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HMS Invincible exhibition Diving Deep sails from Portsmouth to the Historic Dockyard Chatham


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Visitors to a new exhibition will be able to visit a shipwreck which has lain on the seabed for more than 260 years, without dipping a toe in the water.

Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744, on loan to the Historic Dockyard Chatham from the National Museum of the Royal Navy, will examine the wreckage and treasures of the darling of the Royal Navy which ran aground on a sand bank and has been preserved for over two centuries on the ocean floor.

Diving Deep is the latest exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, about HMS Invincible Picture: Historic Dockyard Chatham
Diving Deep is the latest exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard, about HMS Invincible Picture: Historic Dockyard Chatham

The ship's final resting place may still be the bottom of the Solent, but the exhibition at the dockyard will tell her story from her capture and the lasting contribution she made to the Royal Navy fleet, to her subsequent sinking and rediscovery by a fisherman in 1979.

After a year at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it comes to Chatham on Saturday, February 12, in time for half term, when there will also be fun maritime archaeology activities including unearthing deep sea treasures buried in a giant dig pit.

Nick Ball, collections, galleries and interpretation manager at the dockyard trust, said: “Visitors to the Historic Dockyard Chatham will be able to learn why the Invincible was so special; the captured French ship that became the blueprint for Royal Navy 74-gun ships of the line.”

“Originally, a ‘nippy’ French warship, ‘L’Invincible’, was captured by the Royal Navy and every inch of her hull and form were studied and then replicated to form a new fleet that would go on to defeat the French. She was a game-changer who even influenced the subsequent design of the world’s most famous warship - Admiral Nelson's HMS Victory, built here at Chatham.”

Invincible was rediscovered in 1979 by Portsmouth fisherman Arthur Mack. In recent years it became crucial to rescue the artefacts on board before the sandbank migrated away.

Artefacts were brought from the seabed for Diving Deep
Artefacts were brought from the seabed for Diving Deep
One of the underwater dives to HMS Invincible
One of the underwater dives to HMS Invincible
Diving Deep is the latest exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard
Diving Deep is the latest exhibition at the Chatham Historic Dockyard
The team rescued artefacts from the shipwreck of HMS Invincible Picture: Historic Dockyard Chatham
The team rescued artefacts from the shipwreck of HMS Invincible Picture: Historic Dockyard Chatham
Rope from HMS Invincible
Rope from HMS Invincible

Nick Ball adds: “The maritime archaeology project to excavate the famous ship was probably one of the most important of its kind since the raising of the Mary Rose. The story of the excavation itself is extraordinary as it was a race against time and tides.”

The exhibition has travelled from Portsmouth to Chatham thanks to a collaboration with the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST), Bournemouth University, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The stories it features include the trial of Kent seaman, Captain John Bentley, and his court-martial for its sinking.

Artefacts on show will include wig curlers (for the Captain), 18th century sailors' shoes, including one pair with what can only be described as kitten heels, and rope still smelling of the tar painted on it in 1758, all brought to the surface in the 1980s and in 2017-19.

See some of the teams rescuing artefacts from the seabed here:

The exhibition will open on Saturday, February 12, and runs until Sunday, November 20.

Entry to the exhibition is included in dockyard annual entry which costs £25.50, or £15 for children. Find out more here.

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