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Wonders of the Deep: The Williamson Submarine Expedition, Part 2 of the Birth of an Idea, with reference to explorers Robert E. Pearl, Robert F. Scott and Roald Amundsen. Includes details of deep sea diving equipment patented by Charles Williamson.

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The Birth of An Idea (continued)

About the time that Commander Robert E. Peary was engaged in an endeavour to reach the North Pole, and Captain Robert F. Scott was seeking to wrest from Nature some of the hidden secrets of the South Polar regions, two young men, hardly out of their teens, were labouring in the back-yard of their home in Norfolk, Virginia, over a peculiar invention, with the aid of which they hoped to explore the bottom of the ocean, and thus add to our knowledge of submarine life at those depths. Their names were Ernest and George Williamson, the brave and fearless sons of Captain Charles Williamson, one of the smartest skippers that ever sailed before the mast, and to whom, as we shall see, they really owed their success.

Diving chamber, with arm holes, invented by Capt. Williamson to facilitate the removal of objects from the bed of the ocean

Captain Charles Williamson possessed an inventive faculty, and he was never happier than when endeavouring to work out certain suggestions and ideas that presented themselves to his mind from time to time. Several of his inventions proved very successful, not only in themselves, but also from a financial standpoint. During one of his trips he invented a folding baby-carriage, which is now used by many thousands of children all over the world, and from which he continues to draw a royalty. On another occasion he constructed a rotating lamp shade, operated by the heat of the lamp acting upon a little turbine over the chimney, and designed to show pleasing transparencies. He also evolved an amusing and instructive aerial golf game, which is played on a red and white sheet stretched beneath the ceiling, the balls being small balloons driven into pockets in the sheet by means of cork tipped sticks. But perhaps one of his most useful inventions was his system of code signalling between vessels at sea, by the use of certain recognised coloured lights.

A few years ago the ship that was being navigated by Captain Charles Williamson encountered, off Cape Hatteras, an exceptionally heavy gale, which had the effect of straining the side seams of the vessel near the water-line. With every roll of the vessel the water rushed like a torrent through the gaps that had been made, and Captain Williamson was not slow to see that if his ship was to be saved the seams must be closed, and that without any further delay. Here, fortunately, his inventive genius came to his aid. He had himself lowered over the side of the ship in a long canvas bag fitted with legs, like a breeches buoy, and sleeves, and provided with a glass window to enable him to look through.

Nothing like this had ever been used before, but it answered very well for the purpose in hand. The canvas tube protected the occupant from the furious waves which dashed against the vessel, and the sleeves secured freedom for his arms, and enabled him to carry out the caulking of the seams, and thus save his vessel from otherwise certain disaster.

It seems truly remarkable that the simple and unique contrivance which had been utilised for caulking the gaping sides of the storm tossed vessel should have suggested a method of developing that invention still further, and should have led ultimately to the adoption of the principle for the exploration of the bottom of the ocean. From this crude and temporary canvas bag, then, was evolved the Williamson deep-sea tube that has made possible an exhaustive examination of submarine life, and the production of a remarkable film that is not only instructive and interesting to the general public, but that has also proved of the greatest value to the biologist and the zoologist.

The Williamson deep sea tube, of which a more detailed description will be given later, possesses three essential characteristics: namely, it is sufficiently large to enable a man to pass up or down inside it; it is strong enough to resist the pressure of the water at a considerable depth; and it has the merit of being thoroughly pliable and flexible.


Commander Robert E. Peary (1856-1920)

Captain Robert F. Scott (1868-1912)

Captain Charles Williamson

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