O'Higgins Riquelme, Bernardo

Prominent Refugees, 20 August 1778

Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme

Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme

General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme, founding father of the Republic of Chile, was forced into exile in Peru in 1823, where he remained till his dying days.

O'Higgins was born in Chillán in south-central Chile. He was the son of Ambrosio O'Higgins, an Irish-born high-ranking official in the service of the Spanish crown, and Isabel Riquelme, the Chilean Creole daughter of an aristocratic colonial family.

The young Bernardo was sent to England, where he was educated in the manner of a typical young Englishman. His math teacher, however, was Francisco de Miranda, a campaigner for Latin American independence. O'Higgins became close to the young Latin American revolutionaries known as the Lautarina Lodge. He returned to Chile in 1802 and while running the ranch he inherited from his father, secretly diffused separatist ideas. When the campaign against Spanish rule was unleashed in 1810, O'Higgins was largely responsible for the recruitment and training of two military regiments.

He stood out as a courageous and daring revolutionary military leader. After defeat at the battle of Rancagua, he took refuge in Argentina. There, together with the Argentine general, José de San Martín, he planned to invade Chile. In January 1817, his forces crossed the Andes and on February 12, they defeated the royalists. On February 18, 1817, O'Higgins was appointed Supreme Director of Chile.

His principal preoccupation was to oust all remaining Spanish troops. His next project was to embark on the liberation of Peru, which he attempted in 1820. However, the campaign failed and after an uprising in the south of Chile, he was placed under house arrest by General Ramón Freire.

O'Higgins was finally granted a passport in July 1823, and left his country for exile, accompanied by his mother, his stepsister and his young son. He headed for Peru, intending to continue on to Ireland or England. But when he arrived in Peru and saw the situation the country was in, he decided to stay and help the independence cause.

During his Peruvian exile, he met Simón Bolivar, "The Liberator", who was preparing the final offensive against Spanish troops in Peru. O'Higgins requested that Bolivar enlist him in the army as an ordinary soldier. Bolivar appointed him as a general and eventually the Spanish were decisively defeated in the battle of Ayacucho.

In his last years, O'Higgins ran a ranch in Peru, but it ran into financial difficulties and he became seriously ill. His one wish was to return to Chile. In 1841, he received authorisation to return, but shortly afterwards, he suffered from a series of heart attacks. In October 1842, the Chilean government officially reinstated him as a commander in chief, but before he could return, he died in Lima on October 23, 1842.