At the first light of dawn on Wednesday, 1 July 1744 (New Style), at the western mouth of the Strait of Saint Bernard, between the islands of Luzon and Samar, the Acapulco galleon, Our Lady of Covadonga, caught sight of the Centurion battleship, Captain and Commodore George Anson, commanding. In these waters, San Juan de Letran had run aground after its heroic, two year mission to chart the Philippines and create a western --or eastern-- outpost of the Spanish Empire. Narrow and treacherous, they were the worst possible place to find a pirate. Our Lady of Cabadonga's luck had run out.
Credit where credit is due, by the way:
It has been a long and difficult voyage for Anson. A Staffordshire man, Anson would return to his home county to build, leaving as his legacy Shugborough Hall, a Georgian masterpiece distinguished by its Chinoiserie (understandably), and perhaps the most famously enigmatic piece of garden sculpture on Earth. That said, his brothers were famous, too, and although the Earldom of Lichfield was conferred in part to honour his memory, it was recreated for a nephew who was important enough in his own right, and Shugborough Hall was largely decorated by his father, the admiral's elder brother.
It's worth bearing in mind, as well, that when he went into the Commons, Anson sat for Hedon in Holderness on the north shore of the Humber in Yorkshire. What family connections there might have been with the coast of Yorkshire I cannot say.
When I say that Anson was a Staffordshire man, it might present an image of a stout yeoman on the "Country" side of the divide in culture and politics, raised far from the madding crowd. That, though, might be misleading. He was also the nephew of a royal favourite of George I, Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield. (1666-1732). Like Anson, Parker was a Staffordshire man, but certainly on the "Court" side of things. He went to university, then to the Temple, made his career in the courts, and connected with the new King early and soundly.
This all can be said without doubt. The issue here is that preferment came so easily to Parker. It often does not sit well with us to accuse our elders of living in a corrupt society. Corruption is for swarthy foreigners! Yet the fact is that this was a society of patronage and clientage. Men like Parker do not advance without both. We certainly know his clients, for the careers of the Anson brothers are before us. What we do not know is his patrons. The story here is of Anson (or the Ansons), who continued to flourish after the Earl of Macclesfield fell into disgrace. So what do we know of Jane and Isabella Carrier, mother of Anson and wife of Parker, respectively? Nothing. And here the thread must dangle, although I will point to the Dictionary of National Biography short, which makes it very clear that the old biographer thought that someone stood behind the Ansons' careers.
Another line of speculative inquiry. Anson was extraordinarily late to marry. This is not surprising in itself. Sometimes, men are not inclined to marry and have children. This is no great mystery, and while the common "sodomite" risked legal murder, even the Eighteenth Century had its "confirmed bachelors." Not to digress too far from the subject, or the era, it is noteworthy that, for example, Isaac Newtons' niece, long time mistress of his best friend (and member of the Hellfire Club, no less), was able to claim to be a virgin at her marriage without anyone even batting an eye.* The problem with assuming that Anson was gay is that it runs against the thin evidence we have, a quote scared up by the author of the DCB short, that Anson was "far from being a woman hater." Assuming that the biographer is not hunting for evidence that his idol was not a "pervert," the phrase, delivered as useful information by a South Carolina socialite to her London sister, would seem to imply something more than an easy charm. To imagine the counterpoint to the conversation, it would be something along the lines of, "If he's not gay, what's the proof?"
The historical novelist is then free to assume illegitimate issue, while the historian, economical with speculation, would be safer assuming that Anson's lover got him his appointments. I am going to wander onto the dangerous side once more and suggest that the influence issue and the marriage just might be related through canon law about "impediment to marriage."
