From: Jonathan Binns, "The Miseries and Beauties of Ireland" Longman, Orme, Brown
and Co, London 1837
who quotes Mary John Knott, "Two Months at Kilkee" [Dublin, 1836; reissued by Clasp Press, Ennis 1997]
Mary John Knott, in her "Two Months at Kilkee", described the shipwreck (although, as it occurred months after her visit, she must have relied on other people's accounts):
On the morning of the 30th of 1st month, 1836, after a week of storms, and during a continuance of them from the north-west, the coast-guard sentinel on duty for the day, in taking his accustomed walk along the cliffs, about seven o'clock, (soon after day-light) discovered a large vessel dismasted, riding by two anchors amidst most terrific breakers, in the little bay close under the Look-out Cliff. [Now called Intrinsic Bay].
The affecting intelligence was quickly communicated at the village by himself and a peasant. The officer, with the coast-guard, and several persons of influence and nautical experience, with numbers of the inhabitants, flocked to render any assistance in their power; but, alas! none could be given. The name on the stern could be read with a telescope, "Intrinsic of Liverpool". They saw the supposed captain, with his speaking trumpet, calling to them in vain, but nothing could be heard from the roaring of the breakers, which, after dashing with tremendous violence upwards of 100 feet high against the perpendicular cliffs, rushed back to sea, carrying the unhappy vessel with them, until it was stopped by the anchors. The next great surge dashed her in again, as far as the cables allowed, which however still kept her from striking the rocks; but from the violence of the waves that broke most fearfully over her, it was evident that she could not long hold together, particularly as from some unknown cause, the hatches which cover the hold were off, and much water got down.
During this indescribably awful period, a lady came up from the cabin, and looking round at the towering cliffs and dreadful breakers, sunk on her knees in the attitude of prayer, but was soon obliged to go below by the waves, which washed two of the crew overboard, but who, after astonishing exertion in the water, regained their sinking vessel, which, carrying a cargo of 500 tons, was at one moment lifted so high, that the people on the cliffs over the Diamond rocks, thought she would be thrown up amongst them: the next minute she was engulphed in a valley of foam.
As all human efforts were now unavailing, whilst the tempest blew with such violence that the agonized beholders could scarcely keep their feet, the kind-hearted natives, seeing the awful termination at hand, did all that remained in their power, by kneeling down and praying for their poor fellow-creatures about to be swallowed up in the mighty deep. The crew soon after went down to the cabin, no doubt to prepare for the awful change that awaited them - after which they were seen no more.
The vessel at length disappeared in a huge wave, and after a short time her shattered frame rose once more, when the next enormous breaker (to use the words of a spectator) shattered it into a thousand pieces, and rolling it over and over, carried most of it and the light part of the cargo out to sea.
A few minutes after the Intrinsic went down, a gull hovering over the spot, was seen to descend and pick something out of the water. The bird then rose to a great height, and let go what the wind wafted ashore, and which proved to be a Lady's glove.
None of the bodies of the poor sufferers were seen except one, which was observed floating near the Bath House, on the north side of the bay. Two men incautiously rushed out to bring it in, when awful to relate, they were both carried off by the breakers and drowned. The body was soon after thrown on shore and decently interred, but those of the two poor men were not got for some time.
This vessel was reported by the agent for the underwriters, who came to take charge of the property, to be one of the best built ships belonging to Liverpool, had just arrived from Calcutta and was in 14 days again laden for New Orleans with a valuable cargo, including a large quantity of iron, steel, block tin, copper, tin plates, wheels and axles for rail-road carriages, besides cotton goods, cut glass, etc, etc. They were out 14 days from Liverpool and, having sailed round the North of Ireland, were driven by a succession of storms upon the coast and must have passed the harbour of Galway and many others to the north. Had she been anchored at a distance off the coast out of reach of the breakers, it is the opinion of persons of nautical experience that she would have rode out the gale. The lighter parts, with the wreck, were strewed for twenty miles along the coast to Malbay, greatly broken and injured and was afterwards delivered up with great readiness or purchased from the agent. The heavy and most valuable part, it was expected, would be found where the vessel went to pieces; accordingly, the underwriters engaged the ingenious inventor of the new diving apparatus, C.A. Deane, to get it up. The attempt has been so far successful, and some of the heavy goods have with difficulty been recovered without much injury; but as that little bay is greatly exposed to the sea, it requires very calm weather to admit of the small vessel lying there from which the diver descends; therefore but little progress has been made.
