February 1, 2009,
 
DIVERS believe they have found the remains of one of the greatest British sailing ships ever wrecked at sea.

HMS Victory, forerunner of Nelson’s flagship of the same name, was lost in a storm near the Channel Islands in 1744 with her crew of about 1,150, including an admiral.

The ship has long been sought by salvagers because of its cargo of 100 brass cannons, thought to be engraved with dolphins and the monogram of George II.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that Odyssey, a Florida-based archeology company, had reported the find. “Odyssey claim it is the Victory but we can’t confirm its identity until we have seen a full report,” he said.

The company is due to announce the find tomorrow at a press conference attended by a descendant of one of the crew.

Mike Williams, a law lecturer at Wolverhampton University and an expert on the legal status of wrecks, said he believed the find could be “the big one” because of the cannons.

“The advantage of brass is that it doesn’t rust,” he said. “Archeologists have recovered brass guns from the sea virtually undamaged, in comparison with iron guns which have been unrecognisable.”

The vessel was launched in 1737 at Portsmouth. Seven years later, Admiral Sir John Balchin was leading his fleet home from a mission in Portugal when a violent storm blew up. Victory, with Balchin on board, was last seen on October 4 and was wrecked off Alderney around rocks called the Casquets, a graveyard for sailing ships.

“The ship was carrying the upper crust of Royal Navy society,” said Williams. “One of the families of the bereaved put up a reward of £5,000 for anyone who could find the wreckage. The offer still stands and has been gathering some interest.”

The wreck is the property of the British government and Odyssey would need MoD permission to raise artefacts.

Previous deals between the MoD and Odyssey have been controversial. The two agreed to split the contents of HMS Sussex, another sailing ship, initiating a dispute with Spain, off whose coast it lies.

The MoD declined to rule out the possibility that Odyssey would be allowed to sell some of Victory’s cargo. Its spokesman said: “We’ll have to negotiate.”

Additional reporting: Ben Lamy

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