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Wager, Charles (DNB00)

WAGER, Sir CHARLES (1666–1743), admiral, was grandson of John Wager (d. 1656) of St. Margaret's, Rochester, mariner; and son of Charles Wager (1630-1666), who, after serving as a captain in the navy of the Commonwealth, commanded the Yarmouth in the fleet that brought over Charles II at the Restoration, and in 1664-5 commanded the Crown in the Mediterranean with (Sir) Thomas Allin [q. v.] He did not, however, come home till near the end of 1665, when he called on Pepys, who noted (2 Nov. 1665): 'A brave fellow, this captain is, and I think very honest.' At a later date (27 March 1668) he again noted: 'Above all Englishmen that ever were in the Straits, there never was any man that behaved himself like poor Charles Wager, whom the very Moors do mention with tears, sometimes.' He married, in 1663, Prudence, daughter of William Goodsonn of Ratcliffe, gentleman, probably the parliamentary vice-admiral, William Goodson [q. v.], or a near kinsman; and had issue a daughter, Prudence, besides the son, born in 1666, presumably after his father's death. The widow married, secondly, Alexander Parker, merchant, and had issue two sons and four daughters, one of whom married the Rev. John Watson, and was the mother of Vice-Admiral Charles Watson [q. v.]

The first mention of the younger Charles which can now be found is in 1690, when he was second lieutenant of the Foresight, a small 50-gun ship, commanded by Basil Beaumont [q. v.], sent to the north in July to raise men for the fleet. In 1692 he was second lieutenant of the Britannia, flagship of Admiral Edward Russell (afterwards Earl of Orford) [q. v.], in the battle of Barfleur, and on 7 June was promoted by Russell to the command of a fireship. In the next year he commanded the Samuel and Henry, armed ship, in which he convoyed the merchant fleet to New England. In November 1695 he was appointed to the Mary; in December was moved to the Woolwich, and in April 1696 to the Greenwich, a 50-gun ship, which he commanded in the North Sea, the Channel, and on the coast of France, till the end of 1699, but without any opportunities of distinguished service. In June 1700 he was living with his family at Killingnorth, near Looe in Cornwall, 'about ten miles from his majesty's yard at Plymouth,' he wrote, and whence 'he could be at London in four or five days, if required.'

In the following February he was appointed to the Medway for service in the Channel, and on 13 Jan. 1701-2 to the Hampton Court of 70 guns, one of fifty-one ships commissioned the same day. In her, in 1703, he accompanied Sir Clowdisley Shovell [q. v.] to the Mediterranean, and in October was detached with Rear-admiral George Byng (afterwards Viscount Torrington) [q. v.] to negotiate a treaty with the dey of Algiers (Memoirs relating to the Lord Torrington, Camden Soc. pp. 112-13); after which, coming home with Byng in November, his ship sustained considerable damage and was nearly lost in the 'great storm' (ib. p. 117). In 1704, still in the Hampton Court, he again went out to the Mediterranean with Shovell, and was present at the reduction of Gibraltar, though having no actual part in the achievement. He was then detached with some other ships to Lisbon and England with convoy [cf. Rooke, Sir George], and was thus absent from the battle of Malaga. He was again in the Mediterranean with Shovell in 1705; was present at the capture of Barcelona, and on the homeward voyage was detached to Lisbon, returning to England early in 1706.

In January 1706-7 he was appointed to the Expedition of 70 guns, as commander-in-chief at Jamaica and commodore of the first class with a captain under him. He sailed from Plymouth in April with nine ships of war and a large fleet of merchantmen in companv. In December he had news that M. du Casse was again on his way to the West Indies with a powerful French squadron intended for an attack on Jamaica. Further intelligence, however, convinced Wager that the object of this squadron was to convoy the Spanish treasure ships from Havana, and led him to plan the intercepting of these on their way from Portobello. The Spaniards, having information of his being at sea, postponed their sailing, and it was not till 28 May 1708 that he at last met them off Cartagena. There were in all seventeen ships, twelve of which were large and more or less heavily armed. Three, carrying distinguishing pennants as admiral, vice-admiral, and rear admiral, were effectively ships of war, of from 64 to 44 guns, with crews numerically large, and on board these, as Wager had been informed, was the treasure, variously estimated at from twenty to fifty millions of dollars, or from four to ten millions sterling. Besides the Expedition, Wager had with him only two ships, the Kingston of 60 guns and the Portland of 50; and the Spaniards, considering themselves the superior force, prepared for battle. About sunset Wager, in the Expedition, engaged the Spanish admiral; but neither the Kingston nor the Portland obeyed his signals to engage the other two ships, and for some time the Expedition was exposed to the fire of all three. After about an hour and a half, the Spanish admiral's ship suddenly blew up. Of the seven hundred men said to be on board, eleven only were picked up the next day. The Expedition, too, nearly foundered by the violence of the explosion, the shower of falling timbers, and the quantity of water that was forced on board through the lower deck ports. Having at length cleared her of the wreck and the water. Wager pushed on to attack one of the other ships, now barely distinguishable in the dark. His broadsides, however, were overpowering; his other two ships, guided by the flashes of the guns, came up, and about two in the morning the Spaniard, which proved to be the rear-admiral, surrendered. But the Expedition had sustained much damage in her masts and rigging, and at daybreak Wager ordered the Kingston and Portland to chase the vice-admiral, then some ten or twelve miles off. They obeyed, but with such excessive caution that the Spaniard escaped. Their captains, Timothy Bridge and Edward Windsor, were afterward tried by court-martial, which attributed their misconduct to 'want of judgment,' and sentenced them to be dismissed their ships (Campbell, iii. 210), but the mischief had been done. Nearly half of the treasure had gone down with the admiral, and a great part of the remainder had escaped with the vice-admiral. What was taken, though enough to make Wager a wealthy man, was a very small part of what might have been won had these two ships been commanded by capable men. Still, the blow to the Spaniards was very great, and was increased by the loss of many other ships picked up by Wager's cruisers and by privateers, one of which took a prize that the Spaniards offered to ransom for 180,000 dollars. In July, after his return to Jamaica, Wager first learned that on 19 Nov. 1707 he had been made rear-admiral of the blue. He continued on the station for near eighteen months longer, in which time trade was protected, merchants were contented, and 'a greater number of prizes were taken by the ships under his command than at any former period of the same length' (Charnock), a distinction which at that time had a very considerable money value. When Wager returned to England in November 1709, he was an extremely wealthy man.

