On 19 February 1758, Invincible went aground on Horse Tail Sands, part of Dean and Horse Sands. There were two desperate priorities for the crew and the dockyard Commissioner – to try and re-float her and to try to save anything valuable.
Water flooded into the hold. For three days, there was a mad dash to lighten the ship and retrieve her valuable materials. But when the ship fell onto her side their efforts changed. Could she even be raised in one piece? The priority now was to recover as much as possible from the wreck.
Can she be saved?
You can imagine the crew’s frantic attempts to re-float her. Any weighty objects were thrown overboard. Heavy casks of beer and water were hoisted out of the hold, emptied and thrown over the side. Six of her guns were jettisoned overboard.
Day turned to dusk and the chain on the main pump that was draining water from the hold broke. By midnight there were nearly three metres of water in the hold. In the early hours long boats and sloops came to retrieve more of the gunners’ stores and Quarter Deck and Upper Deck guns, and take them back to the dockyard.
Work continued into the second and third day. Guns, gunner stores and small arms such as muskets and their stores were removed. These were valuables, but they were also the heaviest things on board.
Late on the third day, Lieutenant Joseph Bucknall noted in Invincible’s log book, ‘at 10 [o’clock] she heeled to Port, at half past 11 she fell over on her Beam Ends to windward’. Commissioner Hughes concluded that ‘all hopes of recovering the Invincible[are] impossible’.
Plans to re-float her were abandoned and the crew were removed.
What could be used by other ships? Every day, smaller boats would ferry materials between Invincible’s slowly deteriorating wreck and the dockyard.
In June the Portsmouth Dock Officers’ report included an ‘account of all the particulars that have been hitherto saved from the wreck of His Majesty’s Ship the Invincible’. It listed hundreds of items, from massive masts, yards and anchors to ropes, cables and cooking pots.
Later, in September, they stated that they had ‘used every means in our power to save as many valuable materials as possibly we could from the wreck of the Invincible and shall continue to do so as long as any remains’.
A competition to raise Invincible
By June 1758, four months after the ship ran aground, the Admiralty considered the idea of raising the ship to be impracticable, but the Royal Navy posted a competition in the newspapers to see if the public could come up with any ideas. John Lethbridge, a diver, Joseph Mason, a painter, and Michael Wooden, a shipwright, all responded with plans.
Commissioner Hughes reported that ‘John Lethbridge, the diver, shall be supplied with a longboat, men and lead lines, to enable him to form a judgement of the practicality of weighing [raising] the Invincible’. Michael Wooden, like Lethbridge, was supplied with a longboat and men. Joseph Mason proposed to weight Invincible.
A man called John Lethbridge was famous for inventing a ‘Diving Engine’ (an oak barrel he dived in!) and spent 40 years salvaging guns and treasure from warships. Since he would have been 82 at the time, it’s likely that this John Lethbridge was his son. But in the end Lethbridge didn’t turn up to the dockyard.
Mason submitted detailed plans involving four dockyard hulks and a series of cables to raise Invincible. He was cleared to proceed ‘at his own risk and expense’, but Mason’s scheme never happened either. We don’t know what happened to Michael Wooden, because he’s not mentioned again.
What happened next?
By August 1758, six months after Invinciblewent aground, the Navy Office wrote to the Admiralty that ‘there has not been made to us any proposition that carries a probability of success’. Invinciblewas destined to sink into the sands of time and the sands of the Solent for the next 221 years.