S3 E12. SEA PART IV – The HMS Wager
Manage episode 317465942 series 2659594
This week, Alix shares the choose-your-own adventure tale of the HMS Wager, an 18th century British ship on a mission to annoy the Spanish. At any cost.
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With thanks to Emily for transcription help.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Byron, G.G. (2021). Don Juan. Urbana, IL: Project Gutenberg. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/21700/21700-h/21700-h.htm
- Craciun, A. (2011). ‘Writing the Disaster: Franklin and Frankenstein’, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 65(4), pp. 433-480. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/ncl.2011.65.4.433
- Cusack, T. (ed.) (2017). Framing the Ocean, 1700 to the Present. London: Routledge.
- Harvey, I. (2016). ‘The gruesome tale of ‘HMS Cannibal’ shipwrecked, murder & crew being eaten by shipmates’, Vintage News, 25 May. Available at: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/05/24/the-gruesome-tale-of-hms-cannibal-shipwrecked-murder-crew-being-eaten-by-shipmates/
- Layman, C.H. (2015). The Wager Disaster. Luton: Andrews UK.
- Robertson, J.A. (2016). Selfhood, Boundaries, and Death in Maritime Literature, 1768-1834. Pd. D Thesis. University of Leeds. Available at: https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/16343/1/Selfhood%20Boundaries%20and%20Death%20in%20Maritime%20Literature%201768-1834.pdf
- Stallings, A.E. (2017). ‘Shipwreck Is Everywhere’, Hudson Review, 70(3), pp. 365-399. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/44786322
- Trifilo, S.S. (1960). ‘British Travel Accounts on Argentina before 1810’, Journal of Inter-American Studies, 2(3), pp. 239-256. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/165039
- Venning, A. (2015). ‘The terrible tale of HMS Cannibal: Forgotten for centuries, it’s a saga, told in a new book, of shipwreck, mutiny and murder that scandalised Britain…’, Daily Mail, 16 April. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3041028/The-terrible-tale-HMS-Cannibal-Forgotten-centuries-s-saga-told-new-book-shipwreck-mutiny-murder-scandalised-Britain.html
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Welcome to Episode 12, the HMS Wager.
[Intro music continues]
A: Carmella – would you like the learn about the ship some call ‘HMS Cannibal?’
C: [nervous laughter] Um…yes? Is the ‘some’ just you?
A: Even worse, I’m afraid. The ‘some’ is…the Daily Mail.
C: [wary laughter] Ok, right. Reputable sources here, folks!
A: Yeah, I’m afraid to I say I have somewhat ‘cannibal-bated’ you there.
C: Ooh, is this a Carmella-style, ‘the was no cannibalism?’
A: No, no, there is some cannibalism – but as you and you our dear listeners might have noticed, by now we are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel when it comes to well-documented survival cannibalism cases.
A: Like, we know there are more out there, we just can’t get out grubby little hands on the documents for them. We want more diaries, come on people, right it down.
C: Release them to the public, please.
C: Or just a research grant, if anyone’s listening who has the power and the money for that, then hit us up, you have our contact details…!
A: And if you’ve got an attic in Nantucket…find George Pollard’s account. I know it’s there!
C: HMS Cannibal.
A: HMS Cannibal. We digress. So, when I was researching HMS Cannibal – aka. HMS Wager, because HMS Cannibal would be a bit on-the-nose, even for the Royal Navy…
C: It’d be like, ‘I can’t believe the luck…what a coincidence…’
A: I’m not gonna lie, I did look up whether the Royal Navy had named a ship HMS Cannibal – it does seem like the sort of think they’d have done – but they seemed to have actually had some restraint. As far as I can find, there is no HMS Cannibal.
C: So far.
A: Yet. But when I’d come across this ship, HMS Wager, and I find references to murder, mutiny, cannibalism, betrayal…
C: [enthusiasm] Yeah! Yeah!
A: You have that ‘oh, hello!’ moment. And then, as you’re paging your way through the research books…Carmella, you know what this is like…
C: [noise of agreement]
A: It’s, ‘guys, you’re really running out of chances for your cannibalism here? If I was writing this, you’d have started about twenty pages ago…oh. What do you mean, they’ve reached the end?’ Now, like I’ve said, there is cannibalism. But not nearly as much as you might think. So hopefully, the fact that this story is absolutely batshit—
A: —will make up for HMS Wager’s sub-par serving of survival cannibalism.
C: Oh, well, I do enjoy a batshit story.
A: And this story is pretty wild. We start in 1740. England is – surprise surprise – at war with Spain.
C: [sarcastic disbelief] No!
A: …and Wager is purchased from the East India Company to be converted into a store-ship. She’s then fast-tracked into a special programme.
A: [laughing] Gifted and talented! She, and I quote, is to be used, ‘to annoy and distress the Spaniards.’
C: What a job, but someone has to do it!
A: That was an actual order, that was a sentence, in an actual admiralty document. ‘Go and piss off the Spanish!’
A: Wager isn’t alone. There’s a fleet of eight ships being led by Commodore George Anson to go on this ‘pissing off the Spanish’ voyage. Now, this expedition is going badly before they even leave England. They can’t find enough men.
C: They can’t find enough annoying men. [both laugh] Well, you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard.
C: Where are they looking? There are plenty of men in England. I’m aware that…I, myself, have met at least some.
A: [laughs] And those that have been met have been plenty annoying. But I don’t know, maybe there’s a dearth of annoying men in 1740. I mean, as the song goes: ‘where have all the good men gone?’, and it’s clearly 1740.
