'The floor of Plymouth Sound, so far as I have traversed it, and I believe at one time or the other I have boon over nearly the whole, is, beyond the margin of the rooks that fringe its shores, in nearly every direction a fair unbroken flat of mud where the still or eddy waters prevail, and sand wherever the current runs too strong to allow any sediment to fall; the sea plants growing only where the rocks afford them a holding, one can walk about without let Or hindrance if equipped for the journey, and a very interesting walk it is when the water is clear and the tide not running too fast; but a most unpleasant task when the water is muddy and deep, and your search is prosecuted in a darkness that you can literally feel, and the sensation a thing of indescribable strangeness as you emerge slowly out of the thick darkness, and catch faintly a lessening of the black shadow rather than an increase of light, assuming a very gradual and nearly imper­ceptible change as you get step by step nearer to the blessed daylight, and the companionship of the men who for some hours have held your life in their hands. Held your life in their hands? Yes, actually had your existence at their mercy as well as your comfort, and that reminds me that as yet you do not know how I am able to tell you what I know about the bottom of Plymouth Sound. I ought to have started by telling you that I follow the business of a diver, not a mere jumper off rocks or boats, who persistently swims to the bottom in ten or twelve feet of water, bringing up a bit of wood or stone to show that he has been as far as he could go, but one who goes with a set purpose to earn his living at the bottom of the sea in finding lost goods, overhauling ships' bottoms that may have come inconveniently near the earth, and not improved thereby, preparing the foundations of docks, forts, and breakwaters, or seeking for dead ships or dead men, and bringing them within reach of those who desire either for profit or for affections sake to become possessed of them once more. And how do I get there? Well, sometimes in a diving bell, and sometimes in a diving dress, according to the nature of the work I want to do. When I go to bore holes in rocks, or clear away stones or silt, then I am sent down in a bell; but no bell you ever saw can give you a notion of what a diving bell is like, so to make myself understood by you, good reader, let me try to describe the instrument of torture devised and used by unfortu­nates who are glad to seek their living, where few men care to go if they can help it. Just imagine then, if you can, a great square box made of iron, six inches thick, having no bottom, about nine feet in length, six feet high by three or four broad, fitted at the top with six or eight little round glasses set in metal frames, and covered by metal bars crossing each other to protect them, a strong eye in the centre of the top to sling the weighty monster, which is provided with a flexible water-tight tube attached to an air pump, and you have a vision of a diving bell weighing some four or five tons; and fancy yourself getting inside that iron prison ere it is lowered, and being let down slowly to the bottom of the sea, your head cracking and groaning under the pressure of the air that keeps out the sea that hisses and spits in its anger all around the bottom edge of the bell, bubbling and fighting in its resentment at being thus thrust out of its own rightful dominion, sometimes gaining a few inches anon driven back again, and you can form some notion, but a very faint one of what going down in a diving bell is like, and if you bled at nose and ears under the strain how you would like it. Presuming you know as little about the diving dress as you do about the bell, and may like to know a little about that fashionable article in a diver's economy, let me try to bring before your mind's eye that very useful, if not particularly charming article of attire ; fancy, if you can, the skin of a man all in one piece, wanting his head and hands, and you have the dress before you, then creep into that skin feet foremost through the hole where the neck joins on to shoulders, and that being accomplished your nearest friend covers your head with a gigantic brass caricature of a man's head without nose or mouth, and furnished with four great glass eyes that in its strange ugliness reminds you of certain imps that made you shudder when young on beholding them in bogie books, or bogie pictures or pantomimes, kindly adding to each shoulder a piece of lead of 25lbs. weight, and putting on to complete your toilette a pair of leaden shoes of 141bs. each shoe, and you are ready to defy the power of Neptune's self to keep you from penetrating some of the secrets of his great enamel house, or drown you so long as your friends take care to keep you well provided with fresh air, and the tube keeps straight and sound. Suppose you see me thus equipped, and all being ready, over the side of the boat I go, down a ladder of no great length suspended therefrom, and then slowly slide down by a rope to the bottom, for a diver dare not do anything in a hurry. Thus having reached the floor beneath the sea I proceed steadily to work, and should the sea be smooth and light good, get on famously in my watery way, slinging chains around sunken ships and their belongings, seeking for treasures lost, or doing any work that may fall in my way to do, and very unpleasant is my work at times, and especially bad, now and then, with the possibility always present of terminating your work and your life at once. Of course, I in common with all who follow my profession, have been in imminent danger of being cut off from continuing that employment, or for that matter any other. Once when I lost one of my shoes, and had no end of trouble to keep upright the unweighted leg, insisting on tossing itself up in the water, and trying to reach the surface without any consideration for the rest of my body, trying my strength to keep said leg from rising above my head, and forcing me to seek the surface in quest of a new shoe, it being impossible to stoop sufficiently low to pick up the lost one that lay almost within my reach. Once when exploring the cabin of a ship my tube became jammed and twisted in some moveable wreckage. That nearly settled me; and once I feared I was a prisoner for life and death also, when my foot slipped into a hole, and could not be gotten out again until I had sacrificed one leaden shoe and torn my dress. In the frantic effort I was forced to make ere I obtained my liberty, of course, the dress being torn made it very awkward for me, the water finding its way in, in a most alarming manner, and I was pulled up just in time to save me from drowning. To be sure, these accidents are not frequent, if they were, the race of divers would soon become as extinct as the Dodo ; but to counterbalance the discomforts and dangers, there are some compensating pleasures, as I suppose there are in all men's lives, more or less, for instance, when one is surrounded by the numberless inhabitants of the great sea, and has a little leisure to look around and above him, standing say, waist deep, in sea plants, waving in graceful undulations as far as one can see in every direction, tinted with gorgeous or sombre colours, setting each other off to the best advantage in the most charming, changing manner, heightened by the strange sea haze that throws a glamour of fantastic light on everything near and far, and giving an air of unreal exaggeration to them all; standing thus and watching the countless living things all busy in getting the means of life, the majority, I am sorry to say, unceasingly engaged in attempting to seize and gobble up some other living thing for dinner, dinners that seem to me to last all day, and with some of them all night as well; for I do believe that of all the greedy, unsatisfied things that live, fish surely carry off the palm, and one day, if I have space and time, 1 will tell you, good reader, of a great many of the wicked deeds I have seen beneath the waves of Plymouth Sound. Possibly some future day, if I escape the perils of the deep, I may tell you some tales about their lives that may prove as interesting to you as they have been to me, but my space being limited, I defer at present with the exception of assuring you that none have hitherto in any way sought to injure or attack me, the snake-like conger, the voracious dogfish, or the flapping skates, giving a diver as wide a berth as they can, disappearing with marvellous celerity as soon as he puts in an appearance; only some of the smaller kinds seem to have any curiosity in their fishy brains, and swim around and about him with open mouth and glassy-looking eyes of wonderment, sometimes singly, and sometimes in shoals, as if trying to understand what their strange intruder may be wanting, and flying like a flock of frightened birds at any movement made in their direction, returning again and again to satisfy their curiosity, until some of their natural enemies heave in sight when they disappear in a hurry, and the diver sees them no more.

