The 1741 sinking of the 28-gun, square-rigged HMS Wager, lead to a curious mutiny afterward. She became a Royal Navy ship in 1739 after working for several years for the East India Company. Wager would soon make for the west coast of South America, carrying small arms for shore raid parties eager to attack Spanish interests in the area.
Six warships and two transport vessels made up the squadron under the command of Commodore George Anson but they encountered severe weather as they rounded Cape Horn and the ships became separated. Wager was under the command of her second captain, acting captain David Cheap, who raised in rank after the original Captain Dandy Kidd died on route.
While attempting to get back to the squadron, Wager unknowingly sailed into an uncharted bay that would seal her fate. Land was sighted on the afternoon of May 13 and a mad dash to turn the ship from west/northwest to southwest begun. In the midst of the ensuing attempt, Captain Cheap dislocated his shoulder after falling down the quarterdeck ladder and he had to be confined below decks.
In the early hours of May 14, 1741, Wager broke her tiller and partially flooded after being smashed against the rocks, drowning some of the sick crewmen who were confined to hammocks in the bowels of the ship. It wasn’t long before she ran aground but the crew were able to make land, although in a desolate area of an unknown island.
With Wager‘s loss came the loss of authority which split the remaining crew. Tensions ran high. Captain Cheap and 20 men stayed on what would become Wager Island. The ship’s gunner, Mr. Bulkley, took 81 men in the ship’s boat and headed for England, the majority of them died on the way. Many of the group with Captain Cheap also died as they tried to reach an inhabited area of Chile, helped by native guides. Captain Cheap and three others made it back to England in 1745 — two years after Bulkley’s surviving men arrived.
The public were fascinated with the many survivor accounts. Patrick O’Brian wrote a novel based on the stories called The Unknown Shore published in 1959.
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© Copyright Vince Capone 2013