Category Archives: Regency

Captain Bennett – The Hero of Lyme

This year seems to be producing terrible storms, so it seems the right time to tell this tale, of the brave Captain Bennett – The Hero of Lyme.

 

November 23rd 1824
Captain Charles Bennett stood on top of Church Cliff and watched the destruction of Lyme Regis. Around him stood a crowd of men, women and children, some still dressed in nightgowns, having just managed to escape from their houses before they collapsed. Every so often there was a cry as another house fell before the pounding waves.

Suddenly there was a scream, worse than the others, Captain Bennett raised his telescope and gasped, the Fox cutter had broken from its moorings, there was a man still clinging to the mast, for a moment it seemed to run before the wind, then the waves covered it.

“Poor Fellows!” He shook his head, he had seen men die in battle but this was somehow much worse.

“Was it the Fox?” He turned to see William Porter, the Lyme Pilot and an old friend.

He nodded, Porter tried to look straight into the wind and failed.

“How does Pierce ride?”

Captain Bennett raised his telescope and focussed it on the Unity, he knew the ship well, every six weeks it sailed for London and was the best way of bringing heavy goods to Lyme Regis, Captain Pierce was popular in Lyme and all his crew were local men. She had been due to sail the next day and there were a number of men on board. Now she was straining on her moorings, tied to the Cobb, the ancient harbour of Lyme Regis, invisible under the pounding waves.

Unity 2

The Destruction of Lyme Regis

“She rides well.” He replied, “And will hold I think – as long as the Cobb stands.”

The sun rose, the sky cleared with fast scudding clouds, but the storm didn’t abate. Then, Captain Bennett estimated about seven o’clock, the worst happened. The Cobb collapsed!

There was a terrible scream from the crowd as the Unity seemed to shoot across the bay, for a moment it seemed that she was going to be wrecked under their feet, at the bottom of Church Cliff, but she was swept past and along the shore.

“She’ll strike at Charmouth no doubt.” Said Porter, “And no hope for them.” Added John Freeman, a local fisherman.

“No, I’ll be damned it I watch more men die.” Shouted Captain Bennett. “I think there is hope for them, if you are with me.” He held out his hand, first Porter then Freeman grabbed it.

“Ay Ay Captain – we’re with you.”

Captain Bennett turned and ran down the slope, “I always thought it was nuisance that I had to keep my gear well away from the shore, now I am glad, very glad indeed.”

He pushed open the door to his store, the gear for his boat, now smashed by the storm, filled the shed. He loaded a small cart with ropes, hooks and grapnels, then they dragged it up, onto the rutted coast road, chasing the Unity.

They passed several groups of weeping women struggling against the weather, he recognised the wives of two of the men on board the Unity, then there were two women who were screaming at each other.

“Jim’s mine!” screamed one, “No you whore, he’s mine!” screamed the other.

“I think Jim’s in trouble.” Laughed John Freeman.

“Only if we get him to shore.” Replied William Porter.

Onward they struggled, helped by other men they met, until they dropped down towards Charmouth where the masts of the Unity were visible over the cliff top. Here William Freeman tied hooks to the ends of light ropes and, again and again, the men tried to throw them to the ship. Every time they fell short, it was impossible to throw into the gale. Captain Bennett held onto the cart and shut his eyes, he couldn’t look at the men on the Unity, he had failed.

Unity 1

The Wreck of the Unity – showing what the rescuers had to face

The crowd watched in horror, waiting for the end, then the miracle happened, the Unity was swept off the sand, it was moving again! A few moments later it grounded on another sandbank, it hadn’t moved far, but far enough.

Now there was a way down to the beach where there was just enough room to stand. The three men scrambled down, tied ropes round their waists and handed the ends to other men who had followed them. Captain Bennett had just finished tying his rope when there was a cry from above, one of the men of the Unity had tried to climb down off the ship and had fallen. Captain Bennett ran, straight into the surf. As the water swirled round the stern he glimpsed the fallen man, diving forward he grabbed him then shouted for the men to pull him back. To his horror he saw that no one had held the end of the rope as he ran into the water, he struggled up the beach, but knew it wouldn’t make it, then to his relief a man ran forward, grabbed the rope and pulled him back.

