Search for the Republic of Texas Navy ship Invincible. Lost outside of Galveston after fight with two Mexican ships, August 27, 1837.
The search for the Invincible was an ongoing one since at this writing we have yet to find it. I conducted a mag search in 1986 while the rest of the crew dug up the Zavala. We tried again in ’87 which was a disaster. I crushed to crushed two disks in my vertebra in an accident while trailing the mag up and down the beach, and the rest of the crew swamped the boat in the breakers and shorted out the Schonstedt gradiometer.
Undaunted, but plenty pissed off, we returned in ’88 and conducted an excellent survey and diving expedition, identifying several targets found by Barto Arnold, chief of the Texas Antiquities Commission, during his survey in 1980.
Using the University of Texas dive boat, which had a prop wash shield, and several volunteer divers from the Galveston area, we uncovered several mag readings. Most proved to be dumped junk. Only one proved to be remains of a shipwreck from the early nineteenth century.
The Invincible was commissioned in 1836. She was schooner rigged and a very fast sailer for her time. An ex-slaver built in Baltimore, she displaced 125 tons and was approximately 90 feet long. Manned by a crew of 40, her reported armament consisted of two 18 pounders, two 9 pounders, and four 6 pounders.
She was responsible for the capture of several Mexican ships that were supplying Santa Ana’s armies, playing a heavy role in aiding Houston and the Texas forces during the days after the Alamo.
After a battle with the Mexican brigs, Libertador and Iturbide, the Invincible attempted to run into Galveston Harbor, but due to the shallow tide at the time snagged her rudder on the harbor bar and ran aground. She was then quickly pounded to pieces by the breakers until her hull completely disappeared.
The problem with the search, as always, is a lack of data pinpointing the wreck site. Most reports simply state that the Invincible ran aground either in the breakes or, as one report put it, on the beach. Jim Dan Hill, in his book on the Texas Navy, provided a diagram of the battle and grounding that he found in the papers of a Doctor Alexander Dienst. Where Dienst obtained the data, we have yet to determine.
After an extensive search of the waters off Galveston, using enlarged mylar overlays of old charts and Hill’s diagram, we found no large wreckage of a sunken ship. We did find, however, some scattered remains, old brass hull sheathing, wood, hardware and curious pieces of cable that appeared to be cut in about one foot lengths.
Barto Arnold and Wayne Gronquist felt certain the artifacts could well be the Invincible. But if so, where is the rest of the ship? There should be tons of material scattered around. Our findings came from one localized spot.
The factor that we found most fascinating was the sea bottom itself. After blowing through four feet of silt, we hit very hard clay, which geologists claim covers the entire area for miles around Galveston. If this is the case, the wreck could not have sunk into the bottom and been complete covered.
This leads to an interesting speculation that during a number of hurricanes, especially the one 1906 (?), any remains could have been carried far inland and buried in the sand. The only problem with this is the guns and anchors. If they were not recovered due to rough weather and water, it is unlikely they could have been swept away, at least not very far.
There is also another intriguing possibility. On an 1853 chart a wreck is show on the beach just east of what is now Stewart Beach Park and slightly west of some abandoned condominium buildings. This chart also shows the wrecks of the Zavala and the Brutus, so there is a possibility, however slim, that this marked wreck is the Invincible.
As of this date, the search has not ended. And someday, perhaps we can write the final chapter on a most fascinating little warship.