Royal Naval Museum




Biography: George Anson


Born 23rd April 1697, second son of William Anson of Shugborough at Clowich, Staffordshire. Anson entered the navy as a volunteer (the contemporary term for an officer candidate), on board HMS Ruby on the 2nd February 1712. On the 27th March, he moved to HMS Monmouth where he remained until 27th June 1713, when the ship was paid off and he was discharged.

By May 1716, he was serving in the Baltic, as Midshipman on HMS Hampshire. He was appointed Second Lieutenant of HMS Montagu in March 1718, during which time he was involved in the action off Cape Passaro, Sicily on 31st July 1718. He was transferred to HMS Barfleur on the 2nd October 1719, and made Commander in June 1722, and appointed to HMS Weasel, which was employed against Dutch smugglers.

In 1724, he was promoted to Captain, and appointed to HMS Scarborough, and sent to South Carolina to protect the coast and commerce against pirates and Spanish attacks. In July 1728, due to the death of its Captain, Anson moved to HMS Garland. He returned home to England in July 1730. In 1731 he took command of HMS Diamond, and later, in 1732, he was appointed to HMS Squirrel and returned to the coast of Carolina until 1735, when his ship was paid off. He was then unemployed for two and a half years, until December 1737, when he was appointed to command HMS Centurion. He was sent first to the west coast of Africa, and to then the West Indies, for the protection of English trade against the French, and returned home in 1739.

On the 18th September 1740, on board Centurion, he set sail for his arduous voyage in the Pacific. During the voyage over 700 men died due to unhealthy conditions and diet. On 20 June 1743, Anson captured a superior Spanish galleon due to its being heavily laden with merchandise and its crew, being three times the number on Centurion, were untrained in armed combat. Anson returned to Spithead on the 15th June 1744 with £500,000 of treasure. Anson was promoted to Rear Admiral in acknowledgement of his good service and good fortune. However, he returned his commission after a dispute with the Admiralty who chose not to confirm Anson’s promotion of his First Lieutenant, Piercy Brett, to Captain. Anson went on half-pay as a Captain. A few months later, there was a change in ministry and the new board accepted Brett’s promotion to Captain. On the 20th April 1745, Anson was re-promoted to Rear Admiral of the White.

After Anson served on the Board of the Admiralty and as an MP, he was appointed Vice Admiral, and took command of the Channel Fleet in July 1746, leading his ships at the Battle of Cape Finisterre, on the 14th October 1747. He was raised to the peerage on 15 July 1747. In February 1748 he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty until 1756, during which time he concentrated his attentions on major administrative reforms. These included introducing a new corps of marines under the jurisdiction of the Admiralty, improving dockyard administration and shipbuilding, and most importantly, drawing up a new code of Articles of War, which was passed by Parliament. It was during this period that he appointed Admiral John Byng to be Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean, and whose actions resulted in the loss of Minorca. This was followed by the controversial court-martial of Byng for cowardice and neglect and his subsequent execution. Lord Anson left office in November 1756. He was re-appointed to First Lord of the Admiralty in June 1757, and in June 1761 he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet but was able only once to hoist his flag onboard ship.

On the 1st April 1758, he was married to Lady Elizabeth Yorke, daughter of the Lord Chancellor. They had no children, and she died in 1760. Anson died suddenly two years later on the 6th June 1762 at his country seat of Moor Park in Hertfordshire, and was buried in the family vault in Colwich. His title died with him, but his property, including the family estate of Shugborough, was left to his sister and her son, also called George, who changed his name to Anson on inheriting the estate on his mother’s death. His descendants were later raised to the peerage and Lord Anson’s great-great nephew was created Earl of Lichfield in 1831, a title still in existence today.

© Royal Naval Museum Library, 2000
The information contained in this INFORMATION SHEET is correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for a bibliography of further reading materials, if available.

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