He recognised the man, Joshua Knight another fisherman. Joshua grabbed the sailor and handed him to one of the other men, then he pointed at the ship. Captain Bennett saw that John Porter was standing by the side of the vessel with a grapnel in his hand, he threw it up and it caught on the railing, then he was hit by the next wave and pushed back. As the water receded Captain Bennet ran forward, reaching the rope just at the same time as John Porter, who smiled and allowed him to go first up the thin rope. On the deck he saw that William Freeman was already there, he had grabbed a man, then they held on as another wave broke over them. As the water flowed out though the scuppers they all grabbed a man, tied him to their rope, cut them free from the ropes they had used to stop them falling overboard, and ran for the side.

The next wave hit them as they were dropping onto the sand, they ran with it towards the shore, helped by the men pulling on the ropes, Joshua Knight had organised them now and it didn’t take long before the three men, and their precious cargo, were safe.

They rested for a few seconds, then Captain Bennett pointed to the Unity’s rigging, there were three men hanging from the ropes, they had climbed into the rigging out of the waves and tied themselves there, they weren’t moving, they were either dead or unconscious. They all knew that if they were unconscious then they would be dead soon, if they got no help.

“One more time lads!” Shouted the captain, they didn’t reply but both turned back to the ship, as the next wave pulled back they ran. Holding on tight as the water broke over them, then up the side of the ship and into the rigging. They were all experienced sailors, used to climbing rigging in all weathers, but none had climbed in such conditions. They reached their men, in Captain Bennett’s case it was a boy, then came the problem of first tying the unconscious man to their waist then cutting them free.

John Porter reached the deck just before Captain Bennett, as he was about to try and climb down a wave hit him and pulled him overboard. The Captain ran forward and without thinking jumped, with the boy in his arms, into the surf. It cushioned his fall and he was able to grab his friend. Together they dragged the last of the crew back to safety, finally, above the surf he dropped to his knees and collapsed. He had done it, the crew were safe.

 

This story is completely true, the storm, the rescue, the named characters, the squabbling women and even some of the dialogue.

In 1824 the National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck had been formed, it is now the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The first gold medal it presented was to Captain Bennett, the first silver medals to John Porter and William Freeman.

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Inspired by the Google doodle – Jane’s other language.

Today’s ‘Google Doodle’ celebrates British Sign Language and its development. This gives me the opportunity to re-blog something I wrote a little while ago in the series, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.

 

Like most educated women of her time Jane Austen knew some French and Italian. But she knew another language, a far more unusual one. What was it?

She tells us in her own words, in 1808 she was living in Southampton and on December 27 she wrote to her sister, who was staying with their brother in Kent. In her long letter she mentions a visit they had made.

‘We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding-house, and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitzhugh; the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read “Corinna”.’

So there it is, Jane Austen could sign, she knew what was probably an early version of British Sign Language which had been developed in the late eighteenth century, and was already being taught to deaf people of all classes through several schools. The question then arises, how did she come to know sign language?

V0016541 The Dumb Alphabet. Coloured aquatint, W.T. Annis 1819.

One possibility is that she learnt, as do many hearing people do today, to communicate with a relative. In her case her brother George, little is known about him. He was born in 1766, ten years before Jane, and like her and her other siblings, was placed with a wet-nurse in the village of Steventon immediately after birth. However he never returned to live with his family and the majority of references to him are concerned with his care. He was clearly mentally or physically disabled and the fact that Jane Austen could sign suggests that he was either deaf or couldn’t speak.

What is perhaps less surprising than Jane Austen holding a conversation in sign language, is that she takes the opportunity to suggest something to read!

 

Finally, if anyone doubts that sign language is a real language, British Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2003.

 

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Monday’s child

Another poem illustrated by Regency pictures (and later genre pictures). A classic nursery rhyme.