On 8 Dec. he was knighted by the queen; but he had no service afloat for several years. In February 1714-16 he was appointed comptroller of the navy, an office which he held till March 1718, when he was appointed one of the lords commissioners of the admiralty. In this post he remained till June 1733, when he was sworn in of the privy council and advanced to be first lord of the admiralty. But these offices did not sever him from the active service. On 16 June 1716 he was advanced to the rank of vice-admiral, and in 1722 was nominated to the command of a squadron intended as a threat to Portugal. It was found unnecessary to push the threat further, and Wager did not embark; but in 1726 he took command of a powerful fleet sent into the Baltic to anticipate or prevent any action of Russia as a party to the treaty of Vienna (cf. Stanhope, Hist, of England, ii. 11; Lecky, Hist, of England, i. 408-9). The mere presence of the fleet produced the desired effect, and neither in 1726 nor in 1727. when Sir John Norris (1660?-1749) [q. v.] had succeeded Wager, was the peace of Europe broken in the north.

In the south it was different. The Spaniards determined to lay siege to Gibraltar; by the end of 1726 they had mustered an army of 15,000 men in the immediate neighbourhood of the rock, and hostilities began early in the following year. In February Wager arrived with a strong fleet and large reinforcements for the garrison. Rear-admiral Francis Hosier [q. v.] was sent to the West Indies to prevent the Spanish treasure ships leaving Portobello, and one of Wager's principal objects was to prevent any such ships getting into Cadiz. Early in March, however, much to his disgust, some vessels from Havana, with a large amount of treasure on board, by hugging the African shore, succeeded in slipping past him. He wrote to his friend and constant correspondent, Charles Delafaye, then secretary to the Duke of Newcastle, that there was a time for all things; a time to sit still and a time to be active; and that as he was past sixty, it was time for him to be in his garden at Parson's Green. This, however, passed off, and he continued in command of the fleet, blockading Cadiz and keeping open the communication with Gibraltar till the cessation of hostilities in June 1727, and till the signing of the preliminaries of peace in February 1727-8. In April 1728 he returned to England with some of the ships, the others remaining at Gibraltar, where it was understood that the peace was by no means assured.

In 1729 a large fleet, English and Dutch, under Wager, was still kept in commission in the Channel, and before the implied threat the Spaniards gave way. In June the general pacification was agreed to, and the definitive treaty was signed at Seville on 9 Nov. After the second treaty of Vienna—concluded in March 1731—it was agreed to make the landing of Don Carlos and the Spanish troops at Leghorn an international celebration. On 10 July Wager was promoted to be admiral of the blue; and as the French refused to admit that an English admiral, with his flag at the main, necessarily took precedence of a French vice-admiral, with his flag at the fore, no French ships took part in the function. But an English fleet, under the command of Wager, going to the Mediterranean, joined a Spanish squadron, with the troops on board, and anchored on 15 Oct. at Leghorn. For ten days the festivities were kept up. On the 25th Wager sailed from Leghorn, and arrived at St. Helens on 10 Dec. It was the end of his sea service.

When, in 1739, war with Spain again broke out, Wager was first lord of the admiralty, and, so far as circumstances permitted, organised the fleets for the Channel and West Indies. But the work was difficult, and indeed impossible, for a war even with Spain. In ships, and still more in the administrative departments, the navy was at the very lowest ebb, and the first years of the war were not a success. Wager felt this, and that the responsibility was too great for his advanced years. In March 1742 he retired from the admiralty, and in December was appointed treasurer of the navy. He held this for only a few months, dying on 24 May 1743. In 1747 a monument to his memory was erected in Westminster Abbey by Francis Gashry, an associate of Wager's at the navy board, and at that time comptroller of the victualling. His portrait, by Kneller, was lent from Greenwich Hospital to the third loan exhibition at South Kensington in 1868 (Cat. No. 755). Other portraits by Dahl, Gibson, Isaac Whood, and J. Ellys were engraved by Faber and White (Bromley, p. 287).

Wager married, on 8 Dec. 1691, Martha, daughter of Anthony Earning, a captain in the parliamentary navy, by Ellen, sister of Nehemiah Bourne [q. v.], but had no issue. His widow died in 1748, and was also buried in Westminster Abbey. The bulk of Wager's property was left to Charles Bolton, the son of his sister Prudence, with legacies to his half-sister, Mary Parker, and niece, Martha Watson.

[Charnook's Biogr. Nav. ii. 437; Chester's Westminster Abbey Registers, pp. 363. 375; Commission and Warrant Books, List Books, and Captains' Letters in the Public Record Office. Still more important and interesting is his official and semi-official correspondence with the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Delafaye in Home Office Records, Admiralty, vols, lvii-ix., lxi-ii., lxvi-vii.. lxix. See also Campbell's Lives of the Admirals; Burchett's Transactions at Sea, and Lediard's Naval History.]

J. K. L.