Diving Experiment III; the Orchard brothers make progress

From the Star of July 21, 1834. A year after they made their first trial of their proprietary suit, one of the Orchards walks under water, and the brothers receive some encouragement.

See also Experiment with Diving Dress and Diving Experiment II; more about the Orchard brothers


On Friday afternoon, at half-past two o’clock, Mr JOHN ORCHARD, who had in this paper given public notice of his intention to walk under water from the South Pier-Head to the Castle, set off on his excursion, and reached the Castle by three o’clock. It was then high tide, and the average depth of water was from twenty to twenty-three feet. He carried about one hundred and twenty pounds weight of ballast, in order to keep himself under water, and to enable him to preserve his footing. It must not, however, be understood that he walked the whole way, for he held an iron chain ladder suspended from the stern of the boat which slowly pulled over to the Castle, and was thereby greatly assisted; but it is evident that he could remain at the bottom of the water half an hour or more and effect there any given purpose required. A slate was let down to him and he wrote on it, ' All is well, go to the Castle.' He was seen from the boat at the bottom writing on the slate.

He ascended twice to the surface of the water to see where he was, and in less than five seconds went to the bottom again; and kept the assistant in the boat regularly informed that all was going on well below, by pulling on a rope. On reaching the Castle beach he walked up easily, and appeared in no way distressed.

The apparatus which enables Mr. ORCHARD to remain underwater almost any given time, and which he himself has contrived, is exceedingly simple and consists of a sort of helmet made of iron having glass-eyes to it, and covered with leather. Joined to this helmet is a regular jacket of the same material, which fastens with a band tight round the waist. The water is thus excluded, and by a small hand-pump he is supplied with air through a hose of India-rubber or Cacaouthouc, which communicates with the helmet. The upper part of his body was kept all the time quite dry. Mr ORCHARD is aware that if he had the means he might at once have a regular dress made of MACKINTOSH’s materials, whereby he would exclude all water from his person and be in every respect more warm and comfortable. Perhaps few persons in this island are aware that Mr Mackintosh has invented a stuff in which India-rubber plays a part, and which is impervious to water. Riding or box coats are now almost universally lined with it in England.

It is proposed, and the Messrs. ORCHARD1 agree with the proposal, that persons willing to subscribe to enable them to attempt the recovery of treasure, or guns, from vessels that have been lost round these islands, should have two-thirds for their share, and the Messrs. ORCHARD one third,—it being of course presumed that no odious fiscal claims would be put forward to get possession of the property thus recovered.

It is in the recollection of many persons living, that fifty years ago the Valentine,2 Indiaman, was lost on l’Ile des Marchands, near Serk; much treasure was known to be on board. The Merrimac,3 an American ship, which was lost on the Gouboe rock, twenty-eight years ago, had also a large quantity of dollars on board—for many were recovered, though no apparatus was used. If such an apparatus as that which we have described had then been in use, who can doubt but that many more would have been picked up? All persons are sensible that gold and silver do not corrode, and that fish will not eat them, so there they must lie still, and it only requires the activity and enterprising spirit of man to raise them again. How much greater is the chance of realising something by a subscription of this nature than by subscribing to mines in South America. Besides, all public spirited persons here must feel disposed to forward two intelligent young men in a laudable pursuit, which may not only be advantageous to themselves but also to the subscribers.

Merchants and ship-owners should bear in mind that it is in their interests to forward this scheme, for who can tell that he will never require such an apparatus? Should any vessel be so unfortunate as to strike on any rock round this island, and founder, is it not evident to all that persons going down to her at once would save considerable property? It should be observed that this simple apparatus possesses many advantages over the common diving bell in descending down a rocky shore; for the size of a bell prevents it getting into the clefts of the rocks; yet by means of the diving bell many a fortune has been made in recovering treasure from sunken vessels. These, and many other considerations, should induce the public not to hold back a small portion of their means, which will all be spent in enterprize and activity; and which may eventually crown their liberality with some success. It is therefore hoped that a subscription will be entered into for the above purpose, when a meeting might be called to name a Committee, and take such steps as will then be thought necessary by the subscribers.

Since writing the above we learn that the subscription is in progress, and the following list has been handed to us for insertion; we hope soon to see it fill, and trust that a sum sufficient to effect the purposes required will be forthwith raised;

Mr John Collings, Dr Mansell , Mr James Priaulx, Mr Thomas Priaulx, Mr J S Brock, all £0 10s 0d; Mr Frederick Carey, Mr Le Maistre, Mr Frederick Price, all £0 5s 0d.

1 The Comet, July 4th, 1836: 'Joseph Orchard, Smith and Engineer, hereby gives notice that he has declined business in favour of Mr Henry Thomas EDGE, for whom he solicits the goodwill and favours of his friends and the public in general, who have for so many years given him a decided preference. 18th January, 1836.'

2 Discussed at length in Rivett, P., Brecqhou: A very private island, 2002. The Valentine was not properly dived until 1976: see the Valentine Excavation Group's 'Valentine': first year's work on the wreck of the British East Indiaman, typescript, 1976. The ship was in shallow water for quite some time and reportedly stripped by the locals, who also sheltered the crew, although appropriating cargo would certainly usually have resulted in prosecution by the King's Receiver. According to John Oxenham in his novel Carette of Sark, parts of the ship's timber were used in local cottages and houses, and other evidence of the ship's cargo was to be found amongst the islanders' furniture.

3 See Warren and David, 'More about Elisha Dobrée's diary and weather journal', Report and Trans. Soc. Guern., XI (4) 1959, pp. 446-7. Gazette de Guernesey, 13th January 1810: 'The Salvers of the Merrimack are requested to find themselves at Advocate De Jersey's office, Wednesday next the 17th inst., at 9 o'clock in the morning.' On November 10th, 1806, St Peter Port Church Registers record the burial of 'William Head, chief mate of the American ship Merrimack.'