 

Charles Amable Lenoir - The Pink Rose

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Eugene von Blaas — Feeding the Pigeons

Tuesday’s child is full of grace;

Frédéric Soulacroix Dissapointment

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Emil Brack - Planning the Grand Tour Emil Brack

Thursday’s child has far to go;

Leslie, George Dunlop, 1835-1921; The Gardener's Daughter
Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Marie-Denise Villers Self-portrait Young Woman Drawing
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;

Charles Haigh Wood - The Time of Roses

But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

 

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Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver

Part 7 The Diving Belle

 

Sunlight poured in through the portholes, then the Bell broke the surface and cool, fresh air poured in. Charlotte took a deep, thankful breath as they were swung across and settled on the raft, Captain Braithwaite climbed down first then helped her descend, two men climbed in and helped carry the unconscious man out.

As Charlotte stepped upright in the sunlight she heard the noise, the cheering. Susan came running over to wrap a shawl round her shoulders and hug her. Looking around she could see several crowded boats nearby, the men were waving their hats, the women their parasols and handkerchiefs and everyone was cheering.

“Oh dear, it that for me.” Said Charlotte weakly.

“Yes madam, you are famous.” Replied Susan happily.

“Help me to the cabin, I think I am going to faint.”

Susan helped her mistress up the ladder and swiftly across the deck, Charlotte had no idea where she was going until Susan lowered her onto a bench where she fainted.

 

Half an hour later she woke up, Susan was folding her wet bathing dress, she realised she was not only dry but dressed.

“Good madam, you are recovered, I will get the Captain.”

Before she could protest Susan had left the cabin and returned with him a few minutes later.

“Madam, I must apologise for the dangers you were subjected to.” He paused then continued, “And to thank you for what you did. I don’t know of anybody who could have done what you did.”

“I don’t know how I did what I did.” She replied weakly.

An hour later the boat rowed them away from the Endeavour, the Diving Bell still looked terrifying but she felt no fear of it now.

As they rowed alongside the quay there was a crowd waiting, as she stepped onto dry land she heard a shout then the crowd started cheering. Susan helped her into the chaise and they were swiftly driven back to the Circus. As they did so she turned to her maid.

“Susan, did you hear what they shouted, it sounded as if they were cheering the Diving Bell.”

“No madam, it is you they were cheering. They are calling you the Diving Belle now.”

“Oh dear, well it can hardly get worse.”

A few days later she discovered it could. Captain Braithwaite called to both tell her that the sailor was recovering well and to present her with a silver tray, it had been part of the cargo recovered from the Abergavenny but he had had it engraved as a memento of her descent to the wreck. As he left he said with a smile.

“If you should ever want to go down again I would be happy to take you. Everything should be perfectly safe now, anyway my crew are sure you can do anything in the water, they think you are a mermaid.”

“Not a mermaid as well.” She said to Susan, “I wasn’t frightened swimming around at the bottom of the sea, but I don’t think I can bear all this. At the end of the week we leave for Lyme to see my brother in law and give my nephew his telescope.”

 

So Mrs Charlotte Bennet left Weymouth, whether she returned or not I don’t know. Someone, perhaps one of the Endeavour’s crew retired from the sea and settled down as a publican on Portland, naming his public house The Mermaid. As for young Lieutenant Bennet, he rose to become Captain Bennet and one of the heroes of Lyme, but that is another story.

 

This tale was suggested by a press cutting of 1806;

DIVING BELL.—By means of this ingenious contrivance, a Mr Braithwaite has been so successful as to recover, in the months of June and July last, the whole specie from the Abergavenny Indiaman, which was lost off Portland in Feb. 1805. He was down frequently at the rate of six hours a-day. The specie was contained in 60 boxes of dollars, and amounted to £34,000. A great number of valuable articles have also been recovered. A Mrs Bennet of Colchester had the courage to descend in the machine on one occasion, and remained forty minutes. She was greeted on her ascent by the cheering plaudits of a very numerous concourse of people. Mrs Bennet is now generally known as the Diving Belle.

