Sea Explorers Solve a History Mystery
Wreck of famous British warship discovered in the English Channel
A company called Odyssey Marine Exploration reported Monday it had found a warship that sank in the English Channel almost 265 years ago.
The HMS Victory was a jewel of the British Royal Navy. It was a 175-foot tall ship and was the largest and most heavily armed sailing vessel of its time.
Odyssey's sea explorers found the wrecked warship last year. But it has taken nine months of examining the wreckage to determine it is indeed the Victory.
The team confirmed the ship's identity by taking a closer look at two bronze cannons they brought up from the bottom of the waterway. Both guns have dolphin handles, common features of bronze cannons made in the early 1700s. The cannons also bear the crest of King George I, who ruled England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1714 to 1727.
The size, dates and types of other guns found in the wreckage were also key pieces of evidence in identifying the shipwreck as HMS Victory.
"This is a big one, just because of the history," Greg Stemm, chief executive of the Odyssey, told the Associated Press. "Very rarely do you solve an age-old mystery like this."
|Illustration: Jim McMahon|
The mystery of how the Victory sank began in 1744.
The ship's commander, Admiral Sir John Balchin, and about 900 sailors were returning from a mission near Portugal in October 1744. A terrible storm hit the fleet of ships just off the Channel Islands. When the storm was over the next morning, there was no sign of the ship or its crew.
Historians had believed the ship crashed against the Casquets, a group of rocks west of the town of Alderney. The rocks are called the graveyard of the English Channel.
At the time of Victory's disappearance, many blamed Admiral Balchin for being unable to navigate the treacherous waters. The lighthouse keeper of Alderney was also charged with failing to keep its lights on at the time of the ship's disappearance. Historians have generally accepted this theory of how the ship was lost—until now.
The Odyssey explorers discovered the Victory's remains about 50 miles away from the Casquets. These findings suggest that the ship sank as the result of the violent storm. The Odyssey team analyzed the design and construction of the ship, and believe both were factors in its sinking.
The team's research also indicates the ship was carrying four tons of gold coins.
Stemm said the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense has given his company permission to return to the wreck to search for the treasure. He is negotiating with the Defense Ministry about how much of a reward the explorers will earn for the discoveries.
"The money is not as important as the cultural and historical significance of the discovery," Stemm said at the news conference in London earlier this week. "It is a monumental event, not only for Odyssey but for the world. It is probably the most significant shipwreck find to date."
The Discovery Channel filmed part of Odyssey's work to find the Victory. You can see interviews with the explorers and learn more about the historic shipwreck on the show Treasure Quest. Check dsc.discovery.com for times.
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