C: I see.
A: The way they get around there not being enough men, is that they literally hoist out-patients from Chelsea Hospital, the army hospital, aboard the ships.
A: 259 men, most between the ages of 60 and 70, the old, the infirm and the wounded military outpatients, make up the ‘Corps of Invalids.’
C: Hm. This is interesting.
A: Other than those who desert, the entire Corps of Invalids die on the voyage.
C: Oh. That’s less…well I mean, still interesting, but, um, not in the same way.
A: They were 70-year-old men without most of their limbs!
A: Who were literally hoisted onto ships because they couldn’t walk!
C: Yeah, you’d think people would have foreseen that. But, um…
A: This is the British navy we’re talking about!
A: So that’s not a great start. Wager is not only carrying invalids, an extra 142 people to her 160 hold, but she’s also got extra provisions because she was set up initially as a store-ship, so she’s got provisions for the whole squadron.
C: Well that’s good. That implies there’ll be no need to turn to cannibalism.
A: Oh ye of little faith. So it’s all off to a great start. And then the Captain of Wager, Captain Kidd, well. He dies.
C: Okay, of what?
A: DEATH. It doesn’t seem overly relevant to this story, in fact I’m not actually sure it was recorded. He just sort of dies.
C: 18th century…death-disease.
A: That’s the one. So it’s bye-bye Kidd and hello Cheap.
A: David Cheap.
C: Now is that cheep like a bird, or cheap like Poundland?
A: Cheap like Poundland.
C: Cool. Nice.
A: Captain Poundland is from a different ship. The 47-year-old Scottish First Lieutenant is now the acting captain of HMS Wager.
A: Now, before the main drama of HMS Wager begins, if you don’t count the kidnapping of the Chelsea Pensioners out of their beds—
A: —it’s important to note there is an unbelievable amount of scurvy aboard.
C: I think I can believe the amount of scurvy.
A: Pretty much everyone has scurvy at this point.
C: I can believe that.
A: Despite the fact that they’re overburdened and over capacity, there are hardly enough people to man the ship.
C: So they’ve packed it full of provisions, but those provisions were not, like, enough lemon juice.
A: And Monster? I’m thinking, what do annoying men take on a road trip…but hey, the show must go on, and by go on, I of course mean get separated from the rest of the squadron and then smash into the south coast of America.
C: It happens.
A: Wager was doing ok given her circumstances around Cape Horn and off South America – Chile-side, aka. the Pacific-side, aka. the less well-charted-in-the-1700s side, aka. the more Spanish bit.
A: She’s doing well given the circumstances. But then, in bad weather on the 14th of May, land is spotted to the west. Quote: ‘thus, shattered and disabled, and a single ship we had the additional mortification to find ourselves bearing for the land on a lee-shore.’
C: So embarrassing, really mortifying.
A: Aka the weather’s bad, we’ve losing a fight to the wind, and as we turn our course we end up, quote, ‘driving bodily’ into Wager Island.
C: Well done. So if these are Spanish-infested waters, is Wager Island Spanish-owned at this point, or…? They’re just loitering about the sea?
A: They’re just loitering about the sea.
A: But if we very loosely look at the history of empire in South America, Spain – not friends with England – has Chile. Portugal, sort-of friends with England at this point, Brazil…please tell me you can hear the quotation marks in this next bit. The nearest piece of land that is ‘owned by Britain’ is the Caribbean.
A: So Wager’s a little bit friendless on this uncharted rocky bit of coast. Oh, and important to note, Wager Island isn’t, like, a massive coincidence. They do name it after.
C: That was my assumption, but you’re right, I mean – the boat’s called cannibal, then they crash into an island called the same thing, ‘cannibal island…’
A: We’ve had some successful shipwrecks where everyone gets off and gets supplies and toddles on their merry way…not this one. Captain Cheap actually falls down a ladder and dislocates his shoulder almost before the crash has happened.
C: [scolding] Oh dear, Captain Cheap!
A: So he’s out of commission. And quote: ‘several poor wretches who were in the last stage of the scurvy and who would not get out of their hammocks, were immediately drowned.’
C: The passive voice there is a bit…concerning…by whom?? [Both laugh]
A: I think just the ocean!
C: It just sounds like they’re like ‘fuck, we’re crashing, quick, down them!’
A: [laughs] I mean, I think they were probably the lucky ones.
C: Yeah. Such good fortune to be dying of scurvy, then to drown in a shipwreck.
A: Brief shoutout here to Mr Jones.
C: Hello Mr Jones.
A: This story doesn’t really have any heroes, but I’m going to give Mr Jones a good ‘you tried’ sticker.
C: An achievement award.
A: Exactly. Because Mr Jones had previously survived another shipwreck, and as everyone’s being a little bit ‘well, we’re fucked, aren’t we?’, he raises a rousing cheer and calls to the despondent crew: my friends, let us not be discouraged, did you never see a ship amongst the breakers before? […] Come, lend a hand!’
C: That is very rousing.
A: And it works! [C laughs] Everyone who’d previously just been going ‘well, we’re gonna die, aren’t we?’, they rally together, they do…something…and it keeps them going!
C: He’s like, ‘these newbies haven’t even been on a shipwreck before!’
A: Later, it would turn out that Mr Jones, well, he actually thought everyone was fucked. He, quote: ‘thought that there was not the least chance of a single man’s being saved’ but decided that the best thing to do was to give people hope.
C: Yeah, you’ve gotta try, haven’t you?
A: 10/10 for optimism. …We will never hear of Mr Jones again.
A: But he did well then.
