John Lethbridge ( 1676-1759 )

John Lethbridge, a local wool merchant, lived in Wolborough Street, Newton Abbot. Little is known of his childhood, but as from the age of forty, John Lethbridge soon came to the notice of the London-based English East India Company, the Dutch Vereenigde Oostindische Companie (VOC) and the diving fraternity. He was to be known as the English man from Devon who invented a unique type of 'diving engine'. Lethbridge’s improved engine differed greatly from the traditional diving bell and other diving apparatus. His invention offered greater under water mobility and better working conditions for the 'fisher' (diver) thus proving more successful when retrieving 'treasures' and lost cargo from the sunken ship wrecks on behalf of the various shipping companies. Over the next thirty years Lethbridge was to prosper. So successful, he rose from an unsuccessful wool merchant, struggling to support his family, to, eventually, a man of wealth, owning the estate of Odicknoll in Kingskerswell.

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the scrapbook of diving history

Lethbridge invention was not a very complicated one: he took an oakwood barrel in which he installed 1 view port and 2 holes with leather sleeves on the outside. The diver was to lay inside the barrel and stick his hands through the holes, the leather sleeves would then be strapped around his arms providing a water tight seal. Being lowered into the water he could look though the port hole and ‘work’ (grab) with his arms. A method which would have required courage and skills, especially because the only oxygen the diver had was in the air the barrel contained at the moment the lid was bolted on. And even when he would see something under water the only communication with the surface (to give instructions about being lowered down, pulled up or moved in a specific direction) could have been performed with rope signals.