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Obituary of Arthur Mack

We are very saddened by the death of Arthur Mack who found the site back in 1979. All stems from him.

Below is an obituary by Cdr John Bingeman.

Arthur Thomas Mack

While fishing in May 1979, Arthur Mack trawled up an old piece of timber with a treenail. Unlike most fishermen who would have ignored it, he was convinced it needed further investigation. His diving friend John Broomhead went to investigate and found a line of hull timbers. Further dives produced twenty-one artefacts including a half-hour sandglass taken to the Portsmouth City Museums’ Conservation Laboratory in Old Portsmouth for conservation with six other artefacts on the 11th September 1979. In March 1980, Arthur and John went to the Royal Naval Museum for advice. The Museum had a window display of artefacts from the Assurance (1753) historic wreck site. The Deputy Curator telephoned John Bingeman, its Licensee who invited them to come to see him.

Arthur and John Broomhead took John Bingeman out to dive the site – he is quoted as saying: “John (Broomhead) took me round the site and I was amazed what I saw. The timbers went on for ever”. The three of us agreed to form a partnership and apply for a Government designation as an historic wreck site. Our application was successful - the 21st historic wreck designation dated the 30th September 1980. John Bingeman’s research at the Portsmouth PRO suggested the wreck was the Invincible (1747-58). Positive identification followed on the 30th May 1981 with a tally stick inscribed: Invincible Flying Jib 26.26 No.6. Arthur will go down in nautical history as the finder of the Royal Navy’s first Invincible (1747-58)1.

The recovery of military buttons inspired Arthur to start a lifetime’s interest in historical research. These buttons pre-dated previously accepted dates. The National Army Museum’s deputy director W. Y. Carman considered at the time to be the top living authority on uniforms, wrote: “If actually of the 1758 period then many known sources would be wrong and it would be electrifying”.2

Over the next thirty years, Arthur repeatedly took John Bingeman, the Invincible’s licensee out to check the site. He was John’s diving supervisor, dresser and attendant; they became close friends. John also went out with Arthur bass fishing when they would use his small seine net to catch sand-eels in Langstone Harbour as bait. Arthur had been fishing all his life and knew exactly where we would quickly catch bass.

In 1991 Arthur started helping the Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology with their inaugural project, to survey the intertidal archaeology of Langstone Harbour as part of the research into our changing coast. Arthur’s experience and knowledge of the harbour proved invaluable.3 His findings included Neolithic axes, Bronze Age burial urns and a small section from a medieval log boat. Today, these artefacts can be seen in Portsmouth City Museum. Arthur was one of the contributing authors to the CBA publication on Langstone Harbour.4

When John Bingeman wanted to investigate 10 tons of copper sheathing which had been removed from HMS Victory in the 1960s, Arthur volunteered to help him. At the time Peter Goodwin, Victory’s curator thought it unlikely they would find any manufacturers’ marks. They worked through two winters cleaning the corners of thousands of copper sheets to be rewarded with fourteen manufacturers’ marks, three inspectors’ marks, and hundreds of date marks three of which were different; these ‘year and month’ marks were applied when the copper sheet was nailed to Victory’s hull.5

When Arthur wanted the eight hundredth anniversary of King John’s Dockyard 1212 AD brought to public attention, it was his turn to ask John Bingeman for help. With the support of the Dockyard Society, and Portsmouth University, Rob Kennedy produced an appropriate drawing. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth unveiled the history information board at the original site now St George’s Square, Old Portsmouth.6

Arthur was always available to help John Bingeman’s marine services company servicing moorings, yacht salvage and boat deliveries. On night passage to deliver Scotch Queen, a 75 foot motor fishing vessel to a port in northern France arriving at high water to lock in, we discovered that Arthur couldn’t steer a compass course. Having spent his life fishing off Portsmouth, he had never used a compass. We solved the problem by telling Arthur to keep a particular star in line with the foremast. Arthur was never happier than when afloat.

Arthur’s Canadian friend Brent Piniuta and John Broomhead have recently published a biography of his remarkable life titled: Arthur Mack – Old Man of the Sea. Brent and John describe how Arthur a Portsmouth mudlark as a child became a respected amateur nautical archaeologist, and a knowledgeable public speaker with publications to his name.7

Arthur and Gina have been married for sixty-seven years with three children: Angela, Kevin and Tony, two Grandchildren, and two Great-Grandchildren. They are a close knit family based in Eastney, Portsmouth.

John M Bingeman
Invincible (1758) Government historic wreck site Licensee (1980-2010)