A series of calamitous events
At 2.30am on 19 February 1758 all was fine on board Invincible. But from the moment Admiral Boscawen gave the signal for the fleet to raise their anchors and set sail for Nova Scotia, a series of calamities began. Invincible’s fate was sealed within four hours. She was grounded on Dean Sands, never to leave again.
Calamitous event number one
The dramatic lead-up to the catastrophic loss of such a fine ship can be found in the log book of her 1st Lieutenant, Joseph Bucknall.
It’s 3.00am and the crew are getting ready to leave, but the logbook notes that the ship’s anchor can’t be raised – it’s ‘sticking to the ground’.
The crew strive to pull up the anchor, first by winding both of the ship’s capstans (devices used to wind in heavy ropes and anchors). This fails. Lieutenant Bucknall explains that the men ‘hove till we broke many of the bars at both capstans’. An hour and a half after the first attempt, after attaching the anchor cable to heavy ropes and using pulleys attached to her main mast, the anchor finally breaks free.
Calamitous event number two
Luck is not on Invincible’s side. In the crew’s haste to get the anchor in and stowed up onto the side of the ship, it gets caught below the waterline under her bow. Lieutenant Bucknall notes at 4.30am that ‘[we] hove the anchor under the bow but could not heave it in sight, by which we judged it to be foul of the Cheeks of the Head under water’.
Fifteen minutes later they manage to drag the anchor shaft into sight. They leave it there, still snagged. But while they are distracted, the ship starts to drift into the dangerous, shallow waters of the Solent. Their sounding lines record rapidly reducing depths of water – from 12 fathoms down to seven. (One fathom is about six feet, or 1.8 metres.) The Master is desperate to pull away from the sand bars. He orders the men at the helm to steer and sail hard to the windward.
Calamitous event number three
In reply to the Master’s order to steer hard into the wind, the men answer that there is ‘something was foul of the tiller rope in the gunroom’. The ropes from the helm to the rudder are jammed in the deck below!
By now there is an air of desperation in Lieutenant Bucknall’s log entries. ‘Two Quartermasters sent to assist but could not get the helm up’, he records, adding that he ‘ordered Quartermaster to run immediately down to the gunroom to see what was foul, likewise Anthony Williams to assist in clearing the tiller’.
The sounding line records depths now at a perilous six and a half fathoms. The tide is getting stronger. But the crew manage to release the ropes as they ‘put the helm hard to lee’ (in the direction the wind blows) and drop her small bower anchors to try to stop her drifting.
The final calamitous event
But the attempt to stop Invincible drifting fails. Sheis grounded on the Dean Sands. ‘As soon as she began to fall off again she touch’d the ground forward on the flats of the Dean being then at ¼ past 5 o’clock,’ notes the logbook.
The crew fire Invincible’s guns and signal the distress lights. They set out anchors, secured to the capstan, and at 6.30am manage to briefly drag Invincibleoff the sands (an action known as kedging). But despite all efforts ‘the wind being right aft, the ship forwar’d ahead and went aground again’.
The 1st Lieutenant is ordered to shore to report to the Admiral and Port Commissioner and seek help. He concludes, correctly it turns out, that, ‘unless speedy assistance was sent to the Invincible… it was to be feared she would be lost’.
There on Dean sands Invinciblerested and there she still rests today.