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The Prize of All the Oceans [Paperback]

Glyn Williams
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Sep 2000

The startling history of Anson’s voyage round the world in 1740. ‘A quite remarkably erudite and deeply informed book’ Patrick O’Brian, Daily Telegraph

Anson’s voyage of 1740-44 holds a unique and terrible place in British naval history. The misadventures of this first attempt by Royal Navy ships to sail round the world make a dramatic story of hardship, disaster, mutiny and heroism. Only one of Anson’s squadron, the flagship Centurion, completed its mission. The other vessels were wrecked, scuttled or forced back in shattered condition. Out of 1850 officers and men who sailed from Spithead in September 1740, almost fourteen hundred died, most from disease or starvation. With crews ravaged by scurvy, Anson’s ships were battered by relentless storms as they attempted to round Cape Horn. Two of the six men-of-war in the squadron turned back, their captains to face later accusations of desertion. A third, the Wager, was wrecked on a desolate island off the coast of Chile in circumstances in which all discipline vanished; Williams’ description of the ensuing mutiny and the survival of the largest group in a tiny makeshift vessel sailing hundreds of miles south to safety in appalling conditions is a classic account in what is set to be a classic sea history. When Anson reached the coast of China in November 1742 he was left with one ship and a handful of men, some of whom had ‘turned mad and idiots’. Despite this he was determined to capture ‘The Prize of All the Oceans’, the legendary Spanish treasure ship making its annual voyage from Acapulco to Manila. In this he succeeded, and returned home a hero; like Drake himself, one of the great British masters of the sea.

Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New edition edition (18 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006531784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006531784
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,207,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

The misadventures of Anson's voyage of 1740-44 make a dramatic story. Only one ship completed the mission, the rest were wrecked, scuttled or forced back shattered. Of the nineteen hundred officers and men who wailed form Spithead, almost fourteen hundred died, most from disease or starvation. Ravaged by scurvy and battered by relentless storms, by the times Anson reached the Chinese coast in November 1742 he was only left with one ship and a handful of men, some of whom had 'turned mad and idiots'. Despite this, he was determined to capture 'the Prize of All the Oceans', the legendary Spanish treasure ship making its annual voyage from Acapulco to Manila…The book's most lasting impression is of Anson's own fortitude against all the odds – a commander who watched helplessly while his crews died in their hundreds, who hauled ropes alongside his men and tended them when they were ill; but who never wavered in his determination to return home triumphant.

'Remarkable…never was there a tale which joined such horror and pity, disaster and triumph, such fortitude I adversity. Glyn Williams' narrative brings out all the drama of the story…an admirable retelling of a tragic and heroic tale. Nobody else could have done Anson justice as Williams has done, and no one will now need to do so again.

'Staggeringly good.. 'The Prize of All the Oceans' is the best book I've read in ages.'

About the Author

Glyn Williams has been Professor of History at Queen Mary and Westfield College since 1974. His main teaching interests are the history of exploration, the history of Europe overseas, and British imperial history. He has travelled and lectured in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies. He is Emeritus Professor of the University of London. He lives in Kent.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maritime History at its best 7 May 2002
Enjoyable & evocative account of Anson's expedition to the South Seas in 1740-44. Brings home the perils of long distance naval voyages of the time. Of the 1900 men that set out, less than 500 returned;the rest died due to disease & starvation.The author has managed to conjure up the awful image of being on board during the worst of times. How they navigated when the known information was scanty and often inaccurate; how they coped with typhoid,dysentery & scurvy; how the rock-like presence of Anson himself kept the expedition together; and finally the capture of the Spanish treasure Ship & the return home. Well researched & very enjoyable.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing adventure, superbly told 2 Feb 2010
By bookelephant TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Another cracker from Glyn Williams! If you had ever thought that Patrick O'Brian maybe used poetic licence wih the sheer extremity of his stories, read this and think again.
Poor Commodore Anson is sent off on an extremely ill-thought out mission to make inroads on the Spanish South American settlements and capture the annual treasure ship, laden with implausible amounts of silver. His mission is thoughtfully leaked to the Spanish, his military forces consist of a bunch of unfortunate Chelsea pensioners (some over 70 years of age) and he barely has a full complement of crew, even after pressing hordes of starved countrymen (it was a bad winter that year too - but in those days that meant people starved). Of the 1600 men who set off, barely 400 return alive - the majority killed off by disease (notably scurvy for which no-one has yet discovered a cure, and which is treated with a random variety of remedies - some involving sulphuric acid). But against all the odds - wrecks, mutinies, broken masts, mislaid islands (no-one has yet discovered a reliable chronometer either!) his handful of half mad crew take the fabled "Prize of All the Oceans" (manned by 500 healthy Spaniards) and make their fortunes (that much the greater, given the smaller numbers alive to share in the prize...).
Admittedly this is a story which has much to recommend it even without good writing. But Williams brings to it an excellent communicative writing style (you can tell that he has learnt how to hold an unwilling audience and how to stop attention flagging through his teaching!) and the absolute wealth of knowledge which is actually necessary to bring the story fully alive - since he treats of a very different world in terms simply of dstance of time, and the rarefied nature of maritime adventures. He even manages to make the contortions of the Prize system clear and interesting - and that really is high praise.
A wonderful read - and hugely informative.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Complete narrative but little analysis 8 Feb 2004
If you are looking for a complete narrative of Anson's voyage, this is an excellent and quite complete text, very readable and enjoyable. However, my major criticism of this book is the lack of analysis or critical review of the events. Perhaps this is because of the dearth of source material, though the records of this time are quite abundant. The context of the voyage is not explained as well nor as completely as it could have been. The 'why' of events and decisions, except for immediate events, is often omitted, leaving the reader with a yarn, but not a complete history. A more thorough historical analysis of Anson's voyage is still needed.
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