CHILE 2006

Wager Quest is organised by SES Global Expeditions, in conjunction with the Chilean Navy and CONAF.

Expedition Leader: Colonel John Blashford-Snell OBE

In the planning

The wreck of HMS Wager, 28 guns, in May 1741 and the survival of a number of her officers and crew is one of the great sagas of the sea.  Whilst part of a British Squadron of Warships under Commodore Anson, HMS Wager struck rocks close to a remote island in Chilean Patagonia, now named Isla Wager.  Many of her crew reached the island safely and as the ship was the store vessel for the Squadron, they were able to salvage sufficient food to exist on the island for many  months.  However, once ashore a dispute arose regarding the Captain's powers of command over the soldiers who had been aboard and the sailors who, once their ship was wrecked, were no longer paid by the Navy.  To some eyes, what now happened amounted to mutiny and after the Captain had shot dead a Midshipman the survivors split into two groups. The Captain and a party of officers and men, numbering around 20, eventually sailed northward in open boats hoping to reach civilization.  Some 80 of the crew and soldiers went south in an extended long boat, through the Straits of Magellan to Brazil and thence to Britain.  Only 12 survived this perilous voyage.  Some died of starvation, others drowned and several were murdered by savages. However as a record
of a journey in an open boat amongst the cruel rocks and currents of the Magellanic region, their story is without parallel..

The Captain's party, which included Midshipman Byron, later Admiral the Lord Byron, grandfather of the famous poet, suffered unimaginable privations before being helped by a friendly Chunos indian chief named Martin, who took the remaining last four survivors in canoes to the island of Chiloe.  There, thanks partly to the civilized and kind manner in which Commodore Anson had treated Spanish prisoners and largely to the natural friendliness of the local people, the four officers, including Byron, were cared for extremely well. A local beauty begged the handsome Byron to marry her, and her uncle a rich priest offered Byron a hugh treasure if he would. Byron, a staunch naval officer, believed it his duty to return to England and declined.

After many months in Chiloe the survivors were sent to Valpariso and then Santiago where again, they were treated with much kindness.  Even the Spanish Admiral, sent to defeat Anson took a liking to them.

Considering that Britain was at war with Spain, this was remarkable.  Furthermore, Midshipman Byron was a great favourite with the ladies of the city!  Eventually the four reached England, by which time Anson had returned in triumph and was now an Admiral. A Court Martial absolved the Captain of blame for the loss of HMS Wager and no action was taken against those members of the crew who had disobeyed his orders.  However, to avoid such a situation reoccuring, Admiral Anson introduced an Act of Parliament in 1748 extending Naval discipline to crews wrecked, lost or captured.  This was one of the rehaznos that led to the formation of the Marines, now the Royal Marines in 1755.

Byron later returned to the area leading a voyage of exploration and also searched for survivors of HMS Wager, but found only blue eyed, fair haired children!   Byron never forgot the enormous kindness and hospitality of the people of Chile.   

This was one of the earliest examples of Anglo/Chilean friendship which is well remembered in naval circles and was certainly known to Rear Admiral Lord Cochrane, an ex Royal Navy officer who later founded and commanded the Chilean Navy against the Spanish.

The objective of the 2006 expedition
In 1986 the late Chilean Admiral Charles Le May, who was then Chairman of Operation Raleigh, Chile, and the late Michael Sheppard, a British businessman in Santiago, suggested an expedition to locate the wreck of HMS Wager.  Time however did not permit this, but now the Scientific Exploration Society proposes to explore the history of the event and conduct a survey of the wreck site. The Society is cooperating with the Chilean Navy and the Council of National Monuments on this Project.

At the same time a land based team will carry out community aid and scientific tasks with CONAF in the Tortel area. It is an aspiration of CONAF to have the area designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and the local authorities are putting together a case. Construction on a lodge not far from the Steffan glaciar has commenced and CONAF have suggested that the SES team base themselves here to carry out a flora and fauna survey with special emphasis on tracking the Huemul;

to plan and record walking routes in the area and to explore the surrounds for good vantage sites. The results will be published in a guide for the guests of the lodge.

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