Historic items from legendary warship go on display at Chatham

The remains of the ship were discovered in 1979 by local fishermen and she was designated a Historic Wreck in 1980.

Divers recovering artefacts from HMS Invincible. She sank off the Solent in 1758, just over a decade after the Royal Navy acquired her from the French fleet. Images: Historic Dockyard Chatham.

A number of historic artefacts from the shipwreck HMS Invincible, including guns, buckets, and bottles, have gone on public display for the first time.

The collection forms part of an exhibition at the Historic Dockyard Chatham intended to give visitors an understanding of life on board an 18th-century Royal Navy warship.

Built in 1744 in France on the banks of the River Charente at Rochefort, L’Invincible (as she was originally known) was a 74-gun ship designed to protect the French empire across the world.

However, just three years later, on 3 May 1747, she was captured by a superior British fleet commanded by Admiral Anson at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre, during the War of the Austrian Succession.

Invincible had been escorting a convoy of merchant ships when she was sighted by the British Channel Fleet, which gave chase. Allowing the convoy to escape, she alone engaged six British warships, but was overwhelmed and soon surrendered, with most of her crew dead or wounded.

Acquired by the Royal Navy, her design influenced that of many future British warships. But her own career was short: ten years later, in 1758, Invincible was wrecked on a shallow sandbank in the Solent.

The First Battle of Cape Finisterre, 1747, during which L’Invincible was captured by a British fleet. Images: Historic Dockyard Chatham

The remains of the ship were discovered in 1979 by local fishermen and she was designated a Historic Wreck in 1980.

Over three years, contents were recovered from the wreck by a team of experts from Bournemouth University, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, and the Marine Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST).

Artefacts retrieved included swivel guns, a gun-port lid, the mainstay, a wig curler, a bucket, and bottles – some of which had contents still inside.

A major aspect of the excavation was to lift the cutwater, the front-most part of the ship. It weighed more than 5.8 tonnes, was 9 metres in length, and still had original hand-carved draft marks cut into it.

Commenting on the discoveries made on the wreck, Dan Pascoe, Research Fellow of Maritime Archaeology and site archaeologist, said: ‘Recovering items that had been placed in that very position by a sailor or soldier all those years ago was like stepping back in time. We were able to piece together how objects were used, the lives and culture of the people on board, and how the ship worked.’

The artefacts are on display at the Historic Dockyard Chatham until 20 November this year.