In 1741, Britain and Spain were at war. Commodore Anson and his small squadron battled round Cape Horn into the Pacific to take the war to the Spanish possessions in the South Seas. It was a notable moment in British naval history, when far-sighted men were beginning to realise the great benefits to British trade from a strong Navy with a worldwide reach. There were no accurate charts of the west coast of South America. The marine chronometer had not been invented, so longitude was largely a matter of guesswork. And before the value of lime juice had been recognised, the dreaded scurvy took a grim toll on the health of ships companies.
One of the squadron, HMS Wager, a 6th rate of 28 guns, was driven onto a lee shore in vicious hurricane-force winds and wrecked on an uninhabited island off the coast of what is now Chilean Patagonia. About 140 Wager men reached the land, most of them then to be lost through starvation, exhaustion, hypothermia, drowning, and sometimes violence. Gunner Bulkeley led a party who mutinied against an unpopular captain, and set off in an open boat with no chart. No one approves of mutiny, but his 2500 nautical-mile journey from Chilean Patagonia to Brazil, through the world's worst seas, was an epic feat of navigation, and one of the greatest castaway survival voyages in the annals of the sea. Only 36 men (including Midshipman Byron, grandfather of the poet) eventually made it back to Britain, where their tales of fearful ordeals in a far country caught the imagination of the public.
This book uses their accounts to piece together the story of a dramatic fight for survival under extreme conditions. The wrecking of the Wager had surprisingly lasting effects on both the history of Chile and the administration of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, as this book tells. Anson, justly called the Father of the Navy, saw to it that the lessons of the Wager disaster were learned and some important reforms implemented. In 2006 the wreck was discovered by a British expedition, and it is now being studied by Chilean marine archaeologists. Here in the Wager's extraordinary story, is a record of human endurance and perseverance in the face of almost superhuman adversity.
Author: Rear Admiral C. H. Layman
Title: The Wager Disaster: Mayhem, Mutiny and Murder in the South Seas
First Published by: Uniform Press
Date: 20 January 2015