Charles Deane

Even though Deane is considered to have invented the first diving helmet there are earlier accounts of diving with ‘downsized diving bells’ / helmets. The creation and use of the earliest functional diving helmet is credited to the Italian physicist, ‘Guglielmo de Lorena’. He experimented with an early form of diving helmet (either in 1531 or 1535, dates vary) while trying to locate two ancient roman ships in Lake Nemi, near Rome. These ships were rumored to be carrying a cargo of gold. Guglielmo de Lorena constructed a barrel shaped bell which was put over the divers head and allowed him to walk underwater for almost an hour (see also the Italian chapter for Lorena) An early metal helmet is illustrated and described in various Soviet Russian diving manuals that credit this invention to a Russian diver named Gausen who built it in 1829.

In 1823 Charles Deane patented a smoke helmet which was described as

‘an apparatus or machine to be worn by persons entering rooms or other places filled with smoke or other vapour, for the purpose of extinguishing fire or extricating persons or property therein’

Initially the apparatus was intend to be used by fire fighters to enter burning ships or houses ( with success ) However in 1828 the smoke helmet was converted for the first time for underwater use ... 

A Dutch document printed in 1867 gives an account of the development of the Deane diving helmet and the first diving apparatus of this type to be imported into Holland:

In 1833 an english civil engineer Deane came to the idea to take a diving bell and put it on the head of a man; 'like a helmet, with windows in it to look through'.

'The diver himself dressed in water proof clothing made of geta pertja, well ballasted' Is put on his head a divers bell in the form of a helmet with windows to look through. This bell or helmet was connected with a pliable hose to a press-pump above the water' besides this air-hose the diver also has a rope tied to his body and kept by a man above the water serving to pass signals and to pull the diver out of the water in case of need. Equipped like this the diver descends with a ladder into the deep and can move freely at the sea bottom and work for an unlimited period of time for as long as he receives through an air-pump the needed breath to live.

This Deane divers apparatus was in 1836 imported by the famous dutch engineer A. Lipkens, and operated under supervision of Naval Lieutenant O.A.Uhlenbeck. This naval officer made several improvements to the diving equipment and then recommended it to the dutch government as 'a case of general benefit' for the dutch navy.

Therefore the Dutch government is considered to be the first overseas country who bought the Deane diving apparatus (1)

It is not known if the Dutch navy purchased anymore of the Deane diving apparatus. This is because by 1841 the Dutch ‘Bikkers’ Company of Rotterdam was manufacturing diving apparatus similar to the Deane apparatus.

When the above article was published in 1867, the imported Deane apparatus was still in use with the Dutch government. This article has several engravings which illustrate the Deane diving equipment (see below).

Engraving collection David L.Dekker

Engraving collection David L.Dekker


the scrapbook of diving history

4 Photo's above: the only known to exist Deane helmet as made for the Deanes by Augustus Siebe. This helmet was patented as a smoke helmet in 1823 but was later modified for use under water to become the worlds 'first successful diving helmet'. The helmet survived time in the Siebe Gorman company museum but is now owned by the Science Museum in London and currently displayed in the exhibition of the Diving Museum in Gosport, England.                                                                             

                                                                                                                                                                Photo's David L.Dekker. With special thanks to John Bevan for the private guided tour.

The first Deane helmet