LEATHER FIRE BUCKETS

Thirty six leather buckets were found on the wreck in varying states of preservation. These all came from the gunners store area and we are sure that they would have been used alongside the guns for whetting the spongers when the guns were in action.

The leather on the majority of those recovered was in remarkable condition. The only parts that appear to have suffered were the thread used in the original stitching and the iron hoops used to retain the handle onto the bucket.

Construction
Handle - a piece of hemp rope, bound in leather made up the handle which was approximately 1/2" (13mm dia). This was then attached to the bucket by 2 iron rings fixed to the bucket by 2 leather lugs that were themselves stitched to the top edge of the bucket. (left).
Top strengthener / stiffener
Around the top edge was a piece of hazel or wicker held in place by a thin piece of leather stitched over the hazel and on to the rim of the bucket. Also shown in this image you can clearly see the leather hoop that originally retained an iron ring. There were two of these opposite each other on the top rim of the bucket. The handle was a piece of hemp rope that was covered in a thin leather sheath and sewn in place. The rope/leather handle was attached to the iron rings. See sketch of Grafton bucket (end of page).

 

Base
The base panel is in the form of a shallow leather dish and was sewn into the base of the bucket raised edge. In addition, sewn into the base of most buckets in the form of a cross, were two pieces of stiff heavy leather (approx. 5 mm thick). These acted as supports. From the image (left) you can easily see the join between the outer side and the base itself.

Inside
Every bucket was lined with Stockholm tar to make it waterproof, indicating they were fire buckets. Fire was without doubt the worst nightmare of any sailor & was considered more dangerous than any enemy. Research shows that there would have been many buckets on board. Invincible was a 74 gunner and alongside each gun would have been several fire buckets.

The upper
This was, in the majority of cases, one piece of heavy leather (approx. 5 mm thickness) simply wrapped round into a tapered funnel shape with the ends sewn together. The sewing is very interesting. There is no thread seen on the inside of the buckets.
The thread was passed in through the edge of the leather and out through to the outside of the bucket. When we recovered these from the wreck, the stitching had rotted away. After conserving the leather, we re-sewed the buckets and found that in order to follow the original needle holes exactly as it was sewn in antiquity, was to use a method incorporating two needles!

 
A strange bucket found on the wreck

Despite scepticism from the historians, the team had always believed they had found the wreck of the Invincible. In 1984 I brought up a leather bucket that was in superb condition. There was writing on it clearly indicating another vessel - The GRAFTON. Although there are no photographs - pictured right is copy from my dive logs in 1984 where I copied the wording from the bucket. The word Grafton was written in silver paint and was quite faint which sadly dissappeared during conservation treatment. The writing is to scale, in relation to bucket size. Finding this bucket was a senstive issue because, after the constant debates and arguments with historians over the dates of the buttons we were finding on the wreck, once again a tiny element of doubt crept into everyone's mind? Had we found the Invincible or was this a cruel twist of fate for the project, and for those who had invested so much in the excavation? Arthur never was in any doubt and he carried out extensive research into the fate of the Grafton. Finding evidence to say that she was badly damaged in a hurricane off Halifax in October 1757 certainly rewarded his efforts.

The GRAFTON was at that time part of a fleet, that included the Invincible, on a mission to take the fortress of Louisbourg from the French.. The fleet was caught in a hurricane making the mission unsuccessful. The hurricane severely damaged the Grafton and Invincible and Admiral Holbourne sent both ships together with the Windsor back to Portsmouth England under jury rig.
It is possible that stores could have been swapped around between the ships in convoy and would explain why the bucket was on the Invincible. Another explanation is that when both shps were back in Portsmouth for repairs, stores might have been transferred from Grafton to Invincible. We will never know the true explanation but either of these seems likely.
Note the markings on the bucket - GR - denotes the reign of King George and the number 2 within the G further identifies George 2nd who reigned from 1727 - 1760. The name Grafton means the bucket was indeed in the original manifest of that particular ship. The number 18 probably meant the bucket was from gun number 18 & 1757 refers to the year in question.
 
Several of the buckets found on the Invincible had a king's crest stamped into the side with a number 6 underneath. Some had the remains of what was once writing and the laboratories were able to identify what ingredients the paint contained. But nearly all of the buckets found on Invincible carried a BROAD ARROW either stamped or simply scored in the leather.
 

For further details on the origin and reason for the BROAD ARROW follow this ink to a separate page.