C: Well done, Mr Jones. [claps]
A: The next morning, the storm breaks. And while some of our crew are, like Mr Jones, wating to make the best of it, quite a few just YOLO it up and, and quote: ‘grew very riotous.’
A: ‘Broke open every chest and box that was at hand, stove in the heads of casks of brandy and wine […] and got so drunk that some of them were drowned on board and lay floating about the decks for some days after.’
C: [laughs] That’s one way to go out, I guess.
A: It’s the Raft of the Medusa…without a raft. [C laughs] So it’s clear that Wager has crashed into a landmass, it’s unclear at this point, if it’s an island or if it’s an outcrop…but some people want to make their way to land, others want to get pissed on the wrecked ship.
C: It’s a real ‘choose your own adventure.’ Where are we going, dear listeners – shall we stay on the ship, or shall we go to land?
A: Well, we’re going to go for land for now, because there’s been a, um…slight break down in discipline.
A: While some people, about 145, make their way to land, the rest have a mutinous little time on the wreck of Wager. They get drunk, they dress up in officers’ clothing—
A: …they fight, they just generally dick about until the ship sinks.
C: [laughs] Yep! Well, if you’re going to hire the most annoying men you can find, this is just what’s going to happen!
A: [laughs] Oh, and because Wager was carrying supplies for other ships as well…there’s even more alcohol than there would be normally.
A: They name their new home Wager Island. And among my favourite naming conventions, they look at a nearby mountain…‘well that’s Mount Misery.’ [C laughs] Y’know, MOOD. But let us turn to food.
C: Let us.
A: Or rather, the lack of it. What’s been brought to the wreck comes to the sum total of, quote: ‘two or three pounds of biscuit dust.’
C: And that was for how many men again?
C: …That’s fine.
A: Especially because added to this is one seagull…[C laughs] …and some wild celery.
C: Ooh. I mean, it creates a nice balanced meal.
A: Exactly. And they turn this into, quote… ‘a kind of soup!’
C: A kind of soup, certainly.
A: Which turns into ‘painful sickness, violent retchings, swoonings and other symptoms of being poisoned.’
C: I really have a question about how you can make those 3 ingredients poison you. Was the seagull…quite old? I assume they killed it fresh…?
A: Ah, we do actually know how they managed to poison themselves. The biscuit powder had been stored in a tobacco bag.
C: [understanding] Ahh.
A: With the tobacco still in it.
C: Mm. Ooh, delicious!
A: However…the wild celery did cure the scurvy.
C: [celebratory] Hey!
A: Small mercies! In only a few days, law and order seems to have completely broken down. There are reports of thefts and murders taking place almost immediately on the beach, most likely over food. And, to make this whole situation even better, corpses have started washing up.
C: Well that is…better…because it solves the food problem.
A: Finally, we have as sensible decision being made. Not quite cannibalism, but, quote: when ‘the bodies of our drowned people [were] thrown among the rocks” the turkey vultures were, quote, killed “in order to make a meal of them.”
C: Ah – sort of like the fishing thing, but with birds instead of fish.
A: Exactly, WE ARE FINALLY USING THE BODIES AS BAIT.
C: I know, that’s your favourite trope in survival media.
A: It’s my second favourite, obviously everyone knows it’s gastronomic incest is my favourite trope. [C laughs] Let’s not become a parody of ourselves, but…however, this was, quote: ‘by no means proportional to the numbers of mouths to be fed.’ So there were various other attempts at finding food, mostly birds, limpets, mussels, and shellfish.
C: The standard deserted island things.
A: There’s even a bit of order established.
A: With Captain Cheap creating a storage tent. Although it is a week before the store-tent – which has to be guarded at all times against thieves – is able to start actually distributing food.
C: Mm, I can imagine. Oh well, at least you’re trying, Cheap.
A: [foreboding] Oh, just wait.
C: [hopes dashed] Oh, okay.
A: But now – ding ding ding – it’s Cannibalism on the Beach Time!
A: It’s a new cocktail recipe we’re thinking of trying out.
C: It’s a cross between a Bloody Mary and a Sex On The Beach. [A laughs]
A: Now, it’s a bit blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, so I’ll read the passage in full.
C: And slowly.
A: ‘A boy, when no other eatables could be found, having picked up the liver of one of the drowned men (whose carcase had been torn to pieces by the force with which the sea drove it among the rocks) was with difficulty withheld from making a meal of it […] Those who were less alert, or not so fortunate as their neighbours, perished with hunger, or were driven to the last extremity.’
C: [confused] So they prevented the boy from eating the liver?
A: ‘But others that were less alert…were driven to the last extremity.’
C: I’m confused by what they’re trying to say there.
A: So the boy has a liver and is prevented by others from eating it.
A: ‘Those who were less alert, or not as fortunate as their neighbours…were driven to the last extremity.’ So the people who were alert are those who said ‘no, don’t eat that liver!’ But if you don’t have someone saying ‘no, don’t eat that liver…!’
C: But the people who were less alert were the ones driven to the last extremity.
A: …This is all the cannibalism you’re gonna get!!
C: I agree with you Alix, I think that you’re interpreting it correctly, but I don’t think that they worded it very well.
A: I love that you say that, because right at the end, we’re going to come to who wrote this.
A: Now I’m sure that there was more survival cannibalism than this.
A: Just undocumented. In fact, a load of second-hand sources say that there’s further evidence of survival cannibalism, that other corpses were eaten, and that even some of the men who’d been buried were exhumed to be consumed.
C: Ooh I like that. That’s nice, good!
