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A very brief summary of the famous circumnavigation of George Anson's squadron lead by H.M. ship Centurion

Last BuccaneerHMS Centurion, 4th 60 gun ship of the line launched at Portsmouth in 1732, Centurion  commissioned in 1734. 

Centurion served in the Home Fleet and took part in the expedition to Lisbon by Sir John Norris. 

Centurion in 1738 was captained by George Anson. They led a small squadron long the slaver routes, to the African coast then to Jamaica and back to England. 

 

 

In 1740 Centurion again commanded by George Anson, recently promoted to Commodore,  started her most famous circumnavigation. 

Until the time of Nelson, this voyage was considered an epic second only to the exploits of Sir Francis Drake.

Centurion was the only ship of the squadron of nine to survive the circumnavigation and of the 3000 men whom started, only 300 returned on Centurion. 

 

 

Centurion is sometimes referred to as the last buccaneer. 

 

 

Her purpose was to surprise and harass the Spanish in the Pacific (who indecently knew she was on the way). 

The squadron were the first European ships to round Cape Horn in winter and suffered terribly in doing so. The Spanish were convinced all were lost.  However, Centurion and Gloucester survived to rendezvous at Juan Fernandez in June 1741 with 130 men on the sick list, besides having buried 200 men on the passage. Gloucester’s men were so weak it took them a week to bring their ship to anchor and then only after some Centurions managed to board and help them.

 

The remains of the squadron then carried out their mission sacking any number of Spanish ports and accumulating a fabulous treasure.

 

 

Crossing the Pacific, Gloucester was abandoned and burnt being very rotten so Centurion became the first European war ship to visit China. 

After numerous diplomatic problems Centurion was refitted and sailed to ambush one of the fabled Manila Galleons

 

 

On June 20th 1773 Centurion was lying in ambush off the Island of Samar and was almost ready to give up when she sighted one of the large Spanish galleons trading between Acapulco and Manilla.

 

An action followed which lasted nearly two hours, including a pause while Centurion allowed the Spaniards time to extinguish a fire and at the end of which  the Spanish galleon “Nuestra Senora de Cavadonga” struck her colours with a loss of 67 killed and 84 wounded. 

Centurion lost 2 killed and 17 wounded and her people considered the Spaniards very plucky to have taken on an admittedly smaller but custom built war ship.

 

This was another subject of a Gordon Frickers painting.

 

You could commission a similar painting by contacting us or going to our Commissioning Paintings page.

 

 

 

 

The cargo of the prize included nearly one and a half million dollars, besides 36,000 ounces of silver and other merchandise.  The squadron returned to Canton, and in December sold the prize at Macao. 

 

By the time Centurion re entered European waters, 4 years after her departure, Britain was at peace with Spain, at war with France and it was thought Centurion was long since lost.

 

In Biscay in thick fog she sailed right through the middle of a French fleet, the subject of an Early Gordon Frickers painting, Centurion’s Luck. 

 

On reaching the Solent, there was some disbelief when she made her code signal; luckily some one remembered the “old” codes.

 

27 wagons escorted by her jubilant surviving crew, carried her treasure from Portsmouth to the bank of England and it was said for 3 centuries 1/3 of the gold in the Bank of England was from Centurion.

 

After many more adventures, Anson became the First Sea lord and most of his former officers achieved high flag ranks.

 

Centurion also lived through many more scrapes, 1769 the Centurion was broken up at Chatham.

 

 

You could commission a similar painting by contacting us or going to our Commissioning Paintings page.

 

 

 

Primary sources

  • The Log of the Centurion
  • Model of the Centurion photographed by kind permission of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich London