Charles Deane had patented a smoke helmet for firefighters, and around 1827 he joined his brother to produce a modified version to use for diving, using a pair of forge bellows to pump air to the diver.
By 1829 the brothers had developed a fully functional diving set-up based around the helmet. They carried out their first commercially successful diving operation salvaging valuable cargo from East Indiaman the Carn Brea Castle, which had run ashore on the Isle of Wight in a gale.
The original helmet was not a commercial success, and only about six units were built by Augustus Siebe, the manufacturer favoured by the Deanes – although through their association Siebe would later become very successful.
The Deanes invested their fee for the Carn Brea Castle salvage in improving their diving helmet and the suit that went with it. John Deane based himself in Gosport and in 1836, using his diving dress, discovered the long-lost Tudor wreck the Mary Rose. That “standard diving dress” was adopted by the Royal Engineers and then the Royal Navy, forming the basis for an international diving industry. It is still used by commercial divers in parts of the world today.
The Science Museum acquired the helmet from the private Siebe Gorman Museum after John Bevan of the Historical Diving Society (HDS) had stepped in to prevent the disposal of its contents at auction. After Bevan had explained the helmet’s provenance, the Science Museum classed it as a “national treasure”, though it has never displayed it.
The HDS started running the Diving Museum in Gosport on a voluntary basis in 2010 and applied to display the helmet there, but was turned down.
More recently Kevin Casey, a former saturation diver, became the museum’s director and managed to obtain a £21,000 grant to boost security to the level required. A special display case from Belgium was installed, and evidence of four weeks of acceptable internal environmental monitoring had to be shown before the Science Museum would release the helmet on loan.
The Deane helmet can be seen at the Diving Museum when it reopens for the 2017 season on Good Friday, 14 April. The facility is open from 11am to 4pm on weekends and bank holidays until the end of October, with an entry fee of £3 for adults.
It can be found at No 2 Battery, Stokes Bay Road, Gosport, Hampshire, PO12 2QU, and more information is available here