Her sinking is one of the Royal Navy’s worst naval disasters. Commanded by Admiral Sir John Balchin, all 1100 crew were lost when she sank during a storm off the coast near Plymouth in 1744.
She is the only First-Rate ship underwater in such complete condition, and probably the best example of the early Georgian period that carried bronze cannons. The wreck has been almost completely off limits as it lies 246ft below a busy shipping lane in an area with strong tides.
Now a 42-pound cannon, the most powerful main armament used in naval warfare, which has lain on the seabed for over 260 years, will go on permanent display at The National Museum of the Royal Navy. It is the first artefact from the legendary warship to be seen in public. The 42-pounder, bears the Royal Crest of King George I, a mark which led to the identification of the shipwreck.
The three-decked ship was the predecessor to Vice-Admiral Nelson's Victory and held up to 110 bronze cannons. The fully-conserved artefact will be on show in the Sailing Navy gallery, a stone’s throw from Nelson’s HMS Victory, in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “The 42-pounder is an exceptional example of Georgian firepower and it adds to the mythology surrounding HMS Victory 1744 as an incomparable warship, one of the most technologically advanced of her time. It is considered of national and international importance. The cannon was transferred to us as custodians of Royal Navy heritage and our collection is so much richer for this.
“It was recovered with the permission of MoD in 2008 during non-invasive survey works and trial trenching and is incredibly rare. It is not just a display of strength and firepower but also of craftsmanship. With its elegant dolphins and intricate crests, it reflects the remarkable craftsmanship of the Georgian age and gives a fascinating insight into the type of firepower that enabled the Royal Navy to rule the waves.”
An archaeological survey of the Western English Channel in April 2008 revealed the shipwreck more than 100km from where the ship had been thought to have vanished. The wreck site was carefully investigated and 50 bronze cannon, a V-shaped iron anchor, the ship’s rudder, over 40 iron ballast ingots and a selection of miscellaneous artefacts were recorded. A 12-pound cannon was retrieved alongside the 42-pounder.
The manufacture of the bronze cannons was overseen by Andrew Schalch, whose name appears on the exterior. Whilst undergoing conservation, excavation to their interior revealed that it was still fully loaded with hemp rope wadding, gun powder and a cannonball.
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