The issue here is that Anglican church wedding would mean producing a birth certificate, and that certificate would only be issued to two parents in communion with the Church, both of whose names would be listed on the certificate, while, to be in communion, one had to be legally baptised. In short, illegitimate birth was, at least before the Marriage Act of 1755, a hereditary taint. It was a taint that could be evaded by various means (not least corruption), but many common-law relationships attest to the fact that this was not always done in the Eighteenth Century. What this line of thinking does is reinforce the speculation that the Carriers might not have been the daughters of a stout Staffordshire gentleman after all. It also strengthens the historical novelist's hands in searching for an illegitimate offspring, perhaps another Royal Navy officer of the Seven Years War era whose professional success is incomprehensible in the light of the recorded circumstances of his birth.
The irony of it all is that when Anson did marry, it was to Philip Yorke's daughter. Enough, though, said about Hardwicke's Law for preventing clandestine marriages, that mid-century Eighteenth Century social revolution among the propertied classes. The historical novelist would then look for an unbelievably successful Royal Navy officer whose entry into the service was delayed into his mid-twenties for some obscure reason, in order to coincide with Hardwicke's departure from office in 1756.
Whatever the nature of his connections and his sexuality, the plum assignment of the War of Jenkin's Ear fell into Anson's lap. He was to lead a raiding voyage against the vast wealth of the Spanish South Seas, following in the path of Drake and Cavendish before him. It was a major effort, six warships, including three battleships-of-the-line, outfitted for distant service, two store ships and a full battalion of foot enlisted for marine service. In practice the battleships were a bit small, while the marines were mostly re-enlisted veterans, not promising youths. "In practice," though, might be the wrong rhetorical formulation. The scale of this effort was unprecedented, its reach unthinkable to naval strategists of even a generation before. Storing a battleship for a cruise around the world was something that simply could not have been done twenty years before, and the pensioners of London could not be unaware of that. Heartbreaking scenes followed, as the "recruiting" became "conscription," or worse. Frail, poor, lacking in social capital, for the marines loaded onto Anson's ships, this was nothing short of a death sentence.
And worse was very much to come. The wealth of the South Seas proved to be the myth the Spanish had always claimed it to be. The whole Pacific coast of South America, alarmed by the arrival of the British squadron, was barely able to fortify its ports, never mind drive Anson's two surviving ships off their blockade station near Acapulco. What did defeat the British was their lack of supplies and depleted crews. Anson made the only decision he could, the same made by Drake, Cavendish, Dampier, Woodes Rogers and George Shelvocke before him, to return to Britain by circumnavigating the world.
That task entailed first crossing the Pacific. Anson had the memoirs of the privateers. They had all sailed south-by-southwest from Mexico to pick up the trade winds, a familiar track from the Atlantic trades. They had gone as far south as 12° North, picked up fresh Westerlies, and made quick and healthy crossings of the great water on which Magellan's crews had suffered so. He may have assumed that he was following, as they had followed, the track of the Acapulco galleons, but he made a fatal mistake. The galleons, which usually sailed in the late spring, did not go south. They went north. What Anson and his officers did not know --although they should have suspected it-- was that the trade winds shift north in the summer. Anson sailed as far south as 6° 40', deep into the maritime desert of the equatorial Pacific where coral atolls do not thrive, before realising his mistake and veering north. At 14°N, he caught a fresh wind, but it was too late.
A digression here, in the spirit of this week's post. In making fourteen degrees north before heading west with the trade winds, Hawaiians will note, but not historians of the Pacific, that Anson missed the Hawaiian islands. So did everyone, it seems, even though the Acapulco galleons routinely hit these latitudes in search of good winds. The excuse is that they were still four degrees, and more, south of Hawai'i. The problem is that four degrees of latitude is 240 nautical miles, and a 14,000 foot tall, snow-capped plateau is not exactly inconspicuous during the day, never mind during the night, when the lava flows often glow brightly enough to be seen from Honolulu, 150 miles away. Hawaiians suspect that the island did attract passing galleons, and that various folk tales and traditions attest to occasional visits and even settlements by Spaniards.
