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HMS Invincible 1744

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Bournemouth University logo
The National Museum Royal Navy logo

The Invincible 1744 excavation, the largest maritime archaeological excavation in the UK since the Mary Rose, is now complete. The Project was endorsed personally by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The Duke, who served with distinction in the Royal Navy during World War II, recognised the great significance of the Royal Navy’s first Invincible and its vital influence on the development of the Royal Navy, both in terms of shipbuilding but also in technological advances.

Now it is the subject of a major exhibition at the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

In 2016 MAST received a £2 million grant for the rescue excavation, recovery, conservation and public display of material from the wreck of HMS Invincible (1744). Our partners are Bournemouth University, National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) and Dan Pascoe of Pascoe Archaeological Services.

We are indebted to Serving and ex-Service volunteers who helped us in this important phase of the project alongside many disadvantaged youngsters.

The excavation took place over three dive seasons. It was thanks to a Heritage Lottery grant of £360,000 that we were able to carry out a third and final excavation season in 2019. In 2017 we carried out 350 dives between 9 staff divers and volunteers over 25 days equating to 21,682 minutes underwater. In 2018 we dived for 47 days with the same number of people. We carried out 661 dives equating 57,889 minutes on the seabed. In 2019, we carried out 447 dives, spending a total of 37,628 minutes below the surface. Some artefacts from the final season are still in conservation at our Archaeological Centre in Poole, such as the cutwater.

Many, though, are now part of Diving Deep, a major exhibition at the NMRN in Portsmouth.

Invincible was 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. Her 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).

Excavation target areas

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

A key driver for the funding was irreversible damage occurring to the site. Large areas continue to uncover 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 fisherman 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, have been able to continue the excavation work where Bingeman left off.

Following the NMRN exhibition, in spring 2022 it will visit Chatham Historic Dockyard. Up until now maritime archaeological material from the 18th century has been poorly represented as a whole in the UK considering the amount of wrecks of this era off our coasts. The HMS Invincible 1744 Project is vastly increasing our knowledge and understanding of this important era in shipbuilding and ship life. Please learn how by visiting the NMRN Diving Deep exhibition. Details are on their website.

Please check our blog and social media for updates.

Channel 5 Digging up Britain’s Past (January 2020)

Daily Mail (December 2019)

BBC News website (December 2019)

Bournemouth University (December 2019)

Daily Telegraph (December 2019)

ITV Meridian (March 2019)

BBC South (December 2018)

BBC Digging for Britain segment (December 2018)

Bournemouth Echo (November 2018)

See the BBC’s news story on our 2018 excavations (June 2018)

Watch BFBS’s news story about the project and the artefacts (December 2017)

Watch BBC South Today’s item about our artefacts (November 2017)

Watch the BBC’s One Show all about Invincible (July 2017)

Watch the BBC South Today news item - Underwater footage by Mike Pitts (April 2017)

Watch ITV Meridian news item (April 2017)

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. Before the pandemic struck, during our excavation and conservation period, volunteers worked closely with us learning post-excavation skills which included the cleaning, recording and cataloguing of artefacts.

MAST was able to involve a number of Serving and ex-Service personnel during the lifetime of the project which was modelled along 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 welcomed 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 funders and sponsors

Portsmouth International Port
Coltri Compressors
Royal Maritime Club
Heritage Fund