Supposing the information will be acceptable to my readers, I shall proceed to give particulars of this remarkable application of human ingenuity, by which man is enabled to invade, as it were, the habitations of the finny tribes, to walk about the bottom of the sea, and to take a survey of those submarine territories, which are often strewed over with the dismal remains of once stately vessels or their cargoes.
[Footnote: The wreck of the Royal George at Spithead is said by the diver to cover an acre. He lately got up some large brass guns from the wreck about 70 feet under water.]
The principal agent in accomplishing this remarkable performance is the helmet, which may be best designated as a portable diving-bell, that slips down over the head, and resting upon the shoulders, projects a little below them, and over the chest and back. It is composed of copper plated over, and without any opening except where the head is admitted; in front are three large lenses similar to the glasses of the new perioscopic spectacles - convex outside and concave within - which assist in showing the objects around. In the back part of the helmet is fixed a round pipe that, branches off into three flat pipes; which pass over the head, and discharge on the face the air from a very powerful air-pump of three barrels, and worked by four men. This always remains on the deck of the small vessel, from which the diver descends by a wooden ladder, or, in deep water, by a rope one, with weights at the bottom to keep it straight.
Previously to going down, he is warmly clothed in flannel, beside his ordinary dress; and, over all, a water-tight Indian rubber dress, with leaden soles and covers for his hands and arms attached: and thus he is up to the chin. As the water cannot rise into the helmet as long as the air is forced down into it from above, consequently the dress which is tied round the neck, and covered a part of the way down by the bottom of the helmet, keeps the wearer perfectly dry, and allows the air to escape as it does from the bottom of the common diving-bell. The diver has also a signal-line tied round his waist. The upper end is held by a person on deck; and by a well arranged code of signals, given by certain pulls of the line, the diver is able (to use a technical term) to converse with the man above, whose business it is, at short intervals, to enquire how the diver finds himself: and, should the latter not answer at once by the signal, he is immediately pulled up; which is done with great ease and quickness, from the buoyancy of the air in the helmet. This apparatus, exclusive of its own weight of 15 lbs, requires two weights of 23 lbs each to be fastened, one on the front and the other on the back, to keep it under water. Besides the other precautions, there is a guide-line tied to the bottom of the ladder which the diver always holds in his hand, to find his way back after descending.
When he discovers any article to be sent up, he signals for a rope, chain, or hook, etc., in order to have it drawn up. The diver was some time before he could discover where the heavy part of the Intrinsic's cargo lay. He says that he examined ten or twelve acres near to where she went to pieces. This was accomplished by standing on the bottom of the ladder as the little vessel was rowed about the bay. He watched the ground as he passed over; and at length saw the chain cables, which led to the spot where the metals had sunk in heaps; and the bar iron having fallen upon its ends between the rocks, now stands up in a very frightful manner. He thinks, from the way in which the cargo lies in 66 feet of water, that it fell out at one side of the vessel, that she afterwards rose, and then went to pieces nearer to the shore, where they at first expected to find the cargo. The buoys now float over it, just midway between the Castle Rock and the end of the Diamond Rocks, about a furlong from each, and recall to the mind in a degree, the truly appalling and terrific scene of the wreck. It is somewhat consoling to know, that those dreadful catastrophes do not often occur here, and that in the memory of the oldest person in Kilkee, but one small vessel was wrecked.
