Naval History

Invincible Exhibition Explores History Of Navy's 18th-Century 'Ferrari' Ship

Portsmouth’s ‘Diving Deep’ exhibition displays the archaeological battle to preserve the wreck of HMS Invincible.

The archaeological battle to preserve an 18th Century Navy shipwreck is the subject of a new exhibition.

At ‘Diving Deep’ in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, the story of HMS Invincible explores the excavation project to save what had been the fastest warship in the naval fleet.

The 74-gun, French-built ship was seized in battle by the British and went on to “run rings” around larger, less agile vessels, explained Dr Eileen Clegg, Community Archaeology Producer.

“That made her basically a bit of a ‘Ferrari’ of the Royal Navy – so fast and powerful,” she said.

At the beginning of a voyage to Nova Scotia in 1758, however, HMS Invincible’s anchor became trapped underneath her bow, her rudder also jamming.

The cutwater of HMS Invincible is recovered (Picture: The National Museum of the Royal Navy).

“She has no brakes, no steering and of course she’s setting sail in high winds,” said Dr Clegg, explaining how the ship was blown out of control before running aground on a sandbank in the Solent.

For more than two centuries, HMS Invincible lay undisturbed on the seabed – a cannonball storage room pinning her down.

In 1979, some of the wreckage was caught up in a fisherman's net.

Divers have since only managed to bring the cutwater of the vessel and several artefacts to the surface – giving visitors in Portsmouth an insight into life onboard the 18th Century ship.

Leather shoes, rum barrels, wig-curlers, and items used to discipline the crew are just a few of the recovered props at the exhibition.

Meanwhile, an interactive model formed from thousands of deep-sea photographs helps guests to fill in the gaps.

COVID-19 has seen sanitiser stations placed between the family-friendly, hands-on exhibits at ‘Diving Deep’, which will be open for a year before moving to Chatham in Kent next autumn.