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Admiral of the Fleet
The Lord Anson
First Lord of the Admiralty

In office
Prime Minister The Duke of Newcastle
The Earl of Bute
Preceded by The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
Succeeded by The Earl of Halifax

In office
Prime Minister Henry Pelham
The Duke of Newcastle
Preceded by The Earl of Sandwich
Succeeded by The Earl Temple
Personal details
Born (1697-04-23)April 23, 1697
Staffordshire, England
Died 6 June 1762(1762-06-06) (aged 65)
Moor Park, Hertfordshire, England
Military service
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
Service/branch  Royal Navy
Years of service 1712-1762
Rank Admiral
Commands Admiral of the Fleet
Battles/wars War of the Austrian Succession
War of Jenkins' Ear
Seven Years' War

Admiral of the Fleet George Anson, 1st Baron Anson PC, FRS, RN (23 April 1697 – 6 June 1762)[1] was a British admiral and a wealthy aristocrat, noted for his circumnavigation of the globe and his role overseeing the Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War.[2] During his time in office Anson instituted a series of reforms to the Royal Navy.

Family and early career

George's father was William Anson of Shugborough in Staffordshire and his mother was Isabella Carrier,[1][3] who was the sister-in-law of Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield, the Lord Chancellor, a relationship that 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 Scarborough and of Squirrel from 1724 to 1730 and from 1733 to 1735. In 1737 he gained the command of the 60-gun ship of the line, Centurion. In 1740, on the eve of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), he became commander (with the rank of commodore) of the squadron sent to attack Spanish possessions in South America in the War of Jenkins' Ear.

Voyage around the world

George Anson's capture of the Manila Galleon by Samuel Scott.

The expedition failed to carry out its original ambitious scheme. Anson's ill-equipped squadron sailed later than intended, with only six warships: HMS Centurion (flagship), Gloucester, Severn, Pearl, Wager, and the sloop Tryal, plus the two store ships Anna and Industry.

Successive disasters eventually reduced his force to just Centurion. Two of his vessels, Pearl and Severn, failed to round the Horn and returned home. HMS Wager was wrecked off the coast of Chile, where the crew subsequently mutinied (see the Wager Mutiny). 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 for exact observations. By the time Anson reached the island of Juan Fernández in June 1741, only three of his six ships remained, 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 sack the small port city of Paita in Peru (13 – 15 November 1741). The steady decrease of his crew by scurvy, and the worn-out state of his remaining consorts, compelled him to collect all the remaining survivors in Centurion. He rested at the island of Tinian, and then made his way to Macau in November 1742.

After considerable difficulties with the Chinese, he sailed again with his one remaining vessel to cruise in search of one of the richly laden Manila galleons that 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 gained the reward of the capture of an immensely rich prize, Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, possessing 1,313,843 pieces of eight, which he encountered off Cape Espiritu Santo on 20 June 1743. Anson took his prize back to Macau, sold her cargo to the Chinese, and sailed for England, which he reached via the Cape of Good Hope on 15 June 1744. The prize money earned by the capture of the galleon had made him a rich man for life, and it enabled his heirs to rebuild Shugborough Hall, the family estate.

Anson's chaplain, Richard Walter, recorded the circumnavigation, which he included in A Voyage Round the World published in 1748. It is, "written in brief, perspicuous terms", wrote Thomas Carlyle in his History of Friedrich II, "a real poem in its kind, or romance all fact; one of the pleasantest little books in the world's library at this time".

Portrait of George Anson by Joshua Reynolds, 1755

Battle of Cape Finisterre

Anson was Member of Parliament (MP) for Hedon in Yorkshire from 1744 to 1747. He took command of the Channel Fleet in July 1746 in succession to Admiral Martin.[2]

In May 1747, he commanded the fleet that defeated the French Admiral de la Jonquière at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre,[2] capturing four ships of the line, two frigates and seven merchantmen. In consequence, Anson became very popular, and was promoted to Vice Admiral and elevated to the peerage as Lord Anson, Baron of Soberton, in the County of Southampton.[4]

First Lord of the Admiralty

Anson subsequently continued his naval career with distinction as an administrator, joining the Admiralty Board in December 1744, then becoming First Lord of the Admiralty from June 1751 to November 1756, and again from June 1757 until his death. Among his reforms were the transfer of the Marines from Army to Navy authority, uniforms for commissioned officers, devising a way to effectively get superannuated Captains and Admirals to retire on half-pay and submitting a revision of the Articles of War to Parliament which tightened discipline throughout the Navy. During Anson's period at the Admiralty they maintained a much larger peacetime fleet than had previously been allowed, largely due to the likelihood of imminent war

Seven Years War

Loss of Minorca

He oversaw the Navy for much of the Seven Years War, and established a permanent squadron at Devonport which could patrol the western approaches to both Britain and France. He was particularly concerned at the prospect of a French invasion of the British Isles[5] which led him to keep a large force in the English Channel. In 1756 he was criticised for not sending enough ships with Admiral Byng to relieve Minorca because he wanted to protect Britain from a threatened invasion, only to see Byng fail to save Minorca while no invasion attempt materialised. This led to him briefly leaving the Admiralty, but he returned to the post within a few months following the creation of the Second Newcastle Ministry.[6] Anson instituted a massive expansion of the Royal Navy, resulting in record numbers of ships and of men.

