Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks: Assurance, Invincible

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The Assurance

The 44-gun 5th Rate1 Frigate Assurance was lost on the 24th April 1753 by the Needles. Built in 1747 at the Richard Heather yard at Bursledon, her last voyage was to take Edward Trelawney, the fourth son of the late Bishop of Winchester and Governor of Jamaica, and was retiring, home, along with his family and personal fortune of £60,000. Although the official Admiralty records simply lists the Assurance as having hit an uncharted rock outside the Needles
Passage, the truth is more interesting.

In order to navigate the difficult Needles Passage, the ship's Master, David Patterson, took over from Captain Scrope. In order to avoid the Shingles, the ship sailed closer and closer to the outermost Needle, causing Trelawney to enquire how close to the rock they would get. Patterson replied "So close that the fly of the ensign might touch the rock." Unsurprisingly, the 100 foot frigate crashed into the rock, and was a complete loss. The crew, and all but £4,000, was saved.

Patterson was sentenced to 3 months in Marshalsea Prison, a London Debtor's Gaol, the shortness of the sentence due to "the obscurity of the rock". Trelawney, though, was less fortunate; he died before the end of the year.

James Wheeler

The Log of James Wheeler records that on the 10th January 1754, five ships were wrecked on the Island, and 10 people drowned. In 1755, the whole crew of a Weymouth sloop died when their ship was wrecked on Rocken End.

HMS Invincible

On the 19th February 1758, during the Seven Years War, fought from 1756-1763 against France, HMS Invincible sank on the Horse Tail sand bank outside Portsmouth.

Originally L'Invincible, she had been built as one of a new line of superior 74-gun ships for the French Navy at Rochefort in 1744. She was larger than the British 100-gun ships-of-the-line, yet, capable of speeds over 13 knots, was still faster than a British frigate. Her lowest gunports were 6 feet above the waterline, whereas most British 1st Rate2 ships had gun ports only 3 feet above the waterline, and were only operable in calm seas. She was captured at the battle of Cape Finisterre in 1747, and was used as the model for a new generation of British ships of the line. She was also commissioned as a flagship for 6 different admirals.

In 1757 she was part of the unsuccessful campaign to drive the French out of Canada, but, during a gale, lost her rigging, was partly flooded and was saved from a lee shore by being towed by the Windsor. After being repaired in Portsmouth, she was to be with Admiral Boscawen's fleet carrying General Amburst's troops to Louisbourg.

At 2:30am on Sunday the 19th February 1758, the fleet was ordered to weigh anchor. HMS Invincible normally took around 2 hours to weigh anchor, yet on this occasion, there was a problem; the anchor refused to break free from the seabed. Nearly 400 men were on the four capstans, breaking capstan bars in their attempt to raise the anchor, to no avail. Eventually the Master, Henry Adkins, and a further 100 men were able to free the anchor from the seabed, yet things did not go according to plan when the anchor shot from the bottom, only to stick in the bottom of the ship.

The Invincible was unable to free the anchor, and was blown north-east, with the rudder jammed by the anchor. The rudder was freed, yet too late as the ship grounded on the Horse bank. Her hold was flooded with up to 12 feet of water. Despite using four chain pumps, each capable of pumping away a ton of water every 45 seconds, she remained flooded. Although she still floated at high tide, it proved impossible to free her from the sand bank.

On Wednesday 22nd February, she fell over on her beam ends. Her captain, John Bentley, oversaw the removal of her cargo, stores and cannon; he and his crew were later acquitted of blame at the court martial held onboard the Royal George.

The Invincible was lost until May 1979, when she was found by fisherman Arthur Mack. He, along with local diver John Broomhead formed Invincible Conservations Ltd., which, under a Government licence, excavated the wreck until 1990.

Artefacts from the Invincible can be found at the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, and the "Wooden Walls" Display at Chatham Historic Dockyard.3

Other Naval Vessels

Three years after the loss of the Invincible, in July 1761, the 70-gun HMS Dorsetshire was wrecked at Horse Sands, near where the Mary Rose sank. Her loss caused the Port Admiral of Portsmouth, Vice Admiral Fancis Holborne, to issue an order to all Naval shipping masters, " sound out the channels, which they should do several times by way of refreshing their memories, this being the second great ship they have run ashore lately." His orders, though, did not have the effect he wished. Only four months later, in October, the Fourth Rate 50-gun HMS Portland4 came to grief off Ryde.

The Log

John Wheeler records that in November 1766, a French Sloop was smashed by the chalk cliffs of Freshwater Bay, killing all onboard. In January 1778, the 5 crew onboard an Alderney cutter died in the seas off Brighstone, the same place witnessed the deaths of the whole crew of a sloop in 1781.

Isle Of Wight Shipwrecks

1Rating was based on the number of heavy guns, not including anti-personnel weapons or caronades. A 5th rate of this period had 40-50 guns.2A 1st Rate had 100 guns or more and a crew of 800.3She was the first Invincible in the Royal Navy. You can find out about Invincible's sucessors.4The 3rd ship of 8 to bear her name.

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