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Helmet from standard dress diving suit

Date: mid 19th-mid 20th century
Display Dimensions: 470 x 360 x 420 mm
Medium: Bronze
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Diving helmet
Object No: 00004218

User Terms

    This bronze diving helmet is part of a standard dress diving suit. The helmet has three glass masks through which the diver can see. The helmet features a collar, which clamps to the corselet of the suit and ensures its it air-tight.

    This type of helmet was widespread in the late 19th century, and was commonly used for naval and engineering diving, as well as commercial diving such as pearl shell fishing.
    SignificanceThis standard dress diving helmet is an example of the equipment used by divers in Australian waters before the development of the wet-suit, mask, fins and self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA).
    HistoryThe desire to access deeper waters saw the use of hard-hat diving suits and equipment which was developed in the 1830s by Augustus Siebe and became widespread on Australian pearl luggers and other industries in the 1880s.

    Standard dress diving equipment consisted of a waterproof suit and airtight helmet, connected by a hose to an air pump on the pearl lugger's deck. The diver wore layers of woollen garments under the suit, along with mittens and boots weighing up to 7kg each. The heavy copper helmet with a glass face was screwed onto the corselet which was supported by the padded collar of the dress. Up to 50kg of weight was strapped onto the divers back and chest. Attached to the divers belt was a knife, scabbard and rope which was used to send signals to the crew before the application of radio communication equipment.

    Air was pumped to the diver manually by men turning two large wheels. The equipment and system was problematic, as divers could not regulate their air flow and were only permitted small quantities of air. The development of the high pressure compressor in the 1900s and the Ohgushi Peerless Respirator in 1918, allowed divers to manually adjust their air flow with a valve.

    In the early days of deep water pearl diving, it was difficult to equalise the pressure inside and outside the suit, and the little-known decompression sickness known as the 'bends' claimed the lives of hundreds of divers. The introduction of the wet-suit, mask, fins and self contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) gave divers greater manoeuvrability and better air supply, and saw a decline in pearl diving fatalities. The transition to this new equipment was slow, but as diver's productivity increased the use of standard dress diving equipment by Australian pearl divers ceased in the mid 1970s.

    Additional Titles

    Web title: Helmet from standard dress diving suit

    Primary title: Diving helmet and breastplate from diving suit

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