World’s first steam powered submarine to feature in TV documentary thank to British Sub-Aqua Club scuba divers

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Dramatic underwater images of the final resting place of the world’s first steam powered submarine, which was built in Wirral and sank on its maiden voyage in 1880, have been released for the first time.

It comes as scuba divers from the British Sub-Aqua Club in Chester, who have responsibility for preserving the historic wreck of the Resurgam are to tell its fascinating story in a TV documentary.

The wreck of the Resurgam, whose name means “I will rise again” in Latin, was lost for 115 years until it was found 50 feet beneath the waves.

Now the story of the ingenious vessel, built on the Wirral and the brainchild of an eccentric Manchester vicar from Moss Side, is to feature in a ten-part History Channel series Combat Ships, about how technology transformed naval warfare.

Scuba diver and underwater heritage expert Chris Holden from Chester Sub-Aqua Club, is a Wreck Champion for BSAC, and one of two licence holders of the Resurgam, which means he has responsibility for helping to protect the wreck.

Chris, 68, from Kinnerton in Flintshire, features in the History Channel programme with fellow Chester SAC scuba diver Dave Parry. Interviews with the pair were filmed at Woodside Ferry terminal on the Wirral, where a replica of the Resurgam, still stands.

A fellow Chester SAC diver Justin Owen, also from Chester, has now released a gallery of dramatic images showing divers exploring the wreck, which lies off the coast of Rhyl.

Keen amateur photographer Justin, 42, also recorded rare video footage of the wreck, which was built and test launched in Wallasey Docks, having been designed by the Reverend George Garrett, curate of Moss Side in Manchester.

The 45 ft (13m) submarine was built in Birkenhead in 1879 and cost about £1,400, a small fortune by early Victorian standards. Steam powered and large enough to carry three sailors, it was designed to be able to approach an enemy vessel by stealth.

In 1880, after a successful trial in the Great Float and Egerton docks at Wallasey and Birkenhead, it set off for Portsmouth where it was to be demonstrated to the Royal Navy as the latest in Victorian naval technology.

After stopping at Rhyl for modifications, she continued her journey, before shipping water and sinking around five miles off the coast of the North Wales resort.

Chris Holden, a First Class Diver and honorary president of Chester Sub-Aqua Club, is one of two licence holders for the Resurgam wreck which is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act.  He explained that the wreck of the Resurgam was first discovered by another Chester diver, Keith Hurley, in 1995.

He said: “Keith was investigating what a fishing trawler had snagged in its nets and discovered it to be the wreck of the Resurgam.

“It’s believed the wreck had been pulled up by a fishing vessel and dropped in its present location or had been buried under the seabed and exposed during the excavation for a nearby pipe-line, as the chances are it would have been discovered earlier unless it had only recently been disturbed.

“The wreck is designated as a Protected Wreck, which means that you can only legally dive on it with permission from CADW, the Welsh Government’s service for the historic environment. I took over the licence, along with a marine archeologist, after the former licence holder, Mike Bowyer passed away a few years ago.

“It’s my responsibility to protect the wreck and ensure no one dives on it without permission. I have included divers from several BSAC branch clubs, Chester, Rhyl, Merseyside, Wirral, Wrexham and the Potteries on the licence, so they can all help protect what is a really important wreck.

“Other divers can apply to have their names added to the licence, and I have no problem with that so long as they follow the rules and help protect it. It isn’t dived on very regularly as the weather isn’t always too kind.”

Justin, who took the underwater photos and video, said he wanted to raise awareness of Britain’s underwater heritage. He said: “It is great to have the opportunity to dive on something that’s completely unique. It’s an archaological relic and a lot of people don’t know it’s right on their doorstep.

“It’s quite a challenging dive as the site is exposed to the tides and bad weather and the visibility can be very poor. So it’s important to be able to record what is down there, so people can see it for themselves and learn more about it.”

Dave Parry, Chester Sub Aqua Club’s Diving Officer, said: “We filmed the interview for the documentary at Woodside Ferry Terminal where there is a permanent replica model of the Resurgam on the quayside.

“It’s a really interesting wreck that’s now covered in wildlife. There are a huge number of crabs, dead men’s finger anemones, lobsters and the odd conger eel and shoals of fish living around it.

“The model at Woodside is exactly as it is a perfect replica. If the wreck was raised it might not survive and it would be a shame to remove it as all the wildlife would die or need to move.”

Dave says he was pleased to be able to assist Woodcut Media, the company filming the documentary on behalf of the History Channel.

He said: “The name Resurgam means ‘I shall rise again’ in Latin and the three-man submarine was designed and built by Reverend George Garrett.

“Garrett’s first submarine designed was for just one submariner. His second, the Resurgam, was 45ft long and 10ft in diameter, and was built for a crew of three. The vessel was powered by a closed cycle steam engine that would allow for it to turn the single propeller for around four hours.

“Following successful trials at Wallasey Docks, she set off under her own power for Portsmouth where she was to be demonstrated to the Royal Navy. However, she developed mechanical problems and docked at Rhyl for repairs.

“After repairs, they set off in high winds and late at night, being towed by a tender ship, The Elphin. The Elphin developed her own mechanical problems, and the Resurgam crew transferred to the Elphin to help.

“The trouble was the Resurgam hatch couldn’t be secured from the outside and the submarine began to ship water causing the tow rope to break under the strain of the additional weight. And the result was the Resurgam went down, sinking somewhere off the Rhyl coast.”

Chris, who took up diving 1971 and has been a BSAC Advanced Instructor and First Class Diver since 1987, added: “I was interviewed on camera along with my colleague Dave Parry.

“We gave some information about the Resurgam’s history and explained what condition the wreck is now in and how we are trying to protect what is an important wreck.

“For example, in both 2007 and 2012 BSAC divers from Trafford and Chester undertook vital conservation wreck by placing zinc corrosion inhibitors on the wreck to try and reduce corrosion. We are going to consider repeating the process in the next 12 months or so.”

BSAC is the national governing body for scuba diving and is made up of 120 dive centres and 900 plus family friendly and sociable clubs, run by volunteers, up and down the country and abroad. The Duke of Cambridge is the club’s President.

It represents more than 30,000 scuba divers and snorkellers and welcomes new members from complete beginners upwards including those who have trained with other agencies.

BSAC Chief Executive Mary Tetley says she is delighted Chester Sub Aqua Club divers had been able to assist in the filming of the Combat Ships series for the History Channel.

She said: “BSAC is proud of our underwater heritage and the work many of our clubs and divers do to maintain and preserve wrecks for future generations.

“The Resurgam story is a fascinating one and deserves to be told to a wider audience. I’m delighted Chris Holden and Dave Parry, who are both committed to the preservation of wrecks, were able to assist the film crew and I look forward to watching the series when it is aired.”

Woodcut Media series producer Jonathan Mayo said: “The story of the Resurgam is a key part of submarine history. Although Garrett’s design failed, his innovative inventions and his crew’s bravery deserved to be shared with a wide audience.

“We are sure the viewers in the UK and around the world who watch the Combat Ships series will remember the striking sight of the Resurgam on the seabed.”

The documentary series, Combat Ships, is a series of 10 one hour shows scheduled to be premiered on the A+E Networks UK Channel H2 in Spring 2017.

To learn more about BSAC visit or follow the organisation on Facebook or Twitter @BSACDIVERS.

Underwater images of the Resurgam credited to Justin Owen of

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