To most people, the reason we have such sophisticated diving equipment these days is down to the early pioneering work of Augustus Siebe. And the widespread use of early diving equipment was due to the company of Siebe Gorman (Gorman was Siebe’s son-in-law). While the latter is undeniably true and due to an amazing knowledge and application of market cornering, the former is not true.
Here is another example of people being remembered for something they didn’t do and the ones that did being forgotten.
The story begins with two intrepid brothers, Charles and John Deane who enjoyed diving on and through shipwrecks. In order to achieve this they invented the diving helmet. As we all know, water will not enter an open ended vessel if it remains horizontal. This can be very effective if you consider a person wearing an oversized fish bowl and being lowered to the bottom of a body of water.
While effective, the idea does have a few limitations. The main limitation is if the diver leans forward. This tends to result in drowning. Still, if a diver is very careful and doesn’t worry about what might be crawling over his boots, it can be a very fruitful experience.
The Deane brothers were doing very well for themselves, diving on old Tudor wrecks, perhaps searching for gold, I don’t know. (There is an excellent book about them that I might try and get.) And, I guess, it was their fault that Siebe Gorman came on board.
The Deane’s wanted help in improving and producing their diving gear and they approached Siebe Gorman in order to set things in motion. At least the Deane’s had taken out a patent on their ideas. Not so the forgotten engineer George Edwards.
George was a Civil Engineer from Lowestoft. He was involved in the construction of the new harbour, built a few bridges and was generally seen as a man who could do just about anything he set his mind to. In fact, when he found out about the new Riddle’s Self-adjusting Letter Balance, he just had to have one. When he asked his stationer to get him one, he was told it may take a while. George said not to bother, went home, and made his own based solely on a report and an etching.
For reasons not yet obvious, George came up with the idea of a full diving suit with a flange at the neck which would bolt onto the diving helmet created by the Deane brothers. Now, I have no idea why he didn’t patent it. What he did, instead, was to show Augustus Siebe. While Siebe didn’t exactly steal the idea, he did manufacture an awful lot of them and even asked George for a copy of the plans to save himself having to reinvent the already invented.
Of course, Siebe Gorman did extremely well out of the full suit system with neck flange idea of George, making their name for innovators in the field of underwater exploration. Interestingly, quite a few references to this claim that Siebe Gorman made ‘improvements’ to the Deane and Edwards ideas. From what I have found, these ‘improvements’ amounted to using eight bolts rather than 20 to attach the helmet to the flange.
Siebe Gorman still exist, still making diving equipment and still maintaining that Augustus Siebe created the closed helmet concept. Which is a lie. It was dear old George.
Anyway, here’s to George Edwards, yet another forgotten Victorian engineer. Here’s his grave marker. It was originally a glacial boulder, found while dredging Lowestoft Harbour. He spotted it and grabbed it, saying it would be perfect for his grave.