George Anson

At the time of the War of Austrian Succession, Britain found itself fighting the Spanish. Captain George Anson was sent on a mission to raid and plunder the Pacific coast of South America and hopefully link up to a Caribbean expedition that had been sent to Panama, and if possible to capture the annual 'galleon' which linked Mexico and the Philippines.

Anson's squadron consisted of the Centurion (60 guns), the Gloucester (50 guns), the Severn (50 guns), the Pearl (40 guns), the Wager (28 guns), the little sloop Tryal (8 guns), and two storeships. Narrowly missing the Spaniards on the coast of Patagonia, Anson passed through the Strait of Le Maire on 7 March 1741 and began to beat westwards round Cape Horn. Thanks to their delayed departure it was now the worst season of the year, in the worst waters of the world. In the words of Lawrence Millechamp, purser of the Tryal, the weather was still stormy with huge deep, hollow seas that frequently broke quite over us, with constant rain, frost or snow. Our decks were always full of water, and our men constantly falling ill with the scurvy; and the allowance of water being but small reduced us to a most deplorable condition.

When the squadron finally assembled at Mas-a-Tierra in the Juan Fernandez Islands in mid-June, all but the Centurion and Tryal had disappeared. Next month the Gloucester and the storeship Anna struggled in. Of the remainder it was later known that the Wager had been wrecked, and the Severn and Pearl forced back into the Atlantic. Anson was lucky that the Spanish squadron had been even more completely shattered than his own, but in every other respect the rounding of the Horn, though an epic of endurance, was a military disaster. Of 961 men who had sailed in the three surviving warships, scurvy, cold, and privation had killed all but 335, too few to man even the Centurion properly.

It was this disastrous experience that convinced Anson of the value in having a safe port at the Falkland Islands to prepare to round the Horn or to recover from an attempt. His personal experiences made him a vociferous advocate for a permanent British settlement on the islands.

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by Stephen Luscombe