A: It’s a fun little one. But I can’t find anything in the first-hand sources, other than the cabin boy who tried to eat a liver, and ‘those who were driven to the last extremity.’
C: I’m imagining it like, you know when your dog’s got something in its mouth and you’re like, ‘spit it out! Drop it! Drop it!’ [Both laugh]
A: Safe to say, things are going quite badly for the survivors. And they have to make a choice as to what they’re going to do next.
C: It’s another Choose Your Own Adventure moment! What are the options? ‘Eat bodies’ or ‘don’t eat bodies?’…I choose ‘eat bodies!’
A: [laughs] We know. [C laughs] You won’t be surprised to hear that some men just desert straight away. Or that the bedraggled survivors are visited by some locals.
C: So it’s not a deserted island!
A: These people have canoes.
C: [understanding] Aah! From the mainland, I see!
A: And come and see what these stupid people are doing.
C: Fair enough.
A: Exactly who the locals are is unclear. Our sources are not exactly generous in terms of either 18th century geography or racial tolerance…
C: [darkly] Yep.
A: And some items are traded, they’re even given a bit more food…up until the annoying men start trying to get it off with the local women and they all just decide, ‘had enough of helping you’, and they fuck off.
C: Very right of them!
A: They are living up to their reputation of being annoying.
A: Items are slowly being recovered from the wreck, including, most importantly of all, the ships’ boats.
C: That is important.
A: There are four, a longboat (which can hold 35 men) a cutter (about 12) a barge (again, 12) and a yawl (7). Even with a good few deaths and desertions, that maths doesn’t quite add up – there are at least 100 survivors at this point.
C: I added it up to about 66, was that correct?
A: I didn’t even attempt the maths.
C: [laughing] Well, if you’re listening at home and my maths is wrong, I’m very sorry!
A: They can’t stay on Wager Island. But there’s only one choice to make, the question of direction – do they go north and to catch up with the rest of Anson’s fleet – perhaps seize a Spanish vessel and do something incredible for king and country! —
A: —Or do they somehow plan to navigate around the cape without proper equipment and round up the Atlantic Ocean in an attempt to make land in Brazil (Portuguese at the time) or the Caribbean (British at the time.) Again, inverted commas. Captain Cheap wants to head North. Pretty much everyone else wants to head south.
C: Could they…they don’t want to go just to Chile? That’s nearer…Spanish, right? They don’t want to do that, so they don’t die? Not an option?
A: They wouldn’t really be treated very well by the Spanish.
C: No, but they might not starve to death.
A: They’re not going to starve to death, they’re Englishmen!
C: Apart from all the ones that have already starved to death.
A: [laughing]…They took the coward’s way!
C: Hm, am I going north or south? I think north. I’m going north.
A: Ah, you’re on Team Cheap!
C: I think I am!
A: So, it’s possible to have some sympathy for Cheap’s plan, here. Although it is worth pointing out, that those ships of the rest of the fleet are on, like, a good two, three, four weeks’ head start—
C: And they’re presumably faster than a longboat.
A: And Cheap does want to seize a Spanish ship.
C: Yeah, no, I did think that one was punching a bit above their capabilities at the moment.
A: But there is a slight reasoning for this. The British Navy aren’t exactly big on their officers not following orders. While the common understanding goes that once the ship has sunk, the men are no longer being paid, so they’re no longer under Navy discipline…not the case for officers. Officers are on half pay…so still have to do their bloody jobs!
C: Oh, interesting.
A: Ten years after the wreck of the Wager, Admiral John Byng would face a court-marshal and would be shot on the deck of his own ship for ‘failing to do his upmost’ in battle, because he had elected not to run a suicide mission and condemn his men to certain death.
C: Yes, okay!
A: So you can possibly see why Cheap is so hell for leather for continuing the mission.
C: Doesn’t want to get executed.
A: However, he is very stubborn, and not very popular. And then he does something very, very stupid.
C: …. what does he do??
A: He shoots a man in the face.
C: [laughs] That’s not doing to help your popularity.
A: After overhearing a quarrel between the Purser and a drunken and insubordinate Midshipman called Cozens, Cheap, quote, ‘ran out of his hut with a cocked pistol and without asking any questions immediately shot him through the head.’
C: I mean, they do say ‘shoot first, ask questions later.’ But that was…quite literal.
A: After shooting Crozens…Couzens…not quite sure, he’s dead, he doesn’t know—
A: —he then doesn’t allow him to be treated or even moved from where he fell. Couzens would die 14 days after being struck in the cheek.
C: Ooh, that’s not a pleasant, lingering death, is it?
A: Cheap’s authority is, pardon the expression, shot.
C: [dark laughter, then] Boo!
A: I say pardon the expression, I’m not sorry! Not surprisingly, there’s a mutiny.
A: It’s probably more about Cheap’s leadership and determination to go north than the death of Couzens, but it’s certainly a rallying cry.
A: It actually gets a bit Loony Tunes here at parts.
C: And this Mutiny No.2.
A: Mutiny No.2.
C: Just for the record.
A: [laughing] There is a fantastic moment when someone lays a trail of gunpowder by Cheap’s hut …and they plan to try and blow it up.
A: But in the end, the mutiny takes place in a more traditional manner, on the morning of October 9th…remember, they were wrecked on the 14th of May…they’ve been there a while…
C: Anyone would get sick of each other after that long!
A: That morning, the mutineers, quote, ‘surprised the captain in bed, disarmed him and took everything out of his tent.’
C: [sympathetic] Aw! That’s a nice, um…breakfast in bed morning greeting.
