Old Treasures and Shipwrecks News - HMS Victory
The unknown story of the loss of Her Majesty Ship Victory
by Pascal Kainic (Naval Chronicles)
The year 1744 is, on many accounts, memorable in the annals of the British navy.
Early in July, a fleet of fourteen British ships of the line has assembled at Spithead; and Sir John Balchen hoisted his flag as commander-in-chief, on board the "Victory", 1st rate ship of 110 guns, the largest and finest ship in the navy.
She was manned with a chosen crew of 1100 men; and had, besides upwards of fifty young gentlemen on board, some of them belonging to families of the first distinction, who entered as volunteers, ambitious to serve, and learn the first rudiments of naval tactics under so worthy and able a commander.
On the 15th, a squadron of seven Dutch ships of the line and two frigates came up to Spithead, under the command of four admirals; and Sir John having a special commission for that purpose, assumed the command of the whole.
The combined forces was then as follows:
- "Victory" of 110 guns - Sir J. Balchen, Admiral of the White, Capt. Faulknor
- "Hampton Court" of 70 guns - Captain S. Mostyn
- "Augusta" of 60 guns - Captain Hon. J. Hamilton
- "Captain" of 70 guns - Captain T. Griffin
- "Princess Amelia" of 80 guns - Edward Spragge
- "St. George" of 90 guns - Vice admiral Wm. Martin, Captain R. Martin
- "Suffolk" of 70 guns - Captain T. Grenville
- "Falkland" of 50 guns - Captain Edward Pratten
- "Exeter" of 60 guns - Captain T. Broderick
- "Duke" of 90 guns - Vice-admiral James Stewart, Captain T. Trevor
- "Sunderland" of 60 guns - Captain J. Brett
- "Monmouth" of 70 guns - Captain H. Harrison
- "Prince Frederick" of 70 guns - Captain H. Norris
- "Princess Mary" of 60 guns - Captain T. Smith
- "Fire-ships Etna and Scipio" of 8 guns - Captain David Brodie
- "Sloop Fly" of 14 guns - Captain Hon. A. Stewart
- "Haerlem" of 76 guns - Admiral Baccarest
- "Dordrecht" of 54 guns - Vice admiral Hooft
- "Damiata" of 54 guns - Captain Schryver
- "Leeuwenhorst" of 54 guns - Rear admiral Reynst
- "Edam" of 54 guns - Captain Fransel
- "Assendelft" of 54 guns - Captain Boudaan
- "Delft" of 54 guns - Captain Wallestyn
This formidable fleet left Spithead on the 7th of August and proceeded for Portugal, with upwards of 200 sail of merchant ships under its convoy; but, impeded by contrary winds, and encumbered by the extensiveness of its charge, it did not arrive off the rock of Lisbon till the 9th of September.
Count Rochambault, apprized of the approach of this superior force, had prudently retreated to Cadiz. Sir John Balchen and his fleet proceeded to Gibraltar.
After Gibraltar had been placed in a proper posture of defence, Sir John Balchen returned to cruise off the coast of Portugal for some days, with the view of getting back to Brest, Rochambault might have taken an opportunity of slipping out.
In this expectation he was disappointed, and finding that Rochambault cautiously confined his fleet within the harbour of Cadiz, he quitted the coast of Galicia on the 28th of September and on the 30th, entered the Bay of Biscay on his return to England.
On the 3rd of October, the whole fleet was dispersed in a violent storm, and many of the ships were, with the greatest difficulty, prevented from foundering.
Excepting the "Victory", however, all of them, though in a very shattered state, arrived at Spithead by the 10th of October.
That noble ship separated from her companions on the 4th, and was never heard of afterwards !
It is supposed that she struck upon a ridge of rocks off the Casquets; as, from the testimony of the men who attended the lights, and of the inhabitants of the island of Alderney, many signals of distress were heard on the nights of the 4th and 5th of October, but the weather was too tempetuous for boats to venture.
Thus, perished the finest ship of the finest navy in the world, the pride of Britain and terror of her ennemies, with her veteran commander, nearly twelve hundred of his brave associates and most probably a large amount of treasure taken from her prizes !
For a time, this sudden and unforeseen calamity overwhelmed the nation with sorrow. A naval event, so poignantly distressing, had not occurred since the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, on the rocks of Scilly in 1707.
@ Archaeological assessment, report and consultation upon the discovery of the wreck
@ Public consultation for the management of the wreck site of the HMS Victory
@ House of Commons - Official Report - Parliamentary Debates Thursday - pages 68 to 71
In 2012, Odyssey Marine Exploration group was granted exclusive salvage rights by the British government...