From the great clearness of the water on this coast, the diver says he can see 50 feet distinctly - a much greater distance than he has observed elsewhere. On being asked if any large fish ever molested him, he replied in the negative; although in one place on the coast of England where he was engaged, it abounded with great conger eels which swam by him perfectly harmless. He always takes down a large knife, to defend himself in case of an attack. After going down a few times in one place, he states that he walks about on the bottom of the sea perfectly at his ease. It should also be mentioned that one person, generally the patentee, always holds the important pipe, through which the air is pumped down to the diver; and that if any accident should occur to stop the supply, the quantity in the helmet and tube would last five minutes; but I believe not any such has ever happened.
Mr Binns had met Charles Deane, one of the pioneeers of underwater work. He had been employed to try to retrieve part of the cargo of the sailing vessel Intrinsic, which sank near Kilkee in January 1836. This is from his account, which adds a little to that of Mary John Knott, above:
Mr Deane, the inventor of the new diving apparatus, was engaged by the Underwriters to recover part of the cargo, and had succeeded as well as the stormy weather would permit. His task was a difficult one, and if he received only half the value of what he rescued (such, I was informed, being the agreement) he would be inadequately remunerated for the risk and exertion he had undergone.
Being overtaken in a snow storm, I took shelter under the side of his small vessel, which had been cast on shore, and was undergoing repair. A pretty correct idea of its diminutive size may be formed from the fact that he and twenty men were engaged in preparing to haul it down the nearly level sand into the water.
Mr Deane favoured me with a sight of his apparatus, consisting of a helmet that rests upon the shoulders, with lenses at the front, and an opening at the back, in which is inserted a pipe that conveys the air over the head to the face. An air-pump, worked by four men, is fixed in the deck of the vessel, and supplies the air to the diver by means of a pipe. He descends by a rope or ladder (according to the situation he may be in), to the bottom of which weights are attached, and is clothed in flannel, in addition to his usual dress. He also puts on an India-rubber dress, with leaden soles to the feet; thus he is entirely invested with a covering impervious to the water. Signals are made by means of cords, and are well understood by the diver and his men. A confidential person on deck, frequently repeats signals, and, if the diver should omit to answer any of them, he is immediately drawn up.
Here are also contemporary newspaper reports:
Wreck: We have to register in the total catalogue of the losses at sea in the recent desperate gales another appalling catastrophe, at Bishop's Island, near Kilkee, where the Intrinsic, merchant vessel, Quirk master, late Chambers, of and from Liverpool to New Orleans, was driven in totally unmanageable, by the tempest, on Saturday morning, and dashed to pieces in the tremendous surf whch breaks upon the mighty cliffs along that iron-bound coast. The master and crew fourteen persons are reported to have perished within view and hearing of the few natives who collected on the rugged heights of that wild region, but without the least possibility of affording succour or relief. The Intrinsic was laden with a general cargo, and appears to have sailed on the 14th of January from Liverpool. - Limerick Chronicle.
The exertions of Mr Deane, with his patented diving apparatus, have proved successful. He
has discovered the wreck and valuable cargo of the Intrinsic of Liverpool lost
off the coast of Kilkee, Clare, in February last. After a survey of several
days over an area of nearly ten acres in the bottom of the sea, this
unfortunate vessel and cargo valued at £25,000 was found in a ravine under 12
fathoms of water. Mr Steele anxiously co-operated in this undertaking. Limerick
Chronicle. June 1836
[Mr Thomas Steele of Clare was experienced at underwater salvage: he had made his first descent in a diving bell on the wreck of the Royal George at Spithead in 1825 and patented his Communicating Diving Bell in the same year; later underwater adventures included a dive on the wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose. He undertook a trial dive at Kilkee using Mr Charles Deane's helmet. Deane had hired the Shamrock of Kilrush as a support vessel]