HMS Victory to be raised from the Depths

Loss of HMS Victory, 4 October 1744 : Wiki Commons

The HMS Victory, predecessor to the famous flagship of Lord Nelson is to be raised from the seabed after almost 300 years.

The wreck was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2008 on a reef near the Channel Islands. As a collaboration with the Ministry of Defence, Odyssey carried out an archaeological pre-disturbance survey and test trenching to confirm the wrecks identity through two bronze cannons. (Bearing the Royal Arms of George II & the Crest of George I)

At the time, the company’s chief executive, Greg Stemm, said: “HMS Victory was the mightiest vessel of the 18th Century and the eclectic mix of guns we found on the site will prove essential in further refining our understanding of naval weaponry used during the era.”

HMS Victory was a 100-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, built to the dimensions of the 1733 proposals of the 1719 Establishment at Portsmouth Dockyard, and launched on 23 February 1737

 

She was wrecked with the loss of her entire crew while returning to England as the flagship of Admiral Sir John Balchen after relieving Sir Charles Hardy, who had been blockaded in the Tagus estuary by the French Brest fleet. As the fleet reached the English Channel on 3 October 1744 it was scattered by a large storm.

At around 15:30 on 4 October, the ships accompanying Victory lost sight of her near the Channel Islands. For over 260 years she was believed to have been wrecked during the night on Black Rock just off the Casquets, with the loss of her entire complement until Odyssey discovered her almost 100km away.

Frigates were dispatched across the English Channel to search for her where she had last been seen wallowing on the horizon on 4 October. Eventually, Captain Thomas Grenville of HMS Falkland landed at Guernsey in the Channel Islands to provision, and there heard from locals that wreckage and part of a topmast had washed up on the island’s shores.

Further investigation proved that the wreckage had indeed come from Victory, which was believed to have run into the Casquets, a group of rocks nearby. Other wreckage was washed up on Jersey and Alderney, whose inhabitants had heard distress guns the night before the wreck but were unable to provide aid in the severe storm. No trace of any of the 1,150 sailors aboard Victory was found until the wreck was discovered in 2008.

 

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It is thought that large quantities of silver and gold coins were on board HMS Victory at the time of her sinking, captured from enemy prize ships and had a value of £120,000 at the time, worth an estimated £500m in by today’s standards.

Even more interesting, is that a small number of the timbers used in the construction of Victory were taken from the remains of the previous HMS Victory, which had caught fire and been burnt to the waterline in February 1721 whilst having weed burned from her bottom (in a process called “breaming”).

The project to raise the Victory will be managed by the Maritime Heritage Foundation, employing Odyssey Marine Exploration to carry out the recovery. Whilst *some* reclaimed artefacts will be destined for display in British Museums, under the laws of salvage, Odyssey is entitled to receive a large share of the treasure recovered. During the 2008 salvage by Odyssey, their press release stated:

The UK Government has agreed to pay Odyssey a salvage award of 80% as compensation for the artifacts which have been recovered from the site and submitted to the UK Receiver of Wreck. A valuation of approximately $200,000 has been agreed for the two cannon recovered from the site, providing for a salvage award of approximately $160,000. The company will also be participating in the ongoing process of consultation to determine the approaches that should be adopted towards the wreck.

In a statement from a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman: “Efforts to protect key parts of British Naval history such as the wreck of HMS Victory 1744 are very welcome and we hope to make an announcement shortly.”

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