Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Theatre - Acts - Samuel Scott, The American Diver

    Yesterday afternoon, shortly after 2 o'clock, great excitement pervaded the western portion of the metropolis by a rumour that Scott, "the American diver," who had of late become so notorious by his extraordinary feats, had met with his death during the performance of his customary evolutions prior to taking his dive from the summit of Waterloo-bridge into the Thames. It appears that in the morning a placard, of which the following is a copy, had been posted throughout the metropolis:-
    "Challenge to the world for 100 guineas! Monday next, Jan.11th, 1841, and during the week, Samuel Scott, the American Diver, will run from Godfrey's, White Lion, Drury-lane, to Waterloo-bridge, and leap into the water, 40 feet high from the bridge, and return back within the hour every day during the week, between 1 and 2 o'clock. S. Scott will be in attendance every day at the above house, open to any wager."
    This notice drew, long before the time appointed, thousands of persons to Waterloo-bridge, and at five minutes past 2 o'clock Scott, accompanied by several persons, arrived on the bridge. He was merely attired in a blue striped shirt and white canvass trowsers, and had on neither shoes nor stockings. On his arrival there could not have been less than from 8,000 to 10,000 persons assembled upon the bridge and along the banks of the river to witness his extraordinary performance. Immediately over the second arch on the Middlesex side and nearest to Somerset-house, was erected a species of scaffolding, composed for two upright poles, and three others crossing them at intervals of about four or five feet, the entire height of which above the balustrades being about 10 feet. Scott appeared as usual, firm and undaunted, and made several jocular remarks to those around him. Having ascended the scaffolding, he attached the rope he carried with him, which was about 10 feet long, to the uppermost cross pole, and after placing some tin boxes round the necks of several of his friends who were to collect money for him, proceeded to commence his performance, observing, "Why you all appear to be cranky." He first put his head into a noose of the rope, and suspended himself for a minute or two; after which he placed his feet in a similar position, and swung with his head downwards. He again mounted the top beam of the scaffold, and, taking a handkerchief off his head, placed it on the top of one of the perpendicular poles. He then seized the rope, and placing it round his neck, exclaimed at the top of his voice, "Now I'll show you once more how to dance upon air before I dive." The unfortunate man again let himself down to the extremity of the rope with his head in the noose, but had scarcely hung more than three or four minutes when a person named Brown observed that he much feared the man had hung himself in reality, as animation appeared suspended. To this one of Scott's friends replied, "Oh, he has not hung half his time yet." In two or three minutes after, however, shouts were heard in all directions of "Cut him down." Mr. Brown immediately ascended and raised the poor fellow's arm, which on being let go fell heavily back to its original position by his side. This gave convincing proof of the suspension of animation, and renewed cries were raised from all quarters of "Cut him down, cut him down." Some time elapsed before a knife could be procured, and then two persons ascended the ladder, and with the aid of some of the F division of police, succeeded in cutting the man down. Mr. Havers, surgeon of the York-road, and another medical gentleman who happened to be upon the spot, immediately stepped forward and opened the jugular vein, and also a vein in the arm, but only a few drops of blood followed; and to all appearances Scott was lifeless. A cart was then procured, in which he was conveyed with all possible speed, followed by hundreds of persons, to Charing-cross Hospital. On his admission, it was ascertained by Dr. Golding, the senior physician of the institution, that life was not quite extinct. Under that gentleman's direction, the unfortunate man was, in the first place, subject to the galvanic process; secondly, cupped between the shoulders; and then, lastly, placed into a warm bath, in which he had been but a few seconds when it was ascertained that the vital spark had fled.
    Scott was a remarkably fine young man, about 30 years of age, and, although he called himself an American, was supposed to be a native of Deptford, where, he, together with his wife, was residing. She was not, as was her usual custom, with him on the present occasion; but information, however, of the melancholy affair was immediately despatched to her on its result becoming known.
    The cause of the occurrence is not to be attributed, as it was generally rumoured, to the unfortunate man having indulged in drinking prior to his undertaking his perilous exhibition, but to the mere accidental circumstances of the knot in the noose having slipped from under his chin in such a manner as to produce suffocation. It will be remembered, that a similar accident occurred to the celebrated Blackmore, and which almost terminated fatally, a few years since, whilst performing his evolutions at Vauxhall-gardens.
    The body awaits a coroner's inquest.
(From a Correspondent)
    The extraordinary sensation created by the untimely fate of this poor fellow will probably render a few particulars relative to his life and career not unacceptable to the public; the principal portion being collected fom the deceased himself, may add to the interest. The story that he was not an American, but a native of Deptford, is untrue. Scott, according to his own showing, was born at Philadelphia, in the United States; and at an early age entered the American navy, and served on board several frigates, in which he commenced his daring feats as a diver, by jumping from the topmasts of the vessels he served in into the sea. His extraordinary courage and prowess as a diver rendered him very popular, and after quitting the naval service, he travelled about the Union exhibiting, and collected a great deal of money as the reward of his daring, particularly in the cities of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He subsequently visited Canada, and made some tremendous leaps from the banks of the St. Laurence and the lakes which intersect that country; but his chef d'oeuvre as a leaper was from a precipice below the Falls of Niagara, where, according to his own statement, he jumped the amazing distance of 595 feet into the water, which he accomplished without injury or inconvenience. Incredible as this feat may appear, Scott solemnly averrred that he had performed it, and was willing to attempt it again, in this country, is a spot could be found of sufficient altitude for the purpose. He had been in England upwards of 12 months, and has visited nearly all the seaports, and has taken some astonishing leaps in the Isle of Wight and Pembroke Dockyard. We first heard of him in London about three or four months ago, when he made several leaps from the top gallant-mast of a collier brig, moored off the Town-pier at Gravesend. He next came up to Deptford, and jumped from the masts of a large American ship. Upon one of these occasions, an accident befel him similar to that which terminated so fatally yesterday. He was going through his usual antics, such as clinging with his feet to the spars, and letting his head and arms hang down, fixing his head in the noose of a rope, &c., when the noose suddenly slipped tight, and he hung suspended. The spectators, thinking this merely one of his ordinary feats, vociferously applauded him, when it was perceived that he was turning black in the face, and alarm was raised that the Diver was strangling. A moment afterwards Scott made a desperate effort to extricate himself by flinging his feet up aloft, and managed to loosen the rope and get his neck out. In answer to the inquiries of the crowd below as to whether he was injured, Scott replied in the negative, exclaiming, "The hemp that is to hang me is not grown yet!"
    It is a singular fact, that the subscription in his behalf among the spectators amounted to nearly double upon this occasion to what it had done before. After this Scott dived a number of times from a coal ship moored off Cherry-garden-stairs, Rotherhithe, then off the Custom-house, and Southwark-bridge, and took his "last leap" from Waterloo-bridge.
    Scott, though by no means an intelligent man, was a very civil, unassuming fellow, and very abstemious, seldom taking anything but a dram of neat rum after his immersion in the water. He was very anxious to jump from the top of the Monument, and was asked if he would attempt it if two or three loads of straw were placed below him to alight upon, which he refused to do; but was willing to attempt it if the corporation of London would provide eight or ten feet of water for him to fall into, and he talked of applying to the Lord Mayor on the subject. He spoke with a foreign accent.

The Times, January 12, 1841