A: [laughing] I don’t know what your breakfast in bed’s like…!
C: Like, ‘surprise, oh wow you—!’… [dawning disappointment] … ‘aw, no…’
A: ‘Oh no, you’re tying me up with rope…’ He gets a bit sassy actually, calls one of the mutineers ‘Captain.’ For the 18th century, listeners, that is sassy as fuck.
C: [agreeing] Yeah, yeah!
A: At first, the plan is to take Cheap – Captain Poundland – back as prisoner to England in the longboat. However, to nearly everyone’s agreement, Cheap was actually prepared to stay behind on Wager Island with two loyal men.
C: At least he’s got two mates, I guess.
A: And then the rest of the party was split. On Tues 13th, at approximately 11 ‘o clock…why they can give us the time to the second but not know where they are, I feel is a deep embodiment of the 18th century Navy… [C laughs]…but at that point, quote, ‘the whole body of people embarked, to the number of eighty-one souls: fifty-nine on board the long-boat, on board the cutter twelve and in the barge, ten.’ Three men, and the yawl, are left behind onshore.
C: It’s more men that are supposed to be on those boats, but it’s not too many more.
A: It just about works.
C: It’s whittled their numbers down sufficiently!
A: This is where we turn into a Choose Your Own Adventure narrative!
C: I’ve been choosing my own adventure the whole way through, but okay!
A: And I’ve just been ignoring all of your choices and going with the story as it actually happened!
C: Wow, this is a shit game.
A: [laughs] But now, Carm, I promise…I will listen.
A: Who would you like to go with first…the boat, or the island?
C: Ooh…oh no, the decision’s too much, I can’t bear it! Let’s go with the boats.
A: The boat. I’m glad you said that, that’s next on the page.
C: The illusion of choice!
A: [laughs] It’s like, ‘shit, I don’t where the island is, I’ll have to flick through my script…’ The boat. The longboat, which has been named ‘the Speedwell…’
A: Which I feel is a very modern name, it doesn’t feel very 18th century, it feels like a 1920s name for a boat that’s trying to break the land speed record…
C: Yeah, it sounds like something Gatsby would own.
A: Exactly! But anyway, he doesn’t. The Speedwell is setting out to do something incredible – to round the cape and make it back to safe harbour. As I said, there are initially 81 men, but this isn’t the case for long. They are, however, not in for a lot of luck – is anyone in this story? – and decide almost immediately to go back for more supplies.
C: Back to the island?
A: Yes. The barge is sent back to Wager Island with 9 men aboard, to get as many supplies as they can carry. There were only 12 days of rations aboard the Speedwell.
C: I just don’t think they really thought that through.
A: The chosen men in the barge appear to be loyal to Captain Cheap. And disappear.
A: With the barge.
A: And then they lose the cutter.
A: So they’re really doing well at cutting down those numbers.
C: They’re not acquiring more provisions?
A: Not quite. But if it’s not enough to quite literally be losing men, some of them are abandoned, forcibly put ashore, and there’s quite a cruel moment in the December of 1741, where 8 men are left in the uninhabited freshwater bay, and they’re sent a note basically saying, ‘sorry the weather was too bad for us to come and pick you up. There’s loads of fresh water, and some dogs and some horses, you’ll be fine.’
C: Were they fine? …Or were they never heard from again?
A: [playfully scolding] …wait for your Choose Your Own Adventure!
C: Okay, okay!
A: It doesn’t seem overly believable that they were left behind just because the weather got bad.
C: Yeah. Probably some kind of argument, or just a calculation of numbers.
A: Exactly. Now, for the most part, the men of the Speedwell are dying from starvation. There’s no record of any survival cannibalism in this boat…
C: But they probably did it.
A: Exactly – it just seems foolhardy that they didn’t. The Speedwell makes land in Rio Grande, South Brazil, fifteen weeks after leaving the wreck of the Wager, having covered an incredible 2,000 miles in an open boat, with 30 survivors.
C: So they did make it! I’m impressed, I didn’t think they were going to!
A: You honestly don’t, you’re like ‘well, they’re gone…and then, oh, 30, 30 survivors?’ I mean, of 81, not great—
C: But all of those 81 died, some of them got left! [A laughs]
A: But that’s still very impressive.
A: Especially with only 12 days’ worth of food.
A: They did pick up a few more rations along the way, but it doesn’t quite balance out.
C: And I think…picked on some bodies.
A: Probably. Here the survivors split again, with three men getting passage on the Stirling Castle back to England, and on New Years Day, 1743, they return.
A: It’s bad innings for a journey, actually. After making land, one of the survivors, Lieutenant Baynes – who’s actually the one that Cheap goes ‘oh, Captain Baynes, is it?’ [to]…
C: Ah well, please give him his correct title, Alix! [A laughs]
A: You’re very much on Team Cheap here, which is strange considering he shot a man in the face!
C: I found that funny!
A: [laughs] Well Baynes is in the Captain’s bad books, what a surprise…
C: [joking] Would he say he was a bane of Captain Cheap?
A: He’s very annoying because of the whole mutiny thing. So Baynes rushes off to tell tales to the Admiralty – because of course these guys are gonna be the only survivors, right? They want to look in the best light and it’s not like anyone else is gonna turn up and say anything different, hey??
A: Who next? Back to Wager Island, or the Abandoned Eight?
C: Ooh, um…Wager Island!