The mystery here is usually explained in terms of pirates. We have already seen that the galleon trade attracted plenty of pirates. The main security of the trade was that the pirates could not stay on station very long without a base. The desiderata have been explained to us on this blog: first, a safe anchorage; second, water; third, a castle, to maintain honour among thieves; third, provisions; fourth, seamen to enlist to replace losses; fifth, horses. (I'm not seeing the last one, but that's what my expert says, and Captain Mainwaring was a pirate, so he knows what he's talking about.) The Spanish rather dilatorily searched for places that might offer these to pirates in order to sterilise them. That might have been on their mind in Juan de Fuca's voyage, if it happened, and in their disinclination to push up the California coast, where the effort to open up Monterrey Bay might just lead to its frequenting by pirates. It would certainly have made Hawaii a state secret. (And San Francisco Bay, if the galleons found it, which is unlikely.)
The other thing to bear in mind is that attaching "Spanish" to the galleon trade is misleading. This was a trade based on the other side of the world from Spain. Acapulco is closer to the metropolis, but geography, the shape of the winds and the lack of a country trade has always held Acapulco back as a port. Manila, on the other hand, is on the crossroads between Fujian Province and the South Seas, and between Satsuma's Nagasaki and Southeast Asia. Trade bustled in and out of its harbour. The galleons were built there by Filippinos, the crews were largely recruited in the islands, and even the "Castilians" who officered them under the exquisite colonial caste system were mostly actually Mexicans. Hawai'i would have been discovered by the Philippines, not by Spain, and the language barrier between Tagalog and Spanish might be enough to explain the mystery. It is certainly the case that Polynesian long-distance voyaging to Hawai'i seems to have ended when the galleons began to sail, and if the voyaging was not done on a lark, this is asking coincidence to do a lot of work.
Back to Anson: I foreshadowed what was to happen next, which was an epidemic of scurvy. (Probably; both pellagra and beriberi can break out on shipboard, and were not always carefully distinguished from scurvy in the absence of, you know, medical science.) The outbreak perplexed Anson's officers when it first emerged, because they were still working through fresh provisions taken on board while skulking near Acapulco. There was even livestock aboard! We now know that most ascorbic acid is taken up from fruits and vegetables, but the contemporary intuition that fresh meat was a cure for scurvy was not wrong. There is ascorbic acid in organ meat (and skin, if anyone wants to try to eat it).
So what happened? This raises difficult questions --but also ones that are going to come up when this post meanders to its point. My source quotes ship's schoolteacher Pascoe Thomas as noting that the earliest victims were "Indians and Negros." Clinical trials show that the symptoms of can be from four to eight weeks from the beginning of a scorbutic diet. It was convict "volunteers" from the Iowa state system who succumbed first, while gentlemen conscientious objectors in England succumbed last. The explanation is that an ascorbic acid-rich diet loads the cells with the vital micronutrient, while diets of poverty reduce one's biological reserves, predisposing you to scurvy. As old time maritime employers put it, some people, mainly those poorest and most desperate to go to sea, were "scrofulous," that is, likely to develop scurvy quickly.
From this you are like to conclude, if you are not an employer, that hardly any scrofulous people go to sea. You will also not believe that I just saw a memo begging for staff for our chain's reline crew, because none of our new, near-minimum wage clerks have the money to gas up the cars they don't have to drive around the metropolitan area from store to store. That, you would conclude, is crazy. As crazy as deliberately signing scrofulous crew, because you are not an employer. Because in reality, you can get scrofulous people for less, just because they are scrofulous. Better hope that the expedition you send off does not get beclamed in tropical waters for any length of time!
Whatever the beginnings of the near death spiral that now overtook Centurion and Gloucester (at this point still in company with the flag), its progression made speculations about the ascorbic acid loadins of the "Indians and Negroes" of the crew moot as the voyage continued, and progress slowed to a crawl. With only 16 of some 250 fit to go before the mast, the two ships were very lucky to make Tinian, The "garrison" of Tinian, a "Spanish" sergeant and four "Indians," had to carry many of the crew ashore, and twenty-one of the crew died in the landing and shortly after, but that rapid and miraculous recovery that always marks the introduction of a varied diet into the victims of scurvy followed.
