George Garrett (1852 – 1902)
Resurgam is Latin for I will rise again and in many ways it is an appropriate name for a submarine. However, in the era of submarine development it seems a hopelessly optimistic sobriquet.
Our latest inductee, George Garrett, was born on 4th July 1852 and was brought up in Moss Side in Manchester, the son of a curate. Having studied at Trinity College Dublin he passed the Cambridge Theological Examination and became a curate in his father’s parish.
Life as a curate in those was pretty undemanding and so Garrett had plenty of time to indulge his passion for mechanical engineering. In 1877 he had invented a diving suit which he demonstrated to the French government in the River Seine. We have already written about the American experiments in submarine technology, particularly the ill-fated endeavours of Horace Huntley. Despite the set-backs, not unnaturally, interest was piqued this side of the pond and particularly in Garrett. He was suitably energised to try and develop a submarine that could be used for military purposes that he formed the Garrett Submarine Navigation and Pneumatophore Company Limited – a pneumatophore was a device for removing carbon dioxide from the air – and managed to raise £10,000 from local Manchester businessmen to fund his research. He came up in 1878 with the optimistically named Resurgam which was a 14 foot hand-cranked submarine, weighing about 4.5 tons. It was nick-named the curate’s egg due to its distinctive shape bit its size and the fact that it could only hold one crew member meant that it was ineffective as a weapon.
Undaunted in 1879 Garrett developed Resurgam II which was an altogether bigger affair. It was constructed of iron plates fastened to an iron frame, the centre of the vessel being made of wood secured by iron straps. It was 45 feet in length and 10 feet wide and could carry a crew of three. It was powered by a closed cycle steam engine which provided enough steam to power it for four hours. The furnace and chimney were shut off before diving – they thought of everything!
After successful trials in the Birkenhead area it was to be sailed to Portsmouth to be demonstrated to the English navy. Unfortunately, Resurgam II was beset by mechanical problems, the crew transferred to a nearby vessel and because the hatch couldn’t be secured from the outside, the vessel shipped water and sank on 25th February 1880.
You would have thought that was that but a Swedish industrialist, Thorsten Nordenfelt, was sufficiently impressed by the potential to further finance Garrett’s endeavours. Together they built a submarine for the Greeks and two for the Ottomans, all of them suffering from severe stability problems. The Russians ordered a sub but it ran aground off Jutland on the way and they refused to pay.
This was the end of the partnership and Garrett emigrated to Florida where he lost all his savings in a failed farm in Florida. He then joined the US Army Corps of Engineers, rising (unlike his subs) to corporal, becoming a US citizen but dying in penury in New York in 1902.
As usual for inductees into our Hall of Fame Garrett had an unlucky streak running though his life. However, the distinctive shape of the Resurgam is one which pretty much has been adopted by modern submarines.
George, take your place in our Hall of Fame!
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