 

Other accounts say that Mrs Bennet came from Cornwall, so I have blended these accounts in the (completely fictitious) backstory I gave her. She was also described as a strong swimmer, an unusual talent for anybody, especially a woman at this time.

The Abergavenny Store where goods were kept was real, and it wasn’t far from Weymouth’s Assembly Rooms.

The Nothe peninsula is still a favourite place to go for a walk and look out to the sea, it was as I described in 1806.

Commander John Wordsworth’s Patriotic Fund sword was raised from the wreck and returned to his brother William the poet, it is now in the museum at Dove Cottage.

Captain Darcy was an engineer who repaired the Cobb, the ancient harbour at Lyme Regis.

There were no swimming costumes at the time, ladies wore Bathing Dresses but couldn’t swim in them.

The accident didn’t happen to Mrs Bennet, but similar things did happen to other early divers. John Braithwaite made a small fortune from diving on the shipwreck, which his son made into a larger one by becoming one of the first builders of marine steam engines.

As for Captain Bennet of Lyme Regis, he probably wasn’t related to our Mrs Bennet but I couldn’t help making the connection because of his name. Nearly twenty years after the date of this story, in 1825, he became one of the great heroes of Lyme – perhaps one day I will retell his story.

 

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Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver

Part 6 The Gallant Lady

 

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.”

 “No, you cannot, it is impossible!”

“Captain Braithwaite, you should have learned by now that there is no point in using those words to me.” She smiled and continued, “I grew up in Cornwall, and I was taught to swim as a child. I have swum across the cove by my father’s house underwater and that is more than twenty four feet across. Now can you help me get out of this dress?” She grimaced slightly, “One day someone will invent a costume for swimming in, but at the moment there is nothing, and that it what I will have to wear.”

Reluctantly he helped her as she dropped into the water and pulled the dress up over her head. She dipped her head under and vanished for a few moments, then she reappeared.

“You are right, there is a baulk of timber on the side of the Bell. It has two copper bolts sticking out if it which will make a good grip for the grapnel. Goodbye.” She took a deep breath and vanished.

Looking out of the porthole he had a glimpse of her pale shape as she kicked hard upwards. He then sat by the unconscious man and shook his head.

“Impossible, she is Impossible.”

A Regency lady swimming

Charlotte opened her eyes as she ducked her head underwater, it stung for a moment but she could see clearly. It was darker than the Cornish coves where she had learned to swim, and dive, as a child. But she felt no fear. The surface didn’t seem so far away and the ropes, leading from the Bell to the Endeavour, made an easy pathway to follow upwards. She kicked up and swum strongly towards the light. As she near the boat her chest hurt, it was as though the air inside her lungs was expanding, for a moment she was shocked, then breathed out a little and felt better. Bubbles trickling from her mouth she broke the surface a few yards from the raft. She took a deep breath, the air here was colder than that in the Bell, much less stuffy.

No one saw her rise, so she swum the few yards to the side of the ship and shouted. Faces appeared over the gunwale, including Susan.

“Madam – are you all right?” she shouted.

“Yes girl, now get the Young Captain.”

She didn’t need to as a few seconds later young John Braithwaite’s face appeared over the rail.

“What has happened, is my father all right?”

“Your father is well, the other sailor has been injured. The Bell has been trapped by a fallen timber, he needs a grapnel to free it. The signal line has also been lost. So get me a grapnel and line.”

“Why, you cannot take them down, no one can do that.”

“Your father told me I couldn’t swim up with a message. You Braithwaites need to learn that I am not to be spoken to like that. Now get me the line.”

He gasped, then turned to his crew and snapped a series of orders. The thin signal line was dropped to Mrs Bennet, who wrapped it round her wrist, then the grapnel was lowered over the side.

“If you drop it there, will that take it to the north side of the Bell?” She called.

“Should do Mam” Shouted the sailor. “We will let it down nice and gentle like.”

