1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anson, George Anson, Baron
ANSON, GEORGE ANSON, Baron (1697-1762), British admiral, was born on the 23rd of April 1697. He was the son of William Anson of Shugborough in Staffordshire, and his wife Isabella Carrier, who was the sister-in-law of Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, a relationship which proved very useful to the future admiral. George Anson entered the navy in February 1712, and by rapid steps became lieutenant in 1716, commander in 1722, and post-captain in 1724. In this rank he served twice on the North American station as captain of the “Scarborough” and the “Squirrel” from 1724 to 1730 and from 1733 to 1735. In 1737 he was appointed to the “Centurion,” 60, on the eve of war with Spain, and when hostilities had begun he was chosen to command as commodore the squadron which was sent to attack her possessions in South America in 1740. The original scheme was ambitious, and was not carried out. Anson’s squadron, which sailed later than had been intended, and was very ill-fitted, consisted of six ships, which were reduced by successive disasters to his flagship the “Centurion.” The lateness of the season forced him to round Cape Horn in very stormy weather, and the navigating instruments of the time did not allow of exact observation. Two of his vessels failed to round the Horn, another, the “Wager,” was wrecked in the Golfo de Pañas on the coast of Chile. By the time Anson reached the island of Juan Fernandez in June 1741, his six ships had been reduced to three, while the strength of his crews had fallen from 961 to 335. In the absence of any effective Spanish force on the coast he was able to harass the enemy, and to capture the town of Paita on the 13th-15th of November 1741. The steady diminution of his crew by sickness, and the worn-out state of his remaining consorts, compelled him at last to collect all the survivors in the “Centurion.” He rested at the island of Tinian, and then made his way to Macao in November 1742. After considerable difficulties with the Chinese, he sailed again with his one remaining vessel to cruise for one of the richly laden galleons which conducted the trade between Mexico and the Philippines. The indomitable perseverance he had shown during one of the most arduous voyages in the history of sea adventure was rewarded by the capture of an immensely rich prize, the “Nuestra Señora de Covadonga,” which was met off Cape Espiritu Santo on the 20th of June 1743. Anson took his prize back to Macao, sold her cargo to the Chinese, keeping the specie, and sailed for England, which he reached by the Cape of Good Hope on the 15th of June 1744. The prize-money earned by the capture of the galleon had made him a rich man for life, and under the influence of irritation caused by the refusal of the admiralty to confirm a captain’s commission he had given to one of his officers, Anson refused the rank of rear-admiral, and was prepared to leave the service. His fame would stand nearly as high as it does if he had done so, but he would be a far less important figure in the history of the navy. By the world at large he is known as the commander of the voyage of circumnavigation, in which success was won by indomitable perseverance, unshaken firmness, and infinite resource. But he was also the severe and capable administrator who during years of hard work at the admiralty did more than any other to raise the navy from the state of corruption and indiscipline into which it had fallen during the first half of the eighteenth century. Great anger had been caused in the country by the condition of the fleet as revealed in the first part of the war with France and Spain, between 1739 and 1747. The need for reform was strongly felt, and the politicians of the day were conscious that it would not be safe to neglect the popular demand for it. In 1745 the duke of Bedford, the new first lord, invited Anson to join the admiralty with the rank of rear-admiral of the white. As subordinate under the duke, or Lord Sandwich, and as first lord himself, Anson was at the admiralty with one short break from 1745 till his death in 1762. His chiefs in the earlier years left him to take the initiative in all measures of reform, and supported him in their own interest. After 1751 he was himself first lord, except for a short time in 1756 and 1757. At his suggestion, or with his advice, the naval administration was thoroughly overhauled. The dockyards were brought into far better order, and though corruption was not banished, it was much reduced. The navy board was compelled to render accounts, a duty it had long neglected. A system of regulating promotion to flag rank, which has been in the main followed ever since, was introduced. The Navy Discipline Act was revised in 1749, and remained unaltered till 1865. Courts martial were put on a sound footing. Inspections of the fleet and the dockyards were established, and the corps of Marines was created in 1755. The progressive improvement which raised the navy to the high state of efficiency it attained in later years dates from Anson’s presence at the admiralty. In 1747 he, without ceasing to be a member of the board, commanded the Channel fleet which on the 3rd of May scattered a large French convoy bound to the East, and West Indies, in an action off Cape Finisterre. Several men-of-war and armed French Indiamen were taken, but the overwhelming superiority of Anson’s fleet (fourteen men-of-war, to six men-of-war and four Indiamen) in the number and weight of ships deprives the action of any strong claim to be considered remarkable. In society Anson seems to have been cold and taciturn. The sneers of Horace Walpole, and the savage attack of Smollett in The Adventures of an Atom, are animated by personal or political spite. Yet they would not have accused him of defects from which he was notoriously free. In political life he may sometimes have given too ready assent to the wishes of powerful politicians. He married the daughter of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke on the 27th of April 1748. There were no children of the marriage. His title of Baron Anson of Soberton was given him in 1747, but became extinct on his death. The title of Viscount Anson was, however, created in 1806 in favour of his great-nephew, the grandson of his sister Janetta and Mr Sambrook Adams, whose father had assumed the name and arms of Anson. The earldom of Lichfield was conferred on the family in the next generation. A fine portrait of the admiral by Reynolds is in the possession of the earl of Lichfield, and there are copies in the National Portrait Gallery and at Greenwich. Anson’s promotions in flag rank were: rear-admiral in 1745, vice-admiral in 1746, and admiral in 1748. In 1749 he became vice-admiral of Great Britain, and in 1761 admiral of the fleet. He died on the 6th of June 1762.
A life of Lord Anson, inaccurate in some details but valuable and interesting, was published by Sir John Barrow in 1839. The standard account of his voyage round the world is that by his chaplain Richard Walter, 1748, often reprinted. A share in the work has been claimed on dubious grounds for Benjamin Robins, the mathematician. Another and much inferior account was published in 1745 by Pascoe Thomas, the schoolmaster of the “Centurion.”