HMS Victory - Frequently Asked Questions
What was HMS Victory?
When launched, HMS Victory was the mightiest and most technically-advanced vessel of the age, armed with up to 100 bronze cannon. Historically, she was the last Royal Navy warship to be lost at sea with a complete complement of bronze cannon.
Built in Portsmouth between 1726 and 1737, she was the fifth and penultimate Royal Navy ship to bear this name. The direct predecessor and inspiration behind Admiral Nelson’s flagship, the Victory was a three-decked, first-rate Royal Navy warship weighing 1,921 tons, measuring 174 ft. 9 in. (approx. 53 m) in length, with a beam of 50 ft. 6 in. (approx. 15.5 m) and a depth of 20 ft. 6in. (approx. 6.25 m). Interestingly, Balchin’s Victory was approximately the same overall dimension as Nelson’s Victory, although of an older design.
HMS Victory sank during a storm in the English Channel on October 5, 1744 while under the command of Admiral Sir John Balchin.
Click here to read Dr. Sean Kingsley's archaeological paper The Art & Archaeology of Privateering: British Fortunes & Failures in 1744 (2010)
What is the history of HMS Victory?
Historians recognize HMS Victory as one of the greatest warships built in the 18th century. Throughout her career of seven years, she sailed primarily on non-combat missions and was used as a deterrent to provide an overwhelming show of force for the Royal Navy wherever she appeared.
In July 1744, she set sail to rescue a Mediterranean convoy blockaded by the French Brest fleet in the River Tagus at Lisbon. After victoriously chasing the French fleet away, she escorted the convoy into the Mediterranean Sea as far as Gibraltar, then set sail to return to her home port in England. During the course of the voyage, her fleet captured a number of valuable prizes, and she was also reported to have taken on board a consignment of 400,000 pounds sterling for Dutch merchants. On her return trip to England, HMS Victory was lost with all hands in a violent storm on October 5, 1744.
Is this Nelson’s Victory?
No, the Victory that was commanded by Admiral Lord Nelson was launched in 1765. The vessel discovered by Odyssey is its predecessor and, in large part, served as the inspiration for Nelson’s Victory, bearing similar features and dimensions. A tour of Nelson’s Victory in Portsmouth will give the visitor a glimpse of the scale of the ship and what life aboard Balchin’s Victory would have been like.
When was HMS Victory discovered?
Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered the shipwreck in 2008 and notified the UK Ministry of Defence. In cooperation with the MOD, Odyssey conducted an archaeological pre-disturbance survey of the site, conducted limited test trenching, and recovered two bronze cannon to confirm the identity of the shipwreck. The cannon recovered include a 12-pounder featuring the royal arms of George II and a three-ton, 42-pounder bearing the crest of George I. The huge 42-pounder recovered is the only known example of a gun of this type and size currently in existence on dry land. The discovery of the shipwreck was announced to the public in February 2009.
What makes this discovery significant?
Balchin’s Victory was the mightiest vessel in the world when it disappeared with all hands on October 5, 1744. It was an incredible surprise to the world and began one of the most compelling and long-standing mysteries in naval history. For nearly three centuries, most people assumed Victory was lost off the Casquets, a group of rocky islets situated northwest of Alderney infamously renowned as the “graveyard of the English Channel.” Although the wrecksite was never located, the blame for the ship’s loss was placed on poor navigation. The lighthouse keeper of Alderney was even subjected to a court martial for failing to keep the lights on between October 1 and 5, 1744.
Odyssey Marine Exploration’s discovery of the Victory, nearly 100 km west of Casquets, exonerated the Victory's crew as well as Aldrney's lighthouse keeper.
Balchin’s Victory represents the only wreck of a first-rate English warship ever to be discovered with its original deployment of bronze cannon. Her three-ton, 42-pounder cannon – the largest and most powerful guns used in naval warfare at that time – are unique as the only known examples on land in existence.
Who was Sir John Balchin?
Admiral Sir John Balchin was one of the most respected and longest-serving fighting officers in Royal Navy history. When he tragically drowned on HMS Victory on October 5, 1744, he had dedicated 58 years of service to king and country.
Between the age of 15 and 74, Sir John sailed the waters of the West Indies, the Baltic, Mediterranean and English Channel on 13 different warships. He was twice captured by the French and twice exonerated by court martial.
He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1728, Vice-Admiral six years later, and, in August 1743, became Admiral of the White, the second highest naval appointment.
Sir John was never able to enjoy the peace that his dutiful service deserved. Within months of his retirement in March 1744 he was rushed back into service to liberate a supply convoy blockaded by the Brest fleet down the River Tagus at Lisbon. If these vital supplies failed to reach the Mediterranean fleet, England was at risk of losing the War of the Austrian Succession. Having routed the French and captured at least 11 enemy prizes, Balchin was heading home when HMS Victory was caught in a violent storm in the western English Channel.