So it was that, out of a squadron of six vessels that Britain had strained to outfit and man, a single ship with a little over 200 men made landfall at Macau on 11 November 1743. Two had failed to pass the Cape, one wrecked, one abandoned, and Centurion, while of 1900 men sent to loot the South Seas, only a few more than 500 survived to reach London again, most of these were aboard the ships that failed to pass the tip of South America. Not only that, but a separated member of the crew actually managed to get home from Acapulco before Anson made China, which is why London knew to expect him there.
|Straits of Magellan. I don't see the problem. The expedition actually rounded Cape Horn to the south, but that's less picturesque. Dan Ladue|
It was a wreck and disaster. The obvious comparison was with the Western Design, which arguably had brought down the Protectorate. What would happen next? Anson hoped for letters from home to tell him what to do, or, better yet, promise support. More locally, he could look to the ships and factors of the East Indian Company for assistance. He would not get them, and, perhaps, he might have thought things out more clearly.
Now, it is hard to disentangle the retrospective imperial arrogance of the next century from the bluff of the Eighteenth. We tend to paint Indian British imperial red and project an empire that was only really secure after the Mutiny back to implausibly early dates. Not so early as 1743, of course, but that is usually because we see this as an era of Franco-British rivalry for control of the "decaying" Mughal Empire. In our Whiggish narrative, the ineluctable tides of progress are running against the Mughals, and the only question is whether it will be France or Britain that picks up the pieces. The fact that the East India Company held what power it did in India at the time as a subject of the Empire is swept aside.
Obviously I wouldn't have wasted my time on the last paragraph were that actually the case. The Mughal Emperor was certainly on the down and outs in 1744. Muhammed Shah's reign was long and sad, and came to a particularly low point in 1739, with the sack of Delhi by Nader Shah. Nader Shah famously stopped taxation in Iran for three years on the strength of the plunder of Delhi, monetising the land due with an issue of silver coins equal in weight to the Indian rupee. It did not go well, as a series of revolts culminated in his killing while trying to suppress the last.
|Not the real Peacock Throne; by Askamel|
The incipient fall of Nader Shah was on the horizon by 1744. Other green shoots of recovery were an Ottoman failure to recognise Nader Shah's attempt to negotiate a third path between Sunni and Shia Islam, and a successful campaign in the Deccan against the Mughal's most persistent enemy, the Marathas. That the Mughals' greatest security concern was a mass of feudal cavalry raised in a country where stud farming is impossible due to the summer dry season is telling of the deep and tangled relations between India, Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia, and the maritime traders of the Malabar Coast, because Maratha horses had to come down to the Coast by ship from Central Asia. They were bought there, mainly in the great Bokhara fairs, but also at Lhasa, with silver brought up from India, and thus very largely with American coin. What happened to the silver after that we, unbelievably, do not really know, the only outflow known to economic history being to Russia. The Honourable East India Company, bound to move silver to China to pay for tea, would have been sensitive to concerns that reached up to Bokhara, to Lhasa, to "Mughalistan" and all the far depths of Inner Eurasia that influenced the price of silver yet ran beyond their ken. In the here and now, they had to worry about their relations with the Cohong, with the Spanish in Manila, the Portuguese in Macau, and all the other factors that might endanger an already risky trade. Those concerns ran at angles to the simple patriotism Anson demanded.
From the side of Europeans regarding China, Macau is sometimes seen as the first of the foreign concessions, the beginning of the unequal treaty system. The Portuguese are therefore the actor from one perspective, though at the time anti-Jesuit paranoia might have looked to a Macau-Beijing axis instead. That was not how it worked for Macau for most of its long history. The simplest way of understanding it was as a barbarian trade encampment beyond the frontiers. Guangdong/Canton was, after all, a very remote province, far beyond the rivers and mountains and forests, and Macau was beyond it. Substitute "Kashgar" for "Canton" (although Dunhuang is the actual contemporary comparison) and one might get a legitimate alternative viewpoint of Guangdong as seen from Beijing in 1743, and a good view of Beijing from Macau.
