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HMS Invincible show moves to Chatham

Diver on the invincible
Diver and block on the Invincible wreck-site. CRED: Michael Pitts

An immersive shipwreck exhibition based on archaeological diving excavations in the Solent transfers between historic dockyards from Portsmouth to Chatham in Kent next month.

Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 opens on 12 February and remains until 20 November, with entry included in the price of admission to all the dockyard’s attractions.

Mounted in partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the exhibition showcases objects from, and discoveries about, one of the navy’s most famous warships – one on which many later vessels were modelled.

Built by the French Navy in 1744, Invincible was captured by the Royal Navy at the battle of Cape Finisterre three years later and sailed to Portsmouth Naval Dockyard. 

Her innovative design and 74-gun capacity were recorded and rapidly copied, with her class forming the backbone of the Royal Navy’s fleet right up to the age of steam, starting with the Chatham-built HMS Valiant.

In February 1758 the ship ran aground in the Solent and, after failed attempts to recover her, whatever could be salvaged was removed and the wreck became a “forgotten national treasure”. 

In May 1979, fisherman Arthur Mack caught his nets on an obstruction close to Hayling Island and he and Hampshire-based scuba diver John Broomhead investigated. What they at first assumed to be an old pier turned out to be the long-lost HMS Invincible.

Archaeological excavations were carried out in the 1980s but major advances were made from 2017 led by divers of the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST) and Bournemouth University. 

Many of the objects recovered had been preserved in the mud beneath the shifting sands of the seabed, and emerged barely blemished. In 2019 the divers recovered one of the giant mainstays, the only fully preserved example from the period in the world.

Chatham Historic Dockyard tickets for 2022 are not yet on sale but gift vouchers can be purchased now. Adult entry to the dockyard costs £25.50 and each ticket lasts for 12 months from the date of the first visit and includes access to galleries and exhibitions, to the three warships HMS Gannet, HMS Cavalier and HM Submarine Ocelot, and guided tours to the latter and an exhibition of Victorian ropery. Find out more here.

Full-length features about diving HMS Invincible on Divernet:

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