Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The trials of an inventor - Part 2

THE TRIALS OF AN INVENTOR,
WILHELM BAUER, THE GERMAN ENGINEER.

 

Part II.

Bauer next determined, as a last resource, to try if fortune was more favourable in the north, and proceeded to Russia. His plans immediately awakened the interest of Prince Constantine, and after exhibiting his model and drawings before a marine commission, appointed by the influence of the Prince to consider them, he received orders to commence a hyponautical apparatus, to be 52 ft. long, 12 ft. 6 in. high, 11 ft. broad, to be built of iron plates ½ in. thick, supported by 3½ in. iron ribs; thus securing strength sufficient to support the weight of a column of water 150 ft. high. He consented to keep the method of construction secret, to superintend all the expenses incurred, and, when the vessel had realised his promises, to accept 20,000 rubles as his reward. The works were begun the 3rd of May, 1855. The vessel to be provided with three large and two small cylinders, the larger to contain 45,000 lbs. of water, which would immediately cause her to sink. The angle of her descent, to 49°, was determined by interior iron ballast, to be moved in a groove as required; her speed of descent, regulated by the two smaller cylinders, containing 620 lbs. of water. Bauer had found the admission of 10 lbs. only would be sufficient to sink her 1 foot in five minutes, and maintain the same rate of fall; 40 lbs. carried her 2½ ft. in one minute. Force-pumps secured the ejection of the ballast water from the cylinders, and enabled those in charge, as a greater or less quantity was thrown out, to keep the vessel at any given level. A screw worked by treadwheels moved her back or forwards, her rudder to the left or right, and a screw fixed in the centre of the keel enabled her to turn as on a pivot. Except in very thick water artificial light was rendered unnecessary by her being provided with eighteen windows. A jointed iron arm-case, with an elastic glove, enabled those within to unship the moveable ballast hung below; two other arm-cases in her head gave the means for securing the grenades; these arm-cases could all three be drawn within the vessel, though remaining hermetically fastened to her. He found means could be arranged for an explorer to leave and return to the vessel, when she had reached the bottom, without allowing any water to enter, and that the man could take with him a sufficient amount of air, without any connection with the interior. Thus the use of the hyponaut in pearl-fishing, scientific purposes, recovery of wrecks, and war operations would be much enhanced. The funds at his disposal did not, however, allow him to provide the diving chamber; and, indeed, the work was considered a merely experimental one, and he could not have carried out his proposed application of atmospheric power on so small a scale.

The great men of science at St. Petersburg had declared officially that “if Herr Bauer’s plan for submarine navigation did not succeed, they believed no other would ever solve the problem.” And now, November 2nd, 1855, the Russian admiralty entered into possession of the completed “hyponaut.” But all these last months a great entanglement of very dirty red tape had been gathering round the hands of our inventor. Prince Constantine and Baron Mangle, Minister of Marine, had in vain given all their influence to forward the work; the Admiralty had always found new hindrances in the way, and now the vessel was at last finished, the ice had set in, and there was no resource but to remove it from St. Petersburg to Cronstadt, to test its powers.

The Admiralty appointed 200 or 300 men for the purpose, but they never succeeded in getting it more than 1000 yards in a day. Behold! in the accounts submitted by his manufacturers Bauer had discovered a little error of 16,700 rubles! And instead of discreetly ignoring the national peculiarity—oh, cruel insult to the institutions of Holy Russia!—he denounced it as a fraud! Then, in his long supervision, he had exposed a hundred others of the same character. So he had raised up an army of martyrs against him, ready to go any length to avenge their wrongs.

A report was sent in to Prince Constantine (as Lord High Admiral), by the Marine Technical Department, representing the new hyponaut as “quite incapable of floating; that as soon as she touched the water she would sink to rise no more, and that every part of her mechanism was designed on incorrect principles.” The Prince inspected her, was convinced of the untruth of the accusation, and immediately gave to her inventor full power to order her plan of transport himself, placing 200 sailors and their officers under his command for the work. In twenty-four hours Bauer brought her triumphantly into Cronstadt harbour, May 26th, 1856, accomplishing a far greater distance in a day and a night than the whole Admiralty of all the Russias had managed in many months. He immediately set to work for her first experiment; took in the 45,000 lbs. of water for sinking her, and to obtain any specific gravity more easily, fixed the cast-iron ballast at various points along the vessel’s bottom. The arrangements were just concluding when Prince Constantine arrived, not a little surprised at what Bauer had done since yesterday, and heartily congratulating him on bringing “all the evil prophecies to naught.” As soon as the specific gravity with the displaced water was obtained, an additional 5 lbs. ballast immediately secured an equable descent; double that weight pumped from the vessel she would rise in the same ratio. An officer, ten sailors, and a smith went down with Bauer. He says he never saw men cross themselves with such unction as his sailors, when, after their first dip, they again got above water, crying “Staba Bochu!” (Thank God!) and meaning it too.

