One of Britain’s greatest maritime mysteries has finally been solved. More than two and a half centuries on, archaeologists have now worked out what caused one of the Royal Navy’s worst disasters – the sinking of the mid 18th century British fleet’s flagship, the Victory.
The vessel sank in the English Channel in early October 1744 some 50 miles south-east of Plymouth – and all 1,100 men on-board perished.
It was the greatest single naval disaster ever sustained by Britain in the English Channel. At the time, and indeed over the intervening centuries, Admiralty officials and naval historians have maintained that the main culprit was the weather – in the form of a major storm that was raging at the time the vessel sank.
But now, a detailed study of the disaster has revealed that it was in fact ultimately caused by more human factors – poor design and sub-standard construction.
The new research – led by British marine archaeologist, Sean Kingsley - strongly suggests that the Victory sank because her design made her particularly vulnerable to major storms and because she had probably been built from sub-standard timbers.
The investigation has revealed that the Royal Navy was quite literally running out of high quality timber at the time the Victory was built – and that, consequently, immature trees and unseasoned timber were being used to construct many of the mid 18th century Royal Navy’s ships.
England’s timber resources had been massively depleted by the Anglo-Dutch wars of the mid 17th century, by the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 and by illegal private agricultural encroachment on royal forests.