The greatest commander of the age perished on the finest warship in the world along with more than 900 sailors, marines, and volunteers from some of the most distinguished families in England.
Where is the site located?
Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered the site in the English Channel beyond the UK’s Territorial Waters and Contiguous Zone, nearly 100 km from where the ship was historically believed to have been wrecked near the Channel Islands.
When was the UK Government informed of the discovery of HMS Victory?
Odyssey notified the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the discovery of HMS Victory. The MOD agreed that Odyssey should conduct additional survey work on the site with the goal of establishing a positive identification. After further archaeological study it was agreed that two of the cannon would be recovered as evidence of the site’s identity.
On September 18, 2009, Odyssey announced it reached an agreement with the UK Government on a salvage award for the cannon recovered from the site. The UK Government agreed to pay Odyssey a salvage award of 80% as compensation for the 42 pounder and 12 pounder cannon which were recovered from the site in 2008 and submitted to the UK Receiver of Wreck. A valuation of approximately $200,000 was agreed for the two cannon, providing for a salvage award of approximately $160,000. Odyssey agreed to forgo approximately $75,000 of its salvage award to provide support to the UK's National Museum of the Royal Navy.
What work has been done and what has been recovered so far from the Victory shipwreck site?
Odyssey Marine Exploration conducted a pre-disturbance survey using its ROV ZEUS. A geo-spatially accurate photomosaic of the site was produced from more than 2,800 high-resolution still images. Subsequent operations, undertaken with the knowledge and agreement of the UK MOD, identified a substantial concentration of wreckage from the Victory, comprising hull remains, the ship’s 10 meter-long rudder, rectangular iron ballast, two anchors, a copper kettle, rigging, two probable gunner’s wheels and 41 bronze cannon, including eight 42-pounder guns.
With the approval of the MOD, Odyssey recovered two bronze cannon from the wreck of the Victory in 2008, a 12-pounder featuring the royal arms of George II and a three-ton, 42-pounder bearing the crest of George I. The 42-pounder is the only known example of this size gun now on dry land. Both guns carry the maker’s mark (“SCHALCH”) and archetypal dolphin handles, common to bronze cannon of the period. The size, dates and types of guns were key pieces of evidence in identifying the shipwreck as the Victory.
Click here to read Neil Cunningham Dobson and Dr. Sean Kingsley archaeological paper HMS Victory, a First-Rate Royal Navy Warship Lost in the English Channel, 1744. Preliminary Survey & Identification (2009).
Details regarding the work completed as part Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the VIctory 1744 Project Design are available in the following papers: Gerhard Seiffert, Neil Cunningham Dobson, Frederick Van de Walle, Dr. Sean Kingsley, HMS Victory (Site 25C). Preliminary Results of the Non-Disturbance Shipwreck Survey, 2012 (2013); Anthony R. Prave, Donald A. Herd, Angus C. Calder & Stuart G. Allison, The Wreck of the First Rate Warship the Victory, Western English Channel: Site 25C Sediment Analysis (2013); Juan Antonio Morales González & Claudio Lozano Guerra-Librero, Dynamics of Sediment Bedforms in the Western English Channel: the Wreck of the Victory (Site 25C) in Context (2013).
What is the significance of the cannon found at the site?
From the perspective of ordnance deployment, HMS Victory is unique as the last recorded Royal Navy warship to be lost bearing a full complement of bronze cannon. She was armed before bronze was phased out in favor of iron guns, which were less expensive to produce.
The wreck is one of only two first-rates whose ordnance has ever been located underwater, the other having been salvaged in the late 18th century. However, unfortunately almost all of the bronze guns from the other ship were melted down as scrap in the late 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, the Victory site represents the only shipwreck ever discovered with an armament of 42-pounder cannon, the most powerful and prestigious guns used in Colonial naval warfare. The one recovered by Odyssey is the only known example in existence on land in the world.
The two cannon recovered in October 2008 — a 42-pounder and a 12-pounder — provide an indication of the magnitude of the armament:
42-pounder: L. 3.40 m (11.5 ft.) muzzle diam. 17.8 cm (7 in.) trunnion diam. 17.8 cm (7 in.)
Decorated with the royal arms of King George I.
12-pounder: L. 3.12 m (10.24 ft.) muzzle diam. 11.5 cm (4.5 in.) trunnion diam. 11.5 cm (4.5 in.)
Decorated with the royal arms of King George II.
These cannon played an important role in identifying the site, since construction of the Victory commenced in March 1726, the final year in which King George I reigned (the guns were ordered before construction commenced). The end of King George I’s reign also witnessed the decline of bronze cannon used on English warships – at this time they were deployed exclusively on the most prestigious vessels, flagships and royal yachts.
The cannon are currently the most remarkable and identifiable features of this shipwreck. With their elegant dolphin handles and intricate cast artwork, they represent exceptional bronze craftsmanship and feature the maker’s mark “SCHALCH.” Andrew Schalch of Woolwich was widely recognized as the pre-eminent master founder of his time.
