Anson’s circumnavigation, 1740–4

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2011), Volume 19

On the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and the Spanish Empire in the Caribbean in 1739, George Anson was commanded to proceed from England to Manila to harass Spanish shipping along the way. Anson’s squadron originally consisted of six warships: the Centurion (flagship), the Gloucester, the Severn, the Pearl, the Wager and the sloop Tryal, in addition to two store ships, the Anna and the Industry, but only the Centurion made it back to England. The squadron was so late in sailing in 1740 that it tried to round Cape Horn in March and April, when the autumn storms were reaching their furious heights. Two of Anson’s vessels failed to round the Horn, while the Wager was wrecked off Chile. The decrease of his crew from scurvy compelled Anson to collect all survivors aboard the Centurion. His indomitable perseverance, during one of the most arduous voyages in the history of sea adventure, was rewarded by the capture of the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga off Cape Espiritu Santo on 20 June 1743. Anson sold the galleon’s cargo to the Chinese at Macau. He arrived back in England, via the Cape of Good Hope, on 15 June 1744. The prize money, amounting to £1,250,000, made Anson rich for life. A portion was used to improve his family estate at Shugborough, Staffordshire.

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