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War of Austrian Succession: Admiral George Anson


Early Life & Career of George Anson:

Born April 23, 1697, George Anson was the second son of William and Isabella Anson of Colwich, Staffordshire. The sister-in-law of the Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Macclesfield, Anson's mother was able to provide some political influence for her son. Entering the Royal Navy on February 2, 1712, Anson proved a quick study and rapidly earned his superiors' respect. Serving on several vessels, he was commissioned as a lieutenant aboard HMS Hampshire (50 guns) by Sir John Norris in 1716. Remaining with the ship for another year, he was shifted to HMS Montagu (60) in 1718.

Serving as Montagu's second lieutenant, he took part in Admiral Sir George Byng's victory at the Battle of Cape Passaro on August 11, 1718. After a period aboard Byng's flagship, HMS Barfleur (90), Anson was promoted to commander in 1722, and given command of the sloop HMS Weazel (8). Employed in the North Sea, Weazel was tasked with intercepting smugglers. A rising star, he was elevated to post-captain in 1724, and given command of the frigate HMS Scarborough. Dispatched to the South Carolina coast, he was ordered protect British commerce in the area from Spanish cruisers and pirates.

Returning to England in 1730, he briefly commanded HMS Diamond (50) in the Channel before returning to the Carolinas with HMS Squirrel. After a lengthy assignment, Squirrel was paid off in 1735, and Anson was sent ashore on half-pay for over two years. Placed back on active duty in December 1737, Anson was given command of HMS Centurion (60) with orders to protect commerce off the west coast of Africa. Completing this assignment, he crossed over to the West Indies before returning to England in late 1739.

Voyage Around the World:

With the start of the War of Jenkins' Ear in October 1739, Anson was selected to lead a squadron to attack the Spanish on the Pacific coast of South America. An ambitious plan, Anson's departure was delayed due to a lack of supplies and men. Initially promised a regiment of soldiers to support his mission, Anson was instead given a mob of pensioners along with a group of newly-enlisted, untrained marines. Given the rank of commodore, Anson flew his pennant from Centurion and led a squadron consisting of HMS Gloucester (50), HMS Severn (50), HMS Pearl (42), HMS Wager (28), the brig HMS Trial, and two store ships.

Finally getting to sea on September 18, 1740, Anson's squadron arrived off Cape Horn during the stormy season. Battling to clear the cape, Severn and Pearl were forced to turn back, while Wager was wrecked on the coast of Chile. Separated, wracked by scurvy, and battered by the weather, only Centurion, Gloucester, and Trial managed to rendezvous at Juan Fernandez Island on June 11, 1741. Assessing the condition of his remaining vessels, Anson found that of the 961 men who had left England aboard the three ships, only 335 remained alive.

Determined to press on with his mission, Anson's force attacked Paita, Peru on November 13-15. Overwhelming the defenders, they sacked and burned the town. Anson next wished to capture the annual Manila-Acapulco treasure galleon, but learned that it had already sailed. With scurvy again decimating his crews and his consorts becoming increasingly unseaworthy, Anson concentrated his remaining men in Centurion and turned west for China. Arriving at Tinian in August 1742, he paused for two months to allow his men to rest and regain their health.

Pressing on to Macao, Anson encountered some difficulties with the Chinese, but was able to refit Centurion and recruit additional crew. Sailing, he steered for the Philippines with the goal of locating one of the Manila galleons. On June 20, 1743, lookouts spotted the galleon Nuestra Señora de Covadonga (36) off Cape Espiritu Santo. Closing, Centurion brought the Spanish ship to battle and forced its surrender. Taking possession, Anson found that it carried the massive sum of 1,313,843 pieces of eight. Taking his prize to Canton, Anson transferred the treasure to Centurion and sold Covadonga.

Anson & the Admiralty:

Returning to England via the Cape of Good Hope, Anson eluded a French fleet in the Channel and anchored at Spithead on June 15, 1744. Hailed as a hero, the treasure was paraded through the streets of London. Immediately raised to rear admiral, Anson refused the commission when the Admiralty elected not to confirm the promotion he had given to his first lieutenant, Peircy Brett, when in China. Wealthy from his prize money, Anson went on half-pay as a captain until a change in leadership at the Admiralty brought him back to active service late that year.

The new First Lord, the Duke of Bedford, confirmed Brett's promotion to captain and re-offered promotion to Anson. Accepting, Anson effectively ran the Admiralty on Bedford's behalf while also representing Hedon in Parliament. Taking command of the Channel Fleet in August 1746, Anson actively patrolled in search of the French. On May 14, 1747, he located a French fleet off Cape Finisterre. In the resulting battle, Anson decisively defeated Admiral de la Jonquière and captured the bulk of his fleet. In recognition of his success, he was promoted to vice admiral and made Baron Anson of Soberton.

After marrying Lady Elizabeth Yorke in April 1748, he returned to an administrative role in the Admiralty under the new First Lord, the Earl of Sandwich. Working to reform the navy, Anson led initiatives to re-write the articles of war, re-structure the marine corps, improve warship design, and reduce corruption in the dockyards. In June 1751, Anson was elevated to First Lord, a position he would hold until 1756 and then again 1757-1762. During his tenure, he continued working to improve the navy's operations and oversaw naval operations during much of the Seven Years' War. Promoted to admiral of the fleet in June 1761, Anson died suddenly at his manor at Moor Park on June 6, 1762. Since his death, seven British warships have carried his name.

Selected Sources

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  5. Naval Leaders & Pioneers
  6. George Anson - Biography of Admiral George Anson

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