Commodore Anson

THE expedition under Commodore Anson was fitted out by the English government in the year 1740, to attack the Spanish settlements in America. The squadron consisted of six vessels of war, and two victuallers. These were the:

Ships. Commanders. Guns. Men.
Centurion George Anson 60 400
Gloucester Richard Norris 50 300
Severn Edward Legge 50 300
Pearl Matt. Mitchell 40 250
Wager Dandy Kidd 28 160
Trial Sloop John Murray 8 100

On the 18th of September, 1740, the squadron weighed from St. Helens, and reached Madeira the 25th of October. Having sailed hence, they discovered the land of Brazil, on the 16th of December, and on the evening of the 19th cast anchor at the island of St. Catherines. Having repaired their vessels, they quitted this place on the 18th of January, and on the same day of the following month came to anchor in the Bay of St. Julian. The squadron again stood to sea on the 28th of February, when the Gloucester not being able to purchase her anchor, was obliged to cut her cable, and leave her best bower behind. Having reached the southern extremity of the straits of Le Maire, the wind shifted and blew in violent squalls, and the tide turned furiously against them, driving to the eastward with such rapidity, that the two sternmost vessels, the Wager and the Anna Pink, with the utmost difficulty escaped being dashed in pieces on the shore of Staten Island.

For above three months they struggled with severe gales and terrific waves, and on the 1st of April, the weather, after having been a little more moderate, returned to its former violence; the sky looked dark and gloomy, and the wind began to freshen and blow in squalls; and there were all the appearances of an approaching tempest. Accordingly, on the 3d, there came or a storm, which exceeded in violence and duration all they had hitherto encountered. On the 14th in the morning the weather clearing up a little and the moon shining out on a sudden, the Anna Pink made a signal for seeing land right a-head; and it being then only two miles distant, they were under great apprehensions of running on shore; and had not the wind suddenly shifted, or the moon shone out, every ship must have perished. They found this land, to their disappointment, to be Cape Noir, though they imagined they were ten degrees more to the west. On the evening of the 24th of April, the wind increased to a prodigious storm, and, about midnight, the weather became so thick that the whole squadron separated, nor met again till they reached the island of Juan Fernandez. To add to their misfortunes, the scurvy began to make such havoc, that on board the Centurion only, it carried off forty-three men in the month of April, and twice that number in May.

On the 22d of May the Centurion encountered the severest storm it had yet experienced. Almost all the sails were split; the rigging was destroyed, and a mountainous wave breaking over them on the starboard quarter, gave the vessel such a shock, that several of the shrouds were broke, and the ballast and stores so strangely shifted, that she lay on her larboard side. The wind at length abating a little, they began to exert themselves to stirrup the shrouds, reeve new lanyards, and mend the sails; during which they ran great risk of being driven on the island of Chiloe. After many difficulties they at length reached the island of Juan Fernandez, in a most desponding condition. Here many of the crew died of weariness and disease.

A few days after the Centurion had arrived, the Trial Sloop appeared in sight, and on the 21st of June the Gloucester was discovered to leeward. The Anna Pink arrived about the middle of August, which, with the Trial and Gloucester, mentioned above, were the only vessels that ever joined the squadron; for the Severn and Pearl, having parted from the commodore off Cape Horn, with difficulty reached Brazil, whence they made the best of their way back to Europe, while the Wager was wrecked on the coast. The Anna Pink being judged unfit for service, was taken for the use of the squadron, and her men were sent on board the Gloucester.

About eleven in the morning of the 8th of September, they discovered a sail; when the Centurion, being in the greatest forwardness, made after her as fast as possible. Night coming on they lost sight of the chase. About three in the morning of the 12th, a brisk gale springing up at W. S. W. obliged them to lie upon a N. W. tack, which at break of day, brought them within sight of a sail, at about five leagues distant. She appeared to be a large vessel, and upon hoisting Spanish colors, and bearing towards the Centurion, the commodore ordered everything ready for an engagement; but upon coming nearer, she appeared to be a merchantman, without a single tier of guns, and hail mistaken the Centurion for her conwort. She soon surrendered, and was found to be a valuable prize.

It appearing from letters on board the prize, that several other merchantmen were at sea, between Callao and Valparaiso, the commodore sent the Trial sloop, to cruise off the latter port; and ordered the Gloucester to cruise off the island of Paita, till she should be joined by the Centurion. The Centurion and her prize weighing from the bay of Juan Fernandez, on the 19th of September, took her course to the eastward, proposing to join the Trial off Valparaiso.

On the 24th, in the evening, they came up with the latter, having taken a prize of six hundred tons burden, laden with a rich cargo. On the 27th, the captain of the Trial came on board the Centurion, bringing with him an instrument, subscribed by himself and all his officers, setting forth that the vessel was so leaky and defective, that it was at the hazard of their lives they staid on board upon which, the commodore having ordered the crew and every thing of value to be put on board the prize, the Trial was scuttled and sunk. It was now resolved to join the Gloucester off Paita. With this view they stood to the northward, and, on the 10th of November discovered a sail, which Lieutenant Brett was ordered to chase, with the Trial's pinnace and barge. They found her to be a Spanish vessel of two hundred and seventy tons burden. From the prisoners they learned that, a few days before, a vessel had entered Paita, the master of which told the governor he had been chased by a very large ship, which he imagined to be one of the English squadron, and that the governor had immediately sent an express to Lima, to carry the news to the viceroy, while the royal officer residing at Paita had been busily employed in removing both the king's treasure and his own to Piuza, a town fourteen leagues within land. It was at once conjectured that the ship which had chased the vessel into Paita was the Gloucester; and, as they were now discovered, and the coast would soon be alarmed, so as to prevent cruising to any advantage, the commodore resolved to endeavor to surprise the place that very night.

