Book Review-‘The Wager Disaster: Mayhem, mutiny and murder in the South Seas’ by C. H. Layman
In this engaging book Rear Admiral C. H. Layman brings his naval erudition and years of research to bear on one of the most fascinating and macabre episodes in all of maritime history: the Wager disaster. Layman brings primary sources, contemporary accounts, modern experts and his own editing skills together to offer a carefully curated overview of the context, events, and aftermath of an interesting, and under-studied, moment in eighteenth-century naval history.
Eager to show that the Wager story is not an oddity, but rather a window into larger naval history, Layman starts his story with the planning of the Anson expedition, in which the Wager, an East Indiaman, was bought, converted, and rechristened as a Sixth Rate ship of 28 guns. Anson was sent to disrupt Spanish trade in the Pacific as part of the War of Jenkin’s Ear, which became subsumed in the larger War of Austrian Succession. A lack of marines and sailors to man the squadron, as well as supplies to prepare the ships, delayed Anson’s sailing until late in 1740, meaning his squadron was to round Cape Horn at the worst possible time of year…