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Archaeologists stunned by Solent shipwreck: ‘Enough to take your breath away’


Archaeologists salvage artefacts from sunken HMS Invincible

The Battle of Trafalgar was Admiral Nelson’s greatest military success when he defeated France on the appropriately named HMS Victory. He sealed the Royal Navy’s supremacy of the seas, and signalled the beginning of the end for the Napoleonic Empire. Yet the success of the Battle of Trafalgar was based on another ship, ironically stolen from France itself. It was from the French that Britons learnt about organisation, discipline and how to design ships — namely the game-changing HMS Invincible.

The Invincible sank when she hit a sandbank in the Solent in 1758, by which point the Royal Navy had gained priceless knowledge from her.

The wreck of the incredible vessel, which has sat at the bottom of the sea for 250 years, was explored by archaeologists in Channel 5’s documentary, ‘Digging Up Britain’s Past’.

No expense was spared in the bid to unearth the secrets of the Invincible, which lies three miles (4.82km) out to sea, with a three-year project launched to excavate the wreck site.

Marine archaeologist Dan Pascoe led the excavation in the Eastern Solent, completing more than 1,000 dives off the Hampshire coastline.

The team used a guide rope to get them down to the wreck, eventually stumbling upon the historical vessel.

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Diving teams on the HMS Invincible.

Diving teams on the HMS Invincible. (Image: Channel 5)

HMS Invincible shipwreck

Some of the planks were in a remarkable state of preservation. (Image: Channel 5)

Raksha Dave, an archaeologist and the programme’s presenter, said it was “enough to take your breath away”.

She said: “The Invincible was 52metres long and its remains are now spread over an area roughly equivalent to half a football field.

“The ship’s so well preserved, you can almost picture the sailors walking along these planks.”

However, Ms Dave explained that not all the artefacts recovered were so immediately clear and obvious.

Above the water, she was shown a number of relics, which she said looked “like a pile of twigs and bits of string”.

HMS Invincible shipwreck

Not all of the artefacts, however, were so easy to identify. (Image: Channel 5)

But they were far from being rubbish, as Mr Pascoe explained they were an “important assemblage of artefacts”.

Among them were the heads of mops and brooms, and a wooden bucket, all of which were found in the same area of the ship, labelled the “broom cupboard” by Mr Pascoe.

The artefacts further proved the point that everything onboard was in shipshape — credit to Invincible’s renowned organisation.

Express.co.uk previously spoke to Mr Pascoe, learning that the ship left an indelible mark on him.

Remembering vividly parts of the dive, he said: “We’ve been finding things that are just so well organised and stored, and everything’s clearly labelled, it just tells you that it’s true what they said about the Royal Navy during a certain period in the mid-18th Century, just before Nelson’s time.

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HMS Invincible shipwreck

Among the less easy to identify artefacts were broom and mop heads. (Image: Channel 5)

“They were very organised and disciplined, and life onboard wasn’t as terrible as everyone says.

“Actually it was quite well ordered, and things were well maintained and kept.

“It wasn’t this ‘everyone’s dying’ and had scurvy. It was a hard life but it wasn’t as revolting as everyone makes out.”

First launched by the French in 1744, the Invincible took part in the First Battle of Cape Finisterre during the War of Austrian Succession three years later.

The British fleet gave chase as she escorted a convoy of merchant ships, and she was eventually forced to surrender.

HMS Victory

The Invincible inspired the HMS Victory, which helped the British win at Trafalgar. (Image: GETTY)

After years of British naval supremacy, the French had gone back to the drawing board in an attempt to build the next generation of warship.

The Invincible was wider at the front and narrower in the stern, which allowed her to move faster through the water.

She was also more heavily armed than any British vessel — boasting 74 guns.

Nick Ball from the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust told KentOnline that the British knew the Invincible was revolutionary.

He said: “Originally, a nippy French warship, when L’Invincible was captured by the Royal Navy every inch of her hull and form were studied and then replicated to form a new fleet that would go on to defeat the French.

“She was a game-changer who even influenced the subsequent design of the world’s most famous warship – Admiral Nelson’s HMS Victory, built here at Chatham.”

By the time Nelson defeated the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar, some 47 years after the Invincible sank, almost two-thirds of his ships were based on the Invincible.

The site of the wreck was rediscovered by a fisherman in 1979, and was placed on Historic England’s 2013 list of ten most at risk heritage sites.

Fortunately the ship remained upright for three days after its grounding, allowing the crew to escape, so there are no human remains onboard.





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