Captain Cheap had never been popular at the best of times, and as food ran short he was less so. Added to this was the fact that the injuries he’d sustained in the wreck left him barely able to walk. He spent his days sequestered in the one surviving tent with guards posted outside.
The tent also contained the meager store of food they’d managed to salvage from the shipwreck, something not lost on the starving sailors.
Every morning, Captain Cheap appeared with his marines behind him, bayonets and rifles at the ready. He made great ceremony of doling out the day’s ration, invoking all the dreadful force of Royal Navy discipline as he did so.
The mutiny started in earnest with Carlyle, who fancied himself a sea-lawyer. “Our pay stopped the moment the Wager broke her back on them rocks,” he said. “He ain’t our captain no more. There ain’t no navy here ashore.”
The HMS Wager was part of a squadron commanded by George Anson and bound to attack Spanish interests in the Pacific. Wager lost contact with the squadron while rounding Cape Horn and ran aground on the west coast of Chile in May 1741. The main body of the crew mutinied against the captain, David Cheap, abandoning him and those who remained loyal to him. The mutineers sailed back to England. Cheap also made it back with a handful of survivors. During the subsequent court-martial proceedings, the mutineers asserted that were not guilty because their wages automatically stopped when the ship was lost, so they were no longer under naval law. The Admiralty declined to convict them, instead opting to change the regulations so that sailors’ pay continued after shipwreck.