As the icy cold waters of the Irish Sea began to fill the tiny submarine, the Reverend Garrett likely cursed his decision to name the craft ‘Resurgam’. Latin for ‘I will rise again’, the ship quietly slipped under the water off the coast of North Wales where she laid lost for over a century…
Built in 1879 by the Reverend George Garrett, a clergyman & inventor from Manchester, the Resurgam was one of the world’s earliest ‘powered’ submarines. Reverend Garrett was convinced he could sell the designs to the Royal Navy, and make his fortune in the process.
After successful sea trials off the coast of Wallasey, Reverend Garrett took the ambitious decision to demonstrate the Resurgam to the Royal Navy – he would take her under her own steam from Liverpool to Plymouth. The journey was immediately beset with problems. Mechanical issues forced the crew to dock in Rhyl to carry out emergency repairs. Once complete – the crew set off once more, this time under tow of the yacht ‘Elphin’ – purchased by Reverend Garrett to assist the journey.
For reasons we still don’t understand, the crew set off at night in high winds. Unable to secure the Resurgam’s hatch from the outside, she began to take on water. The tow hawser snapped under the combined weight of submarine and seawater, and the Resurgam was lost on the evening of 25th February 1880.
It took the chance snagging of fishing nets 115 years later to set the wheels of discovery in motion. The fisherman called a friend who was also a SCUBA diver to investigate. The very next day that diver followed the snagged lines down to the seabed, and couldn’t believe his eyes.
The discovery prompted a period of intense media interest. It’s extremely rare in these ‘modern’ times that new shipwrecks are found. Especially shipwrecks with such historic significance. Once the initial media interest had subsided however, dark and worrying rumours began to surface of interference with the wreck. The wooden cladding that surrounded the hull of Resurgam mysteriously disappeared a year or so after her discovery – despite surviving the previous century. Portable items on and near the wreck disappeared. There were even rumours that the wreck itself had been moved on the seabed. Whether this was deliberate or due to another encounter with trawl nets we may never know – but it was clear the wreck had to be protected.
In 1996 the Resurgam was designated a protected wreck under The Protection of Wrecks Act. It can now only be dived under license from CADW.
After being lost for so many years, the challenge is now preserving what remains of this historic wreck site. In 2013 I was very lucky to be involved in a project to help secure the future of the Resurgam. Divers from Chester Sub-Aqua Club, under the supervision of the license holder Mike Bowyer were tasked with the job of attaching sacrificial ‘anodes’ to the surface of the wreck. Through the ‘magic’ of chemistry – the anodes are ‘attacked’ by the saltwater first, thus providing some protection to the remains of the Resurgam.
The little submarine is a challenging wreck to dive, but not for the usual reasons. Lying in an exposed position, trips are often cancelled or postponed due to the weather. The North Wales coast is also prone to plankton ‘blooms’ that can reduce the underwater visibility to zero. Add into the equation the small size of the wreck, and it’s not uncommon to hear that people who have attempted to dive the site have come away disappointed.
Our trip to the wreck was on a warm and settled August evening, which made the six-mile journey a pleasure rather than the usual chore! Arriving on site, the wreck was located via sonar, and a ‘shot line’ (a heavy weight dropped into the water with a rope attached to a buoy on the surface) was placed in the water to guide the divers down to the Resurgam.
As I was cox’n the boat (responsible for the boat and the safe deployment and collection of divers) I was diving in the second wave – so was forced to wait in anticipation for the first group to complete their dive and report on the conditions beneath the water. The wait was excruciating – I’d been trying to dive the Resurgam for over five years and the anticipation was making me impatient! Eventually, the first wave of divers began to surface! They reported that the shot was indeed on the wreck, and that the underwater conditions were good. There wasn’t much light as we were approaching dusk – but the underwater visibility was exceptional!
Without delay I handed over the boat to Nigel, and my dive buddy Kevin and I kitted up as quickly as possible. I also took in my underwater camera to see if it would be possible to get some pictures of the Resurgam.
Rolling off the side of the boat, we quickly located the shot line and started our descent to the seabed. The water was cold and it quickly became apparent as we descended that this was practically a ‘night’ dive – there was going to be very little natural/ambient light down there.
Onward we went, hitting the seabed in around 20 metres of water. It was indeed dark, but as our eyes adjusted to the light, we could clearly see the wreck of the Resurgam away to our right! It was an amazing sight! A Victorian, steam-powered submarine, over 115 years old lying next to us on the seabed! The first thing that sunk in was the size! She’s a small wreck, just big enough for the crew of three she carried. We did an initial circuit around the wreck to get our bearings and look for sites to attach the anodes. I also took an initial video of the wreck whilst we had some ambient light remaining.
We then took around 20 minutes to fix the three anodes we carried with us at various points to the hull of the submarine. Once complete we enjoyed the remainder of out time investigating the wreck more thoroughly and taking pictures and video footage.
After an hour on the seabed we returned to the shot and made our ascent. We surfaced to see a stunning sunset and found the boat waiting impatiently for us – It was almost 9pm and we had to get back to Prestatyn as quickly as possible to recover the boat.
The dives were incredibly successful – we’d manage to attach the anodes and obtain some cracking photo and video footage of the wreck.
Chester Sub-Aqua Club member, author & historian Chris Holden was subsequently featured in a number of BBC News articles, including a ‘One Show’ feature that utilised our pictures and footage.
We will continue to support the efforts to protect the Resurgam and will be diving her again in 2014 to check on the anodes.