Diver's suit and equipment

Contributed by: Jervis Bay Maritime Museum (formerly Lady Denman Heritage Complex)

Wray diver's suit display setup Bill Wray in full diving gear entering the Clyde River, Batemans Bay, 1938 Diver's underclothing - long johns worn by Tim Wray Diver's underclothing - socks worn by Tim Wray, 1952. Diver's underclothing - guernsey worn by Tim Wray, 1952. Diver's Helmet detail Deterioration of rubber Diver's dress label Label on stocking
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Object information

Significance statement

This dress and apparatus are representative of the traditional diver's equipment in use from the early 1830s until the 1960s. It is also representative of a past era in the history of oyster farming, an industry that is still important to the economy of the New South Wales South Coast.

It is unusual to have such a complete set of diver's equipment in relatively good condition and with such strong provenance covering three generations.

Author: V Hatton/ G Hinton, 1 August 2011.

Description

A full diver's outfit: helmet, dress, boots, lead weights, underclothing. Also apparatus and accessories includingsingle cylinder double-action air pump and air hose, lead weights and knife with sheath, all manufactured by Siebe Gorman & Co Ltd.

Twelve-bolt helmet with square-shaped corselet and matched twelve-bolt diver's dress and boots. Woolen guernsey, long johns and stockings.

History and Provenance

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Tim Wray, mentioned that "panic is very bad for divers". He described how, on one occasion when he descended to the river bed with a fast tide running, he was dragged around head of the support boat and feared that his air hose, which was not reinforced, might kink. He felt panicky so he he lay on the river bottom until he calmed down. To get back to the ladder he had to haul himself around using the oyster basket as a support as he could not signal with his lifeline.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

This equipment was used primarily to collect mud oysters and was also used in laying submarine cables. It was superseded by the development of the much safer and mobile scuba gear from the late 1950s onwards. Gradual improvements in methods of oyster farming during the mid-1900s replaced the need for diving to collect oysters.

Where did this information come from?

Information was supplied by the previous owner (Bill Wray) in an interview with Vera Hatton at Woden Valley Hospital, Australian Capital Territory in 1992. Mr Wray suffered from decompression sickness for many years and this eventually caused his death.

Subsequent information has been added by his wife.

This garment has been exhibited

The divers dress and equipment are on permanent display at the Lady Denman Maritime Museum. The underclothing is available for viewing by appointment and will be displayed from time to time.

  1. Place of origin:

    England

  2. Owned by:

    The Diving Suit was used in the Shoalhaven, New South Wales, almost exclusively in the Clyde River, Batemans Bay. The helmet and accessories including lead weights, air pump and hose were used by three generations of the Wray family. Tim Wray Jnr, who took over the diving from 1952 until 1959, ordered the dress underclothing and boots through catalogue from Siebe Gorman, an English company. Most of the other items, notably the helmet, were purchased and used by Tim's grandfather (Tim Snr) from Siebe Gorman in 1914 and also used by his uncle, Bill Wray, in the 1930s-40s.

  3. Worn by:

    Tim Wray Snr and Bill Wray (helmet only), Tim Wray Jnr (full suit).

  4. Place:

    Used in Shoalhaven River, New South Wales

  5. Designed by:

    Siebe Gorman

  6. Made by:

    Siebe Gorman

Fibre / Weave

Suit:

heavy - medium double texture oak bark tanned twill with smooth red square-shaped vulcanised Indian rubber at collar and around wrists

Underclothing:

guernsey, heavy hand knitted natural wool;

pants, heavy machine knitted natural wool;

stockings machine knitted natural wool.

Helmet:

Cast gunmetal, 12 bolt with square-shaped corselet

Boots:

Two piece sole (lead and wood). Thick leather uppers and brass toe caps.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The dress is machine sewn with glued canvas strengthening patches at crutch, front of legs below knee to feet and on feet.

Underwear is hand knitted.

Label

Siebe Gorman label has separated from the dress

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Measurements

dress
Girth
Neck 320 mm
Chest 1420 mm
Waist 1440 mm
Hip 1450 mm
Cuff 210 mm
Vertical
Sleeve length 670 mm
Inside leg 730 mm
Outside leg 1470 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 125 mm
Cross back 590 mm
Underarm to underarm 820 mm
Convert to inches

Condition

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Crease
  2. Dirt
  3. Discolouration
  4. Distorted/warped
  5. Holes
  6. Stained
  7. Torn
  8. Water damage
  9. Worn

comments

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  • Joeline May 14

    I think what most impresses and interests me about this, is that it is the entire attire, not just one garment. Better still, is that usually, only the diver's helmet would be on display, but here, with the rest of the articles of clothing, you get the sense of exactly how cold and how much weight divers would have had to put up with which you would forget to think about with the helmet alone.
    The inclusion of the information about divers and panic from the original owner also adds to the amazing insight here.

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