A: (Proving it’s not pre-done, because I have to scroll down to Wager Island…) Back to the island. Captain Cheap, Mr Hamilton of the marines and Mr Elliot the Surgeon have been left behind on Wager Island, and while they have been given some provisions, it’s hardly expected by anyone that there are going to be survivors. However, who is this sailing over the horizon? We have a small crew of nine deserters!
C: Ahh, of course!
A: These include Alexander Campbell and John Byron. They’re sailing back to join the captain. And a few of those original deserters, back way when the Wager first crashed…
C: Oh, the ones who stayed on the ship to get drunk!
A: And the ones who, once they made land, were like, ‘fuck this shit we’re out’—
A: They’re also found, and they agreed to join their commander!
C: Aw, it’s a nice reunion!
A: So we’re up to 20 on Wager Island, and we have 2 boats. We have the barge and the yawl. It’s better than nothing, but they’re not exactly in good repair, especially because the carpenter is one of the mutineers.
C: Ah. But still, they’ve acquired more men and boats than they began with!
A: Exactly. The plan is still to sail north in the boats and capture a Spanish vessel.
C: [enthusiasm] Yeah!
A: Now, by this point surely there’s no hope they’re going to catch up with Anson, but this is the plan, they are going north. Nothing is going to stop them, they’re going north!
C: Aim high, you know?
A: They hang around for a few months, because the weather’s bad. They maroon men for stealing food, who then die of exposure. And then, when they eventually attempt to head north in the December of ’41, it goes pretty poorly. In fact, the yawl is lost, and a man is drowned.
A: It’s then established that there just is not enough room in the barge for all the survivors, and, well… ‘this was a melancholy thing, but necessity compelled us to it. And as we were obliged to leave some behind us, the marines were fixed on, as not being of any service on board…’
A: ‘It is probable that all met with a miserable end.’
C: Wow. That’s very caring. It always seems to be the marines who get left behind in these things.
A: It’s especially noteworthy at this point because – not to get too technical about it – these aren’t Royal Marines.
A: These are just marines. They’re under a different command structure…
C: They’re just blokes.
A: They’re just some random chaps.
C: I see.
A: Not quite, but they are held separately to the Royal Navy.
C: They’re not your mates.
A: Also the case with the Royal Marines, but…
C: The Royal Marines are at least royal.
A: If you’re interested in the history of the Royal Marines, this case is a pivotal moment in when the Navy start thinking, ‘oh shit, we should probably do something about the Royal Marines.’
C: Okay. That’s fun.
A: But now we’re down to 14. And it’s decided that they’re going to go back to Wager Island to die. I’m not kidding, either. ‘For we expected to die at Wager Island, looking on that place, which we had been so much used to, as a kind of home.’
C: Aww. So this is the 14 marines.
A: No this is—
C: Oh, sorry.
A: Yeah, the marines, they’ve just chucked off, they’re like ‘no, you four, you’re useless and sickly, you…go there. Bye.’
C: And then they decide that after all that faff, actually they’re not going to go and they’re going to turn home.
C: Got you.
A: They don’t find the marines…
C: Do they even try to find the marines?
A: Probably not. But they’re now down to 12. Cheap continues to be not a team player, even as the men were, quote, ‘obliged to eat [their] shoes. They were of seal skin, and they were at that time a very great dainty.’
A: Cheap is noted for his cruelty. He and the surgeon ‘ate it [some boiled seal] without offering it to any one of us.’ It actually seems very likely that the survival of any of those left behind on the island was due to the arrival of a group of the Chono people, who agree to guide them overland in exchange for the barge.
A: The overland journey takes another four months, and the men are worked very hard, the majority of them are worked to death. Ten men die of starvation, including the surgeon, who is ‘a very strong, active young man’ who had, and I think this is an understatement, ‘gone through an infinite deal of fatigue.’
C: [laughs] Well obviously it was finite, because…
A: [laughing] You’re so mean to this crew!
C: Just to the style of narration – not your style of narration – the style of narration from whoever our narrator is!
A: Now, I’m not sure how prepared you are for how Bills and Boon-ready Captain Poundland-Cheap has gotten by this stage.
C: I also do note that to anyone outside of the UK, ‘Poundland’ probably sounds like a euphemism anyway.
A: [dawning realisation] Oh.
A: It’s a shop where everything is a pound, and therefore…very ‘cheap.’
C: That was the joke, it’s not sexual! Although…!
A: [laughing] Well Carmella, wait until you hear this description of Captain Cheap before you say that…! [A snorts] ‘His beard was as long as a hermit’s, and his faced covered with train-oil and dirt, from having long accustomed himself to sleep upon a bag by the way of pillow in which he kept the pieces of stinking seal.’
C: [sarcastic approval mixed with horror] Ooh!
C: Yes, [A laughs] Poundland Cheap, no wonder he was so popular with the men!
A: Moving on. Professor Ximena Urbina of the Chilean Academy of History says that the rescue of the survivors by the Chono people was mostly likely calculated, that they’d learned of the wreck and knew of the value of British prisoners to the Spanish.
C: Ooh, smart.
A: And also knew of the literal value of the loot that could be seized.
C: Yeah, finders keepers. I mean, that’s the ethos Europeans had going to South America, so…
A: After all, after making land at Chiloé Island, the four survivors were handed over to the Spanish authorities and spent two years as prisoners of war. Hamilton and Cheap are treated quite well, they’re both of the officer class…
C: Yes, yes. Even when you hate someone’s nation, you can still be classist at the same time.
A: [imitating posh naval officer] ‘We respect good breeding, goddamnit!’
A: [laughs] Anyway. But the non-officers, Byron and Campbell, were jailed. The locals came and to laugh at them.’
