HMS Victory 1737
When HMS Victory is mentioned thoughts immediately turn to Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. However, there is another famous HMS Victory, the predecessor to Nelson’s flagship. This first-rate warship, finished in 1737, was the most technically advanced ship in the world.
Master Shipwright Joseph Allin
Victory was constructed at Portsmouth Dockyard by master shipwright Joseph Allin between 1726 and 1737. Built using some of the timbers from the previous Victory (which had caught fire during a breaming exercise), Victory had a gun deck 174ft long and a cargo capacity of 1921 tons bm. She carried the largest consignment (100) of bronze cannons ever made and would be the last ship to carry a full complement. Iron cannons were phased in by the Royal Navy, after the reign of King George I, in a cost-cutting exercise. When Victory was launched in 1737 she became the flagship of the Channel Fleet, a fleet of ships that patrolled the English Channel and protected England from invasion.
In the July of 1744 under the command of Sir John Balchin, HMS Victory was part of a convoy sent down to Portugal to successfully liberate a Mediterranean convoy that had been blockaded by Admiral de Rochambeau in the Tagus River. On her return to England, she was lost with all 1100 hands on 5th October 1744. At the time it was believed that she had been wrecked off the Casquets Rocks, a group of rocky islets off the north-west coast of the island of Alderney in the Channel Islands. Islanders reported hearing cannons being fired in distress and also wreckage washed ashore bearing the name Victory. It was thought navigation errors had been to blame. The lighthouse keeper of the Casquets Lighthouse also faced a court-martial for failure to keep the lights lit.
For the next 264 years, many expeditions were made to try and find the wreck of HMS Victory. It wasn’t until 2008 that Odyssey Marine Exploration found and confirmed the location of the wreck more than 60 miles west of the Casquets Rocks. Navigational errors were not to blame and it is thought that severe storms, the top-heavy design of the ship and it’s heavy cannons (and possibly gold!) caused it to sink.
HMS Victory Artefacts
Odyssey managed to raise two of the bronze cannons to confirm it was indeed the wreck of HMS Victory. There is also a rumour that the wreck contains Portuguese gold and silver coins worth an estimated £800 million!
Odyssey Marine filed for exclusive salvage rights but even though the wreck lies outside the territorial waters of the UK, it is sovereign immune. This means no intrusive action could be taken without the express consent of the UK government. In 2012 The Ministry of Defence transferred the ownership of the vessel and all associated materials to the Maritime Heritage Foundation. The MHF is a charitable organisation whose objectives are to “locate, excavate, recover and/or preserve shipwrecks for the education and benefit of the United Kingdom”. Also in the same year, Odyssey Marine Exploration “executed an agreement with the Maritime Heritage Foundation for the financing, archaeological survey and excavation, conservation and exhibit of HMS Victory (1744) and artefacts from the shipwreck site.” However, in 2018 the UK marine regulator, the Marine Management Organisation denied permission for the MHF to salvage the wreck of HMS Victory (shipwreck) and the wreck was to be preserved in situ.
Some believe that this is the wrong decision. The wreck lies where strong currents could slowly destroy important historical artefacts. It could also be damaged by fishing boats trawling the area, and then there is the ever-present risk of looting. A Dutch salvage company has already grabbed one of the bronze cannons. Stopped by French customs believing the salvage boat was carrying drugs the cannon was seized and returned to the UK. Other, however, think the wreck should be left alone. “This is the last resting place of 1,100 British sailors and it should not be disturbed lightly,” said Robert Yorke, chairman of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee.
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