Colonel William Ferguson

Irish Hero of Simon Bolivar’s South American Campaign

By

Col. W. H. Gibson (Retd.)

Colonel William Owens Ferguson, born in Co. Antrim, was the oldest brother of the poet Sir Samuel Ferguson. He went out to Demerara as a young man, and enlisted in the army of Simon Bolivar, where he rose to the rank of Colonel and served as the Liberator’s aide-de-camp. He was killed in Bogota in 1828, during an assassination attempt on Bolivar, and buried in the National Cathedral there.

Col Ferguson’s uniform on display in the Soldiers & Chiefs Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, Dublin
Col Ferguson’s uniform on display in the Soldiers & Chiefs Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, Dublin

One of Ferguson’s most spectacular exploits was his forced march over the Andes from Peru to Venezuela in late 1826, with a small force of 120 men. The purpose of this mission was to put an end to a revolt by General Paez, when Bolivar was absent in Peru, and Ferguson was tasked with announcing the Liberator’s intention of marching on the rebellious Paez.

After reaching the border of Venezuela, Ferguson found that his companions were exhausted and unable to continue. Undeterred, he rode on alone and, after a series of single-handed confrontations with military and civilian administrators, he persuaded a significant number of the rebellious officers and soldiers to remain loyal to Bolivar. Subsequently, the rebellious General submitted to Bolivar and Ferguson went on to receive the gratitude of his chief, when he joined him in Caracas.

The Gamble family in Canada put the author in contact with Mr. Charles Paterson in Western Australia, who possessed the dress uniform and a hand-written diary belonging to Colonel Ferguson. Within days of our initial contact a fax was received from Mr. Paterson. Shortly afterwards he dispatched the artefacts to Ireland and they now form an important display in the new “Soldiers and Chiefs” military galleries at the National Museum, Collins Barracks in Dublin. Charles Paterson and his wife were given a personal tour of the exhibition by Lar Joye, Curator of the exhibition, a week before the official opening on 5th October 2006. Naturally, they were impressed by the display of the family’s treasured possessions, with William Ferguson’s uniform being given pride of place among the relics of the Irish military diaspora.