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Invincible

Location: Horse Tail Sand, Hampshire
Age / period: post medieval (1758)
List entry number: 1000052
Reason for designation: historical significance

Wreck history and loss

Launched at Rochefort, France, in 1744, the third rate 74-gun warship Invincible was captured by the British at the first Battle of Finisterre in 1747 and taken into the Royal Navy.

In February 1758 she was part of a fleet ordered to sail for Canada where she was to assist in the routing of the French. In raising her anchor her hawser (rope) became stuck on the wrong side of the bow and could not be catted (ie hoisted). In attempting to get clear, the ship's rudder became jammed and she ran aground on Horse Tail Sand. She fell over on her port side.

Her hold flooded immediately, stores and guns were transferred to lighten her, and by the third day all four chain pumps had broken. In deteriorating weather she fell over onto her port beam ends and was completely wrecked on the 22 February 1758.

HMS Invincible's forward magazine showing two powder barrels
HMS Invincible's forward magazine showing two powder barrels before recovery © Chris Dobbs

Discovery and investigation

Horse Tail Sand comprises a relatively flat featureless sandbank composed of fine to medium sand with a limited silt component. The wreck was discovered there on the 5 May 1979 by Arthur Mack, a local fisherman, when his fishing nets became caught on an obstruction. Returning to the site with two divers, the site was investigated throughout the summer and various artefacts were raised.

The remains of this large warship were found to protrude on average less than a meter above the seabed and John Bingeman was asked to organise an archaeological investigation. The main body of the wreck lies on her port side, aligned north-west / south-east; her starboard side and decks are broken up and scattered towards the north-east but still largely coherent. The hull is hogged with only one metre depth amidships and four metres depth at bow and stern.

Initially, the identity of the wreck was uncertain as 24-pdr recorded shot sizes didn't correspond to the ordnance list of 18-pdrs. Some records also showed that the Invincible was lost off the Owers. However, a letter from the Office of Ordnance dated 23 December 1755 in the Priddy's Hard archive showed that the 18-pdrs were replaced by the 24-pdrs, and the court martial transcript located the place of loss to the Horse and Dean Sands. A wooden tally stick found on the site with the words 'Invincible Flying Jib 26 x 26 No.6' confirmed the identity of the vessel.

A larger item, thought originally to have been the stern-post, which once stood two meters proud of the seabed, was noted to be missing in 1998. In an adjacent area of the stern, the exposed timbers have been truncated, presumably by another vessel which ran aground on the Sand in 1997.

Diver working with an airlift examining two musket shot
Diver working with an airlift examining two musket shot © Chris Dobbs

Artefacts

A wide range of objects have been recovered and only a sample is held by Chatham Historic Dockyard. The remainder were sold at auctions held by Sotheby's and included sandglasses, leather and wooden buckets, powder barrels and magazine tools, utensils, shovels, brushes, small arms, hand grenades, buttons, rigging and rope.

Coil of tarred 9
Coil of tarred 9" hawes laid cable on HMS Invincible's orlop deck © Chris Dobbs

Further work

Although a modern vessel in difficulties caused damage to the exposed structure, this is a rare occurrence on any designated site and will not constitute a significant threat in the future. A more serious problem is the very large areas of coherent wreck structure which remain exposed to free running seawater.

The exposure constitutes the main threat to the long-term survival of the site. A possible strategy might be to stabilise and protect selected features of particular importance. Furthermore, the site, which is situated some distance from land, may be at risk of interference by divers.

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