Divers to preserve early submarine

SCUBA divers are part of a major conservation project to help preserve the UK’s earliest submarine which was wrecked off the North Wales coast 132 years ago.

The three-man Victorian submersible Resurgam, designed by a Manchester clergyman, sank about five miles off Rhyl in February 1880.

Cheshire and Flintshire members of the UK’s top diving organisation, the British Sub-Aqua Club, have been authorised to attach zinc anodes to the 45ft long hull which will help protect the wreck.

Chester BSAC club member Chris Holden, from Higher Kinnerton, said: “Considering the Resurgam was made in 1879 it is in remarkable condition. We have already attached four anodes with several more to go.”

The “sacrificial” anodes decay while preserving the original metal.

The wreck site is legally protected and is under the care of Wales’ ancient monuments organisation CADW, with former Bangor University lecturer Mike Bowyer, a maritime historian, the licence holder who ensures only approved divers are allowed to dive the site.

“Raising the Resurgam would not be an insurmountable problem but preserving it once it was on shore would be a major financial problem,” said Chris.

Mary Tetley, Chief Executive of BSAC, said: “Being part of a BSAC club means our members frequently find themselves involved in fascinating projects such as this one.

“Our highly trained and respectful scuba divers are trusted to carry out such important work and the skills and experience of the Chester branch of BSAC have proved crucial to preserving
this historical treasure for future generations.”

Resurgam, Latin for “I shall rise again”, was the brainchild of remarkable Manchester clergyman Rev George William Garrett. Resurgam II (Resurgam I was a one man, hand-propelled submersible built the year before) was built in 1879 by Cochran and Company in Birkenhead for just over £1,500.

Although hailed by many as the world’s first full sized, powered working submarine there are disputes over whether it could have worked. The 30 ton iron vessel, propelled by an enclosed steam engine, which provided extremely cramped, hot and uncomfortable conditions for three men, was supposed to have been successfully trialled just off Wallasey before it made its way along the North Wales coast on route for a demonstration before the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

After putting in at Rhyl for some modifications, the Resurgam was towed out again in rough conditions but the towing vessel encountered problems. Rev Garrett and the two crew transferred from Resurgam to the towing vessel to help with repairs but were unable to secure the Resurgam from the outside.

It shipped water, broke the towing rope and sank, where it remained until found by BSAC diver Keith Hurley from Chester, in 1995 when he investigated why a Colwyn Bay fishing trawler had snagged its nets.

Chris said: “You can see right down into the vessel. It would be almost impossible to go inside. It is so narrow it would have to be a slim person and without an aqualung. In any case there would be no point because it would probably wreck what was inside. There is loads of silt in it and at one time the only resident was a conger eel.”

A replica of the Resurgam was built by Cammell Laird apprentices and is on display at Woodside, Birkenhead.

BSAC club members who dive the site have to have their names submitted by Mike Bowyer to CADW to ensure they are suitable, and to make sure the “job is done properly,” says Chris.

Historian Mike Bowyer added: “The Resurgam’s place in history is probably more to do with its shape. All submarines since have been shaped like the Resurgam (cigar shaped), previously they were very odd shapes indeed.

“The most interesting thing if it was possible to get inside would be to see the engine and how Rev Garrett had developed the first under water breathing system.”

Rev Garrett eventually emigrated to America but died penniless just 50 years of age and was buried in a pauper’s grave, until it was marked relatively recently with a piece of Welsh slate which generously describes him as the “inventor of the submarine”.

His great grandson, Bill Garrett from New Jersey, USA, has actually dived the site and took part in a BBC documentary which sought to try and prove whether the Resurgam could have worked.

For more information about BSAC go to www.bsac.com

Do you live in the Chester area and want to learn to scuba dive or improve your existing skills Contact the Chester branch of BSAC by emailing enquiries@chestersubaquaclub.co.uk

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