The rig, shown in drawings completed by Daniel from the written description and drawings in the patent records, was dived successfully in 1828. It seems incredible that the knowledge of it was completely forgotten for 150 years.
Daniel was carrying out research into a wreck called the Bellona when he heard in the coastal towns of northern France the name of D'Augerville, who had tried to salvage the contents of the ship using a diving apparatus he had designed. After several years of research, Daniel discovered that the inventor was not an engineer, salvage expert or diver, but a dentist from Paris called Lemaire D'Augerville. He actually lived in the street where Cousteau now has his headquarters: Rue St Honore!
Little is known about this imaginative and clever inventor, other than that he decided to try and make some money by diving on sunken ships for their contents. At that time, dives were being carried out with the use of diving bells. Helmets or hoods would be used, linked to the bell by leather hoses. Air was replenished by sending down barrels of fresh air and releasing it inside the bell (see overleaf).
The Deane brothers were diving using their half dress with adapted smoke helmets at this time, working with Augustus Siebe, who developed the standard full dress still used today. To the diving pioneers of the time Lemaire's kit must have looked space age in the extreme.
The dress consisted of a drysuit made of a type of rubberised canvas, with a lining of soft flannel ("to be warmer") which was sealed at the wrists and ankles, complete with hood. It was designed to be close fitting. It must have looked rather like the early rubber suits of the l950s. The mask was almost a full-face mask, made of copper, sealing against the face with a soft dental cement of plasticine consistency "which could be adapted for any shape of face" and enclosing the nose to prevent mask squeeze.
The cylinder was a low-pressure cylinder pumped by hand to not more than 23 bar - the limit for the pumps built at that time - and much larger than its modern equivalent at about 3ft long, with a diameter of 6in. This was attached to the diver's back with straps. Air was supplied to the diver via a tube, and flowed constantly through a lung attached to the chest. As the diver went deeper, he would operate a valve to give himself more air. As you can see from the drawings, the rig was even fitted with an independent ABLJ, with its own emergency cylinder, equipped with both an inflation valve and a dump "for ascending and descending". The weightbelt was rigged in such a way that it could be dumped very quickly by operating a lever at chest level. If the diver ran out of air, he merely dumped his weights, put his finger in the exhaust valve and breathed on the remaining air left in the lung until he got to the surface. As he would only have been diving in shallow water, this worked very well, with no known accidents.
Divers successfully used this outfit over a number of years to dive to 20-30ft for up to 30min, and reached depths of 20m on occasions. The only item missing was a pair of fins, which really would have made the rig look like a modern-day copy.
D'Augerville intended his diver to swim, and described how to obtain negative buoyancy by adjusting the air in the ABLJ. The rig was fairly heavy, weighing in at 50kg, but the diver would have been able to walk or pull himself around. A compass in a glass dome was even fitted to the front of the rig on the weight dump lever.
The equipment was extremely sophisticated for its time, and D'Augerville shows an amazing knowledge of the scientific principles he employed. Whether he was self taught or had help from someone else we shall probably never know. If it was his own creation, then he was a genius indeed, and clearly missed his vocation.
Unfortunately for Lemaire D'Augerville, his invention never caught on, and faded into obscurity, probably because of its limited depth range and use. Maybe it was just too futuristic for the divers of that era.
Daniel David is continuing with his research, and has made some exciting discoveries. He is gathering material for a book, and is an active member of the Historical Diving Society, seen exhibiting at recent dive shows and exhibitions. He continues with his research all over France. His revelations will no doubt upset one or two people who have claimed to be first with innovations which have made diving possible.