Certainly this is the move that Milward and Peter Perdue, the new generation of historians of Inner Eurasia make. Even Guangdong, never mind Macau, is distant, marginal, imperial rather than "Chinese." It's a moment in time lost in the development of the race-national paradigm of "Han Chinese," when the language differences between north and south matter not at all, and what is at issue is a common culture, even if not overtly asserted, race. (This oversimplifies. A north Chinese language is spoken by the most common of the common folk of the Pearl River delta).
But take Guangdong as like Kashgar in this system of the world for a moment. There are strange parallels. The "South" has an existing place in the Chinese worldview that the barbarians coming out of the southern seas do not fit. They are certainly not going to be allowed their own self-perception as religiously enlightened peoples from out of the auspicious lands of the far west That position has already been filled, thanks for your application. They are, on the other hand, nomads, coming and going from encampments that happen to lie on water rather than on grass. They want to trade for tea, as all barbarians do, since the greasy masses of meat and fat that they eat brings their digestion to a standstill otherwise. The difference, and it is not a small one, is that they bring silver to trade, not horses. Horsemen tend to come with horses; that is what makes the tea-for-horses trade of the northwest so dangerously unstable. Sea-barbarians are ferocious fighters at sea, but it is not like warships can take cities.
Still, from a British eye-regarding-China-in-1743, it was a Chinese city witness to an appalling display of British weakness. Centurion was a mighty and dangerous pirate ship of "the red-headed people," notoriously the most ferocious, brave and grasping of the people of the western seas. One look at the massive 24 pounders of its main gundeck would tell a man of the world that this chief of pirates was come from the west to take ships, not protect them. It was also undermanned and leaking, and, in spite of what Anson hoped, his new designs could be puzzled out. Letters found in the archives of Manila from a Chinese merchant of Guangdong who kept close track of the progress of Anson's repairs, for the government there was afraid that he would try for the 1743 Acapulco Galleon. Anyone else who wanted to know what Anson might be up to could presumably have the same information by asking around the Cohong. What I do not know, although presumably someone does, is what happened to American silver brought into the Far Eastern world-system via Manila. There was no reason, as we shall see below, that it should have to enter the Chinese economy via Guangdong. It was Fujianese traders who carried the bulk of Manila's China trade, and the island of Taiwan bulked suspiciously between the two. I say "suspiciously," but I have no idea how seriously Beijing, or anyone else, took the Tiandihui's rhetoric of Ming restorationism before the 1786 Heaven and Earth Society Rising. (This assuming that the precursor movements to the actual Triads are real, since otherwise there is nothing to worry about here.)
This, however, raises another point about what we are told to think about Chinese foreign policy and the Chinese worldview. We tend to look at the "tributary state" concept, the universal claims of Chinese suzerainity, the Confucian cult, and see it as evidence of a unique and Chinese narcissism. And this is all very well. The view from the centre is always self-regarding, conceited, and narcissistic.
The question here is whether these positions are manipulated. Are Emperor and empire kept aloof from the barbarians by the fetters of their worldview, or is "ideology" in its Marxian sense exactly the right word here? From the perspective of the court, the barbarians were distant and limited in their contacts with China, but that was because Macau, the Cohong, and the authorities in Guangdong could all profit from this isolation! The court was more than a little suspicious that it was being played, and open to more direct contact with foreigners, so long as that openness was not used by hostile court factions. And one of the miracles of money is that it can make hostile court factions if it needs them badly enough. The Cohong did not just make a solid profit; it also held, at various times of the year, enough ready money to be a major force in Chinese finance. Beijing's attempts to interfere with the barbarian trade were clearly beneath the Imperial dignity. Dealing with merchants was beneath the Imperial dignity, too, and merchants were quick to remind the court of this in their dealings. I'm cynical, I know, but it comes down to the assumption that even the highest and loftiest of offices are not necessarily safe from enough silver.
