Introduction(1) is also acknowledged.
The Armada SalvageSeveral accounts relate to the recovery of material from the Spanish Armada of 1588. In the year of the loss of the Armada Sir George Carew wrote from Dunmore Castle, Co. Clare (2). “Already we have salvaged three pieces of artillery of brass. Yesterday we fastened our hawsers to a cannon of battery or basalyke, as we supposed by the length, for they lie at four fathom and a half of water, which was so huge that it break our cables. Our diver was nearly drowned, but Irish aqua vitae hath such virtues as I hope for his recovery. If the diver of Dublin were here with his instruments I would not doubt to bring good store of artillery from hence. For if I be not deceived out of our boat we did plainly see four pieces more.” He also complained at the expense “of sustaining the divers with copious draughts of usequebaugh [whiskey]”.
HMS LooeHMS Looe, a 5th rate 32 gun ship, launched at Plymouth in 1696 was wrecked on a rock (now known as Looe Rock) when leaving Baltimore harbour in south-west Ireland on the 30th April 1697. Ordnance Board Minutes for the 18th August 1719 report that “some of her guns being taken up … the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland [is] desired to Order some proper person to view the same, & the Price of Salvage [to be] paid here…”. Subsequently, HMS Weymouth was ordered to collect the guns, taking on board three of about 17cwt each and two of about 25cwt, which were shipped to Plymouth in October. On the 5th January 1720, the Ordnance Board ledger records a payment to John Lethbridge of twenty one pounds two shillings & eleven pence “For his Trouble & Expense in taking up 5 Guns that were lost in the Looe Man of War…Weighing 5 tons 5 cwt 2 qrs. 26 lbs 3”. A Captain Townsend, possibly of Castletownsend, was court-martialled in 1697 for selling two guns from the Looe. There is no information on what his role in the salvage had been.
The BelgiosoIn June 1783, Spalding and his nephew Ebenezer Watson suffocated while experimenting on further improvements to their diving bell in Dublin Harbour. The two men were hoping to gain access to the Belgioso, an East Indiaman, which sailed from Liverpool and sunk at Kish Bank in Dublin Bay the following day. Spalding worked from the Renown of Harrington (Captain Joseph Bacon). The unfortunate pair appear to have been overcome by fumes from rotting hay in the cargo. They were buried at St. Andrews church in present day Pearse Street in Dublin, but the exact location of their grave is unknown. Spalding’s negro associate and his wife, who was also a diver, worked on the wreck using Spalding’s apparatus in August 1783. Braithwaite came to Dublin and demonstrated his machine in the Liffey but was prevented from diving on the Belgioso. Braithwaites were the last (reported) to visit the site in 1786. The insurance documentation on the Belgioso has recently been located and customs records indicate that some goods were recovered, but there is no mention of specie which was the object of the diving operations. It should be mentioned that the barrels of coin had been fitted with a float and rope, to indicate their position should the ship founder
The Intrinsic(6) was an eccentric landlord in Clare who patented some diving bell improvements and tried Deane’s apparatus at Kilkee. He also patented an underwater lamp and a ‘Communicating Diving Bell’ (7). He mentioned using an adaptation of the ‘Hammond Light’ underwater, when working on the Mary Rose and the Intrinsic. Steele’s pamphlet (8) on making the River Shannon navigable included drawings of an all-new diving bell to be employed to remove rocks. There is a suggestion that he had this bell tested on the coast of Wexford but there is no account to be found, although he seems to have used this bell with some success in later years (9) (10) (11) (12). Steele dived with Deane in Kilkee in 1836 and his adventures are described in the Connaught Journal (9th June,1836) and the Limerick Star (3rd June1836). “Mr Steele went by appointment to make an experimental descent off Kilkee, with the helmet on Tuesday, and has been we understand delighted by the trial. The swell was so strong that the hooker employed by Mr (Charles) Deane, the Shamrock of Kilrush, had to return from Ben O’Knuck as it would have been impossible to work that day, and Mr Steele made his experiments with the greatest privacy, when she came to her anchorage in the bay of Kilkee. He expresses himself very warmly with the friendly care taken of him by Mr. Deane, who on one occasion had him drawn up without any necessity, and without receiving any signal for that purpose, merely because he had formed a supposition of the possibility of danger.” A Limerick newspaper published a unique description of the gear used by Mr. Deane. “His appearance before going down is exceedingly grotesque owing to the quantity of clothes in which he is enveloped, and the very large helmet he wears. His first dress is composed of flannel to preserve warmth, and is doubled: he has got outside this a large pair of waterproof Indian rubber trousers, reaching as high as the chest with short sleeves of about a foot in length, it grows gradually tighter towards the extremity of the legs each of which terminates in a boot. He next wears a jacket of the same composition, reaching somewhat below the waist round which a large belt of basket work, covered with green baize, is tightly bound: this jacket has got a collar as high as the ears, which he tightens with a handkerchief. The wrists are bound so very tight as to render it scarcely bearable until he has got under water, when all annoyance vanishes. To protect the India rubber he wears over it a suit of coarse canvas, which is bound round him with straps of leather, and likewise terminates in boots. He has also large worsted stockings and a pair of very strong shoes, with a quantity of lead sheet in each. The helmet, or as our friend Andrew Marrinan calls it, the copper