Monday, April 1, 2013


The HMS Centurion (center) battles a Spanish galleon

The British ship Centurion looks so mighty in the sketch above, but such was not the case with her crew in the summer of 1742.

Having left South America and wandered for more than two months in the big Pacific Ocean, the ship was low on food and the crew sick with disease by the time she saw land on August 23.  It was Anatahan, which would have been difficult to land at.  Over some days, the ship passed by other islands, again too small or too high, without good anchorage, to be of any use to the emaciated crew.

The lack of wind did not help the ship move more speedily.  But, finally, on August 26, they spotted Tinian.  A flat island, it gave the ship, and her commander, George Anson, much hope. 

Then they saw a proa, so they prepared to defend themselves, as much as the sickly crew could.  They even raised a Spanish flag and a red one, as well, to pretend to be a Manila galleon.  The proa turned out to be carrying a Spanish official and four Chamorros.

From them they learned that Tinian was a garden paradise, full of cattle, swine and poultry, and fruits and vegetables.  Anson landed at Tinian, preventing the Spanish officer from using his boat to sail down to Guam to inform the Spanish Governor, who might send up a sufficient number of armed men to threaten the British, still weak and sickly.  The Chamorro ranch hands fled into the interior, fearing the British.  This left vacant the huts used by the Chamorros, which the British then used for themselves.

The sick crew members were transported on land, some of them borne on the shoulders of the stronger men.  Many died, and were buried on Tinian.

The rest, however, began to recover after eating Tinian's lush fruits, especially the citrus ones to make up for their Vitamic C deficiency.  The records of Anson's crew use the word "incredible" to describe the amount of cattle, hogs and chicken running wild all over Tinian.  The British came across a new kind of food - breadfruit (lemmai).

If it weren't for Tinian, Anson and his men may have never survived their trek across the ocean.

But they couldn't - and didn't - tarry long in Tinian.  They got out as soon as they could, before the Spanish on Guam could reach them.

But they didn't leave without first stocking huge supplies of water and fruits to prevent scurvy from breaking out again among the crew.

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