Daily trials at different rates of speed succeeded this first satisfactory experiment. The hyponaut’s horizontal locomotive power, both back and forward, her immobility when wished, and capability of descending either direct or at any given angle, were proved satisfactorily. Four men to work the treadwheels and pumps were found sufficient for short experiments. As the machine could contain but a small amount of air, it was not found practicable to make more than about three versts in one descent. The men were obliged to rest at intervals from the treadwheel, as sharp work under water as above, and Bauer was convinced that for deep sea investigations, it would be necessary to apply the motive power he had invented.

June 12th, 1856.—Bauer, fixing his vessel in midwater, wrote a letter of thanks to Prince Constantine, to King Max, of Bavaria (who, though unable to employ, had been interested in the invention, and assisted the inventor once with 200 florins), and a few lines to his parents. He begged his companion, Lieutenant Fedorowitch, to add his signature, but he would only do so for the first letter, declaring “the invention must be held as a state secret.”

The kindness of Prince Constantine enabled Bauer to secure the help of two learned academicians for several under-water voyages. Among many experiments they carried out, we may mention those of the 2nd July, 1856.

Bauer descended with eight sailors and a smith; as soon as the vessel was under the surface she was made to roll and pitch like an intoxicated porpoise; the exercise discontinued now and then to take observations on the temperature. Of course such “sea-legs” practice had caused an abnormal consumption of air. The temperature on earth stood at 35° Reau., and was at first 40° within the hyponaut, then gradually sunk to, and remained at, 18° or 20°. The burning power of tallow and stearine candles were tested; the first showed a diminution of light after two hours, and after four hours ten minutes went out; the flame of the wax candle began to fail at the same moment, and expired after five hours and five; minutes; the stearine held out for six hours, twenty-five minutes, and went out at last, leaving the wick quite black, quenched by the excessive moisture from the respiration. To the repeated inquiries as to “how they felt,” the sailors constantly answered, “Quite well.”

When lucifers were struck they only fizzed and sputtered, would not burn. German tinder succeeded better; for the exhausted atmosphere, hungering for oxygen, uniting with the atoms of saltpetre in the process of ignition, the tinder, instead of its usual dull glow, threw out a long bright flame, made as it were of electric sparks.

Though the eighteen windows of the hyponaut gave light enough for ordinary purposes, yet in the peaty water of Cronstadt they were insufficient to allow close inspection of the bottom at sixteen or eighteen feet. A reflecting lamp placed at one of the windows allowed an observer from another to perfectly well investigate the ground. The success of the attempt was slightly compromised by the fishes, who insisted upon swarming round the lighted windows to investigate in their turn this monstrous crustacea and its inhabitants. In such numbers came the fish sometimes, nothing but their close-packed heads could be seen behind the glass! And they followed their visitors in crowds as long as the vessel remained under water.

Bauer was not allowed to take a professional photographer with him, but mastering the art indifferently well, he actually succeeded in getting a carte de visite from the natives below. Unhappily the vessel was not maintained quite still, and the windows were badly placed for the purpose, but Bauer at least proved that the mysteries of the deep may be made to yield up their shadows to satisfy men’s curiosity. He ascertained he should be able to prolong the stay under water to any given period by furnishing his machine with; two tubes four inches in diameter communicating with the upper air, merely worked by a small force-pump within the vessel; they would indeed entirely renew its 6000 cubic feet of atmosphere in sixteen seconds.

A kind of perpetual slight shower of salt water supplied from the hold, and arranged at the stern by bringing a supply of oxygen, was found to enable the divers to remain two hours and a half longer without air from above.

The Admiralty had not been sleeping all this time: they now sent in a report to Prince Constantine, stating that “Bauer could not fasten his ventilating tubes from within, but had to send out a sailor through the hatch to fix them when already under water.” Had he done so the vessel must have been at once swamped. They followed this charge with various ingenious inventions of the same sort, till they went too far, and the Prince became suspicious,—had the report translated and sent to Bauer, who answered it in a letter of such energetic indignation and uncompromising truth, as might have caused a stroke of apoplexy to a prince of weaker nerves.

Constantine immediately consented to Bauer’s demand for a new commission of investigation. Eighteen persons, military and scientific, were appointed to it. They ate, drank, and made observations for five hours under water, isolated from the upper atmosphere, tested the vessel’s action in every way, and finding her day after day equally docile to command, they officially declared all doubts of her success entirely destroyed.