bonnet, which he wears and the construction of which has excited so much interest, is made of a metal resembling tarnished steel. It is very large, with a view affording room for a sufficient quantity of air inside, and resembles somewhat, a human breast, being made to rest on the sides, back and chest. The tube through which a constant supply of fresh air is conveyed from above, is attached to the back of it, and through a valve in the front immediately below the mouth, he emits the used air. There are three glasses one at either side and the third in front, about three inches in diameter, through which we understand he can plainly discern every object below. To the extremity of this helmet are attached two breadths of canvas, bound round the body with straps and from the neck he has got suspended two large weights each probably two stone or over, the one resting on the back the other on the chest. These are for the purpose of facilitating his descent. From the side of the pilot boat from which he descends, is let down a rope ladder with weights at the end of it, and on this he walks down. Every provision is made for his safety a rope being tied around his waist, by which on a sign being given, he can immediately be drawn up. He has been known to remain below for as long a period as eight hours without any apparent difficulty. A large portion of the cargo has already been recovered, consisting of a great quantity of steel bars and rods also some 60 sheets of copper, with five pair of railroad wheels and patent axes each pair worth £23.Owing to the inclemency of the weather, for some days back, these gentlemen have been obliged to suspend their exertions, but will resume when the sea is less troubled. They also propose going down to the wreck of a brig, lost off Battle Island, some years since, and laden with a very valuable cargo of gold dust and elephant’s teeth. It is said that this wreck has been frequently seen by fishermen at low water.” (13) As late as 31st August 1842, the Limerick Chronicle reported that “Dean’s diving bell apparatus will again be at work next summer over the wreck of the Intrinsic at Kilkee, and had the submarine operation been prosecuted under favourable weather this season much valuable property could have been recovered”.
The Lady Charlotte(15).
The L’ImpatienteHenry Davy from the cutter Eliza of Crookhaven petitioned the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty on 26th May 1839 (16). Proposing to search for the wreck of the L’Impatiente and use his diving apparatus to raise guns, he sought permission to retain anything recovered. On 30th May he wrote again revealing that he had raised a 9-in mortar from the wreck. He sought to retain this, “as it will scarcely cover the costs of the operation”. He also intended to abandon work because of the heavy swell and exposed site. L’Impatiente was a French frigate bombardiere – part of a large fleet that attempted a landing at Bantry Bay in 1797. She was wrecked almost under the bridge at Mizen Head en route back to Brest.
The Connemara ExpeditionReports were published of a diving expedition to the Connemara area, west of Galway, in July of 1834, but the promoters are unnamed and the expedition was obstructed by authority. “The Sarah, of Pwlheli, was lately fitted up with a diving-bell and suitable apparatus for the purpose of raising 11 vessels wrecked close to the Galway shore during the last severe winter, amongst which are understood to be the Thais, Falmouth packet; the Whitbread of London, the James of Tynemouth, the Rival of Glasgow, which had Don Pedro’s troops on board. Along with a Philadelphia ship, a sloop from Scotland and a revenue cutter. These vessels are much in the way of fishing nets. The coastguard of Inislacken seized the Sarah as she lay in ballast in Roundstone harbour ready to go to work and forbade any further work relating to raising the wrecks in the name of Admiralty.”
The HavreThe American ship Havre, commanded by Captain Vennard was en route from New Orleans to Liverpool with 1564 bales of cotton when she took fire seven miles off Cork on 8th February, 1840. A quantity of gunpowder in the after part of the ship blew up with a colossal explosion barely ten minutes after the pilot left (F.J. 12th February 1840 p.2). The wreck is reported to have been dived in June 1840 by Charles John Brunker and ‘Captain’ Moseby, ‘R.N.’, but no more is known about this exploit.
Modern TimesCdr. Damant’s team, that was assembled and worked from 1917 to salvage the gold from the Laurentic, deserve their place in the Pantheon of salvors, the salvage vessel HMS Racer being their home for the duration. The exposed site and cold rough waters worked against them, but they were blessed with superb visibility. Despite the wreck being smashed and collapsed by a storm they dug through layers of decks to find the gold over a period of five years completing their work in 1923. The diving was completed without accident, despite the 40 metre depth, mainly because of the new science of decompression. The Italian salvage company Sorima (17) worked on wrecks in the 1930s, while mystery surrounds possible Royal Navy work on the Lusitania and Empress of Britain in the 1950s. Another epic of salvage in Irish waters was the recovery of the submersible Pisces by a pair of Vickers submersibles off the Cork coast. The rescue of the crew of two from 1,575 feet deep was a brilliant achievement by an international effort in August 1973. It involved transport of submersibles by air from USA, Canada and the UK to Canadian and British vessels berthed at Cork. The crew being saved in the nick of time just before their air ran out (18).
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Dr. Edward Bourke is an industrial chemist working in the Irish brewing industry. He is a scuba diver and historian of both diving and shipwrecks. He has written five books on shipwrecks around Ireland, including the 3-volume standard work on the subject, Shipwrecks of the Irish Coast.