The startling history of Anson’s voyage round the world in 1740. ‘A quite remarkably erudite and deeply informed book’ Patrick O’Brian, Daily Telegraph
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’ description 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 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.
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The misadventures of Anson's voyage of 1740-44 make a dramatic story. Only one ship completed the mission, the rest were wrecked, scuttled or forced back shattered. Of the nineteen hundred officers and men who wailed form Spithead, almost fourteen hundred died, most from disease or starvation. Ravaged by scurvy and battered by relentless storms, by the times Anson reached the Chinese coast in November 1742 he was only 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…The book's most lasting impression is of Anson's own fortitude against all the odds – a commander who watched helplessly while his crews 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.
'Remarkable…never was there a tale which joined such horror and pity, disaster and triumph, such fortitude I adversity. Glyn Williams' narrative brings out all the drama of the story…an admirable retelling of a tragic and heroic tale. Nobody else could have done Anson justice as Williams has done, and no one will now need to do so again.
N A M RODGER 'TLS'
'Staggeringly good.. 'The Prize of All the Oceans' is the best book I've read in ages.'
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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