Invincible was not found by archaeologists. She was discovered by a local Portsmouth fisherman – Arthur Mack. From the age of seven Arthur had missed out on learning to read and write at school and worked to support his family during the Great Depression of the 1930s instead. He became a ‘mudlark’, collecting pennies tossed into the muddy shallows of Portsmouth Harbour by passers-by.
Arthur had long had a special connection with the sea. As a self-employed fisherman he was used to relying on his luck, but he netted a lot more than fish. Many of his historical finds can be seen today in museums throughout the south of England.
The best find of all
But Arthur’s greatest find is the Georgian warship, HMS Invincible.
On 5 May 1979 Arthur and his friend Melvin Gofton were out in the Solent, hoping for a good catch. They trawled the shallows of the Horse Tail sandbank, halfway between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight.
Suddenly, without warning, their net snagged on something below the surface, jarring their boat to a sudden halt. They hauled in the trawl and tangled among the torn fishing nets were large pieces of timber with wooden pegs and iron fasteners. Arthur was intrigued.
Back to find more
Curious to learn what had snagged their net, Arthur asked his old friend John Broomhead, a diver, to help him investigate. Arthur took John and fellow diver Jim Boyle out to the site of his discovery. The men found a vast row of enormous, tooth-like timbers sticking out of the seabed, about 60 metres long.
Back to work it out
The men had no idea what they’d found. Their best guess was a collapsed pier or jetty that had washed out to sea and sank. But two years of archaeological excavations and archival research revealed it to be a history-changing discovery. This was none other than the wreck of HMS Invincible – the Royal Navy’s best mid-eighteenth-century warship.
The important find motivated Arthur to teach himself to read and write, and to learn to dive, so he could discover the history of the famous ship he’d helped uncover from the depths.