“No.” She called, “Count to three and let it down fast, I am going with it.”

“Oh Madam.” Screamed Susan, “Please don’t go.”

“On three then.” Called the young captain and began to count. “One – Two – Three.”

Charlotte Bennet had been breathing deeply, on two she grabbed hold of the line just above the grapnel, on three the hook was released, there was a pale flash as she twisted in the water, and vanished.

Susan stopped screaming and looked straight down.

“I hope your lady will be safe miss.” Said the sailor standing beside her, suddenly Susan felt calm, she knew her mistress was amazing, now she knew she could do anything.

“Oh yes, I remember before she was married she loved to swim in the coves near her father’s house, she could always swim well.” She paused, and started a legend. “My grandmother said that one of her ancestors had married a mermaid.”

The sailor nodded, soon the rumour had spread and the crew were confident, waiting for the order to hoist. If their captain was being rescued by a mermaid then all would be well.

A Dorset Mermaid

A Dorset Mermaid

Below them, Charlotte Bennet was less confident, she had felt her lungs expand as she had risen, now they were being squashed, it hurt, worse than anything she had ever felt. Her eyes were painful now, she knew that if it didn’t stop in the next few seconds she would faint. Her cousin was prone to faint, usually in a drawing room with a comfortable sofa to fall on, not at the bottom of the sea with a wrecked ship to lie in. She wondered, why was she was thinking like this? Her lungs were in agony now, but she could see the Bell, she released the grapnel and with her last strength dipped under the rim and up, into the stuffy, but wonderful, air.

Captain Braithwaite bent and grabbed her shoulders, he would have lifted her up onto the bench, but she shook him off, panting she handed him the signal line.

“In a moment I will go outside again and make sure the grapnel is on the timber, then I will return. Your first signal to hoist will be to lift the timber, then as soon as you think the Bell can be freed you are to give the second signal. And up we will go.”

He took the line and was about to say something, when she took a breath and dipped under the water again. She was surprised to find it was harder this time than it had been before, her chest hurt, her head hurt and flashing lights kept distracting her. She knew where to go and swum round the Bell to the timber that was trapping them. Thankfully the grapnel was almost in the right pace. It seemed heavier than it had before as she pulled it over to the timber, she didn’t think she could do it, she was about to return to the Bell when it suddenly slipped, a hook caught under the timber, just by the bolt. She didn’t even look back at as she swam gratefully back to the Bell. She hung onto the edge gasping for air, Captain Braithwaite bent and gently pulled her up, she smiled and grabbed her dress then slipped it over her shoulders.

“There I’m decent now, try the line.”

She sat back and suddenly felt very tired, she wanted to sleep but knew she shouldn’t. She watched as the Captain gave a gentle pull on the line to tighten it, then gave three sharp tugs. He held it firmly and then, with relief, felt the answering pulls.

 

Above, John Braithwaite felt relief at the tugs. He shouted to the men on the grapnel line.

“Haul away, gently now.”

The men pulled, the weight they felt on the end of the line indicating that they were pulling on the timber.

Below, the Bell tipped upright as the timber slid to one side. The Captain watched through the porthole until he saw it was clear, then gave another three tugs. Almost immediately they felt the Bell move, there was a terrible scraping noise on one side as the timber slid off the Bell, then there was silence, looking down Charlotte saw the wreck drift away. They were rising quickly now, back to the surface, air and safety.

 

To be continued

 

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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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Mrs Bennet – The First Female Diver

Part 4 Persuading Captain Braithwaite

The Nothe, a few years after Mrs Bennet’s visit

A week after her visit to the Abergavenny Store Mrs Bennet left her lodgings in the Circus and made her usual promenade along the harbour side, over the bridge across the harbour and then up and along the Nothe. She was well known by now, and the sailors in the lookout had chairs waiting for both her and her maid. She sat and, taking her telescope, looked down on the familiar scene. The Endeavour had been moved slightly, so that the Bell could be lowered onto a different part of the wreck. Today, however, it didn’t look as if the Bell would be lowered at all, the men were working on different parts of the vessel. Captain Braithwaite was talking to two men beside the Bell when he suddenly turned and looked up at the Nothe, Mrs Bennet had the oddest feeling he was looking straight at her.

