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John William Heinke

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John William Heinke (1816-1870) an engineer in diving equipment

1816 Born, son of Gotthilf Frederick Heinke, brother of Charles Edwin Heinke

1861 John W Heinke 45, submarine engineer, lived in Regents Park with Louisa Heinke 43, Fred Will Heinke 9, Florence Heinke 7, Edwin Henry Heinke 3[1]

c.1870 A book entitled "A History of Diving" based on his research,with notes by his son Frederick and W. G. Davis was published posthumously; it was reprinted in at least 2 more editions[2]



1871 Obituary [3]

MR. JOHN WILLIAM HEINKE was born in London in 1816.

His father, who was of Polish extraction, came to England after the conquest of Poland, and commenced business as a coppersmith, in which he was assisted by his son as soon as he was old enough to enter business.

About 1845, in conjunction with his brother and father, he turned his attention to submarine engineering. Diving apparatus was at that time little understood, and not much used, but he saw that, properly applied, it would prove a valuable addition to an engineer’s plant. The apparatus then in vogue was of very crude construction, and accidents were of frequent occurrence, so that there was a natural prejudice against the use of these machines, which had to be overcome. By the introduction of a valve, and other improvements in the helmet, dress, and air-pump, the diver was enabled to work under water with perfect ease and safety.

It was, however, some time before he was able to command a sale for the apparatus ; but by dint of great perseverance he established the business, and the apparatus obtained a first class prize medal at the International Exhibition of 1851.

In 1855 he made some trials with the apparatus at Paris, and again obtained a first class prize medal at the Exhibition. Here he had an interview with Prince Napoleon, who presided at a trial competition between three English and two French diving machines, when Heinke’s was unanimously pronounced the best, both by the judges and by the competitors themselves, which led to a large business with France.

Soon after the Crimean War was terminated, he went to St. Petersburg, to arrange with the Russian Government for the removal by divers of the vessels sunk at the mouth of the Barbour of Sebastopol during hostilities. Mr. Heinke saw the Grand Duke Constantine on the subject, and having made the necessary arrangements, the vessels were blown up, and all impediments to navigation removed.

In 1858 he went out for Lloyd‘s to the Zuyder Zee, off Terschelling, to report upon the wreck of the ‘Lutine’ frigate, which was wrecked about seventy years ago, with between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000 in gold on board. Here he very nearly lost his life, whilst out in a small boat during a storm. In his opinion the treasure was not recoverable, as although the top of the ribs of the vessel were just visible above the sand, the body was embedded in a quicksand, which would have rendered it a matter of extreme difficulty to get at the hold, even had the diver been able to work uninterruptedly, which at the time was rendered impossible by the rough weather. On this report, the idea was abandoned ; and a Dutch company, which was formed about the same time, with a similar object, also gave it up.

On returning to England, he continued the business of a submarine engineer - a branch of the profession - that was daily growing in importance. One curious instance of the use of the diving apparatus was given by him some time after this. When the famous watch robbery took place at the Messrs. Walker's, in Cornhill, a woman, who was known to be concerned in the burglary, being hotly pursued by the police, threw a number of watches over Blackfriars bridge into the Thames. The police consulted Mr. Heinke as to the possibility of their recovery, and he succeeded in obtaining ten of them.

He also executed many other works and contracts by means of the diving apparatus, previously considered impossible.

About the end of the year 1868, he was attacked by congestion of the liver, and never rallied, the disease being augmented by great mental anxiety.

One of his last works was the sinking of a brickwork cylinder at Battisfield colliery, near Chester ; but the work did not go on satisfactorily, as he was prevented by ill-health from attending to it personally.

Mr. Heinke was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 2nd of December, 1856 ; having in the previous March contributed a Paper "On Improvements in Diving Dresses and other Apparatus for working under Water," for which he received a Council premium in books. Subsequently, on one occasion, he spoke in reference to the same subject, as carried out at the Dover breakwater.

It was often said by him that submarine engineering was quite in its infancy. He died on the 12th of April, 1870, aged fifty-four years, deeply regretted by all who knew him. He was much esteemed for his integrity, kindness, and benevolence.


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