The coronation of the present Emperor, September 6th, 1856, was celebrated by Bauer and his men as no king’s or kaiser’s had ever been before. He went down with Lieutenant Fedorowitch, his sailors, and four musicians. After singing the “Native Hymn” above water, as soon as the first salute was fired down sank the hyponaut. Each baring his head, they then sang to the music, “God preserve our Emperor.” Toasts and triumph-marches followed, and loud cheers, the tranquil fish looking in all the time, wondering what new madness had seized their visitors. The trumpets sounded strangely softened, as though they were played some way outside the vessel, and the trumpeters found under water practice far easier than on terra firma. The music and cheers were heard 400 feet off on the surface.

The Commission prohibited any intelligence being sent to the Emperor or Prince of these novel celebrations, though the latter had left orders that all news of interest should be immediately telegraphed.

About this time, Admiral Napier arriving in Cronstadt, the authorities had the hyponaut hidden away behind a large ship whenever he came into the harbour.

Bauer had found Lieutenant Fedorowitch was in league with his enemies, and had always, when possible, contrived his absence in his voyages. But he now (October 2nd) received orders to blow up a large ship under the inspection of the new Commission, and take the Lieutenant with him. The ship had been placed in an almost unattainable position, three and a half versts from Cronstadt . Bauer started for the work with the hyponaut sinking at a considerable angle. But the Lieutenant was steering, and suddenly they found the stern fast aground in a sand-bank, and the screw tangled in weeds and rubbish. They were forty feet distant from the ship, but could neither advance nor retire. The ballast water was then pumped out, and the head immediately rose, but the stern remained fixed. Bauer began to throw off the iron ballast provided for emergencies, and at last the sand and seaweed began slowly to yield to the vessel’s efforts, and she was fast safely regaining a horizontal position, when her commander was horror-struck by a great rush of water through the hatchway: he and the men rushed to close it, and found the Lieutenant had left it open as he furtively crept out on to the head now quite above water. It was in vain to attempt to shut out the water now; the trap could not be pulled down, and Bauer and the sailors were obliged to follow the Lieutenant, and leave the hyponaut to fill and settle down.

When Prince Constantine arrived in Cronstadt an official report awaited him, representing the Lieutenant’s conduct as a performance of his duty in so saving his own valuable life. The Prince thought otherwise, and removed him from his office on the Commission, assuring Bauer he “knew no accident would have happened had not Fedorowitch been present.” The hyponaut was swamped on the 2nd October, 1856, on her 134th (!) trial under water.

Bauer now received orders to build a submarine corvette of 24 guns, with steam power for surface navigation, and his atmospheric invention to act under water. She was to be provided with sufficient air to remain six hours below water with 75 men. To be about 150 feet long, 12 feet high, and 20 feet broad. The cannons to be closed by a self-acting valve when under water, but to be fired from above the level by allowing the vessel to rise when at the right distance from the enemy. She was to be fish-shaped, and capable of rigging with sails if required; and Bauer to immediately furnish a model 16 feet long. He was appointed a salary of 130 rubles a month, with a uniform,—an important matter in Russia,—and the official title of “Submarine Engineer.”

The hyponaut was recovered again after four weeks, but parts of the machinery required repair; and, in spite of the repeated orders of the Lord High Admiral, remained uncompleted from November, 1856, till 1858.

When Bauer commenced arrangements for building the submarine corvette and model,—though Prince Constantine had given strict orders he should be supplied with everything requisite for the purpose within the estimated sum,—he was informed that he must take the whole value of that sum in equal sized metal plates, though he had applied but for a small number of various proportions. He could besides get no wages for his seven workmen, nor the necessary money for requisite castings. Had he taken the plates offered, and disposed of the surplus number, his enemies would have involved him in the tortures of a law suit. He was forced to bring the works to a close: he had no private means to carry them on, and for this delay the Admiralty stopped his salary! Again Prince Constantine came to his relief; indignantly ordered his arrears to be paid up, and his appointments in future to be on no pretence detained.

But his enemies were getting reckless, and, as a last resource, to drive him from the country in disgust, they threatened to seize his model, then almost completed. The threat had its effect. Bauer sent in his resignation of official rank and duties, and begged leave to quit the country. No notice was taken of this nor of two subsequent applications,—instead came an order for him to raise the Le Fort, a vessel which had sunk with crew and cargo.

One-sixth of the value saved he was to receive as disbursement for expense and labour. He was now paid 10,000 roubles, one-half of the stipulated sum, for the hyponaut; the other half was refused, as the vessel had not attained the speed he had anticipated. With this sum he at once went on with the model of the corvette; but could come to no arrangement with the Minister of Marine regarding the Le Fort. No one seemed to know clearly where she had foundered. Then the Government would not allow any one appointed by Bauer to meddle in the valuation of the salvage. Besides, he was now told, that the Church, having burnt so many yards of candles, and chaunted no end of prayers for the drowned men in the ship, claimed for thus settling them in the other world, to be their sole executors and legatees in this. So he must get his problematical sixth in the teeth of all the popes of Muscovy.

