Exhibition: George White, Barings' Troubleshooter

7: French occupation of Mexico City

With Puebla fallen the French marched on Mexico City. The Mexican government, recognising their overwhelming weakness, decided to evacuate and White witnessed the public archives and "considerable sums of money" being sent in wagons from the city, followed by the government, its bureaucracy and its troops.

I do not think my presence here can be of any essential service and I shall probably return to England towards the end of the year - White to Baring Brothers

Mexico City was now entirely without defence or police. White was part of a guard formed of 400 Spaniards, 80 Germans and 40 English and Belgians to keep order in the city. By mid June 1863, the occupation of the capital by the French was entirely secure.

From then on White was a careful and patient observer as the French schemed to place the Austrian Archduke Maximilian on to the throne of the Mexican Empire. There was little else to do. He was getting nowhere in settling bondholders claims and in August was quite sure that "the time has not arrived for taking a sufficiently accurate and complete account of the resources and liabilities of the country and is, I fear, still remote. White returned on the November packet, his task not achieved but through no fault of his own, and correctly prophesising that disaster lay ahead for France. The French, he was sure, had gravely misjudged not just Mexican wealth and the spirit of the Mexican people, but the guerrilla war which was about to break out and for which the French army would be so hopelessly unprepared.

In December 1863 he arrived home, safe and sound but the mission had taken its toll on his health.

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