The Prize of All the Oceans

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9780002571258: The Prize of All the Oceans

History of Anson’s voyage round the world in 1740.

Anson’s voyage of 1740-44 holds a unique and terrible place in British naval history. The misadventures of this first attempt by Royal Navy ships to sail round the world make a dramatic story of hardship, disaster, mutiny and heroism. Only one of Anson’s squadron, the flagship CENTURION, completed its mission. The other vessels were wrecked, scuttled or forced back in shattered condition. Out of 1850 officers and men who sailed from Spithead in September 1740, almost fourteen hundred died, most from disease or starvation.

With crews ravaged by scurvy, Anson’s ships were battered by relentless storms as they attempted to round Cape Horn. Two of the six men-of-war in the squadron turned back, their captains to face later accusations of desertion. A third, the WAGER, was wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Chile in circumstances in which all discipline vanished; Williams’ account of the ensuing mutiny and the survival of the largest group in a tiny makeshift vessel sailing hundreds of miles south to safety in appalling conditions is a classic account in what is, I think, itself set to be a classic sea history.

When Anson reached the coast of China in November 1742 he was left with one ship and a handful of men, some of whom had ‘turned mad and idiots’. Despite this he was determined to capture ‘the Prize of All the Oceans’, the legendary Spanish treasure ship making its annual voyage from Acapulco to Manila. In this he succeeded, and returned home a hero; like Drake himself, one of the great British masters of the sea.

Glyn Williams has recently retired as a Lecturer in history at Queen Mary’s; to say that what he has written is a kind of nonfictional Patrick O’Brian has some truth, especially since two of O’Brian’s novels are based on incidents from this voyage: the sheer narrative power of this perfectly recounted history is a joy, and it is delivered with all the poise of someone completely in command of his subject.

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From the Back Cover:

Anson's voyage of 1740-44 holds a unique and terrible place in British naval history. The misadventures of this first attempt by royal Navy ships to sail round the world make a dramatics story of hardship, disaster, mutiny and heroism. Only one of Anson's squadron, the flagship 'Centurion,' completed its mission. The other vessels were wrecked, scuttled or forced back in shattered condition. Out of nineteen hundred men who sailed from Spithead in September 1740, almost fourteen hundred died, most from disease or starvation.

With crews ravaged by scurvy, Anson's ships were battered by relentless storms as they attempted to round Cape Horn. Two of the six men-of-war in the squadron turned back, their captains later to face accusations of desertion. A third, the 'Wager' was wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Chile. Williams's account of the ensuing mutiny and the survival of the largest group in a tiny makeshift vessel, sailing hundreds of miles south to safety in appalling conditions, is epic in its proportions.

When Anson reached the coast of China in November 1742 he was left with one ship and a handful of men. Despite this he was determined to capture 'the prize of all the oceans', the legendary Spanish treasure making its annual voyage from Acapulco to Manila. In this he succeeded, and returned home a hero; like drake himself, one of the great British masters of the sea.

The sheer narrative of Glyn Williams's perfectly recounted history is a joy. But the most lasting impression is of Anson's own fortitude in the face of all the odds. This story is of a commander who watched helplessly while his crew died in their hundreds, who hauled ropes alongside his men and tended them when they were ill; but who never wavered in his determination to return home triumphant. The tale is delivered with the poise of someone completely in command of his subject, and is set to become a classic.

About the Author:

Glyn Williams has been Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College since 1974. His main teaching interests are the history of exploration, the history of Europe overseas, and British imperial history. He has travelled and lectured in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies. He is Emeritus Professor of the University of London. He lives in Kent.

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GLYN WILLIAMS
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GLYN WILLIAMS
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