Loaded cannons from HMS Victory 1737 restored at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

By Richard Moss | 06 June 2014

Two fully loaded cannons, recovered after two and a half centuries on the seabed, have been restored and returned to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

a close up of a cannon
The royal livery of a Victory cannon© West Dean College
Two bronze cannons recovered from HMS Victory 1737, the predecessor to Nelson’s flagship, have been restored and returned home to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Conservation experts from West Dean College have been working on the pair, recovered when the wreck of the ship was identified in 2008 after more than two and a half centuries on the seabed.

The great historic flagship of the Royal Navy was on active duty under the command of Admiral Sir John Balchin when it sank in a storm in the western reaches of English Channel in 1744, taking more than 1,000 sailors to their deaths.

In 2012, plans to recover the remains of the wreck which included its hull, iron ballast and other effects were reported. The two cannons, which confirmed the wreck's identity, are the only items recovered so far.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy commissioned Mary Rose Archaeological Services to conserve the two guns - which formed part of the 100 on board the ship - and the work was carried out at the Royal Armouries workshop at Fort Nelson.

Conservators from West Dean College were called in to help in the preparation of the historic cannons for display following chemical desalination treatment. 

The two cannons, which weigh 42 pounds and 12 pounds, were worked on to remove the thick marine concretions remaining. Jon Privett, West Dean’s Metalwork Conservation Programme Leader, explained how the work revealed the "stunning" detail of the Georgian crests, dolphin handles and each maker's name and dates of their production.

Hours of painstaking chipping and concretion removal were carried out with a variety of tools made and used by students at the college, but the real surprise came from what was inside.

“Both cannons were found to be fully loaded with wadding made from hemp rope, iron cannon balls and a mass of very damp gunpowder,” said Privett.

“To find the organic remains of the wadding was very exciting. Inside the 12 pounder was a wooden tompion, which is a bung for the end of the barrel which ensured the gunpowder in the loaded guns remained dry at sea. It clearly displays the tool marks of a turning chisel used to make it.”

The cannon were repeatedly washed over a long period of time to remove all traces of salt water which would corrode them if left in place. They were then heated and waxed to provide long term protection.

a photo of a woman cleaning a cannon
Laurie Price of West Dean College works on the cannon© West Dean College
a photo of badly corroded metal
The original state of the cannons after their recovery from the seabed© West Dean College
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CP of Southsea is wrong. There was, indeed, a predecessor to Nelson's Victory, a 100-gun First Rater, Victory, 1737, lost in a storm along with adm. Balchin and 1000 seamen.
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