C: [laughs loudly]
A: I’m not even exaggerating there! People paid the jailers so they could come and look at, quote, the ‘terrible Englishmen!’ [C laughs loudly again] Not quite the annoying the Spanish they thought they were gonna be doing.
C: Well back in the day, before TV or the internet, where else were you going to see Englishmen?? [A laughs] Were you going to go to England? I don’t think so!
A: [darkly] Why would you? But apparently these ‘terrible Englishmen’ were so pitiful that they were put out on parole.
A: Now Campbell would get out of this sticky situation by – shock horror – converting to Catholicism.
C: [mock-shocked gasp]
A: He, quote, ‘of course left us.’
C: Wow, that bastard.
A: And then he would later…disappear. However, eventually the three survivors, Cheap, Hamilton and Byron, would make it back to England, Dover in the April of 1745.
C: That’s quite a bit later than the others, right?
A: Yeah, about two years.
C: After the imprisonment, yeah.
A: But now we have one more gang to go back to.
C: Freshwater Cove Gang!
A: The Abandoned Eight. We’re going back in time to the December of 1741. And they are, unsurprisingly, not very happy. They have been abandoned by their fellow mutineers, and definitely don’t believe in the ‘bad weather’ excuse.
C: But they do have dogs and horses, and fresh water…?
A: Oh just wait, just wait with the dogs…! Quote: ‘the most probable reason we could give for such inhuman treatment was, that by lessening the number of their crew they might be better accommodated with room and provisions.’
C: I think that probably exactly what happened.
A: Methinks we can all agree. However, the eight of them do try and make the best of it. As we’ve said, while the coast is uninhabited by people, there is seemingly plenty to subside on. Seals, fresh water, armadillos…I’m sorry to say they subsided a little on the dogs…
C: [sadly] It happens. A lot.
A: The men know that it is 300 miles overland to Buenos Aires, however they’re nowhere near strong enough to think about making that walk yet. So instead, they play house. They “take up […] quarters on the beach till we should grow strong enough to undergo the fatigue of a journey.”
C: That makes sense.
A: It’s all very ingenious. They make knapsacks out of seal skin, they have some ammunition, they were actually given real supplies, which almost implies a level of guilt. They have muskets, they go hunting…they set up a little house.
A: They find puppies.
A: And tame them to help them hunt.
C: Aw, yay!
A: They all have their little scrawl of puppies. It’s adorable. These dogs do not get eaten.
C: Yay! Just the other dogs get eaten.
A: The other dogs. They build a hutch, they plan to raise pigs…things were going quite well until the August of 1742, when 2 of their party go missing.
A: And two more are murdered with their home being wrecked, most likely by Tehuelche nomads. After this the four survivors are taken prisoner by a different Tehuelche party, and they were, quote, ‘bought and sold four different times – a for a pair of spurs, a brass pan, ostrich feathers and suchlike trifles.’
C: The value of Brits, huh?
A: ‘How much for this annoying man?’
C: I’ll give you an ostrich feather. And a spur.
A: Just the one.
C: Just one – they’re not worth more than that! [A laughs]
A: Eventually however, Cangapol, a Tehuelche Cacique (aka a king), he learns that these are Englishmen, and are at war with the Spanish and aren’t actually Spaniards themselves. And because the Tehuelche also hate the Spanish, this means their treatment improves just a little.
A: However, after a few, well, years, they convince Cangapol that they, quote, ‘had English friends at Buenos Aires who would make him a very handsome satisfaction for us, and who would redeem us at any price.’ So he agrees to ransom the men. Well, three of them. One of them, John Duck—
C: Hey, that’s a good name!
A: …who I wish was in this story more, because what a name – John Duck is mixed race, and this is the reason allegedly given that Cangapol won’t part with him.
A: This is what the sources say. We know that only three of them are allowed to return…draw your own conclusions.
C: Yep, not sure I fully understand the logic behind this, but okay.
A: The other three are ransomed for $270.
C: Each or together?
A: Oh together, it’s a bargain price. Three annoying men for the price of one. [C laughs] And then, guess what? They’re imprisoned by the Spanish in Buenos Aires as prisoners of war. At least they’re on prisoner rations as opposed to starvation ones?
A: But it’s still not all that good for the survivors, to be honest. They’re working as prisoners of war on the Spanish ship The Asia, but they are in for a surprise. There’s a brief indigenous uprising on the ship Asia, where eleven of the indigenous crew manage to kill twenty of the Spanish and briefly take over control of the ship…
C: Ah, that’s eventful!
A: Before then being defeated. But it was a bit of excitement.
C: Yeah, something to do.
A: But they’re in for a bit more excitement, because they’re joined by another Wager survivor –
A: Alexander Campbell! Campbell has a surprisingly nice time of it in contras to the other men. He gets to dine with the captains of the Spanish fleet while his old friends are prisoners.
A: Finally, however, the Abandoned Eight – now three and Campbell – make it to Spain. Again, there’s a slight hitch. The three are once again imprisoned and Campbell goes off to Madrid. But after four months the three survivors are released to Portugal and are then able to make their way to England. It’s now July 1746.
C: The latest of all.
A: The latest of all. Now just to wrap this up, Alexander Campbell makes it back to England in 1746 and is promptly dismissed from the Navy for being a Catholic.
C: Well, yeah…!
A: And for, allegedly, serving with the Spanish military.
C: Yeah, I was gonna say, what was he doing all that time?
A: It’s pretty obvious that this is in fact what he was doing.
A: I mean…smart! A traitor to king and country, but…
C: Playing the game.
