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The Victorian Submarine “Resurgam”: Hailed by many as one of the world’s earliest ‘powered’ submarines

David Goran

Resurgam (meaning “I shall rise again” in Latin) is the name given to two early Victorian submarines designed and built in Britain by a Manchester clergyman called Reverend George William Garrett (1852-1902) as a weapon to penetrate the chain netting placed around ship’s hulls to defend against attack by torpedo vessels.

19th Century submarine. Photo Credit

19th Century submarine. The brainchild of Reverend George William Garrett. Photo Credit

The first Resurgam (Resurgam I) was built in 1878 and it was a 14 ft (5 m), hand powered, one-man vessel nicknamed “the curate’s egg” due to its shape. Reverend Garrett was convinced he could sell the designs to the Royal Navy, and make his fortune in the process. However, its small size and one-man crew meant it would have been ineffective as a weapon.

The submarine was built in 1879 by Cochran & Co in Birkenhead, at a cost of £1500.

Built in 1878 by Cochran & Co in Birkenhead, at a cost of £1500. Photo Credit

This was followed by a second (and more famous) Resurgam II in 1879, a 45 ft (13 m) long vessel, 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter, built by Cochran & Co in Birkenhead. After a successful trial off Wallasey, it set off for a demonstration to the Royal Navy in Portsmouth in 1880. Unfortunately, whilst being towed by the steamship Elphin, Garnett’s invention began to take on water until the tow-rope broke under the added weight, and the Resurgam sank off Rhyl on 25 February 1880.

Sketch of the design of Resurgam II by George Garrett. Photo Credit

Sketch of the design of Resurgam II by George Garrett. Photo Credit

 

It was 45 feet long, displaced 38 tons submerged and was powered by a closed system steam engine patented by Eugene Lamm in 1872. Photo Credit

It was 45 feet long, displaced 38 tons submerged and was powered by a closed system steam engine patented by Eugene Lamm in 1872. Photo Credit

For many years the exact location of Resurgam was a mystery. The submarine was rediscovered late in 1995 when she was caught in the nets of a Colwyn Bay trawlerman, Dennis Hunt. An experienced wreck diver, Keith Hurley, freed the snagged nets and realized that they had found the Resurgam.

A replica of one of the two Resurgam submarines on display close to the Woodside terminal of the Mersey Ferry in Birkenhead, Wirral. Photo Credit

A replica of one of the two Resurgam submarines on display close to the Woodside terminal of the Mersey Ferry in Birkenhead, Wirral. Photo Credit

The Resurgam’s hull is intact, although partially damaged, and remains at risk from illegal diving and trawling. Since her discovery, the conning tower steering wheel has been broken and portable items have gone missing.

The wreck had to be protected

The wreck had to be protected. Photo Credit

 

Resurgam plaque. Photo Credit

Resurgam plaque. Photo Credit

Under the Protection of Wrecks Act, the Resurgam was designated protected wreck no. 42 on 6th July 1996. Since 1997, a full-size replica of the Resurgam can be seen at Woodside ferry terminal, Birkenhead.