THE WOODEN WORLD OF THE INVINCIBLE
by Jessica Berry, Dan Pascoe & Dave Parham
L’INVINCIBLE, OR INVINCIBLE as she became after her capture from the French in 1747, was of such an innovative and sophisticated design that her build revolutionised British shipbuilding. By the time of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 most of the 74-gun ships, French and British, were built along her lines.
Invincible’s orlop deck.
The ship was an experimental build, with many iron knees making her hull lighter and faster and allowing her to carry more guns. She was also the first ship to trial the new lightweight 24-pounder guns. We hope next year to find one of these guns that was jettisoned at the time of the ship sinking. This would be a singular discovery, as none are known to have been found. Few were known to have even been made.
It took Invincible more than two-and-a-half days to sink in 1758. First her anchor stuck in the mud, and then she ran aground on Dean Sands in the Solent.
The sand had risen to unimaginable levels, according to the Portsmouth pilot, who had never seen the like, and so officers and crew were acquitted in the subsequent court martial.
This summer has seen the first major excavation since Cmdr John Bingeman’s excavations in the 1980s. This first season we worked in the bow section, an area considered most at risk from the ravages of storms.
The structure contains the boatswain’s, carpenter’s and gunner’s stores on the orlop deck, and also artefacts from the general store-rooms in the hold.
We have found a good number of regimental buttons, including those of the Coldstream Guards – the regiment was not known in Canada at that time, so this find is currently an intriguing puzzle.
More than 100 gun-wads – resembling deflated, soggy hedgehogs, and probably as pungent – were found in the ship’s store. These are balls of oakhum that keep the cartridge and shot in position when loaded.
Some we found complete with tally-sticks denoting the type of gun with which they were to be used. Some marked XXIIII or XXIV indicated that they were for the 24-pounder gun.
The wooden world, as shipboard life of the Royal Navy in the 18th century was known, came to life this summer with some perfectly intact artefacts including rigging blocks, pulley sheaves, barrel staves, spools of tampions and a 24-pounder rammer head.
Uniquely, unlike HMS Victory, the current most famous 18th century intact ship at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Invincible contains all its supplies and personal possessions from the day she was lost. Some of the rigging we found, for example, was still coiled on deck. We’ve also found a number of leather shoes and an intact bottle, still corked.
In subsequent excavations, we will extend forward to an area at the bottommost part of the ship. This has never been excavated. We hope to be able to complete the recording of the coherent portside, and study the way in which the ship was rebuilt in the 1750s.
3D photogrammetry is being conducted at each level we excavate, so the detail will be available to study and will also serve to develop the current 3D trail of the site.
Now that the first season is complete, artefacts are at the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust’s Archaeological Centre in Poole to be conserved and recorded.
This post-excavation phase will be done with the help of services and ex-services volunteers and disadvantaged youngsters, who are key beneficiaries of the LIBOR grant.