The Wager Disaster

Mayhem, Mutiny and Murder in the South Seas

Rear Admiral C. H. Layman

Rear Admiral C. H. Layman

Distributed for Unicorn Press Ltd

With a Foreword by H. R. H. The Duke of Edinburgh
336 pages | 37 color plates, 16 maps | 6 x 9 1/4 | © 2015
Paper $30.00 ISBN: 9781910065501 Published May 2015 For Sale in USA and Canada Only
In 1741, the British warship HMS Wager crashed on the shore of an uninhabited island off the coast of Chilean Patagonia. One hundred and forty men reached land. Only thirty-six made it back home. The "Wager" Disaster is the extraordinary story of human endurance and the perseverance of those soldiers in the face of unthinkable adversity.

Britain and Spain were at war, and the Wager was part of a small British squadron sent to extend the battle to their Spanish possessions in the South Seas. Unfortunately, there were no accurate charts of the west coast of South America, and much of the navigation was determined by guesswork. Vicious hurricane-force winds wrecked the Wager, separating it from the squadron. Starvation, exhaustion, hypothermia, and drowning quickly claimed most of the soldiers who survived the wreck. The rest rose up against the unpopular captain and set off in an open boat with no chart, resulting in one of the greatest survival voyages as the castaways made their way 2,500 nautical miles back to Britain.

Drawing on the firsthand accounts of the survivors, The "Wager" Disaster tells the compelling story of a dramatic fight for survival under extreme conditions.
Neal Ascherson
"This book is far more than a heroic story of British seagoing endurance, though the 2,500–mile voyage of a handful of starving, desperate seamen in an open long-boat round South America is in itself epic. But the narratives of the ‘Wager’survivors, now collected and edited by Admiral Layman, are infinitely richer than any one-dimensional Victorian tale of British grit.  They are tales of horrific, often repulsive suffering; they are sinister mysteries; they are tales of moral dilemmas.

Above all, these narratives present us with a cast of extraordinary, vivid human characters.  Some are struggling with their consciences; some are obsessed with hatred and fear. There are steady and resourceful men who nevertheless let the weak die in order to save the strong; there are traitors determined to reach safety so that they can denounce their own shipmates.  And – most fortunately for us – there are a few marvelous young men who never stopped observing the places and peoples they encountered and somehow – in the face of ghastly extremities – recording them with wonder and in detail. Almost forgotten for more than a century, the ‘Wager’ story in all its fearsome complexity and tragic horror is now returned to us in lasting and well-illustrated form."
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