The next time you find yourself in Senglea, passing along to the waterfront, don’t go thinking there is a spelling mistake in the street name… You are really walking or driving on Xatt Juan B. Azopardo – and not Azzopardi, which would sound much more Maltese…
It’s no wonder that Juan B. (for Bautista) Azopardo was given a street name by the sea as this native of Malta was nothing less than the founder of the Argentinian navy! He was born in Senglea on February 19th or 20th (depending on who you believe !), 1772 of Maltese parents (Salvatore Azopardo and Rosina Romano). Quite bright, he was granted a scholarship to study naval architecture in the French arsenal of Toulon, where he remained 6 years before he began his life as a sailor. He started by serving briefly in the French and British fleets, then turned against the latter to become a Privateer (a sort of “naval mercenary” that works on behalf of governments) for Holland, Spain and the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata (The United Provinces of South America) which later became, for the most part, Argentina.
When the British invaded Buenos Aires (1806-1807), Azopardo was serving as a second on board the Dromedario frigate under the command of Hippolyte Mourdeille. They teamed up with the Spanish and the forces headed by the French Knight of Malta, Jacques de Liniers (better known as Santiago de Liniers), to participate actively in the defense of the city. As a reward, the Spanish Royal government appointed him Lieutenant-Colonel of the National Militia.
In 1808 he retired from the privateering business and ironically enough, began helping Argentina gain its independence from Spain. Towards the end of 1810, to help Manuel Belgrano (one of the main leaders of the Argentinian separatists) maintain his fighting positions, the Junta (the first Argentinian “government”) gave Lieutenant Colonel Azopardo, command of the first “Argentinian navy”. This encompassed a total of three vessels, including a schooner called Invencible, like the title of his hometown Senglea (città invicta).
On March 2nd 1811, he was defeated by a Spanish squadron, wounded and sent to jail. He would have to wait until 1820, after the Spanish revolution led by liberal Rafael del Riego to be freed and to be able to return to Buenos Aires.
Azopardo was then appointed Capitán del Puerto de Buenos Aires (Harbour Master) and took part in several battles against Francisco Ramírez, the head of the Argentinian Entre Ríos province. He was appointed Colonel of the Navy in 1824. His last battle was waged against Pedro I of Brazil, who had declared war on Argentina in 1825. He died on October 23rd, 1848 at the age of 76.
There is no evidence that he ever returned to Senglea, however, his presence remains visible to this day. The next time you drive into Senglea along the street given his name, make sure to take a moment and see the bust of Azopardo, a local legend.