Early naval career:
George Anson was the second son of William Anson (d. 1720), a minor country gentleman and owner of Shugborough Hall, Staffordshire. Anson had a distinguished naval and political career, which was aided when he joined the navy in 1712, by the patronage of his uncle Thomas Parker (later first Earl of Macclesfield) who was lord chief justice and later Lord Chancellor. In May 1716, Anson was made a lieutenant and two years later fought in the battle of Cape Passaro in Sir George Byng’s fleet. He was appointed master and commander of the sloop Weasel in 1722, and captain of the Scarborough in 1724, which was used as a station ship in South Carolina. Anson lived on this station between 1724-1730, and 1732-1735, during which time he invested heavily in local property and business. Between 1737 and 1739 he was appointed captain of the Centurion, protecting British trade in west Africa and the West Indies.
On 23 October 1739, England declared war on Spain and a month later Anson was selected to lead an expedition to attack Spanish holdings in the Pacific Ocean. In September 1740, his squadron sailed from England under orders to raid and plunder the Pacific coast of South America, to attack Panama and to capture the annual galleon, which carried treasure and goods between Mexico and the Philippines. His squadron consisted of the flagship Centurion; Argyll (replaced in March by Gloucester); Severn; Pearl; Wager; and Tryal. Although the fleet suffered the loss of lives and vessels, Anson succeeded in capturing the Manila treasure galleon on its voyage from Acapulco in June 1743. He arrived back at Spithead in June 1744, to receive wide acclaim and great personal wealth.
In 1744, Anson was made a junior Lord of the Admiralty and was promoted to first Lord of the Admiralty in 1751, a post he held, except for one short interval, until his death in 1762. In July 1746, the Admiralty accepted Anson’s proposal to unite several squadrons into one western squadron and he became commander-in-chief of the new force. On 15 July 1747, he was created Baron Anson of Soberton following his interception of two French convoys north of Cape Ortegal, bound for India and America. He then resumed his position in the Admiralty, leaving Sir Peter Warren to command the western squadron. However, Anson was partially blamed for the failure of Vice-Admiral George Byng to defend Minorca in 1756. He was removed from office and was succeeded by Lord Temple. In July 1757, Anson returned to the Admiralty upon the insistence of Lord Hardwicke. He focused on improving conditions on board ship for seamen and championing the work of British ship-builders.
Anson was brought into parliament for Hedon by Lord Bath against Luke Robinson,1744-1747. Following his purchase of property and land in Lichfield using some of his prize money, Anson and Lord Gower joined their political interests. From 1747 until his death in 1762, Anson nominated his brother Thomas as one of the Lichfield members.
Records relating to Admiral Lord Anson’s career and his personal life can be found within the family and estate papers of the Earls of Lichfield, which are held at Staffordshire Record Office (main collection reference number D615). The records: include correspondence from Elizabeth Lady Anson to Admiral Lord Anson, discussing their private life and his naval career; letters to Admiral Lord Anson relating to the establishment of property and businesses in South Carolina and relating to his work in the Admiralty; and financial papers relating to Anson’s interests in South Carolina. The records that have been chosen for this exhibition focus on Anson’s naval career, both as a sea commander and an Admiralty officer. They reflect his experiences as captain of the Centurion during his circumnavigation and his attitudes to naval defence against France and Spain. They also emanate from his work in the Admiralty through which he received detailed reports of various naval expeditions from commanding officers.
The images relating to George Anson are reproduced by kind permission of The Earl of Lichfield.