Bronze cannon of the HMS Victory. (Credits: Odyssey Marine Exploration)

Mystery of HMS Victory’s sinking solved after 271 years

After more than 271 years ago, when the HMS Victory perished with all souls on board, archaeologists have finally found the cause of the naval disaster. The Flagship of the British Navy may have sunk during a severe storm but intense research reveal that human errors eventually led to its sinking including substandard construction and poor design.

The HMS Victory (Credits: Odyssey Marine Exploration)
The HMS Victory (Credits: Odyssey Marine Exploration)

On 4 October 1744, one of the Royal Navy’s worst disaster took place, when the vessel HMS Victory sank in the English Channel some 50 miles (80 km) south-east of Plymouth taking down +1,100 souls with her, leaving no survivors. It is generally believed that the HMS Victory sank during a severe storm but British archaeologists have revealed that its widely attributed to defects in her construction.

Sean A. Kingsley of Odyssey Marine Exploration stated: “The Victory’s construction overlapped with a succession of moderate winters from 1730-39 that made the seasoning of cut timbers for shipbuilding a long, if not impossible, process. Combined with declining wood supplies in the New Forest, wood rotation mismanagement in dockyards, and criticisms of inadequate ship ventilation causing internal dry rot, this paper enquires whether the sinking of the Victory was a matter of ill winds and stormy seas or was alternatively caused by human error.” More said, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

On the moment when the HMS Victory was built, England was running out of high quality timber. A few of the reasons for running out of resources were the rebuilding of London after the “Great Fire” of 1666; illegal forest encroachment of English forests and for the built of a navy fleet for the Anglo-Dutch wars. Resulting in the use of immature trees and unseasoned timber. The mild winters in the 1730’s were almost all frost-free, cut timber thus contained more sap than normal, making the time required for the seasoning process longer, if not impossible: wood may simply have started to rot instead of season.

Moreover, a French naval spy named Blaise Ollivier, already expressed his concerns on the English timber used in the dockyards and stated that the wood was of “middling good quality and extremely dry“, adding, “much of the sapwood is left on and I saw many frames, timbers of the stern and transoms where there were two or the inches of sapwood already half rotted on one or two of their edges.”.

In 2008 the HMS Victory was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration some 62 miles (100 km) away from where it was believed to have been lost in the Western English Channel.