The recovery of these cannon, as well as the other eclectic mix of great guns observed on the site, will help further our understanding of naval weaponry used during this era.
In summary, the historical and archaeological significance of the site’s anticipated ordnance collection represents:
- The only identified intact collection of exclusively bronze cannon from an English warship of any age.
- The only complete armament of bronze guns from a first-rate English warship.
- The largest single collection of bronze cannon in the world.
- The largest consignment of bronze guns ever manufactured and preserved today.
- A potential assortment of English, Spanish and Dutch ordnance representing historically significant, museum-quality artifacts. The diversity of cannon will provide the definitive statement on the use of bronze guns by the Royal Navy between the late 17th century and 1744.
Click the linked papers to read Charles Trollope Brass Guns & Balchin's Victory (1744): the Background to their Casting (2010) and Frederick Van de Walle, Balchin's Victory: Bronze Cannon Conservation Report (2010)
Are coins or bullion believed to be on the site?
Research shows that substantial quantities of gold were being carried on a regular basis from Lisbon to England on the larger Royal Navy ships during this period. The Dutch financial publication Amsterdamsche Courant of November 18/19, 1744, reported that Balchin’s flagship carried a huge sum of money when she foundered: “People will have it that on board of the Victory was a sum of 400,000 pounds sterling that it had brought from Lisbon for our merchants.” Based on contemporary accounts of coinage being shipped from Lisbon at the time, this cargo most likely consisted of gold coins minted in Portugal and Brazil, although it could also have included other colonial coinage. If gold, this would equate to approximately 100,000 1 oz. gold coins weighing approximately 3 tons.
Until an archaeological excavation is conducted, we will not know for sure how many and what types of coins, if any, will be found on the site.
Should shipwrecks be left alone and shipwreck artefacts be left in situ?
The theory that shipwrecks will remain preserved if left where they are (in situ) is being proven to be false on many sites examined by Odyssey and others, especially in the English Channel.
On the Victory wreck site, for instance, there is evidence of extreme natural deterioration due to the constant movement of sediments and currents, scouring, extensive fishing trawl net damage, the intrusion of modern trash and debris and recent information detailing a cannon illegally looted from the site.
At this point, there is no accepted method for protecting such deep-water wrecks, and if left in situ the wreck of the Victory will eventually be mostly destroyed by nature, fishing trawlers and other marine activities. The best way to protect the maritime heritage associated with the shipwreck is to thoroughly document the site and if necessary, recover artifacts that may be in danger if left at the site.
Read more in Dr. Sean Kingsley's archaeological paper, Deep-Sea Fishing Impacts on the Shipwreck of the English Channel & Western Approaches (2009)as well as the archaeological paper Balchin's Victory (Site 25C): Shipwreck Monitoring & Cannon Impacts (2012).
Additional information and photographs illustrating the threats to the shipwreck site are available here.
What are the future plans for HMS Victory (1744)?
The Maritime Heritage Foundation has been entrusted with the responsibility of the future management of HMS Victory (1744). In February 2012, the Foundation executed a contract with Odyssey Marine Exploration for the financing, archaeological survey and excavation, conservation and exhibit of HMS Victory (1744) and artifacts from the shipwreck site.
Pursuant to the executed agreement Odyssey has produced an extensive project design for the archaeological excavation of the site, including a complete plan for recording, documentation, conservation, publication and public education. A report was provided to the Foundation and the UK MOD that details monitoring of the site conducted by Odyssey and Wreck Watch International between 2008 and early 2012. The report includes evidence, including photographs, of additional damage to the site since 2008 caused by human and natural forces. This report is available here Balchin's Victory (Site 25C): Shipwreck Monitoring & Cannon Impacts (2012). Odyssey also provided a revised archaeological project design, developed as a result of the impact report, to the Maritime Heritage Foundation. This revised project design has been approved by the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee, which includes Dr. Margaret Rule, Ivor Noël Hume and Commander John Bingeman.
Details regarding the work completed as part Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Victory 1744 Project Design are available in the following papers: Gerhard Seiffert, Neil Cunningham Dobson, Frederick Van de Walle, Dr. Sean Kingsley, HMS Victory (Site 25C). Preliminary Results of the Non-Disturbance Shipwreck Survey, 2012 (2013); Anthony R. Prave, Donald A. Herd, Angus C. Calder & Stuart G. Allison, The Wreck of the First Rate Warship the Victory, Western English Channel: Site 25C Sediment Analysis (2013); Juan Antonio Morales González & Claudio Lozano Guerra-Librero, Dynamics of Sediment Bedforms in the Western English Channel: the Wreck of the Victory (Site 25C) in Context (2013).
The Maritime Heritage Foundation is currently waiting for permission from the Ministry of Defence and a license from the Marine Management Organisation to proceed with recovery of the at-risk surface artifacts.