Hailed as the father of the British navy, Thomas’ younger brother George Anson was a prominent figure both for his adventurous travels and reforms.
George Anson is widely credited as father of the British Navy as we see it today. The Navy was essential in the expansion of the British empire and the successful control of colonies, trading routes and strategically important parts of the globe. The Navy protected British slave ships carrying captive Africans across the Atlantic into slavery in the colonies ensuring vast wealth for Britain, and control of these waters extended British naval dominance.
George was the second Englishman after Sir Francis Drake to circumnavigate the globe in an epic military undertaking against the Spanish from 1740-44. Anson joined the navy at the young age of 14 in 1712 and quickly rose through the ranks to become Captain at the age of 25. In 1737 he took command of the Centurion, a 60-gun ship and in 1740 sailed to plunder the Pacific coast of South America and conquer the Spanish.
Although the first stage of their journey around Cape Horn was a military disaster with the loss of two ships and over 600 men from scurvy, cold and privation, Anson still captured several Spanish ships and their cargoes. Eventually Centurion sailed alone reached Macao in November 1742, making George the first British man of war to visit China.
On 20 June 1743 Anson achieved his most notable victory, intercepting and attacking a Manila galleon, the Nuestra Señora de Covadonga that was sailing between Acapulco and the Philippines heavily laden with silver. Anson captured the ship which he later sold to the Dutch, along with 1,313,843 pieces of eight and 35,682 ounces of virgin silver then valued at £400,000. This is the equivalent to around £35 million in today’s figures, of which he was entitled to a staggering £13,125,000. The treasure was so immense that it was to ensure not only the success of the voyage but his own fortune and that of his brother at Shugborough.
George the Reformer
On his return in 1745 Anson was appointed Vice-Admiral of the White and joined the Whig opposition under the Duke of Bedford, 1st Lord of the Admiralty and the Earl of Sandwich. Together the three men undertook a series of reforms of the navy, including ship design and training. By 1747 he succeeded as First Lord of the Admiralty.
In 1748 he married the Hon. Elizabeth Yorke, the eldest daughter of his political mentor Philip York, Lord Hardwicke, who was then Lord Chancellor, thus cementing his position at the heart of the political establishment and creating connections between the family’s estates at Wimpole and Shugborough.