For details of wreck of Byron by collison with paddle steamer Duchess
of Kent see here
Also mention of salvage diving on a large flat, Sisters, wrecked near Hoylake, carrying 100 tons of bricks, presumably wrecked during the hurricane of January 1839.
[from Liverpool Albion - Tuesday 15 January 1839]: In Hoylake, several small craft were thrown up, and others wrecked, including amongst the latter, a schooner and two flats, one of which is bottom up.
Henry Abbinett, a mariner based at Gosport, met John Deane, inventor
of the diving helmet, through providing boat services while Deane was
diving at Gosport from 1835-45. Abbinett was the first purchaser of a
Deane helmet and started to dive independently. He was actually the
first person to dive on the Mary Rose. Image of
helmet here .
Lloyd's Register 1839: Cutter, Ondine, 58 tons, owned Abbinett, reg Portsmouth, built 1828 Southampton.
[from Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser - Friday
20 September 1839]:
BLOWING-UP OF THE SHIP BYRON, IN THE CHANNEL OF THE MERSEY.
RAISING OF SUNKEN VESSELS.
We furnished a hasty account, in our last publication; of the first explosion of the Byron, by gunpowder, deposited in the hull of the vessel, by Mr. Abbinet[sic], of Portsmouth, and his assistants, who have been for some time engaged in the raising of sunken vessels that have formed obstructions to the navigation of the port. As the experiment of Monday was attended with success, we now furnish some additional particulars of Mr. Abbinet's plan of operation, for the information of those who may not have had an opportunity of witnessing it. Mr. Abbinet, who, with his crew and his son, all of whom, with the air helmet of his invention, alternately pursue their submarine vocation, brought with him from Portsmouth a fine cutter, called the Ordine[sic], of a sufficiently light draft of water to be available in approaching the hulls of sunken vessels. He is the individual who made the first attempt, about six years ago, to blow up vessels by combustion that could not otherwise be removed; and he was entirely successful with the hull of H. M. ship Boyne; of 98 guns, sunk at Spithead, which, by successive explosions, he blew to pieces. Colonel Pasley has since, we learn, laid claim to be the originator of the plan, but with injustice to Mr. Abbinet, and, it may be added, without achieving the fame which he anticipated, his own experiments on the Royal George having hitherto failed.
As before noticed, the party who goes under water has his head and neck encased in a copper helmet, into which the air is thrown down an India-rubber pipe by means of an air-pump. We shall now describe this apparatus more fully. The copper helmet is considerably larger than the head, so as to give ease to the motions of the operator; and the copper is continued down from the head part, so as to fit as closely as possible round the upper part of the breast and shoulders. A cushion, or roll of woollen stuffed with hair, is fixed all round the inner edge of the copper; and this is rendered air and water tight, by two large flat leaden weights appended from the helmet, weighing about 96lbs, and hanging one in front and the other behind, - and also by the action of the air thrown into the helmet for the purpose of respiration. The weights are also required to enable the diver, whose body would otherwise be too buoyant, to attain the required depth. In front of the helmet are three oval windows, or eyes, about five inches long and three in width, of plate glass, each protected exteriorly by a wire guard or grating, sufficiently open not to intercept the view. Through these the operator obtains a distinct view of the "wonders of the deep." It should be added, that the air tube is screwed into a tap at the back of the helmet; but as the rush of the air would be disagreeable against any single part of the diver's head, it is exteriorly branched off into three embouchures, under thin pieces of metal, and these, - being flat at the extremities; diffuse the air evenly and steadily round the operator's face. The air-engine is contained in a box or chest, and has three cylinders worked by a cranked spindle and fly-wheel, turned by two men without intermission, while the diver remains below. The pipe is three inches in diameter, and so ductile that the operator finds no difficulty in walking at will with it at the bottom, and turning or exploring the holds or cabins of vessels. The mode of descending is by a rope ladder. To the end of this a heavy weight is attached, and when lowered from the side of the vessel employed, to the bottom, it forms a steady means of going down or coming up. A rope is also tied round the diver, which is paid out as he descends, and forms a means of communication and safety. A slight pull of the rope upwards is answered by a similar pull downwards, indicating that all is well. Two or three successive tugs from below communicates that something is wrong, and the operator is assisted in rising to the surface by the rope being pulled up, before any serious consequence can ensue. The diver, besides his usual clothes, wears an India-rubber dress, formed of a thin sheet of that substance, between two thickness of cloth, similar to what is called the Macintosh fabric. The dress is made wide and entire, and when in good order, being secured by bands at the wrists, ankles, and neck, is perfectly water tight, so that the warmth of the body is maintained for a long time even under water. A young man named Stephen Richards, who went down on Monday, and again on Wednesday, with the helmet and dress, and remained below on the last occasion for twelve minutes, had not a hair of his head wet; and his under-clothes were comparatively dry.
