Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Wager by David Grann

The Wager by David Grann is a good work of nonfiction subtitled A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder. Grann recounts the story of the British ship Wager that left England during a conflict with Spain in 1740, going after a Spanish ship filled with treasure. 

The ship made it from the Atlantic to the Pacific, going around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America through the Drake Passage, spending more than a month in the rough waters where the two oceans meet, and losing, many to scurvy, around 100 of the original 250 sailors. The Wager then went north off the Chilean coast of Patagonia and ran onto rocks in the bay Gulfo de Penas. The sailors got off the ship and took small boats to what would become known as Wager Island. Grann recounts what happened next, with some of the party leaving to create a splinter group, making alliances with some and abandoning others. The Wager's captain, David Cheap, couldn't control the men and then shot and killed a man under his command after they had been on the island for 41 days. While stranded, the men came across people from the Kawésqar, an indigenousness group of a few thousand people. 

A group then said they were leaving for England through the Strait of Magellan back to the Atlantic, this after Cheap said he intended to continue with the plan to attack the Spanish on the Pacific coast. The men left and Cheap along with 19 others, not all of whom were still following him, stayed behind. 81 men went through the Strait of Magellan, then north. After three and a half months, and 283 days after the ship had last been reported seen, 29 men reached Brazil, the port of Rio Grande. Then six months later, 3 survivors appeared in Chile, leveling accusations against the first men who appeared in Brazil.

Some of the party returned to England, and then, two years later, Captain David Cheap appeared in England with two others. He and his companions had been captured by the Spanish and held for some time before being allowed to return home. Accusations and counter-accusations were hurled between the men, leading to an eventual military trial. Also interesting from the story was that Commodore George Anson of the group of six ships the Wager a part of ultimately was successful in his mission to plunder Spanish riches, garnering the equivalent of some $80M in today's dollars before his return to England, but with the cost the lives of some 1,300 of the 2,000 men under his command.