MAST iconMaritime Archaeology Sea Trust

HMS Invincible 1744

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The National Museum Royal Navy logo

MAST is delighted to have received a £2 million grant for the rescue excavation, recovery, conservation and public display of material from the wreck of HMS Invincible (1744). We look forward to working with our partners Bournemouth University, National Museum of the Royal Navy, Dan Pascoe of Pascoe Archaeological Services and our Serving and ex-Service volunteers and the Community in this nationally important project.

Chancellor George Osborne said: "The wreck of the HMS Invincible is an invaluable part of the UK's proud maritime history and it is important we work to save as much as possible. This hugely worthwhile project will support military veterans, serving personnel and disadvantaged teenagers to learn new skills and put artefacts from the wreck on public display for the first time".

Dave Parham, Associate Professor at Bournemouth University said: "It's an honour to be involved in such high profile and important project".

Dominic Tweddle, Director-General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy said, "HMS Invincible is a ship of real significance - a capture from the French Navy which ironically became the standard for 74-gun ships in the Royal Navy for half a century – and we look forward to working with MAST to preserve and display the finds from this excavation".

Built by the French in 1744 and captured by the British on the 3rd May 1747, her remains are highly significant both historically and archaeologically for the following reasons:

Of international importance, HMS Invincible's build was ahead of her time. er special design, unique lines and 74 gun capacity were copied and her Class became the backbone of the Royal Navy's fleet right up to the end of the sailing Navy and the beginning of the age of steam, marked in the United Kingdom by the launch of HMS Warrior in 1860. By the Battle of Trafalgar over three-quarters of the Royal Navy's ships-of-the-line were 74-gun vessels of the French design. The French had invested new technologies in her; whereas most ships of the period were constructed of wood, HMS Invincible was built with 200 iron knees. Later, under the British, she was the first ship to be fitted with an iron hearth to replace the centuries old brick galley and flintlock firing mechanisms were fitted to her guns. In fact, the maintenance of this Class was one of the drivers of the industrialisation of the dockyards and, in turn, for the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom (Pascoe 2014; Bingeman 2010).

Areas to be excavated

A photo of Pascoe 2015; original site plan by John Bingeman
Pascoe 2015; original site plan by John Bingeman

Her remains represent the most complete and best preserved of a warship from the mid 18th century and the site holds invaluable clues to both French and British ship design, technologies and shipboard life. Uniquely, unlike HMS Victory (1765), she contains material culture of shipboard life and warfare at sea and not just of the ship herself. Invincible's heritage also fills an important gap chronologically between The Mary Rose and HMS Victory in representing over 200 years of the development of the Royal Navy.

Of note, finds from vessels of this period are rare and poorly represented in UK National museum collections. The significant amount of available material culture in the wreck provides important possibilities for public interpretation and understanding of the people who sailed in her and their life on board.

Irreversible damage is already occurring to the site. Large areas are uncovering at an alarming rate, caused by the shifting sands. This exposure of the wreck is due to the natural migration of the sand bank, Horse Tail Sands. Since the wrecking of Invincible in 1758, Horse Tail Sands has moved southwards by 700m, leaving the site on the very edge of the sand bank. The movement of this mobile topographic feature has a significant impact on the burial environment surrounding the site; as the sand bank continues to track southwards the area of interest will continue to be uncovered. These storms have been more numerous and sustained over the last three years and have resulted in a rapid loss of seabed sediments within and around the wreck site, revealing large areas of previously unrecorded parts of the ship and also fragile artefacts. There is, therefore, an urgent need to record these areas of the ship and rescue the vulnerable artefacts within before they inevitably become degraded or even lost through biological and physical decay. The vulnerability of the site has been recognised by Historic England, who placed it on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2012 (Pascoe 2014).

The site was first found in 1979 by Arthur Mack. John Bingeman subsequently led excavations between 1980-90 (Bingeman 2010). Dan Pascoe of Pascoe Archaeological Services took the reins in 2010, monitoring the increasingly vulnerable site, undertaking extensive survey work and raising artefacts at risk from destruction, work funded by Historic England. It was this that led HE to recognise the site's vulnerability. MAST, along with its partners, will be able to continue the work where Bingeman left off.

Chatham Historic Dockyard holds a significant collection of HMS Invincible artefacts. Maritime archaeological material from the 18th century is poorly represented as a whole in the UK considering the amount of wrecks of this era off our coasts. The HMS Invincible 1744 Project will vastly increase our knowledge and understanding of this important era in shipbuilding and ship life.

Visit Command of the Ocean

Work is due to begin on the site next year. MAST will manage the Project with its partners.

Watch the BBC’s One Show all about Invincible

Watch the BBC South Today news item - Underwater footage by Mike Pitts

Watch ITV Meridian news item

Service and ex-Service personnel

MAST is a signatory to the Armed Forces Covenant which it has committed to honour and to support the Armed Forces community of the United Kingdom. Volunteers will have the opportunity to be trained and learn post-excavation skills which will include the cleaning, recording and cataloguing of artefacts. MAST will involve a number of Serving and ex-Service personnel during the lifetime of the project which will be modelled on the lines of Operation Nightingale, a unique military initiative to employ the social and technical aspects of terrestrial archaeology to aid in the recovery process of serving and ex-Service personnel involved in the Afghanistan conflict.

The Project has the enthusiastic support of both the Royal Naval Association, which has over 100 branches and represents 17,000 members, the Working Group of the Conference of Naval Associations which has a membership of 50,000 and the Confederation of Service Charities (COBSEO), which represents the whole Serving and Veterans Community (some 4 million people and their dependents).


If you would like to help with the project please click here to find out more.

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We would like to thank our sponsors

Portsmouth International Port
Coltri Compressors