It seems to me, that despite the constant worry and danger surround­ing the denizens of the deep, their spirits are not depressed or their happiness thereby marred. Much fun, in a fishy way, for ever going on between the intervals of a war that seems chronic and un-ending; for instance, a school of brit suddenly scared by a hungry and savage mackerel (and a mackerel is a very savage fellow), dart and fly in every direction, but the moment the danger has passed, all who have escaped the monster's teeth gather in conclave again, and their sportive games go on as merrily as though no mackerel ever lived to vex the mind or body of a brit. But there are unpleasant things about the floor of Plymouth Sound, as well as pretty, strange, or interesting ones, frag­ments of worn-out, wrecked, lost, or forgotten things, from the many ships that come into the Sound for various purposes, telling in their suggestive way of human action and human loss, where living man is never seen, save when duty calls him to recover what men will not willingly lose. And there the diver sometimes sees an unsightly thing that he carefully and reverently sends to the surface, on receipt of which he and his mates suspend work for that day and the next, when they attend the inquest on the disfigured and sometimes dismembered some­thing unpleasant to look upon ; and with the relation of what once occurred to me, I shall end this sketch for this year's Annual.

Some years since I and my mates were working very near the great Breakwater that rises up in the middle of the Sound, and stretches i almost a mile in length across it; one poor fellow was hauling on a warp, when he slipped and went overboard, striking his head in falling against the gunwhale of the boat, and sinking rapidly as a stone J lost no time, you may be sure, in descending to his aid or rescue, but to my astonishment and dismay could see no sign of him, spite of my hunting in every direction until it became too dark to see anything, and we were forced to come home without our friend dead or living and had to break the news to his expectant and anxious wife. That was a most unpleasant duty, and I see before me, and I suppose I ever shall see, when I think or speak about the matter, the fearful expression of hopeless despair on that poor woman's face as she fell fainting beneath the blow we were unwillingly forced to inflict. Again and again we went, but failed to find our lost friend, and con­cluded the current must have carried him off to sea, and never thought we should behold him any more But unexpected things happen under water as well as above, and this was one of them. Some five weeks had slipped away since his loss when I had a job to recover an anchor and chain dropped by a ship very near the spot where we knew our dead friend had disappeared, and who by that time was little less than a memory to us. Accordingly I went down, giving him a regretful thought as I looked around before proceeding with my work, but nothing met my eye that indicated his whereabouts, and I set to completing my preparation for slinging the recovered chair. That accomplished, I sat down on a rock for rest before going to the surface, when I caught sight of a rope fastened to the end of the chain we were about to raise. Now rope if worn out, is worth something, and if good and sound a great deal, so you may believe I was no way loath to add it to my day's earnings, and began hauling it toward me: but ere I had got a couple of fathoms clear, I found the free end brought up in something that prevented it being dislodged, and I was forced to follow it up in order to clear or cut it; guiding myself by it in and out between the great stones that have from time to time washed over the Breakwater when the stormy winds have vexed the silent sea ; suddenly I struck my foot against something, that I saw on examination was a man's boot pro­truding from a hollow between two great stones, so over-grown with weeds that I could distinguish nothing but the boot. Then I cut away the tangled mass, and loosened the dead man, who rose from the bonds that had held him, and stood confronting me with outstretched arms and stared me full in the face ; the act was so sudden and unlooked for. that for a moment 1 was quite unnerved, and started back in terror when I saw our late companion swaying to and fro in a hideous mockery of welcome. When the sudden fright that had so upset me passed away, I found he was held last by the feet in the tangled weeds, from which I soon released him, and he shot upward like a cork, and rose in all its buoyant ghastliness close to the boat. '1 hen we deserted chain and rope as soon as we had buoyed them, and towed our dead friend into shore, where an inquest and funeral boon followed, at both of which I assisted, and thought when I saw him consigned to the dull, silent, pit in the cemetery, that it had been better to have left him to dissolve in the great watery grave had so unintentionally tenanted in Plymouth Sound.'

Doidges Western Counties Illustrated Annual 1881

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