French Invasion plans

Anson oversaw Britain's naval response to a more serious French invasion attempt in 1759. He instituted a close blockade of the French coast, which proved crippling to the French economy and ensured no invasion fleet could slip out undetected. The British victories at the Battle of Lagos and the Battle of Quiberon Bay destroyed any realistic hope of a major invasion of the British Isles,[7] although a small force landed on the Irish coast.

Global expeditions

As well as securing home defence, Anson co-ordinated with Pitt a series of British attacks on French colonies around the globe. By 1760 the British had captured Canada, Senegal and Guadeloupe from the French, and followed it up by capturing Belle Île and Dominica in 1761. In 1762 the entry of Spain into the war offered further chances for British expeditions. Anson was the architect of a plan to capture Havana and seize Manila in the Philippines. Anson had been concerned that the combined strength of the French and Spanish navies would overpower Britain, but he still threw himself into the task of directing these expeditions. The British also captured Martinique and Grenada in the French West Indies.[8]

In June 1761 he was advanced to the post of Admiral of the Fleet.[2] By this stage, Anson had grown very ill. He retired to Bath where he died.[9] He is buried at St Michael and All Angels Church in Colwich, a short distance from Shugborough Hall, where he is also commemorated by a wall tablet next to the altar.


Seven British warships have borne the name HMS Anson in his honour, as well as the Avro Anson aircraft of the RAF. Anson, Maine; Anson County, North Carolina; and the Ansonborough neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina are named in Anson's honour, as well as a school house named at The Royal Hospital School.

In literature

  • Anson's circumnavigation of the globe is the subject of the novels The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore by Patrick O'Brian.
  • Anson's accomplishments and "wasted opportunities" discussed by fictional characters Capt. Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin late in the novel "Post Captain" by Patrick O'Brian.
  • He is also mentioned in Thomas Pynchon's novel, Mason and Dixon.
  • An incident on the round the world voyage is the subject of William Cowper's famed poem The Castaway.
  • George Anson is mentioned in J.-J. Rousseau's Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) as leading an expedition around the world which the novel's protagonist, St. Preux, is urged to join by his friend, Mylord Edouard (himself a friend of Anson's), so as to separate him from Julie, who is married to Mr de Wolmar. (vol. 3, letter xxv). St-Preux, a neo-romantic hero, will come back (he who wanted to die) after "having much suffered, and having seen even more suffering ..." This tale of thwarted love ("Héloïse" refers to the history of Héloïse and Abélard) was a best-seller at the time, Rousseau's book so scrambled after that it was rented by the hour in the book-shops. So Commodore Anson became known to a multitude of francophone readers, who possibly were enticed to read Walter's account afterwards, enhancing their love for nature and the "mythe du bon sauvage" who lies hidden in its pages.

A full-length novel by F. Van Wyck Mason, Manila Galleon, (1961) recounts the entire voyage of George Anson's expedition, including his flotilla's harrowing efforts to round the Horn, and the eventual success of Centurion in capturing the Manila Galleon.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Record for Admiral George Anson, 1st and last Lord Anson on
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3  "Anson, George (1697-1762)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  3. G. E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H. A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume I, page 173.
  4. "No. 8648". 9 June 1747. 
  5. Lambert p.149
  6. Lambert p.143-45
  7. Anderson p.381-83
  8. Corbett p.209-27
  9. Corbett p.297-98


  • Corbett, Julian Stafford. England in the Seven Years War: A study in combined operations, Volume II. London, 1907.
  • Knight, Frank. Captain Anson and the Treasure of Spain. MacMillan, 1959.
  • Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Faber and Faber, 2001
  • Lambert, Andrew. Admirals: The Naval Commander Who Made Britain Great. Faber and Faber, 2009.

External links

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Earl of Mountrath
George Berkeley
Member of Parliament for Hedon
1744 – 1747
With: George Berkeley 1742–46
Samuel Gumley 1746 – Feb 47
Luke Robinson from Feb 1747
Succeeded by
Sir John Savile
Luke Robinson
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Sandwich
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Earl Temple
Preceded by
The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Earl of Halifax
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir George Clinton
Admiral of the Fleet
Succeeded by
Sir William Rowley
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir John Norris
Vice-Admiral of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Henry Osborn
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Baron Anson

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