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Betrayal at Malaga  

Betrayal at Malaga  


“The preparations for death are going on rapidly around me as I sit chained. I am to be shot with 60 others in about an hour”.

Robert Boyd’s “calm and perfectly resigned” acceptance of his fate as he wrote in his final letter, dated 10 December, 1831, to his brother William. 

Robert Boyd (1805-1831), an Irishman from Londonderry aged 26, participated in, and partly financed, General Torrijos’ idealistic yet ill-fated expedition to overthrow King Ferdinand VII of Spain in 1831. Through betrayal by a presumed ally, General Moreno, the expedition failed, the participants captured and incarcerated. Then, without any semblance of justice, they were taken out and executed by firing squad.



In early 1830s political unrest simmered in Europe; Spain was no exception. King Ferdinand VII (1784-1833) had been restored to the throne by the British in 1814, on condition that he ruled under the more liberal Constitution of 1812. Unfortunately, Ferdinand reneged on this and avenged himself against his “liberal” opponents which drove many into exile; amongst these was Jose Maria de Torrijos y Uriarte (General Torrijos; 1791-1831).

Torrijos sought refuge in England during the 1820’s. During his time there, he attracted a following of like-minded people seeking to defend the cause of liberty and overthrow the absolutist and repressive regime of Ferdinand VII. Amongst those followers was Boyd, then a lieutenant in the East India Company 65th Regiment of Native Infantry of the Bengal Army.


The 1831 Expedition

Torrijos had been convinced that, on his arrival in Spain, local support would be forthcoming for his uprising. In particular, as they had previously been colleagues, he trusted the messages from General Vicente Gonzalez Moreno (1778-1839), the Governor of Malaga, who was urging him to come to Malaga. Indeed, in one letter, Moreno is said to have stated that “we burn to join your glorious constitutional cause” and in another letter “the district of Malaga was ready to rise with them”.

With this encouragement, Torrijos and his followers (including Boyd) then based in Gibraltar, seized the moment and set sail to Malaga. Halfway there, they were intercepted by Spanish vessels, forced ashore near Fuengirola and sought refuge in a farmhouse. A few hours later they were surrounded by some three hundred troops, commanded by Moreno and were forced to surrender.

It was then that Torrijos discovered that Moreno had betrayed him. Moreno had lured him by promises of support and by invoking his “honour”. When Torrijos confronted him, Moreno replied that “I use the word honour to entrap the enemies of the King”.


Imprisonment in Malaga

After their capture, the prisoners were incarcerated in Malaga. Learning that there was a British prisoner (Boyd), William Mark (Malaga’s British Consul) requested the right to visit his countryman. Moreno denied any knowledge of a British captive despite the fact that the official list of prisoners in Moreno’s possession named the third man on the list as an “Ingles Don Roberto Boyd”.

Undeterred, Mark urgently appealed to Madrid for clemency whilst asking Moreno to take no final action against Boyd before a response had been received. However, Moreno refused to wait and ordered the prisoners be transferred to the Convent del Carmen, then to be executed by firing squad.


Boyd’s final letter 10 December, 1831 to William, his brother

It is in these last excruciating hours that Boyd wrote his final, and moving, letter to his brother, William, as he sits “chained among my fellow sufferers”. However, he continues that he is “calm & perfectly resigned” to his fate, that he is prepared to “fall in defence of what I hold dear”, and that he would “die like a gentleman & soldier”.


Execution at Convento Del Carmen

On the following day, Sunday 11 December, 1831, the first group of prisoners, including both Torrijos and Boyd, were led out and marched to their execution.

This tragic scene was captured in the painting by Antonio Gisbert of The Execution of Torrijos and his Companions on the Beach at Málaga painted for the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid in 1888. The red-headed Robert Boyd, hands bound, may be seen in the middle of the front row.

After his execution, Boyd’s body was rescued and taken to the Consul’s house where it lay in state until the following day, after which it was taken for burial to the English Cemetery.



Given the scandalous treatment of Boyd, a British subject, the affair was debated in Parliament and the press both at the time, and shortly thereafter, when in 1834, Moreno stayed in London. The Government concluded, however, that it had no legal basis for sanctions against Moreno who, in 1839, was assassinated by Carlist soldiers.



Torrijos failed insurrection is today considered a “cause celebre”; each year Malaga holds a commemoration honouring those who perished. In 2019, the Del Prado Museum in Madrid launched a major exhibition to showcase Gisbert’s dramatic painting and other memorabilia. A street has also been named to recognise Robert Boyd’s participation in the affair (Calle Robert Boyd, 29002, Malaga). This is, indeed, a fitting tribute to someone who was prepared to “fall in defence of what I hold dear”.


Michael MacCallan

Note on Author: Robert Boyd was the uncle of William Boyd Carpenter (1841-1918), Bishop of Ripon (1884-1911). William was the great grandfather to Michael MacCallan, the author.

Enviado por José Antonio Sierra



Photographs (suggest this text is given below each picture)

  1. Robert Boyd from W. Boyd Carpenter Some Pages of my Life, (p.97) Williams and Norgate, 1911
  2. Copy of first page of Boyd’s letter of 10 December, 1831 to his brother William.
  3. Text of back of Robert Boyd silhouette. At the back of this silhouette is a hand written note that reads: “The shade of the late Lieut. Robert Boyd of the Hon.E.I. Company, 65 Regt of Bengal NI aged 26. Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him, but weep sore for him that goeth away; for he shall return no more, nor see his native country. Jeremiah 22nd Ch 10 verse. Murdered by Morena Gov of Malaga 11 Dec 1831
  4. Antonio Gisbert’s painting of The Execution of Torrijos and his Companions on the Beach at Málaga. Courtesy of the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid








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