Part 3: Growing pains, civil war and industrialization (1850-1875)
By the end of the 1850s, the constant conflict with the northern indigenous tribes in the northern islands was teetering closely towards a full insurrection. A loose alliance of warlords led by the local strongman Manuel Portillo refused to submit to federal authority in the resource rich province of Aires, and backed his words with thousands of tough native warriors and mercenaries. Turning to smugglers for arms, he received help from British merchants, to the annoyance of the federal government. The war between the rebels and the capital lasts well into the 1860s, eating away at the treasury with the expenses of supplying the fighting men and the ships which prowled the coast seeking to interdict arms shipments. In May 1862, the corvette Santo Domingo
seizes and boards the first of several British-flagged vessels carrying stores and arms for the rebels. Despite British pressure to release the ship, the navy refuses, and takes the ship into service as its own as a transport for the war. Two months later, the Constitución
comes upon another British ship refusing to allow itself to be boarded, and in a short but uneven battle, the Lisenian navy's flagship riddles her with cannon fire and boards it. The ship is taken with great loss of life, and her captain is imprisoned ashore.
The bombardment of Las Perlas by the Royal Navy.
The British government is incensed, and demands the crew's release and indemnities to be paid. Lisenia's hardline government refuses, and as a result, a British squadron is sent to the Perlas islands to force the release of their ships and men. When the Lisenians refuse yet again, the British bombard the islands in August, obliterating the pathetically ancient shore batteries and finding the Constitución
moored alone and defenseless, reduce the navy's flagship to burning timbers. Without any serious possibility of response against the superior British squadron, the Lisenians are forced to comply and enter negotiations with the British to stop the outbreak of violence. Under threat of embargo and bombardment of the national capital, the Congress orders the ships and crews released, and humiliatingly concedes to a 99-year lease of the Perlas islands, with their sheltered natural harbor and coaling station, and to payment of indemnities.
With the loss of the islands and the embarrassing destruction of the navy's pride and flagship, the navy receives funds to purchase new vessels. Turning to France again, the navy orders two new corvettes in 1864, which it receives at a reduced price thanks to the Lisenian government's support for French expansion in Indochina. The new Peña Blanca
steam corvettes were faster than their predecessors, were fitted with improved artillery, and had more reliable steam machinery. Naval funding would be limited after the ships arrived however, when the hysteria over the narrowly-avoided British bombardment drove Congress to divert funding away from ships towards improving coastal defenses. Despite this, a new type of vessel was ordered in 1871, the ironclad monitors of the Tinu
class, the last of which was contracted to a local shipyard, being the first iron-hulled vessel to be built in the country. Armed with 70-pdr Whitworth guns, these monitors were soon put to good use prowling the rivers of the northern provinces, shelling rebel towns and enforcing the blockade of their ports.
By 1874, the northern insurrection was close to defeat, having lost much of their territory and with their backs to the sea, Portillo and his remaining forces retreated into the city of San Nicolas which was protected by an old Spanish coastal fort. Here, federal troops laid siege for several months until disease and exhaustion within the city was such that Portillo was forced to surrender. Tried and imprisoned for treason, his army was disbanded and the rebelling provinces were re-incorporated into the republic. With these resource-rich provinces back in the fold, Congress set about reconstructing the national economy, and focusing energies and the treasury towards industrializing the nation, enlisting to that end, French and American engineers to help modernize the country as textiles, fruit, rice and whaling became profitable. At great expense, work began on the first stretch of an eventual nationwide railroad system, which in future years would be an important engine for growth in the young republic.