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A tale of two brothers who took diving to new depths

The Deanes brothers


From This Is Kent


It begins: "If it had not fallen to the lot of Whitstable to be celebrated for its oysters and its company of free dredgers, it might have claimed a word of notice for producing that rarest of all workmen, the sea diver."

Dickens, who had reputedly stayed at the King's Head pub in Island Wall and conversed in depth with the divers, went on to describe the work they carried out, some of it in gruesome detail.

In subsequent research I was often referred to a local story about brothers Charles and John Deane visiting a farm in Seasalter when the barn, housing horses, caught alight.

A fire engine arrived, but the firefighters could not get through the smoke.

Charles, wearing a fireman's helmet on his head and with a pipe from the now empty water-pump feeding air into it, was able to get through the smoke and free the horses.

A tale from the past that might have some basis, but it is a fact that in 1823 Charles Deane patented a smoke helmet and air pump for firefighters.

He and his brother tried to sell this to the insurance companies that owned most of the country's fire engines, but with little success.

The Deanes worked with locals who were involved in salvaging using a diving bell and became convinced that this helmet with a suit could be developed for use under water.

They spent much of 1827 and 1828 on the suit until they had a successful prototype ready in 1829.

Gradually, together with help from local seamen, the Deanes developed new salvaging techniques and made a name for themselves in successful salvage operations.

Their big break came in 1834.

The Deanes and their team discovered and salvaged the Enterprise, a slave ship that had foundered near Copeland Island, off Ireland, in 1803 with £200,000 of silver dollars, the proceeds from the sale of slaves in America.


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