial, a fast new vessel, built by Laird Brothers of Birkenhead for the Companía Sud American de Vapores, was moored in Valparaíso harbour.
Balmaceda saw his chance and commandeered the Imperial before rebels could seize it. But without naval officers, the ship was useless. Balmaceda needed crew. He needed a captain.
Army officers stormed the ship and Davy, a Welshman from a humble Cardigan background, was compelled to take on the captaincy. His task, along with his loyal crew, was to transport men and ammunition without being caught by the opposition. From this day onwards, over 40 enemy warships would hunt for them on the high seas.
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