The principal desideratum in the blowing up of sunken vessels presenting dangerous obstructions, is the placing of powder in a dry state, in the best possible position for a powerful explosion, and so priming the match as to render the ignition a matter certain. This last object, it is obvious, is not always attainable, as it may be defeated by the strength of the tidal water, or the too great rising of waves from the action of the wind. The powder (as on the experiment on Monday) is lowered in a cask-covered with pitch, in which a leaden pipe is inserted of a sufficient length to reach the sunken vessel to a convenient height above the surface. The pipe contains a long fuse or match, down which the ignition will pass with great rapidity. A port or slow match is placed at the top, about a yard above the water, and the pipe is attached perpendicularly to a buoy which bears it up. It is plain, that in a sea-way, or strong tide-way, the operation may be prevented by the unsteady motion of the buoy, or the wetting of the match so that it cannot be fired, and this was the case on Wednesday, when a second explosion was contemplated. On Monday, although the depth of the sunken vessel is only twenty-four feet, the length of pipe required was forty-five feet, to reach under the deck of the vessel, and allow sufficient play above. The cask was deposited about an hour before the explosion in the after hold of the Byron, which vessel had been run down in May last, while riding at anchor, by the Duchess of Kent steam-vessel. The Byron belonged to Dundee; she was about 200 tons burden, and, as before noticed, had a cargo of 150 tons of iron, brought from Bristol, and destined for this port. She sunk almost immediately, and one boy who was on board was unfortunately drowned. The hull lying in the channel, a little to S.W. of Spencer's Spit buoy, became dangerous to the navigation, and hence the present attempt to remove it. The fuse used on Monday, was made by our townsman, Mr. James, pyrotecnic professor, and answered the purpose admirably. It was cased in blue paper, and protected by the lead pipe from the water. The explosion (as before noticed,) was highly gratifying. The water rose in a convex form, which was seconded by foam; and large portions of the wreck torn from its strong iron fastening was thrown to the surface; and picked up. A conger eel, 5 feet 2 inches in length, and 16 inches circumference, was killed by the explosion, a splinter having apparently entered its back, and perforated it entirely, through it was immediately picked up, and carried onboard the cutter, where it took hold of a young man's toe, and left the distinct marks of its teeth in the upper leather of his toe. It was afterwards pierced in the head, with a view to kill it; but such was its tenacity of life, that it showed vitality, even, after it was brought to Liverpool. Some pieces of the wreck were shown at the Underwriters' Room, and also the eel. Of the former, a quantity may be seen at Mr. Bryden's, St. George's tavern, Pitt-street, and the enormous snake may be viewed at Mr. Frodsham's, Fish-dealer, Berry-street.
On Wednesday a second explosion having been advertised; to witness which, the "Liverpool" Seacombe steamer, was again placed at the service of the public, the concourse of the curious and scientific on board was greater than on the former occasion, there being about sixty gentlemen and a dozen ladies present. A band of music played at intervals, and refreshments were served on board. After a pleasant sail, during which a small cannon was repeatedly fired from the forecastle, the vessel reached the spot where the cutter rode at anchor. It turned out, however, that the wind which had in the morning been from the south and the sea-smooth, had hauled round to the westward, and blew pretty freshly; so that it was considered by Mr. Abbinet that there was no chance of a successful explosion, and he had not, therefore, placed the powder in readiness in the vessel's hold. Considerable disappointment was felt by the company at this result; but this was to a great degree dissipated by the explanation given by Mr. Abbinet. Those of the Company who had not seen the diving apparatus, were, however gratified by an inspection of it; and Stephen Richard again went down, cased in his extraordinary looking armour and habiliments; and remained under water for about 12.5 minutes. He brought up a portion of an earthenware crate, that had been blown out of the vessel by the explosion. He also reported that he had previously examined the state of the wreck, and found that the whole of the hull from the stern to the fore chains was broken up. An explosion of the bow, which yet forms an obstruction, will, we understand, take place on the first favourable day.
RAISING OF SUNKEN VESSELS.
Mr. Abbinet has been, for some years past, very successful in raising vessels sunk or stranded, by means of "lumps" or lighters, and chains. The latter are fixed under the sunken vessel's bottom, and brought to the lighters at low water, so that when the tide rises, they are lifted bodily up, and their cargo afterwards discharged. In this manner be recently raised a large flat, called the Sisters, - that was sunk at Hoylake, and was an obstruction. The vessel had 100 tons of bricks and sand in her at the time.
There is, however, some difficulty in procuring flats or lighters suitable for the purposes at this port; and Mr. Abbinet suggests that if the corporation or the dock committee should build two proper lighters, with sufficient purchases, when vessels at any time sunk in the channels, or on the coast, causing obstructions, might be raised. The helmet is of course employed in the fixing of the chains. The iron in the Byron may, we understand, be got up by Mr. Abbinet's men in single bars or pieces.