Not one of Invincible’s 74 main guns has ever been found at the wreck site.

The ship rolled over onto her side and filled with water just three days after she went aground. Incredibly, all of her very heavy guns had already been retrieved – not just from the above-water Quarter Deck and Forecastle, but also from the submerged Upper Deck and even deeper Lower Decks. Even the heavy gun carriages were mostly removed. This shows just how valuable these ship-of-the-line guns were to the Royal Navy.

But there was a twist to the story.

Dive team hopes raised

The Lieutenants’ logbooks describe the crew’s eagerness to off-load her guns from the very moment the ship foundered. These log entries and Captain John Bentley’s logs of those first few hours of the disaster captured the imagination of the most recent dive team. Did they hold clues about the fate of her main guns?

Bentley noted that six of Invincible’s guns were immediately thrown overboard. This story is backed up by his 3rd Lieutenant, Robert Curry’s log entry on 20th February:

‘Two longboats came off to us by which we sent five of our Quarter Deck Guns on shore … we hove six of our Wardroom Guns overboard to ease the ship.’

The dive team speculated – since they’d been so hastily jettisoned, these big 18lb guns could surely still be lying on the seabed?

Hopes dashed

The divers hoped that more archival research would help them locate the guns. But a note in 1st Lieutenant Joseph Bucknall’s log for 20th February dashed their hopes. His report expanded on previous records, commenting:

‘at 2 [am] sent 3 of our Quarter Deck Guns on shore in the Royal Sovereign’s longboat and 2 in the Nassau’s’. He then added, ‘at 3 [am] hove overboard 6 of our aftermost Upper Deck Guns, with a grappling and a buoy’.

Researchers concluded that using grappling irons and marker buoys meant the crew intended to retrieve the guns once Invincible could be re-floated.  Since so much effort was made by both crew and the dockyard teams to remove all her guns immediately, these jettisoned guns were probably also brought up by a recovery team close to the time of her grounding.

Three days to salvage 74 heavy guns

Several logs and letters recorded that the Upper Deck, Quarter Deck and Forecastle guns were retrieved by boats the day after grounding. Her big, 32lb Lower Deck guns followed in the next two days. By the afternoon of 22 February 3rd Lieutenant Curry recorded that ‘PM had all our guns out and a hogload of shot [cannon balls] and a great deal of other stores’.

That same evening Invincible fell over onto her side – the crew had managed to save all her guns just in time!

But there was some consolation for the 21st century divers. Six swivel guns were left behind in the wreck. They were able to raise several of them from the sea bed – 260 years after Invincible grounded.