tethered to 28 attendants

Charles William Beebe (1877-1962) was an adventurous man.


“In 1925 he cruised to the Galapagos Islands. Before setting off, he bought a large copper helmet with two oblique windows at the front, and a rubber garden hose to carry air from a small car tyre hand pump to the helmet. Entranced by what he saw beneath the surface of the ocean, he discussed the notion of a deep-sea chamber with fellow naturalist Theodore Roosevelt.


When he published plans in the New York Times, he was contacted by engineer Otis Barton who had designed and built with his own money, a large metal bathysphere at a cost of $12,000.  The bathysphere needed 28 attendants on the surface ship to tend to it and manage communications.


A 14 inch wide hatch led to a metal cell that was only four and a half feet across. On a three hour dive, literally at the very end of their tether, Beebe and Barton reached 3,028 feet.


J B S Haldane was another adventurous man interested in the problems encountered by early divers.


Haldane was a keen experimenter, willing to expose himself to danger to obtain data. One experiment involving elevated levels of oxygen saturation triggered a fit which resulted in him suffering crushed vertebrae. In his decompression chamber experiments, he and his volunteers suffered perforated eardrums, but, as Haldane stated in What is Life, “the drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment.”


Haldane’s fastest ‘dive’ was from one to seven atmospheres in 90 seconds. Rapid ascents were even more dangerous, doing so once caused one of his filled teeth to emit a high pitched scream and explode because of an air pocket that couldn’t vent fast enough.

40,000 year old tooth found here

Minor bends were commonplace. Haldane was partially paralysed in his left buttock, but considered himself fortunate that ‘it wasn’t in a more important sensory region‘. He was still diving at 71 years of age and probably would have gone on diving for longer had he not been diagnosed with a malignancy. He wrote a poem dedicated to his tumour called Cancer’s a Funny Thing:

“Tumour” skirt found here

“I wish I had the voice of Homer

To sing of rectal carcinoma,

This kills a lot more chaps, in fact,

Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked…”

“…I know that cancer often kills,

But so do cars and sleeping pills;

And it can hurt one till one sweats,

So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.

A spot of laughter, I am sure,

Often accelerates one’s cure;

So let us patients do our bit

To help the surgeons make us fit.”


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32 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Haldane was fortunate to not have been permanently bent by The Bends. My teeth are quite decorous and only emit high-pitched screams when going past the Max Brenner chocolate shop.

    • Pavlova makes my teeth scream. For more.

  2. Well, I am socially accomplished then, what else matters?

  3. Reminds me of story of the sub H. L. Hunley in USA Civil War sank 1864. Fascinating story. Re Surgeon Sage, far too often on the next day I had to ask others if I had a good time.

    • I just wiki’ed it. What an unlucky sub.

  4. Darling it’s better / Down where it’s wetter / Take it from me…

    • Now I have a calypso crap in my head…thanks

    • …how many wonders can one cavern hold…

    • The fish on the land ain’t happy …

  5. I have spent many years diving (or trying to). I have never had a tooth explode, but have had my ears crushed.

    • Oh very droll Affer

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed this post young Nursey!

    “one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment.” – now considering a little home surgery as an aid to improving my social life.

    • That made me laugh too. Must be a different sort of society than that which I am party to.

  7. It’s good to see urinators in the limelight!

  8. This was a very interesting post, Nursemyra. I love how you combine interesting facts with arcane humor.

    That last little bit by the surgeon sage could be words to live by, actually. If people completely understood that whole irony and started to live by it, Las Vegas could go out of business.

    • He’s a lot sager than some of the doctors I work with

  9. Very fortunate there are people willing to risk serious physical harm to further new ideas and improve our lives. Not so fortunate the Radium Girls who were unwittingly poisoned while painting luminous watch dials.

    • I read an article about the Radium Girls some time ago, very sad story.

  10. I have a sinking feeling

    • Do you need to be buoyed up?

  11. […] am indebted to Nurse Myra over at Gimcrack Hospital (where the nurses are pretty and the doctors are pissed) for telling me about JBS Haldane […]

  12. This is why I stay on dry land. The water doesn’t want me in it and I don’t much care for it coming into where I live either. And thus a delicate truce between the water and me is maintained.

    • Lucky you don’t live in Queensland at the moment then RF

  13. I’m surprised there isn’t an ashtray behind that cigarette holder, out of sight out of mind I guess. As for perforated eardrums, a few bands have brought me close.

    The King

    • I’ve heard that thighs around the ears are wonderful sound dampeners

  14. Always loved the idea of bathyspheres. I could probably never go in one now – the older I get the more claustrophobic I get.

    • Not for me thanks

  15. Yeah, whether you’re deep sea diving, fixing the microwave or anything else, a good rule of thumb is always if your teeth are exploding you’re doing it wrong.

  16. I can’t believe how brave people are. If I stubbed my toe diving, I’d be out of there. If a tooth exploded…

  17. Bathysphere is what I call my big round tub with the bubble jets. And despite losing a filling, my teeth have yet to explode.

  18. What an amazing blog post.

    I don’t know what else to say. Haldane was quite a fellow, wasn’t he? Favorite quote:

    My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

  19. i got my scuba certs in order to dive the galapagos, with the hammerheads and whale sharks! bathysphr is cheating!

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