|The Yongzheng Emperor, dressed in Western clothes, fights a very self-satisfied tiger with a fish-spear.|
The secret that Captain Anson was trying to keep was that he had redirected his attentions on the Acapulco Galleon. I think that we have Fernand Braudel to thank for the image of the annual exchange of Manila and Acapulco galleons as the beating heart of a financial world-system, an obscure trade across an unknown sea that balanced the scales between a silver standard East and a gold standard West. It's a ...questionable idea. I have it from Wiki that most of the silver mined in Spanish America ended up in East Asia, but that does not tell us how it got there. Silver did clear for gold in Canton in great quantities. It's just that people tended not to think that the replacement of the old European silver standard with a gold one, as happened in the course of the Eighteenth Century, was a good idea. If this officially sponsored trade was clearing the global money markets and balancing exchange rate fluctuations, making Europe's shift to gold possible, it was not doing so by intent. As I have already suggested, we do not have a clear idea of the global circulation of silver. The idea that it all goes to India to die is clearly wrong. Jan Gommens' research shows that we can trace it to Inner Eurasia. What happened after that is the question.
Still, we know that China benefitted from an infusion of silver, and that that silver enabled the great projects of the Qianlong Emperor, above all his Ten Great Campaigns, The Qianlong Emperor's father had been severely undermined by his military failures against the Dzungar Khanate, and the Qianlong Emperor's success in destroying his Inner Eurasian rival was central to his reign.
|Even at this magnification you cannot make out the Sanskrit mantras on his helmet, but trust me, or rather Pamela Crossley: they're there. Whip and arrows are, of course, symbolic of the imperial dignity.|
The small numbers and small economies at stake tend to leave us thinking that great wars for the possession of the Dzungarian Basin and the high Altai are necessarily trivial affairs, except insofar as they affect the Chinese monarchy's ability to raise cavalry. Two complications, both of continuing interest today, raise doubts about this. The first is that the Dzungars and the Qing are competing to be patrons of the Yellow Hat tendency of Tibetan Buddhism, (but you can say "dGelugpa" if you want to impress people). This, of course, means that they were competing for control of the Dalai Lama, and, as delicately as the Chinese official historiography liked, and likes, to dance around this, that means that they were competing for control over a spiritual leader of enormous prestige in China --and who could have much more if Beijing were not determined to minimise his impact. The second is that whole world-balance-of-silver-flow that I have already talked more than enough about. Instead, let's just participate in the devotions of Faye Wong for a moment.
(Wrong video, but right video! Thanks, Youtube Search.)
All this said, the Ten Great Campaigns were still four years away when Anson anchored at Macau. It is interesting that the Qianlong Emperor waited for thirteen years after his accession to begin moving against his enemies in Lhasa, and that, when he did so, it was against such a peripheral enemy. It looks like he might have faced difficulties in precipitating events. What those difficulties were, I cannot say, but money is usually a great solvent of difficulties. What we know is that the decision was not made until weeks after Anson petitioned.Viceroy Yin Guangren did not lose his career when it turned out that Anson had taken the Acapulco Galleon, which I take as a pretty strong indication that he bucked the decision up to Beijing, and that the outcome was not entirely undesirable. Just why that should be, I cannot say. The first decade of the Qianlong reign looks pretty placid as far as great events are concerned. The most significant matter that comes to my attention is a anti-Christian persecution in the south which occasioned great anxiety in Macau.
Dig a little deeper, and the outlines of controversy do show up in the sideboxes of Wikipedia (I R great researcher!). the Qianlong had three empresses: the Xiaxianchun Empress is known as "Lady Fucha in the traditional histories of the reign, and lived from (1712 to 1748. "Ulanara, the Step-Empress" (1718--1766), seems to have been known by this distinctly un-Chinese name. That is, we are not dealing solely with a Jesuit source here. I think? Finally, Lady Weigiya, the Xiaoyichun Empress, by far the best known of the empresses, was mother of the next emperor, and became a full imperial consort on 9 December 1745. Now we are getting to some kind of synchronicity!
