The Black Rhinoceros of the San Agustin Convent

Kept as a secret for more than 30 years by monks and slaves, the black rhinoceros of Cartagena de Indias became a sensational subject among buccaneers, filibusters, and pirates in the 18th century. First as a rumor among trans-frontiersmen, and later as seed story of printed pirate tales, the encounter of the buccaneer Alexandre Bras-de-Fer with a black rhinoceros in the basement of a convent during the French siege of Cartagena (1697), became a narrative that made the city even more attractive to European empires.

According to the local histories, the black rhinoceros arrived to Cartagena in a slave ship in 1666. It was given as a present to the Governor Don Diego de los Rios by Pedro Gomes Reinel, a Portu- guese slave trader who bought it from the Biohós royal family of Guinea-Bissau. The Governor of Cartagena decided to kept the beast in the basement of the recently built San Agustin convent, and used it as the guardian of a gold and silver coins vault.

Alexandre Bras-de-Fer, who participated in the French military operation (L’expédition de Carthagène) in 1697, narrated in his diary his encounter with the wild animal in the basement of the Claustro of San Agustin, at the heart of the walled city. He described the animal as a monstrous pig the size of two cows, with a single horn in its head, wearing silver armor as a knight, strong as five oxes, and capable of breaking stone walls with its head.


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