Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Pioneer Diver of Kent.
by Ray Gierth.

John Deane of Whitstable, born 1800, was one of the first men in our country to develop "a safe and effectual method of descending into great depths of water".

His career as a diver arose out of an incident in 1820 when a fire broke out in some stables trapping a number of horses. All attempts to get the horses out failed until John Deane, a friend of the owner, borrowed the helmet from an old suit of armour. Placing the helmet over his head and fitting the pipe from an old pump under it he got the owner to pump air slowly into the helmet. He then went into the stable through the smoke and got the horses out.

Adapting this idea to diving, he conducted a number of experiments as a result of which he produced, in 1828, an effective diving suit. Deane's suit was of the open type (the closed type of suit has the helmet fixed to the suit and is completely water-tight) and consisted of a complete one-piece rubber suit coming up to the diver's neck and tied there by a handkerchief, the wrists being sealed by tight bandages. Lead weights totalling about 90 lbs were fixed to the soles of the diver's shoes to keep his feet down and enable him to walk under water. The helmet was made large enough for the diver to turn his head and had three windows giving the diver a view in front and at both sides. A rubber tube was fitted to the top of the helmet to supply air from a pump. The helmet rested on the diver's shoulders and the fresh air coming in forced out the stale air from the bottom of the helmet and at the same time kept the water out. With this suit John Deane dived to a depth of 36 metres (120 feet) and he claimed that the suit could be used to a depth of 54 metres (180 feet). In shallow water the diver could remain submerged for long periods of time and, on one occasion, John Deane remained underwater for five hours and forty minutes.

Later John's brother, Charles Deane, who had helped in designing the suit sold the rights to Siebe before John could register the patent. At this point John went into the diving business as a "submarine engineer" with an associate, William Edwards. Not only did John Deane develop the diving suit but he produced the first Diving Safety Manual giving directions for use of the apparatus and pump, for signalling procedures, and for use of the safety line etc.

Among the more notable dives undertaken by John Deane was the laying of the underwater piles for the present Houses of Parliament. He worked on a number of wrecks including the Carnbrea Castle (1829) an East Indiaman wrecked on the south-west side of the Isle of Wight in 1829, and four other important wrecks (1832-1840) :

  1. The Ordnance transport Guernsey Lily, sunk in Yarmouth Roads, Isle of Wight in 1799. She was carrying field artillery which he raised.
  2. HMS Boyne, a second-rate three-decker of 98 guns, sunk in 1795 when she caught fire at Spithead, grounded and later exploded. Guns and other articles were raised from her by Deane in 1832.
  3. HMS Royal George, a first-rate three-decker of 108 guns, sunk through structural failure in 1782. Guns and other items were raised by Deane in 1839.
  4. In 1836 Deane found an old wreck whose timbers protruded a mere 300 millimetres out of the mud of the sea-bed. A cannon, bearing an inscription, was recovered from the wreck and sent to the Board of Ordnance. From this the wreck was identified as the Mary Rose which turned over and sank at the Battle of Portsmouth in 1545. From this wreck, by digging and the use of explosives, Deane raised cannons, bottles, a copper cooking pot, iron cauldrons and a Cologne-ware jug. The wreck is currently being excavated by the Institute of Underwater Archaeology in the hope that the whole ship can be lifted.

The remarkable John Deane might have been forgotten had it not been for the research of a diver and archaeologist, Alexander McKee, who has told the story of Deane's work in his book History under the Sea, published by Hutchinson.

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