On October 19, 1842, Texas charge d'affaires in London, Dr. Ashbel Smith, wrote a long letter home to Texas Secretary of State Anson Jones.
The two most formidable warships ever built were headed for the Gulf of Mexico...bought and paid for by the the Mexican government.
The larger of the two frigates, Montezuma, was a wooden-hulled ironclad. Guadalupe was twenty feet shorter at 183 feet, but she had a special distinction. She was the first iron-hulled steam warship in the world. That combined with her two explosive shell firing Paixhan guns made everything else afloat obsolete.
But Mexico was getting more than just fancy new equipment for her pesos.
As Smith wrote in his letter:
"The Guadalupe was fully armed and equipped as a vessel of war, manned with a war complement of British Seamen, commanded by Capt Charlewood of the British Navy, her Master and Gunner being also of the British Navy. She sailed from Liverpool for Vera Cruz on 4th of July 1842.
The Montezuma was also a vessel of War; she was manned with upwards of sixty British seamen, had on board a thousand stand of small arms and munitions of war. She was commanded by Capt Cleveland of the Royal Navy. She sailed on the 29th Ultimo from Gravesend for Vera Cruz.
The seamen of both the Frigates were enlisted for the service of Mexico against Texas."
Meanwhile, back in the Gulf, Commodore Edwin Moore of the Texas Navy was fighting his own government to keep the little Texian fleet afloat.
President Houston, newly returned to office, had ordered Moore to bring the fleet back to Galveston and sell it. Sam had his reasons, some fiscal, some diplomatic, but Commodore Moore cared nothing about them. He was not going to sell the fleet.
So instead he rented it out. To the Yucatan. The Yucatecos were fighting against the Centralists just as the Texians had been six years earlier, and needed help to break the blockade of their coast. For $8000 a month Commodore Moore put the Texas fleet at their disposal.
Enter Montezuma and Guadalupe.
On May 16, 1843, the Texas flotilla encountered the English-Mexican marvels and gamely moved in. But the wind died and the Texas vessels were left becalmed while Montezuma and Guadalupe trained their enormous 48 and 62 pounders on them and kept up the fire for two hours.
Then the wind picked up as suddenly as it had died, and Moore sailed the sloop-of-war Austin between the two steamers, where they could not fire without endangering each other.
The Austin got off 530 rounds before the Mexican ships could disengage.
Guadalupe suffered 47 killed and lost one of her paddles. Montezumalost 40 men, including Captain Cleveland of the Royal Navy.
The Battle of Campeche marked the first time exploding shells had been used in a naval engagement. It is also the only time steamers where ever defeated by sailing ships.
Of course Mexico was not just going to abandon her investment in those big modern warships. They would have to be repaired and refitted.
After some inquiries, the Mexican government found a shipyard willing and capable of doing the work. It was the Sectional Dry-dock Company in New York City.