The HMS Wager: The History of the 18th Century's Most Famous Shipwreck and Mutiny (Paperback)
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*Includes pictures *Includes accounts of the shipwreck and mutiny by various crewmembers *Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading *Includes a table of contents "Whereas upon a General Consultation, it has been agreed to go from this Place through the Streights of Magellan, for the coast of Brazil, in our way for England: We do, notwithstanding, find the People separating into Parties, which must consequently end in the Destruction of the whole Body; and as also there have been great robberies committed on the Stores and every Thing is now at a Stand; therefore, to prevent all future Frauds and Animosoties, we are unanimously agreed to proceed as above-mentioned." - John Bulkley, gunner on the HMS Wager "I cannot suppose the Captain will refuse the signing of it; but he is so self-willed, the best step we can take, is to put him under arrest for the killing of Mr. Cozens. In this case I will, with your approbation, assume command. Then our affairs will be concluded to the satisfaction of the whole company, without being any longer liable to the obstruction they now meet from the Captain's perverseness and chicanery." - Lieutenant Robert Baynes, second-in-command on the HMS Wager Mention the 18th century Royal Navy and visions come to mind of swashbuckling sailors swinging from rope to rope while a red-faced captain in an even redder coat and a powdered wig shouts order and pitches fits. Such visions, largely shaped by Hollywood pictures such as the popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, naturally fail to do full justice to a group of men who functioned, with little direction and even less support, on the seas for years at a time. Disney may enjoy portraying them sitting down to sumptuous feasts or cavorting with scantily clad native girls, but the opposite was true; the men were almost always hungry, with even the best meals consisting of little more than bread, beans, and a bit of meat on the side if the voyage was still in its early days. Likewise, those stranded on islands were not met by pretty native girls bearing coconut cream pies but instead cold and wind and an unremitting surf that drove away both flora and fauna. Those who doubt this reality or unfamiliar with it need only consult the journals and records of the officers and crew of the HMS Wager, who sailed from England to fight the Spanish in 1741 and instead ended up fighting for their lives. These men, many of whom were already long past the normal age of service, endured short rations and rough seas for months, only to end up shipwrecked on an island off of South America. Many died during the wreck, as did many others who were marooned, only to discover it bare of almost all supplies necessary for survival. On top of those tribulations, mutinous men rose up violently against their captain and made their way across more than 2,000 miles of tossing seas in an open boat. Their trip was characterized not just by hardship and hunger but also by that most dastardly of crimes - betrayal - as their leaders again and again chose their own good over that of their men. Of the almost 100 men that set out on the Wager, only a handful made it home, and even then they returned not together but piecemeal after having been separated by their troubles. When they finally did make their way back to England, they came home not to a hero's welcome but numerous questions and ultimately a court martial. For a number of reasons, ranging from lack of evidence to prosecutorial reluctance, the men were not convicted of any crimes; in fact, most of the survivors went on to have successful careers in the British Navy and other endeavors. However, no rational person could ever claim that they got away unpunished, for surely the sights of friends dying slowly of starvation and dead bodies piled on beaches for carrion to attack were tougher punishments than the Admiralty could ever mete out on them.