The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

VII. The Literature of Travel, 1700–1900

§ 3. Anson

In 1740–4, commodore Anson, afterwards lord Anson and first lord of the admiralty, made his famous voyage round the world. The account of it was the joint production of Anson himself and his chaplain Walters. The narrative closely holds the reader throughout, describing how a squadron of seven vessels sailed from Spithead for the South sea and Panama, there to join hands with Vernon’s trans-Atlantic expedition; and how, off Tierra del Fuego, by “a continual succession of such tempestuous weather as surprised the oldest and most experienced mariners” it was reduced “to a couple of shattered half-manned cruisers, and a sloop.” After long refitting at Juan Fernandez, two ships sailed out—once more a formidable fighting force. They attacked and burnt the town of Paita; and, after long watching and waiting, they captured the Manila galleon carrying a million and a half of dollars. Finally, Anson reached home in a single treasure-laden ship.

  • Thus was this expedition finished, when it had lasted three years and nine months; after having, by its event, strongly evinced this important truth: That though prudence, intrepidity and perseverance united are not exempted from the blows of adverse fortune, yet in a long series of transactions they usually rise superior to its power, and in the end rarely fail of proving successful.
  • The wreck of the “Wager,” one of Anson’s ships, on a desolate island of southern Chile, produced several narratives. The most notable of these was written twenty-six years after the event by admiral John Byron, nick-named “foul-weather Jack,” who had sailed as a young officer in the “Wager.” It is a most moving and well told story of wanderings by land and sea, and possesses a further literary interest inasmuch as the admiral’s more famous grandson used his “grandad’s narrative” for the description of storm and shipwreck in Don Juan. A typical passage may be given:

  • I had hitherto steered the boat; but one of our men, sinking under the fatigue, expired soon after, which obliged me to take the oar in his room and row against this heart-breaking stream. Whilst I was thus employed, one of our men, whose name was John Bosman, tho’ hitherto the stoutest man among us, fell from his seat under the thwarts, complaining that his strength was quite exhausted for want of food, and that he should die very shortly. As he lay in this condition, he would every now and then break out in the most pathetic wishes for some little sustenance; that two or three mouthfuls might be the means of saving his life. The Captain at this time had a large piece of boiled seal by him and was the only one that was provided with anything like a meal: but we were become so hardened against the impression of others’ sufferings by our own; so familiarised to scenes of this and every other kind of misery, that the poor man’s dying entreaties were vain. I sat next to him when he dropped, and having a few dried shell-fish (about five or six) in my pocket, put one from time to time in his mouth, which served only to prolong his pains; from which, however, soon after my little supply failed, he was released by death. For this and another man … we made a grave in the sands.