After much work and research, the wreck was positively identified as that of the Royal Navy's First Invincible. Now to establish a bit of her history.

The Capture of L'Invincible

L'Invincible was captured from the French at the battle of Cape Finnisterre on 3rd May in the year of our Lord seventeen hundred & forty seven. She was there escorting a massive convoy of merchant ships when the British channel fleet of 13 warships sighted them and gave chase. L'Invincible almost lived up to her name during the battle, for with an heroic act of self sacrifice she stood her ground against at the rear of the merchant ships in an attempt to give them chance of escape. She took the brunt of the murderous British attack, and on her own took on six British warships. Eventually with most of her crew dead and wounded she struck her colours.


Left - Taken from an original drawing, here we witness the ceremonial handing over of the sword. Gracious in defeat, the French Commander Ch. De St Georges, on handing his sword to Admiral Anson said: -

"Monsieu, vous avez vancu L'Iinvincible, et la Gloire vous suit"

Which, roughly translated means - "Sir, you have defeated the Invincible and the Glory you have". This is recorded in British Naval records as being a rather clever play on words, because not ony did he mean the Glory of winning a famous victory but, another ship taken alongside the Invincible in the same battle was in fact "la Gloire".

Admiral Anson wrote to the Admiralty: -
"We have at last captured the Invincible which until now have only been able to admire from a distance"
"She is a prodious fine ship and vastly large, I think she is larger than any ship in the British fleet, and is quite new"
Invincible in British service
'In every respect the very best ship of her class' The Admiralty, 1757

Naval commanders and their ships generally became famous as a result of their victories in battle. The Invincible however, fought and won her greatest battles on the drawing boards of eighteenth century ship designers. She was the first of a completely new class of battle ship which was to dominate the oceans, in the service of all major navies of the world, for over 100 years.

From the mid 1660's up to the capture of Invincible, British ship designers had made no significant advances, whereas in the early part of the eighteenth century French shipbuilding enjoyed a particularly creative period.

The Invincible was designed to fit the needs of a major colonial power. She was larger than any previous 74-gun ship, she carried heavier armaments higher out of the water, whilst her greater draft and low centre of gravity allowed her to carry a greater weight of sail. This meant she was faster and sailed better than any ship in the British fleet but was equal in firepower to all but the largest 100-gun ships.
The Captains and Admirals who sailed in the Invincible heaped praise on her superb sailing qualities.
Admiral Boscawen wrote to his wife: -
"I should say the Invincible sails well, rather better than any (other) ship, only the Bedford comes near us".
And Captain Keppel said of her that she: -
"Outsails the whole of the Navy of England"
In 1757 the Admiralty paid the Invincible her greatest compliment by saying that she: -
"is in every way the best ship of her class, and answers all purposes that can be desired of a ship of war".
At the time of the capture of Invincible, there was not one 74-gun ship in the Royal Navy. By 1805, when Nelson defeated the combined French Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, three quarters of British ships of the line were 74's. The 74 became known as the backbone of all major navies of the world.

The Loss

"If the weather proves moderate, I have great hopes that we shall yet be able to save her" Captain John Bentley, 21st February 1758.

'I am in hopes a great part of her stores will be got out, but there is very little probability of saving the ship'. Port Admiral William Broderick, 21st February 1758.

