Bernardo O'Higgins, national hero of Chile

Started by <k>, February 02, 2013, 07:17:18 PM

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Bernardo O'Higgins

Bernardo O'Higgins (1778-1842) was a Chilean independence leader who, together with José de San Martín, freed Chile from Spanish rule in the Chilean War of Independence. Although he was the second Supreme Director of Chile (1817-1823), he is considered one of Chile's founding fathers, as he was the first holder of this title to head a fully independent Chilean state.

Bernardo O'Higgins was born in 1778, in the town of Chillan, Chile. His father, Ambrose O'Higgins, was an Irishman who emigrated first to Spain, then to South America, where he became Captain-General of Chile and later Viceroy of Peru. In 1790 he sent Bernardo to Peru to study, where he stayed until he was 16, after which his father sent him first to Spain, then to England. In 1802 Bernardo returned to Chile to manage property left to him by his recently deceased father. O'Higgins joined the militia and rose to the rank of Colonel. When Chile rebelled against Spain's rule in 1810 (after Napoleon had invaded Spain and placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne), O'Higgins offered his services and eventually helped drive the Spaniards out of Chile. When a new Spanish force invaded Chile, he was made commander of the revolutionary army but was defeated at the battle of Rancagua in 1814.

O'Higgins, along with other Chilean patriots, fled to Argentina. In 1817, under O'Higgins and José de San Martín, these men came back to win Chacabuco and Maipo, the battles that secured Chilean independence. Chile's provisional government asked O'Higgins to rule the country as supreme director. During his rule, which lasted for six years, he instituted a number of reforms and also helped José de San Martín build forces to fight Spain in Peru. O'Higgins' liberal policies did not suit the Chilean aristocrats. As a result, in 1823 he was forced to resign. Peru offered him asylum, and he went there to spend the rest of his life as an exile. He died in 1842.

Sources: Wikipedia,

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Chile 20 centavos 1952.jpg

O'Higgins first appears on Chile's coinage in 1942.

The same portrait appears on the 20 and 50 centimos coins.

It was used well into the 1950s, with O'Higgins name spelled out in full.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


Chile 1 peso 1957.jpg

The other coin to show his portrait was the peso design introduced in 1942. This is a similar portrait but shows much more detail below the neck.
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See: The Royal Mint Museum.



It is not until 1971 that a different portrait of O'Higgins is used, on the 10 centimos of 1971.

The design was used only on this denomination and only in 1971.

His first name is now given only as an initial in the legend.

Thanks again to Derick for the image.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


Chile 1P 1975-6~.jpg

Chile 1P 1975-6.jpg

Chile redenominated the peso in 1975 and introduced a new 1 peso coin.

For that year only, O'Higgins' name is given in full.

Thereafter he is always referred to on coins as LIBERTADOR B. O'HIGGINS.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.



Since then the portrait has remained essentially the same.

It has varied only slightly to fit the shape of certain polygonal coins.

Above you see another of Derick's image, showing a 50 pesos coin of 2001.

See also Derick's topic about the use (or lack) of the designer name on these portraits:

KM 231 Chile 1994 peso without Thenot
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


I see Chile also (partly) remembers Cochrane

There is no suggestion in the Master and Commander film (Russell Crowe) that Cochrane was also a radical MP who had studied economics at Edinburgh.  Nor that he planned to open a mint along Boulton's lines in Chile, very likely to issue copper coin as part of a liberalising campaign to undermine what he saw as Spanish Mercantilist policies.


Your South American heroes series is pretty good. A common theme is developing: betrayal of the heroes. Those fighting for independence where often enough idealists who rejected Spanish incompetence coupled with arrogance and were inspired by the French and American revolutions. They achieved independence with the help of other idealists, opportunists and a great many soldiers, coming from the lowest social classes.

Once in power, the big landowners, who used to be the backbone of the royalists, grabbed power again, chased the - often politically hapless - revolutionary heroes out and suppressed liberal policies (they would inevitably have included land reform). They maintained fierce racial oppression of Indians and mixed blood people and allied themselves with the Roman Catholic church. That policy set threw the whole continent in a state of non-development, senseless wars over borders, racial discrimination and highly unequal division of income, clogging social ladders.

South America still believes in charismatic leaders who promise to solve poverty and achieve little. It is still against land reform and discriminating by race. The Vatican has effectively silenced individual priests speaking up. The drugs trade adds to misery, poverty and violence but is also a consequence of it, creating a vicious cycle. The wars against Guevara and his imitators have petered out, but the conditions they were built on are unchanged. Hunger is largely defeated, but the favelas and official killings continue to exist. Development is halting at best. That is also the story of these coins.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.