RESCUE, the British Archaeological Trust has been following the case of HMS Victory AD 1744 since Odyssey Marine Exploration (OME) announced in 2009 the identification of the ship’s wreck site in the English Channel. (OME press release 26th February 2009, http://shipwreck.net/pr176.php , accessed 18th March 2015).
The press release said “Odyssey has been cooperating closely with the UK MOD on the project ….”.
RESCUE has uploaded correspondence and the responses onto our website http://www.rescue-archaeology.org.uk/. Some material is briefly outlined in the timeline below, and is contained in more detail in the uploaded correspondence.
Admiral Sir John Balchen’s HMS Victory Timeline
|1744:||Sank in the English channel.|
|2008:||OME recovered 2 cannons from a previously unknown wreck in the English Channel. Another cannon was found to be in the hands of Dutch salvors.|
|2009:||Documentary research identified the wreck as that of the Victory.“On September 18, 2009, Odyssey announced it reached an agreement with the UK Government on a salvage award for the 2 cannons recovered from the site.The UK Government agreed to pay Odyssey a salvage award of 80% as compensation for the 42 pounder and 12 pounder cannon which were recovered from the site in 2008 and submitted to the UK Receiver of Wreck. A valuation of approximately $200,000 was agreed for the two cannon, providing for a salvage award of approximately $160,000. Odyssey agreed to forgo approximately $75,000 of its salvage award to provide support to the UK’s National Museum of the Royal Navy.”(OME HMS Victory, Frequently Asked Questions http://www.shipwreck.net/hmsvictoryfaqs.php accessed 18th March 2015).RESCUE notes that as the wreck was subject to sovereign immunity, no salvage claim was due.
OME claim that the wreck contains a significant quantity of gold and silver coins. Their website contains the following: “Are coins or bullion believed to be on the site?
Research shows that substantial quantities of gold were being carried on a regular basis from Lisbon to England on the larger Royal Navy ships during this period. The Dutch financial publication Amsterdamsche Courant of November 18/19, 1744, reported that Balchin’s((1 The correct spelling of Admiral Balchen’s name, although Balchin has been used by OME.)) (sic) flagship carried a huge sum of money when she foundered: “People will have it that on board of the Victory was a sum of 400,000 pounds sterling that it had brought from Lisbon for our merchants.” Based on contemporary accounts of coinage being shipped from Lisbon at the time, this cargo most likely consisted of gold coins minted in Portugal and Brazil, although it could also have included other colonial coinage. If gold, this would equate to approximately 100,000 1 oz. gold coins weighing approximately 3 tons. Additional research indicates that there may be large quantities of both silver and gold coins aboard the Victory from enemy prize ships captured by Balchin’s (sic) fleet.” http://www.shipwreck.net/hmsvictoryfaqs.php accessed 18th March 2015).
The Wessex Archaeology desk-based assessment concludes that there is no evidence of HMS Victory AD 1744 containing a significant quantity of gold and silver coins.
|2010:||MoD and DCMs open consultation on the future of the Victory.|
|2011:||Consultation outcome published showing opinion distilled to two opposing views: that of the heritage profession which supported managed light-touch intervention and monitoring of the site, and that of OME and its supporters, which advocated the full archaeological investigation of the site and the retrieval of the artefactual archive. It is interesting to note that the third option of the retrieval of ‘at-risk surface items’ was not favoured by either side. Following the consultation the government decided to adopt a phased approach, with an initial period of in situ management.|
|2012:||The ship and its management are gifted to the newly set up Maritime Heritage Foundation, chaired by Lord Lingfield, Sir Robert Balchin((2 Research by has subsequently stated that Lord Lingfield is not a descendant of Admiral Balchen https://sites.google.com/site/adsirjohnbalchendescendant/)), a “kinsman” (Daily Telegraph 15th February 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/11411508/Tory-Lord-defends-the-treasure-hunt-for-HMS-Victory.html accessed 18th March 2015 ) of Sir John Balchen and closely associated with OME.OME announce that it has entered into arrangements with MHF whereby it would be reimbursed for its work with 80% of the value of artefacts recovered, with the possibility that this recompense could be in artefacts rather than cash.The Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee (JNAPC) raise concerns about the arrangements which it believes are in contravention of the UNESCO Convention. RESCUE concurs.|
|2013:||Richard West, a direct descendant of Admiral Sir John Balchen, and Robert Yorke, chairman of JNAPC, have a letter published in the Daily Telegraph in which they say that the deal between OME and MFH represented the “most inappropriate and distasteful kind of commercial exploitation”. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9756912/US-treasure-hunters-ready-to-snatch-gold-from-the-jaws-of-Victory.html|
|2014:||Lord Renfrew asks questions in Parliament about the management of the Victory site.MoD announce that OME are to start recovery of ‘at-risk surface items’ (the least favoured option in the consultations) in accordance with a Project Design and that decisions on further phases of work will be made in the light of those results.RESCUE representatives contact the HMS Victory website to ask to see the Project Design. No responseJNAPC write to Michael Fallon SoS for Defence raising a number of issues (read here)
Questions raised in parliament by Kevan Jones (MP for North Durham) (read here)
|2015:||Bob Yorke (in personal capacity rather than as chair of JNAPC) starts process of asking for a Judicial Review of the decision to grant permission, RESCUE sends letter of support.RESCUE submits FOI request to MoD (read here)RESCUE receives a letter from OME relating to the request for a JR (read here)
Kevan Jones MP (Shadow Defence Minister) is granted an adjournment debate on HMS Victory 1744. The debate is covered in the national press (read here)
RESCUE respond to OME (read here)
2nd March: Gvt send FOI response to RESCUE (read here)
5th March: The government withdraw permission to excavate the site (https://rescue-archaeology.org.uk/2015/03/05/hms-victory-success/)
RESCUE write a response to the FOI response (read here)
The withdrawal of the permission for reconsideration is noteworthy, but OME have recently stated that they expect permission to be renewed soon. RESCUE is not opposed to the investigation of HMS Victory and indeed if the wreck cannot be protected from damage such as from trawler nets then an archaeological excavation to investigate and record the ancient remains would be important. So we would fully support the excavation, recording, archiving and publication of this important archaeological site, by a professionally qualified organisation and one that is able to undertake what would be a difficult project. However we remain deeply concerned about elements of the current proposal and believe that any new permission should demand that the project to abide by at least the standards required of UK archaeological practitioners when engaged in normal professional practice. Thus:
- The complete Project Design must be available for professional peer review.
- The Project Design should allow for the complete excavation of the wreck, including the vessel superstructure and the human remains, not just the surface artefacts.
- Funding for the project must not be based on the commercial disposal of any of the artefacts recovered.
The absence of information regarding these vital elements suggests that the currently proposed project is likely to be in contravention of the UNESCO convention, as well as UK archaeological best practice and CIfA archaeological investigation, recording and archiving standards. RESCUE cannot endorse the excavation of such an important archaeological site under these circumstances.
Please follow the links below to download all HMS Victory documents on this website: