Curiosities from 150 years of The Engineer archive

Readers of The Engineer have always enriched the magazine’s letters pages with their technical suggestions and comments on the issues of the day.

April 1861 shipwreck rescue cannon

Readers of The Engineer have always enriched the magazine’s letters pages with their technical suggestions and comments on the issues of the day.

This was never truer than when one Edmund Suckow proposed a novel method for saving the victims of shipwrecks. In his missive, he proposed that all ships and boats should be equipped with mortars that could be used to fire a rope ashore that the crew could use to dangle their way back to dry land.

Suckow’s suggestion is in response to an earlier letter, which suggested that mortars should be positioned on the shore for the same purpose.

Sensibly, Suckow — a former Prussian bombardier — makes the observation that firing a projectile at a sinking ship might not be the most effective way of saving those on board.

‘I should like to see, for the sake of humanity, my plan adopted,’ he declared.

October 1857 Life-jacket/wardrobe

But clearly — with a maximum estimated range of around 1,000 yards — Suckow’s system would be useless in the middle of the ocean.

In these circumstances stricken mariners could do worse than hurl themselves from the deck in a wooden cupboard. J Banks’s life preserver is a lidded box designed to contain clothes that doubles as a rather cumbersome- looking wooden life-jacket.

Consisting of two drawers with a space in between to ‘receive and encompass the human body’, the lifesaving cabinet gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘Davy Jones’ locker’.