Antonio de Tova y Arredondo (1760-1825), the son of Lorenzo de Tova Arredondo and Josefa de la Tijera Ruiz de la Escalera, was born on October 16, 1760, in Riva de Ruesga, Santander. His early life is completely unknown, but he probably spent his childhood in Rivade Ruesga. At thirteen Antonio joined the Real Compañía de Guardias Marinas. He remained active in the service for more than fifty years, during eighteen of which he was an officer in command of several ships. After two years of training, in March 1775, Tova began his service as second ensign aboard the ship Santa Úrsula, participating actively in the expedition to North Africa. He also served aboard the packet Santa Ana and later on the San José, and the Diligente. After these missions, he took up residence at the port of El Ferrol, where he continued his education and training.

    In 1776, aboard the Magnánimo, Tova left Cádiz to cross the Atlantic to Havana and other Spanish ports in the Caribbean. Promoted to first ensign, he served aboard the España and San Vicente. On the España he participated in the first naval campaign against England in the English Channel. For his actions, he was promoted to lieutenant. In November 1781, Lieutenant Tova was ordered to escort a number of regiments to Peru. After this commission, the Navy sent him back once again to the Caribbean. He became commander at the age of twenty-three, and returned to Spain in 1784. He was appointed first lieutenant in 1787, and in 1788 he was invited by his friend Captain José Bustamante y Guerra to participate in the scientific expedition being prepared by Alexandro Malaspina and Bustamante y Guerra himself. He would serve as second in command of the corvette Atrevida until 1793, when he was transferred to an unidentified ship, supposedly the Descubierta. During this long voyage, Lieutenant Tova completed several tasks as astronomer and cartographer. Upon the return of the expedition to Cádiz, he refused the furlough offered by the king and remained in Cádiz awaiting further orders. He was commissioned at El Ferrol, in December 1794, and the following January he obtained a command as ship captain of the Flora. However, because his delicate health had worsened seriously, the king granted Tova a furlough to return to his hometown, Riva de Ruesga, in May 1795. Months later, he was assigned to the fleet of Santander. This position allowed him to rest and recover, and eventually to request a new assignment. By April 30, 1796 he was in Cádiz, but finally the illness that had been afflicting him for years forced him to leave the service again in 1798.

    On January 22, 1799, Tova was commissioned to the port of Santander for the second time. On February 14, he participated voluntarily in his last wartime assignment. His orders sent him against the British fleet that was harassing Cádiz. Tova again retired for medical reasons, but in 1800 he requested the command of the fleet of Santander. His request was denied, and in 1802 he sought the fleet of Cartagena, which was also denied. Finally, another request, in 1803, led Tova to his appointment in 1805 as commander of the fleet at Bilbao. There he served until war against France was declared.

    Despite his poor health, he assisted in the early years of the war with the defence of the city of Bilbao. Tova became a member of the Junta de Gobierno y Guerra de la Villa, until it was defeated in August 1808, following a successful French attack on the city. Tova found himself in the middle of the conflict, harassing French intruders in every possible way. For these actions the French government accused him of instigating resistance in Santander. One year later, Tova was formally accused by Napoleon as a traitor, incarcerated, and his employment terminated. A legal process, however, placed Tova back at the Comandancia de Marina de Bilbao in May 1814.

    Although he was finally restored to service and promoted to brigadier of the Armada, he was also under the deepest economic stress. His situation was so desperate that he was obliged to claim the money he had expended to cover costs resulting from the illness of his sister, Rita. He spent the last active days of his life in Bilbao. As a consequence of his good reputation he was
honored with the Plaque of San Hermenegildo.

    In 1819, he was once again allowed to take a year off from the service for health reasons. During this period, from 1819 to 1821, he was regent of the Valle de Ruesga, and chief magistrate of Riva. This was a very active period, dedicated to his hometown where he attended to many duties as the executor and administrator of his neighbors’ properties. For unknown reasons, however, Tova was taken as a prisoner to France in 1823, but, in 1824, still a prisoner, was returned to Laredo, where he took up residence after being released. On February 6, 1825, Tova was absolved, but he would never return to the service, and he died five months later in Laredo on June 18 of the same year. Throughout his long career, Tova never married.

Enrique J. Porrua

Updated: December 20, 2005