A: They probably gave him food.
A: So, all of our main players are back in England. Or dead. No more survivors, I’m afraid. Although it is pretty impressive so many of them made it back at all, especially so scattered across South America.
C: Yeah, in their dribs and drabs.
A: But now it’s time for consequences!
C: Oh, those.
A: Well, sort of. We’ve encountered before that mutiny is worse than cannibalism.
C: Yes, mutiny’s bad, cannibalism’s fine.
A: And to be fair, even when men have made it back to England, and there’s a court martial, it seems like the admiralty is just so worried about what the impact of what this mutiny could have been, that they just…pretend it didn’t happen.
A: Baynes, who was the first one to give his account, is pretty much the only man to get a telling off.
A: And that’s not for doing a mutiny, that’s for not warning Captain Cheap when he didn’t see land. The land that the Wager crashed into.
C: Oh okay right, I see.
A: Even though he didn’t see it, he still should have told Cheap…!
C: Right, yes, got you.
A: What’s also connected is that fact that if Cheap doesn’t accuse anyone of doing a mutiny, then hopefully no-one will accuse him of doing a murder of Couzens.
C: Yeah, yeah, it won’t come up.
A: Because he definitely did do a murder.
C: Well, I mean…
A: He shot a man in the face!
C: He shot him in the face and then he died 14 days later, who can say, y’know, whether…!
A: [laughing] He wouldn’t allow him to have any medical treatment!
C: …whether those 2 events were connected or not!
A: [laughing] Correlation is not causation!
A: Because mutiny is definitely the worst thing, the cannibalism just…doesn’t even get mentioned. No-one really gets punished at all.
C: Good for them, annoying for us.
A: A happy ending…question mark? The main source for this story was the suitably named, The Wager Disaster, which of all people, has a foreword from Prince Philip.
A: So it’s safe to say that the Royal Family do know about survival cannibalism. Now that’s not slander, that’s just pure fact!
C: Well, I think they know about it from other sources, I’m sure.
A: That’s slander. [C laughs] Now, we’re ending on one of the survivors, one of the main sources who I’ve been quoting, a young sixteen-year-old Midshipman called John Byron.
C: Oh yes, you mentioned him earlier, and I was like ‘Byron!’ Like the poet, but probably not.
A: Now, that isn’t the first time that name has come up, is it?
C: We did have a cousin of Byron in another case.
A: During the Frances Mary.
A: But that’s not the case with this Byronic connection. They’re not cousins. This is his grandfather.
C: Oh wow! See earlier I was going to say, and I wish I had said, ‘oh, Byron again!’ Curses!
A: You’d think of all the Byrons with a brush with cannibalism it would be mad, bad, and dangerous to know, but no, no! This John Byron later in his naval career, is even tasked with finding the North-West Passage.
C: Ooh, well he clearly doesn’t achieve it.
A: He doesn’t even try; he just fucks off from that command and doesn’t even attempt it.
C: That’s very smart.
A: A wise, wise man who has already had a brush with survival cannibalism. In fact it was Byron who wrote about the cabin boy who was ‘put that liver down, stop chewing on that liver, spit that liver out…’
C: Drop it! Drop it!
A: So he has definitely had his brushes with survival cannibalism. However his grandfather’s shipwreck clearly impacted the young, humble Lord George Byron, who would go on to…milk it for all it was worth.
C: Oh, yeah.
A: Writing to his sister that: ‘reversed for me our grandsire’s fate of yore / he had no rest at sea, nor I on shore.’
A: And Byron even draws from life in Don Juan, whose hardships – now this is bad – whose hardships ‘were comparative / to those related in my grand-dad’s narrative.’
C: [laughs and cheers] Hey!
A: [laughs] …Dickhead.
A: But we will end with a reading from Don Juan itself.
C: Oh, yes please.
A: Because we really need to round off this episode with a bit more actual survival cannibalism. And Lord George – your time to shine – as in Canto II of the epic poem, Don Juan is in a bit of a sticky situation. After seven days at sea in a dreadful storm… well, I’ll let him tell it. Poetry Reading with Alix! [C laughs]
At length one whisper’d his companion, who
Whisper’d another, and thus it went round,
And then into a hoarser murmur grew,
An ominous, and wild, and desperate sound;
And when his comrade’s thought each sufferer knew,
’Twas but his own, suppress’d till now, he found:
And out they spoke of lots for flesh and blood,
And who should die to be his fellow’s…[fud.] Food.
A: (The rhymes aren’t great here, Byron.)
The lots were made, and mark’d, and mix’d, and handed,
In silent horror, and their distribution
Lull’d even the savage hunger which demanded,
Like the Promethean vulture, this pollution;
None in particular had sought or plann’d it,
’Twas nature gnaw’d them to this resolution,
By which none were permitted to be neuter—
And the lot fell on Juan’s luckless tutor.
A: The sailors ate him, all save three or four,
Who were not quite so fond of animal food;
To these was added Juan, who, before
Refusing his own spaniel, hardly could
Feel now his appetite increased much more;
’Twas not to be expected that he should,
Even in extremity of their disaster,
Dine with them on his pastor and his master.
C: [congratulatory] Yay! [claps]
A: You’re welcome.
C: That was good, thanks.
A: So, that was HMS Wager, aka. Hardly Any Cannibalism At All, Who’d Have Thought That The Daily Mail Lies In Its Reporting.
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on the HMS Wager. Well, whenever you go to sea, you’re always taking a gamble, I guess.
C: I held that in the whole episode.
A: Join us next time as we wrap up the season with some more fun on boats.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]