In the meantime he had determined on a new apparatus for raising the wreck, adopting the main principles of the hyponaut to a diving-bell; he would have given it a sinking power of 500 feet, and capability of resisting sixteen times the weight of our atmosphere,—an impossibility to the open diving-bell. The men descended in it to take down the exhausted balloons which, when securely fastened to the wreck, were to be inflated by connecting tubes from above water, and then commence their ascent, unassisted, to the surface.

The Academy of Science (St. Petersburg) gave the inventor a mighty complimentary testimonial for his last application of atmospheric power; and, in fact, Bauer did not want for compliments, but an honest man thoroughly in earnest and determined to do his work, finds but poor comfort in them for intrigue, corruption, and falsehood awaiting his every step.

He could not proceed with the corvette—it was hopeless to attempt the Le Fort. He had escaped his civil and military enemies; but if the Church joined them, what hope had he?

He was offered the honorary rank of major, but he had not laboured and thought all these years to be paid with a tag of gold lace; and feeling he was too powerless, despite the generous aid of the Imperial Prince, to contend against the full strength of “system,” he obtained leave to return to his fatherland.

When he would have entered the army in Bavaria, he was informed he could not be admitted in any higher rank than that of sergeant! And this he declined.

Some time after he was engaged to raise a sunken steamer in the Lake Constance. He succeeded in raising her, though from very deep water, but his machinery, instead of the prepared linen and india-rubber balloons he had designed for the Le Fort, was now represented by small beer-barrels, which burst as they rose with their burden to the surface. Indeed, the funds placed at his disposal had been miserably insufficient, and obliged him to have recourse to this expedient. Had a vessel been near, the wreck might still have been saved; but before one could be brought it had sunk again.

We must not suppose Bauer’s whole ingenuity was occupied in the works we have particularised. The failure of the great Atlantic Telegraph especially directed his thoughts to some means for carrying out its objects with greater success. His plan would have hung the wire in mid-water, saving it from excessive pressure and any abrasion from the bottom, and held in its position by air-suspendants. He thought greater firmness would be given to the coil by applying a coating of mixed caoutchouc and gutta-percha to the wire, when heated, to prevent peeling by closer amalgamation, and by an increased firmness, diminishing the evils of friction.

He designed folding-boats for easy stowage on ship board, to be always ready for immediate use; these boats to be provided with compass and rudder, and furnished with a screw. The material to be employed for them remains their inventor’s secret, until a company, with a capital of 40,000 to 50,000 thalers undertakes to adopt the invention after he has proved to them its success.

As almost every mechanician has had his dream of aerial navigation, we cannot be surprised to find the designer of the hyponaut planned a machine to make us alike independent of land and water travel; but we must pass from this, the poetry of air-pumps and levers, to the stern prose to an invention, the prototypes of which furnish rhetoric to the “Times,” and subject of discourse of every one.

Here we will give Wilhelm Bauer’s own words: we quote from a private letter written from Lindau, Nov., 1859:

From observations I have made in England, France, and Russia, I would construct revolving batteries, which should unite all the principal advantages of floating and land defences, without, I believe, the disadvantages of the latter. Here I can give you but a rough sketch of my idea. I would have an iron, shot-proof, revolving battery, with from nine to twenty-four guns, anchored close to the shore, where the hull, scarce rising above water, would offer no mark to the enemy’s fire. For inland fortifications, these batteries, requiring as they would, no great depth of water, could be placed, in any given number, in moats, surrounding an inner citadel, which would supply room for stores and shelter for the men when required. * * *

In a subsequent letter from Berlin, Jan., 1860, he mentions having submitted this plan to Prince Adalbat of Prussia (head of the Marine Department), who, with other technical men who had considered it, expressed the highest approval of its principle.

That ultimate success will reward Wilhelm Bauer, we may yet hope. The press throughout Germany is at last energetically advocating his claims to the respect and attention of his countrymen. Meetings have been held, and societies are forming to carry out his ideas with all the necessary means to their full realisation.

With this augury for better days awaiting him, we must conclude our faint outline of an inventor’s trials. Time alone can verify the worth of his thoughts and endeavours. Had he had a more liberal education, or a kindlier vantage-ground for his start in life, than that given in the ranks of an army to scientific talent, he might have been spared some of the cramping hindrances of poverty and bitterness of delayed hope.

He appeared poor, an adventurer, before high official dignitaries too ready at any word of innovation to protect their routine-dulled eyes with the blue spectacles of mistrust, before venturing to look on the unhallowed thing.