When the ships were within five leagues of Paita, about ten o'clock at night, Lieutenant Brett, with the boats under his command, put off, and arrived without being discovered, at the mouth of the bay; though he had no sooner entered it, than some of the people on board a vessel riding at anchor there, perceived him, and immediately getting into their boat, rowed towards the shore, crying out the English, the English dogs,' etc., by which the town was alarmed and the attack discovered. The town was, however, taken in less than a quarter of an hour from the first landing of the boats; with the loss of one man killed and two wounded.

They weighed anchor from the coast of Paita on the 16th of November, the squadron being increased to six sail by the prizes. On the morning of the 18th, they discovered the Gloucester with a small vessel in tow, which joined them about three in the afternoon, when they learned that captain Mitchell had taken two prizes, one of which had a cargo consisting of wine, brandy and olives, and about seven thousand pounds in specie; and the other was a launch, the people on board which, when taken, were eating their dinner from silver dishes. Notwithstanding this circumstance, the prisoners alleged that they were very poor: having nothing on board, but cotton made up in jars, which, being removed on board the Gloucester, Were examined, when the whole appeared to be an extraordinary piece of false package; there being concealed among the cotton, doubloons and dollars, to the amount of twelve thousand pounds.

The cargo and crews of the several vessels were afterwards divided between the Centurion and Gloucester. Quitting the coast of America, they stood for China, the 6th of May, 1742. The Gloucester, which had become decayed, was cleared of every thing by the 15th of August, and then set on fire. On the 27th they arrived at the island of Tinian, where they remained some time. On the night of the 22d of September, when it was excessively dark, the wind blew from the eastward with such fury, that those on board despaired of riding out the storm. At this time Mr. Anson was ill of the scurvy, and most of the hands were on shore, and all the hopes of safety of those on board seemed to depend on immediately putting to sea; all communication between the ship and the island being destroyed.

About one o'clock a strong gust, attended with rain and lightning, drove them to sea, where, being unprepared to struggle with the fury of winds and waves, they expected each moment to be their last. When at daybreak, it was perceived by those on shore that the ship was missing, they concluded her lost, and many of them begged the commodore to send the boat round the island to look for the wreck. In the midst of their gloomy reflections, the commodore formed a plan for extricating them from their present situation; which was by hauling the Spanish barque on shore, sawing her asunder, and lengthening her twelve feet; which would enlarge her to near forty tons burden, and enable her to carry them all to China.

But a discouraging circumstance now occurred, which was, that they had neither compass nor quadrant on the island. At length, on rummaging a chest belonging to the Spanish bark, they found a small compass, which though not much superior to those made for the amusement of school-boys, was to them of the utmost importance.

When this obstacle was removed, and all things ready for sailing, it happened on the afternoon of the 11th of October that one of the Gloucester's men being upon a hill, saw the Centurion at a distance. She was soon visible to all, and the next day cast anchor in the road. On the 14th, a sudden gust of wind drove her to sea a second time, but in about five days, they returned again to anchor. On the 20th of October, they set fire to the bark and proa, hoisted in their boats, and got under sail, steering away towards the south end of the island of Macao.

About midnight, on the 5th of November, they made the mainland of China, and on the morning of the 9th, a Chinese pilot came on board, and told them that he would carry the ship into Macao for thirty dollars, which being paid him they proceeded, and on the 12th entered the harbor of Macao. On the 6th of April the Centurion again stood out to sea. On the last day of May they came in sight of Cape Espiritu Santo, where they continued to cruize till the 20th of June, when about sunrise the great Manilla ship came in sight, having the standard of Spain flying at the top-gallantmast head, and to the commodore's surprise, bore down upon him. The engagement soon began, and lasted an hour and a half, when the galleon struck to the Centurion, after having sixty-seven men killed and eightyfour wounded. The Centurion had only two men killed and seventeen wounded. The prize carried five hundred men and thirty-six guns, and her cargo was worth £400,000 sterling. It is impossible to describe the transports on board, when, after all their reiterated disappointments, they at length saw their wishes accomplished. But their joy was very near being suddenly damped by a very alarming accident; for no sooner had the galleon struck, than one of the lieutenants coming to Mr. Anson, whispered him, that the Centurion was dangerously on fire near the powder-room. The commodore received this shocking intelligence without any apparent emotion, and taking care not to alarm his people, gave the necessary orders for extinguishing the fire, which was done, though its first appearance threatened the ship with destruction.

On the 14th, the Centurion cast anchor off Bocca Tigris, forming the mouth of that river: and having got under sail on the 16th of October, 1743, came to anchor in the straits of Sunda on the 3d of January, and continued there till the 8th, taking in wood and water, when she weighed and stood for the Cape of Good Hope, where, on the 11th of March, she came to anchor in Table Bay. Mr. Anson continued here till the 3d of April, 1744, when he put to sea, and on the 19th of the month, was in sight of St. Helena, but did not touch at it.

On the 12th of June they got in sight of the Lizard, and on the evening of the 15th to their great joy, came safe to anchor at Spithead. On his arrival Mr. Anson learned, that under cover of a thick fog, he had run through a French fleet, which was at that time cruizing in the chops of the channel.