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World Oceans Day: An interview with Dr. Dan Pascoe

08 June 2022

Dr. Daniel Pascoe is a maritime archaeologist, Licensee of Invincible and a researcher at Bournemouth University. He has been instrumental in the development of the Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 exhibition.

For World Oceans Day we caught up with him for quick interview …

Dan started diving with his father aged 12 and then joined his local diving club at 14. “In those days you couldn’t be younger than 14 to learn to dive then I’d dive with my dad in Orkney – in lovely clear Scottish water.”

On the Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 exhibition:

“It’s important to have a travelling display and it’s great that it’s come from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard to The Historic Dockyard Chatham, because it enables more people to see the artefacts, to learn about the excavation and the work that the volunteers undertook with Eileen Clegg on the historical research.”

“For me, it was always a dream to share it wider. When I first took over the license, my aim was to investigate the wreck, excavate it and display it for everyone to see.  I was determined that we would do something and continue John Bingeman’s work.  We managed to do it in good time from 2010, raising the funding, and achieving what we set out to do.  The exhibition is an opportunity to share what we were seeing on the seabed with the wider world and it makes me feel proud for everyone who has been involved – they can see that all their efforts have contributed to this incredible exhibition.”

‘The project has been a huge effort from everyone involved from the person who drove the boat, divers,  the people who filmed it, the volunteers who researched the stories behind the artefacts, the curators.”

On the filming:

“Michael Pitts has been diving the Invincible with me from the beginning.  I knew from the beginning that we needed to share with the wider public what we were doing and how we were doing it and the best way to do that was with underwater photography – if people can’t see it then they won’t pay attention.  We were able to bring the wreck to the surface, not in its physical form, but via the media of film. Michael enjoyed coming out diving with us and exploring the wreck.”

Shipwrecks as underwater museums:

“With Invincible it’s so big and so much of it had survived.  When we opened it up we could swim along the deck and some areas of the ship were completely untouched so we saw the artefacts in the original places when the wrecks went down.  It’s untouched and you’re able to interpret what you’re seeing and that provides an insight into exactly what it was like at the time when the ship was wrecked.”

“We were diving the next layer, strategically, below where the divers were in the 1980s, in where the gunners were situated.  We learned that the master gunner had a store – this was emptied in the 1980s, but we learned that there was a hatchway in the very bow of the ship and this led to the overflow of the gunner’s store where he kept bulkier items like junk rope and gun wads made from junk, used in the loading process of the guns to keep a seal around the charged and stop the round shot rolling out of the barrel of the gun. It hadn’t moved.  It was untouched and unexcavated and showed something of the gunner’s life and his equipment. The rope was in great condition and when we brought it to the surface we could smell the tar.  When we took away the junk rope we could see the white lime wash on the beams – paint doesn’t normally survive.”

Image: Dan Pascoe with Mainstay. Credit Bournemouth University.

“Shipwrecks provide a brilliant opportunity to travel back in time – shipwrecks enable us to learn about the people, and when you find objects in their original context, we can learn something of their lives and how they operated.  We can form a connection with the people who were on board those ships. We try to understand the naval culture and ship board culture of the time.  The details on the objects tell us about the people who made them – and that’s what’s interesting.”

Image: Dan Pascoe (second from right) with MAST colleagues. Credit: Bournemouth University.

“I’ve worked on shipwrecks from the Mary Rose period upwards and I can see how the culture of the navy has changed. The Invincible was a lot more organised than the century before.  The gun equipment on the Invincible are standard, and unlike the modified equipment of the century before means that everything was made for purpose.  Everything is labelled, the gun carriage axels have the calibre of the gun and whether they’re front or rear axel and the inside of the ship is clad with reverse clinker pine cladding – on purpose – so that any moisture that’s leaking in, it goes behind the cladding and keeping the inside of the ship dry and stop damp.  Living on board in 1750 was probably a lot nicer than in 1650, and the equipment also wouldn’t have rotted or deteriorated. It’s clear that the Invincible was part of a new navy – a more reliable and invincible organisation. The Invincible provides the physical evidence of this progression and change in history.  Historical documents describe these artefacts but the physical objects and their position on board ship is the evidence of the challenges the people had to overcome – these things were so normal to the shipmen and they wouldn’t have been written down, so the archaeology forms this connection with the individuals.  By understanding the problems they overcome, you being to think about the broader culture of the navy and how they overcame.

Chatham and HMS Invincible:

“Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust has been involved with Invincible since the 1980s since CDR John Bingeman’s excavation where they took artefacts and held part of the collection. Chatham is a great place, it’s a Royal Navy Dockyard full of naval history and a great place for the collection to be held.   To have them involved in the second dive added extra strength to the project.”

Diving Deep: HMS Invincible 1744 is showing at The Historic Dockyard Chatham until November 2022 and entry is included in a Dockyard ticket.

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