Even more interestingly, the folk history through which we have Lady Fucha's court name tells us that she was instrumental in a major revision of the imperial rites, introducing an altar of sericulture for sacrifices at the Lunar New Year. and this leads us to places where serious historiography has made a dent. The Qianlong Emperor notoriously attempted to regulate shamanism in the Empire with a "secret" Shamanic code promulgated in 1747. In the wake of the publication of Pamela Kyle Crossley's Translucent Mirror, an intriguing and challenging interpretation of the way in which state-authorising ideology intereacts with ethnogenesis, in this case of the Manchu and Han, but obviously generalisable to many other empires, there was a major dustup in the academic press between Crossley and Mark Elliot over the actual role of shamanism in the Qing and, of course, changes over time. It would seem, although the point is not much emphasised in the Wiki article (have I mentioned what a great researcher I am?) that a change in the New Year's Day sacrificial order made under the Qianlong might have been a pretty important moment, at least as seen at the time. The question is whether it is the same as Lady Fucha's intervention. (Note that the old shamanic sacrifice to Heaven which was replaced in priority by the Imperial sacrifice at the Altar of Heaven was led by the women of the palace.)
Does any of this have anything to do with the strange story of the fall of Lady Ulanara? What of Lady Weigiya, a Han bannerwoman from Jiangsu, the maritime province which surrounds Shanghai? Knowing that it was the Cohong of Guangdong that promoted limiting foreign sailings to that city, it makes a great deal more sense that British captains were going to other ports, and that it as the Cohong, and not Beijing, that wished to discourage this. So what of Shanghai's interest in the foreign trade? Or are we to look in the direction of ethnic politics? The Lady Weigiya's father was a major player at court, but, as a Han bannerman, excluded from the Manchu "shamanic" sacrifices at the Beijing tengri. Taking a more "invention of tradition" perspective on this, as both Elliot and Crossley invite us to do, we can see this prohibition as coming down, nor from the archaic ancestral practice of Nurhaci on the pure plains of the North and as a move to draw out distinctions between Han and Manchu in present day Beijing. It is a story worth telling, but, as far as this post goes, yet another thread left hanging. I think that the decision to let Anson sail was approved in Beijing. I think that it was made in the knowledge that the Acapulco galleon might fall into Anson's hands. The implication --a significant loss in this year's silver in-flow, could not have gone unnoticed in a court where moralist officials have been hectoring the Emperor about the cost, in silver, of military expeditions, and the importance of relying on iron and salt money and valorously patriotic militias since the beginning of time, but the very small and tentative field of Qing political and diplomatic studies is not coming to my aid here.
So this is an intimation of a story behind a story. The fall of the Dzungar Khanate, and the rise of the Dalai Lamas, are, or ought to be, world-historical issues. Certainly, there importance to the story of Pacific history is probably not to be underrated. What we do know is that a refitted Centurion sailed, anything but fully battle ready, but strong enough to take the Acapulco galleon of 1744. Its skeleton crew of 227, included 27 boys and 23 "Dutch and Lascar" sailors taken aboard at Manila. Nuestra Senora de Covadonga was a twenty-three year-old, 700 ton merchant ship with a crew of 266, encumbered by passengers including 20 paying gentlefolk, forty soldiers, 24 convicts, and a staggering 177 "servants." It was armed with light man-killers, no match for the battering power of Anson's main guns, and "If a man will not fight for a galleon, he will not fight for anything," and fight they did. Losses aboard Centurion were light, but Covandonga suffered 67 killed and 84 wounded, a very brave performance all around.