A few minutes later he could be seen being rowed back towards the shore, Charlotte watched the boat as it approached the harbour entrance then it disappeared beneath the slope of the Nothe. She waited and wasn’t surprised when Captain Braithwaite came striding up the slope. He walked straight to her and touched his hat.

“Mrs Bennet.”

Charlotte rose, “Captain Braithwaite.” She replied.

“A fine glass.” He said, looking down at her telescope, clearly wishing to avoid the subject he had come to talk about.

“It belonged to my husband.” She replied, “And I will be taking it to Lyme where my Brother in Law lives. His son has just been promoted lieutenant on the Swallow, I am going to give it to him. From one brave sailor to another.”

Telescope - 1814 v12 Ackermann's fashion plate 14 - Morning Dress

Captain Braithwaite took a deep breath.

“I don’t usually take people down in the Bell.” He said quickly.

She looked up at him.

“I heard you took down Captain Darcy last month.”

“He is a Royal Engineer, who was working on the Cobb at Lyme. He wanted to see what the Bell could do. It could be useful to him in repairing harbour works.”

“I see, he was a potential customer.” She paused, “So you would take down someone who was interested in using the Bell.” He nodded.

“But what about someone who wanted to invest in the Bell?”

“But no one wants to invest in the Bell.”

“My husband did.” She looked straight at him. “Tell me truthfully, if my husband had wanted to go down in the Bell, would you have taken him?”

“But that would be have been different.”

“Because I am a woman?” She looked angrily at him. “Let me tell you Captain Braithwaite I have sailed the Channel and North Sea with my father and husband. I can shoot the sun and set a course, I am as much a sailor as half the men on your boat.”

“I know that, but I have never …” He suddenly paused. “But you are right, why not?” He turned and looked straight at her.

“Mrs Bennet would you like to descend in the Diving Bell?”

“Of course.” She looked at him in surprise.

He turned to look at the Endeavour.

“As you will have seen, we have been moving the vessel so we can dive on another part of the wreck. We will need to spend tomorrow making certain we are in exactly the right place. So if it is convenient you can descend the day after tomorrow.”

She smiled up at him. Dropped a slight curtsey and replied.

“Thank you sir, that would be most convenient.”

DivingBellDrawing-640x544

The morning was bright and clear, Charlotte looked out of her window then stepped back in shock. There was a crowd on the pavement watching her house. Susan came in with the tea tray.

“Susan, did you say anything to anybody about what I am doing today?”

“I might have mentioned it to Mrs Smith or their man John.”

“Look outside.” She did so and gasped.

“Do you think that they are ..?’

“Waiting for me, yes.”

“I am so sorry Madam.”

It can’t be helped, now help me dress.”

She put on a bathing dress instead of a shift, then covered it with an old walking dress and a plain brown pelisse. She made certain that Susan had a complete change of clothes for her in her bag, then put on her bonnet and opened the front door. There was a cheer from the crowd, as she climbed into the chaise, she was glad now that she had ordered one, it would have been dreadful trying to walk to the quay through the mass of people all trying to look at her.

The crowd meant that it took several minutes to cover the short distance to the harbour side, here Captain Braithwaite was waiting, he handed her from the chaise and led her to the narrow gangway leading down to the small boat. She sat in the stern as the six rowers pulled hard, they rapidly ran down the harbour then out into the bay. It didn’t take long before they were approaching the Endeavour, as they moved in she saw the Diving Bell close for the first time. It was made of timber, painted thickly in tar to keep it watertight. Several tiny glass discs were fitted in the side, these were clearly glazed portholes for looking out. Seeing the machine she felt nervous for the first time, what was she doing?

 

To be continued

 

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Filed under Historical tales, Regency