The end of the Submarine Diving Society, 24 October 1836

From the Star of Monday, 24th October, 1836. A report of the death of Peter Gallienne, a 'sober, steady, enterprising and well-informed young man,' which is thought to be the first ever death while diving of a helmeted diver.

FATAL OCCURRENCE. It is not without painful feelings that we have this day to record the death of Mr. PETER GALLIENNE, one of the most promising and enterprising members of the Guernsey Submarine Society, whilst engaged in operations on the wreck of a vessel under water.

The circumstances connected with this sad affair are the following:—This day week, as we announced on Thursday, the French chasse marée L’Aimée Rose,1 with a cargo of soap, candles, and oil of vitriol, struck on a rock off the coast of Alderney and sunk. An agreement, the object of which was to save the cargo, having been entered into between the French Consul and the Submarine Society, three of the members, namely, Messrs. PETER GALLIENNE,2 MORRIS, and BROWN, left this island for Alderney on Friday with the diving apparatus, in order forthwith to commence operations on the wreck. They hired for the purpose a small cutter belonging to a Mr BICHARD of the Vale. On landing at Alderney at 5 o’clock in the evening, they found a number of Alderney boatmen—we mention it to their shame and disgrace—unfavourably disposed to the object of their visit. They had, however, the good fortune to meet the KING’S PROCUREUR on arriving, who readily promised them his assistance and protection. That protection it was soon found would be needed, for the boatmen saluted the cutter’s crew, as well as the divers, with volleys of abuse, demanding to know by what authority they had come to save the wreck—as though that wreck had been their own property. The PROCUREUR interfered, and promised the crew he should place them under the protection of the police, and at the same time threatened the buccaneers, that if they proceeded to any overt acts, he would call out the military, and request them to fire upon them. Notwithstanding this threat, they went from house to house in the evening, endeavouring to excite the minds of the people, and requesting them to meet on the following day near the wreck, and prevent the submarine intruders from working upon it.

On Saturday, however, the King’s Procureur sent them four police officers, and during the day himself frequently visited the spot. Two boats’ crews, composed of trustworthy persons, also readily assisted the divers. The operations, with the diving apparatus, commenced at 11 o’clock on Saturday morning. Mr PETER GALLIENNE, clad in the waterproof dress of the apparatus, part of which consists of a helmet which protects the head, descended to the wreck in about six fathoms water, and after a while succeeded in sending up several carboys of oil of vitriol, weighing about 300 lbs each. After having remained under water about an hour, he came up quite well, cheerful, and apparently but little fatigued. He took refreshment, and after reposing a while he made a second descent, and shortly after sent up two more carboys of vitriol.

It is usual when a diver is underwater to keep up, by means of jerks, the communication between him and those in the boat above, who have charge of the lifeboat and air-pump. After he had been nearly half an hour below, those who had charge of the life-rope thought they felt a slight jerk, and had him immediately raised. On reaching the boat, he complained that they had raised him without cause, observing that he felt quite well, and had given no signal. The two other members, however, offered to relieve him, but he declined, observing that he was not at all fatigued. He was therefore, at his own request, let down again, and soon after went up another carboy. Almost immediately after a sudden jerk was felt, which drew both the life-belt and air-pump several feet over the boat’s side. Those who held fast the life-rope made the signal—'Is all right?' Not receiving an immediate reply, they forthwith hauled him up. The time that elapsed from the sudden jerk (which it is supposed was occasioned by his falling) to their getting him up, could not exceed two minutes. On his reaching the surface it was perceived he was motionless, and that there was froth on the glass of the helmet, the cloth of which was instantly cut to give him air. It was however too late—the helmet was removed, and it was evident he was quite dead. They immediately landed the body, and called Dr FRANKLIN who punctured the temporal artery without effect, and gave his opinion that his death had been caused by apoplexy.

A Coroner’s Inquest was held on the body. Verdict accordingly. The two other members of the Submarine Society, with the corpse of their unfortunate colleague, arrived here yesterday morning in the cutter in which they had left, the melancholy event having naturally put an end to their operations. Mr GALLIENNE was a sober, steady, enterprising and well-informed young man.

See The Comet, May 19th, 1836, for the Society in action; they were so well-prepared they could be diving within an hour of receiving a call.

1 Of Nantes, Louzau master, on passage from Rouen to Brest. She was coming down the Race when, owing to the dense fog, the crew ran her on the Brunetais rock, off the SE point of Alderney (precisely on the spot where the Hinchinbrook packet was lost about ten years before) and she soon after sank. The crew of three men and a boy took to their boat, but remained with her all evening and night as they did not know the shore, until Tuesday morning, when they landed at Alderney. [Extracted from the Star.]

2 He was a printer, the son of Thomas Gallienne, of Glategny, who died in 1833. Thomas kept a coal store on Glategny, and was found dead by his grand-daughter at his house in Salter Street (see the Star, June 24, 1833); at the time of his death his wife, a son (presumably Peter), and two daughters were visiting another of his sons who lived in Gloucestershire. They were a Quaker family.