The 177 servants and 24 convicts are an isolated glimpse into the world of the blackbirders a century before there were blackbirders. One would like to know where this indentured labour came from, ultimately, where it was going, and what it was to do. We do not know, and thus cannot guess what the profit on their heads was. As for the silver cargo, that came to 1,313,843 pieces of eight and 35,682 ozs of virgin silver on the official manifest, plus whatever might have been carried on private accounts. On Pacific waters this was rated as one-and-a-half million dollars. At London, we are given preliminary estimates of a value of between £500,000 and 1.25 million. The final total is fogged with endless litigation, but might converge on £400,000, with, Glyn Williams thinks, £243,000 distributed. To put this in perspective, it is about a half percent of the estimated national income of 85 million in 1744, compared with an American GNP of $15 trillion in, say, 2008.
On this basis, the common sailors and boys of the 220 man crew, which included only 145 men originally sailed, and numbered, probably somewhat hyperbolically, "Dutch, French, Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Muscovites, Portuguese, Lascars, Indians, Malays, Persians, Indians of Milan, Timor and Guam, Negroes of Guinea, Creoles of Mexico and Mozambique" in its number, received a staggering £300 each, with a reported £171 paid out as an initial settlement within weeks of landing. Throw in their paying-off, and you can see why some of Anson's crew were seen on the streets of London, drunk, wild and knife in hand, while another, one John Maddox, managed to married the Widow Simms, a woman with a fortune of £1000, in a Dulwich ceremony attended by 40 of his crewmates.
In the longer run, the sensible thing for a "new gentleman" to do with a windfall of £300 is to strengthen that crucial patron-client relationship: leave the money (or such as was left over after an epic spree) in the hands of one's patron to invest, accept a position in his power to grant, and look forward to the future.
Did it happen that way? God knows. The tricky part here is that before Anson could get to London, he had to refit his prize. And that meant that he had to return to Guangzhou. The historical novelist is free to assume that there was someone there for him to pay off. Practically, it is hard to to believe that no money stuck in Guangzhou, and there is all of that off-the-manifest cargo to consider. The conventional story is that Anson threw his weight around and intimidated the authorities but, since no-one lost their jobs --or suffered death-by-slicing-- over the incident, I am more inclined to think in terms of a mutually agreed solution. Could a share of Covadonga's wealth have been dispensed in Guangzhou without becoming an issue in the later lawsuits over prize shares? It's not impossible, for in the end the suits were settled privately, and Anson's officers were famously thick as thieves in later years. If there was a thief in Guangzhou, perhaps one adroit enough to secure some kind of hostage of Anson's body, we would know even less of him or her.
I promised a point to all of this, and it is this. We wonder, today, about what sudden exogenous positive shocks to the money supply might do. If I've got the jargon right, that's the fancy way of describing a fleet of helicopters flying overhead, dropping freshly minted money on people. Would it lead to prosperity, inflation, both, neither? I'm not an economist, but I do want to point out that the experiment has been tried. We might not have the data needed to detect the effects of Anson's little "fiscal stimulus," but such as we do have suggests that the effects were positive. Certainly Anson's voyage puts all of the pieces of the "plantation of the Pacific" on the table without causing them to gel. From Hawaii to Guangzhou to Manila to California to Australia to Ahousat, everything is poised, ready to be brought into play. Whatever is holding it back, that dam is about to fail, in a rush for gold and otter pelts, train oil, and preserved salmon, timber and sandalwood, and, of course, the labour needed to exploit it all. Something had to set the match. Why not that fight in the Strait of Saint Bernard?
So that's what that sea fight in San Bernardino Strait makes me think of. Though I will admit to one of those itchy feelings you have when you know that you're overlooking something, some other sea fight that involved San Bernardino Strait.
Ah, well, I'm sure it will come to me the moment that I hit "Publish."
*A distant memory out of Westfall, Never at Rest. I'm not going to hang an argument on it. Still worth looking at for anyone interested in seeing how a historian of an earlier generation handles a subject of an alternative sexuality. I just wish more people had the attention span to read it that way instead of concluding that physicists be crazy.