Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Resurgent Resurgam Volume 50 Number 5, September/October 1997
by Mark M. Newell


Full-size replica of the Resurgam was built from surviving drawings. (William Garrett) [LARGER IMAGE]

The Reverend George Garrett (center with daughter), and his crew aboard the Resurgam after its construction at Birkenhead factory. (William Scanlan Murphy, Father of the Submarine, London: William Kimber and Co., 1987) [LARGER IMAGE]

The British government's Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU), headquartered at St. Andrews University, Scotland, has completed a survey of the Resurgam, the first successful engine-powered submarine, lost while under tow in a storm off Wales in 1880. The 50-foot submarine, invented by Manchester curate George W. Garrett, sank in less than 50 feet of water. "The wreck of this unique submarine lay undisturbed and intact until only a few years ago, when it appears to have been struck by a large ship," says Martin Dean, director of the ADU. "The impact wrenched the vessel from the spot where it sank, scattering small pieces of the hull over a wide area and damaging the bow. Despite the damage, the wreckage appears to be basically intact and in good enough condition to withstand recovery, should this become a possibility."

Fishermen had known of a small obstruction in the area, but about six years ago they found it to be much larger and some 36 feet from its original location. "An impact that moved between 20 and 30 tons of submarine concreted within the seabed must have been impressive," says Dean. "It may have been caused by a ship's anchor dragging through the site, or perhaps was the result of the impact of a powerful beam trawler."

A plan of the external features of the sub has been produced using data collected with side- and sector-scan sonar and a cesium magnetometer, as well as an acoustic tracking and surveying system used both as a diver-held unit and carried on a robot that crawled along the ocean bottom. According to Dean, preliminary assessment of the evidence indicates that the Resurgam was originally buried bow-down in the seabed, although not totally covered. Massive barrel-stave-shaped timbers that had been fastened to the wrought-iron hull for insulation, protection, and bouyancy still lie embedded in the vessel's original impact depression. There is also a considerable dent in the conning tower. Plans now call for on-site protection of the historic submarine, which will be marked as a navigation hazard.

Mark M. Newell is with the Georgia Archaeological Institute.

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© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America