In 1755 Britain and France were on the verge of a war caused by the struggle for colonial power. The war was to be fought on the three continents and in as many oceans. It became the classic colonial war for which the Invincible had been designed.
During the next two years she was flagship of the Channel fleet under Admiral Boscawen and served in America on the first Louisbourg expedition as flagship to Sir Charles Hardy.
The first attack on Louisburg failed and in 1758 the government resolved to mount a second expedition. The Invincible had just undergone a refit, after being badly damaged in a hurricane of the North American coast, and was in better shape than ever before. Her Captain was John Bently, a distinguished officer who loved and understood the ship. George Anson was head of the Admiralty and Pitt the elder was the director of Britain's war effort.
On 18th February 1758, the Invincible was one of a large fleet of warships and transports, which lay at St Helens Roads off the Isle of Wight. The Invincible was destined to be the flagship of Sir Charles Hardy, who was waiting for her in Halifax, and General Geoffrey Amherst, the commander in chief of Pitt's ambitious plan was to sail in her. The expedition would take Louisburg without difficulty opening up the St Lawrence river and clearing the way for General James Wolfe to storm the Heights of Abraham and capture Quebec in 1759, so destroying the French position in Canada.
The signal for the fleet to weight anchor was hoisted from Boscawen's flagship Namur, at 02:30 on the morning of the 19th February 1758. On board the Invincible all went well at first. Within half an hour the ship's anchor was hove 'short peak', almost ready to be lifted off the seabed, but it stuck fast in the mud. Henry Adkins, the ships experienced sailing master, needed all the tricks he knew to clear it. However, as the anchor lifted, the Captain, John Bently, agreed to proceed with it where it was as the fleet was already way ahead.
The wind was East-South-East, so the Invincible sailed Northwest to pick up speed and then turned Northeast towards the Horse Tail Sandbank. Two experienced seamen took soundings and as the depth of water decreased to seven and a quarter fathoms, Adkins brought the bow to face the wind to halt her motion. A repeated order to lower the bower anchor (the main anchor was stuck) was not carried out and shortly after the Invincible struck the sandbank.
The situation was serious but not desperate. The Invincible had been successfully floated off sandbanks twice before. Guns were fired as a distress signal. Aboard Namur, Boscawen saw the signal but the fleet could not be delayed for one ship, however important she might be, and sailed on. The smallest anchors, the stream (18 cwt) and the kedge (8 cwt), were slung under longboats and rowed astern. Cables from the anchors were passed through the stern gun ports and round the main capstan. All was ready by 06:30. Half an hour before high water the ship floated, the crew hauled on the cables and the ship moved slowly astern. However, the wind freshened and changed direction to the Southeast and as the anchor cables shortened and became less horizontal, the grip of the anchors on the seabed decreased. The ship forged ahead, dragging the anchors along the seabed and she went aground again.
The best chance of saving the ship had gone. At daybreak the First Lieutenant when for help in one of the ships longboats, but no help came. At his Court Martial Bently said, "the wind blew so extremely hard I imagine vessels could not get out of harbour to assist us". By midday long boats from the Royal George arrived. Three small quarterdeck guns were transhipped and more guns and stores were thrown overboard to lighten her. At 19:00 hrs the master attendant (Mr Gastrin) and pilot (Mr Lockett) from the dockyard arrived, and they tried to drive her over the sandbank under full sail. This seemed to succeed only in straining the timbers and she began to make water. Between 20:00 and 21:00 hrs that night, two of the four chain pumps broke and the water began to gain fast.
At 06:00 hrs the next day a flotilla of small ships and boats came to Invincible's aid, and more stores were take off. By the afternoon of the 20th, all upperdeck guns were removed and at 05:00 on the morning of the 21st work started on the heavy guns of the lower deck. Bently was optimistic,
"I have great hopes that we shall yet be able to save her".
Rear Admiral Broderick was less so:
"I am in hopes a great part of her stors will be got out, but there is little probability of saving the ship".
At 19:00 hrs on the 21st the wind shifted to the Southwest and waves broke over the bow. As the tide rose the stern rose with it, but the bow remained under water. She beat hard against the sides of the hole she had dug for herself and shifted her position within the hole. As the tide fell she balanced precariously and at half past one on the morning of the 22nd she fell violently onto her side and was lost.
The courts Martial is worth close scrutiny. Surprisingly, all officers, the ships master and 44 seaman charged with 'mutiny & desertion of a Kings ship whilst ashore and in distress' were acquitted of all blame. It seems that those involved in the loss, closed ranks and refused to accept blame or to point a finger at anyone else. In addition the Admirals presiding, Broderick and Holbourne, apparently took little trouble to identify a culprit, the proceedings being over in two days. The Admiralty were not happy with the result and wrote to Holbourne,
"neither the public nor their Lordships have received any satisfaction of the occasion of the loss by the result of your enquiry.".
To find out more there are a limited number of books entitled "The Royal Navy's First Invincible" available through this web site.