Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver

Part 5 The Endeavour and the Bell

 

They pulled alongside the Endeavour and she followed Captain Braithwaite up the short ladder, he watched approvingly as she climbed easily, then grinned as Susan had to be helped up by several friendly sailors. The Captain led her to his cabin and left them there so she could remove her pelisse and gown and put on a bathing cap. Suitably dressed she returned to the deck and walked over to the side above the raft where the Bell stood. Captain Braithwaite was already alongside the machine, he was now wearing breeches and a linen shirt, another young man similarly dressed stood beside him. Clearly he would be accompanying them down to the sea bed.

Yorkshire bathing machines 1813

A Bathing Dress of brown linen

As she climbed down onto the raft he looked up at her.

“Are you sure you want to do it?” He asked.

“You promised me.” She replied, looking a little nervously up at the massive black machine.

“Very well, follow me.”

He ducked under the bottom of the Bell, she handed her shawl to her maid and in her bathing dress of stiff brown linen she followed him into the Bell. Around the edge of the Bell was a broad wooden ledge with a low bench on it. Lying on the bench was a curious contraption made of leather and brass, this clearly was the helmet they used to leave the Bell and walk on the seabed. The young sailor took his place by one of the portholes, Captain Braithwaite knelt on the bench by another, the thin cord that was used to communicate with the Endeavour held in his hand. Charlotte sat down opposite him.

“Haul away,” he called and she had to hold tight as the sailors hoisted the Diving Bell into the air, looking down she saw the raft though the opening, then the Bell was swung round and she looked down on the waves. For a moment she watched the water sparkle, then the Bell hit the surface. She gave a little cry as the water splashed on her legs.

For a moment the Bell seemed to float there, then it began to descend, the light below looked greener than it had. Sunlight had been coming through the portholes, then it dimmed and a green light shone through them. They were under the waves!

 “Now if you feel at all unwell you must let me know and we will ascend.”

“Why, do you think all women will faint at the first opportunity?”

“No, I don’t know how women will react under the water. As far as I know you are the first woman ever to dive like this.”

“The first ever!” Now she felt a little faint.

She looked down though the central opening, the water seemed to be rising inside the Bell.

“It will rise a little as we descend. There is nothing to worry about.” The captain seemed to guess exactly what she was thinking.

As she peered into the green water she began to see shapes, the massive broken timbers of the wrecked East Indiaman. He pointed out where a large piece of the hull had been towed away.

“We pulled off the side of the hull, now we are able to get into the main hold and should be able to reach most of the cargo now. We will settle on the bottom just beside the hull, then I will show you how the helmet can be used to leave the Bell for a short while.”

She was watching the timbers below as they descended gently towards them. The young sailor, was looking out of a porthole when he suddenly shouted.

“Captain Stop!”

The Captain pulled hard on the signal cord, but it was too late. The Bell hit something, seemed to twist and tipped. The young sailor gave a cry as he slipped and fell across the opening, he tried to save himself and failed, his head hit the far side of the Bell with a horrible crack. Mrs Bennet grabbed the young man before he slipped into the water and held him. The Captain tried to catch the helmet but it fell through the hole into the water and vanished. The Bell had stopped, sloping sideways.  Captain Braithwaite came and helped Charlotte lift the injured sailor onto the bench. There was a jagged cut on his head, and he was unconscious. She tore a strip from his shirt to tie round the wound, he was unconscious and very pale.

Whilst she was tending to the man Captain Braithwaite scrambled round inside the Bell looking out of the portholes. He was looking out of the porthole on the lowest side of the Bell, and looking very worried. She looked up at him and asked.

“What has happened?”

“We are in trouble.” The Captain replied, “We should have settled upright on the sea bed, held by the weights. What has happened is that a timber must have moved, possibly it was loosened by the Bell yesterday when it was lowered, unmanned, to ensure everything was ready for today. We hit the timber as we were descending and it rolled onto us. It is now holding one side of the Bell down. We are trapped”

“Can the Endeavour pull us up again?”

“It should be able to, ideally I would have ordered a grapnel lowered, left the Bell wearing the helmet to fix the hook under the timber, then it could have been hoisted up and we would have risen normally. Unhappily the signal line snapped as we hit the sea bed and the helmet and tools are gone. All we can do it wait, if they aren’t told to raise the Bell early it will be about an hour before they bring us up.”

“We can wait but I am not sure he can.” She replied, pointing to the young sailor, who hadn’t moved and was only just breathing. “Is there no way of sending a message to the surface?”

“We have tried sending up little barrels in the past, but they didn’t really work, anyway normally there is the barrel chain bringing fresh air to the Bell, we can use that for sending messages. But that is being repaired, and as we were only going to be down for a little time it wasn’t needed.”

She looked out of the tiny porthole, the surface and the dark shapes of the boats hulls didn’t seem so far away.

“How deep are we?”

“About eight fathoms.”

“Twenty four feet, it would not be hard to swim that distance.”

“Holding your breath all the time, and I am afraid I cannot really swim, it would be impossible.”

She stood up, and began to unfasten the front of her bathing dress.

“Then I will have to try, he may die if we cannot get him to a surgeon.”

 

To be continued

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2 Comments

Filed under Historical tales, Regency

2 responses to “Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver

  1. cracking bro… loving the tough as nails heroine…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my goodness – now we can see why H&S has become so very important 🙂

    Like

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