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18th Century Digressions, Manufacturing & Industry, Military & Naval 1 Comment »

F. C. Daniel's Life Preserver'A droll and not indecent sight'

In the autumn of 1764, an experiment was conducted at London Bridge to test the efficacy of the Patent Air Jacket; one tester was a woman in a mob cap with red ribbons, the other was a man eating bread and cheese and firing a pistol, obviously testing the efficiency of the air jacket in cases of drowning whilst eating a cheese 'sandwich' and firing a gun scenario. According to one eyewitness, "it was a droll and not indecent sight, they all being dressed in flannel shifts and linen breeches".
   During the previous Spring, William Cobb a cordwainer from St Swithin's Lane, Cannon Street had submitted his patent for a 'Method of making an Air Jacket and proper Shoes for Swimming', explaining:

 'The jackets are made of calves, neat, or sheeps leather, or any thing pliable that will hold air, cut in the form of a short jacket without sleeves, with pieces sewed on the outsides and back bigger than the insides or back to hang loose and hollow, to contain a sufficient quantity of air blowed through a bag or receptacle, with a pipe fixed to it to convey the air into the receptacle, which receptacle is fastened on to one of the loose sides to convey the air into the loose sides and back, by means of a communication from one part of the jacket to the other. The jacket to be buttoned before, button-holes round the skirts to be buttoned or fastened to the waistband of the breeches. The upper strap of the receptacle to be buttoned to the upper button of the jacket, and the lowest strap to the nearest lower button it comes to. Then hold the pipe with your teeth and blow into the receptacle till the jacket is filled with air, stop the pipe with the cork, then use it in swimmng.
'The shoes are made with pieces of wood cut in the form of a sole of a shoe, and hinges screwed on to the wood with joints covered with leather, fastened on to common shoes, to open and shut in swimming like a swan's foot'.

   Surprisingly, the shoes never caught on. However, in 1808 The Repertory of Arts published a description of Mr F. C. Daniel's 'Life-Preserver' (see illustration above), for which Daniel won a Gold Medal from the Society of Arts. The Repertory of Arts describes the two inventions as 'similar', but did Mr Daniel borrow from William Cobb? Daniel certainly had many advocates for his invention, there were testimonies from happy nautical folk thankful for a contraption that resembled an instrument of torture or an unwieldy chastity belt. John Dickenson of Norwich was a gentleman grateful for its assistance during a boat trip:
   "I went from the city of Norwich, in a pleasure-boat that I keep for the amusement of sailing, in company with a gentleman and two ladies… we set sail about four o'clock, it being moon-light during the night; and fortunately procured, in case of accident (the wind blowing hard at South-east) one of your life-preservers… [At] the extremity of a broad water, two miles over, known by the name of Braydon, a sudden gust overset the boat, precipitating myself, companion, and two ladies, into as agitated a water as I have ever seen at sea… The gentleman, whose name is Goring, was inexpert at swimming, and with difficulty kept himself up, till I reached him; and then directing him to lay hold of the collar of my coat, over which the machine was fixed, I proceeded toward the ladies, whose clothes kept them bouyant, but in a state of fainting when I reached them [naturally, they were women]: then taking one of the ladies under each arm, with Mr Goring hanging from the collar of the coat, the violence of the wind drifted us on shore upon Burgh Marshes, where the boat had already been thrown, with what belonged to her. We got the assistance of some countrymen directly, (after taking refreshment at a marsh farmer's house, where we were procured some dry clothing for the ladies, who were now pretty well recovered,) and by their endeavours put the boat in sailing trim, and prosecuted our voyage to Norwich, which we effected by eleven o'clock that night".

   It seems apparent from Mr Dickenson's account, that the ladies concerned did not require the use of Mr Daniel's marvellous invention thanks to their voluminous petticoats and bouyant stays, if only they could have just stopped fainting!

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