Now after almost two decades of research, the mystery vessel has been named as the Namur, a second-rate ship of the line that played a key role in the battle that eliminated the threat of French invasion and left Britain ruling the waves.
Described as ‘the single most important warship discovery in Northern Europe since the Mary Rose’, the Namur was launched at the Kent dockyard in 1756, and served with the Royal Navy for 47 years, taking part in nine fleet actions, including three major worldwide conflicts.
The Namur was identified after archaeological detective work focussing on her structure and fittings.
Archaeologists knew she had to be have been a second or third-rate ship of the line, built at Chatham between 1750-1775, and broken up at the same dockyard after 1786 – but the crucial clue was in her innovative ’round bow’, a new design adapted when shipwrights were piloting the use of iron in ships, which showed that she was still in use after 1803.
Her identity was announced today (17 August) on the eve of the 253rd anniversary of one of her most important engagements, the Battle of Lagos.
In 1759 Britain was in the middle of the Seven Years’ War and success at sea was a distant dream. A series of disastrous defeats had left the Royal Navy in a desperate state, and worse, the French were amassing troops in the mouth of the Loire for a planned invasion.
But the Battle of Lagos, which took place over 18-19 August off the coast of Portugal, saw the destruction of the French Mediterranean fleet, leaving invasion plans in tatters. At the head of the British forces was Admiral Edward Boscawen, and his flagship, the Namur.
With the destruction of the French Atlantic fleet at the battle of Quiberon Bay that November, the Royal Navy gained almost total supremacy of the seas, which it would retain for more than a century and a half – and 1759 became known in Britain as the Annus Mirabilis, the ‘Year of Miracles’.