The idea that the Resurgam, the first real British submarine, was designed and built by a Manchester curate seems incredible. The Reverend George William Garrett was, though, science-educated and business-minded.

In the late 1800s, most world governments were keenly interested in submarines - though the British trailed well behind the rest - and Garrett realised that a fortune could be made from submarine design and construction.

Despite scepticism from the Royal Navy at the time of her building, the Resurgam was undoubtedly important to submarine development. Her pointed shape and conning tower were a first, and Garrett went on to develop his ideas with a Swedish arms dealer millionaire to build submarines for foreign navies.

By the early 1900s, the British navys first steam-powered submarines were being built. Resurgam was actually pre-dated by a small, experimental submarine built by Garrett in 1878 with backing from his father and Manchester businessmen. The 14ft iron shell was trimmed by pulling in or pushing out the piston of a cylinder open to the sea (the equivalent of blowing tanks in a modern submarine).

Garrett was the crew of one, hand-cranking the propeller and putting his hands through greased leather gauntlets in the hull to see if it would be possible to attach explosives to enemy ships hulls. It was primitive, but first cruises went well. In 1879 came Garretts full-size Resurgam, this time powered by steam. The design was sketched on paper scraps, the engine on the back of a used envelope now held by Gosports RN Submarine Museum.

Resurgams iron hull was 45ft long and 7ft wide, her diameter swelling to 9ft 6in with the addition of wood casing. She was 12ft deep and weighed 30 tons.

According to Garretts calculations, she could descend to a depth of 150ft before collapsing. The steam engine employed a coal furnace heating a large steam boiler to power the sub on the surface at about three knots. Once submerged, the furnace had to be stopped but steam stored could then drive the boat at two knots for about 4 hours.

By all account the crew of three, who were provided with a compressed air supply, had to endure great discomfort. They had to cope with intense heat (up to 150 F) from the boiler, and fumes from the burning coal.

When the cabins candles - the only source of light - flickered out, the men knew they must open the hatch to obtain fresh air. In choppy weather this was a time of risk, when a wave could wash over the low superstructure and pour below. The Resurgam was built by J. T. Cochran of Birkenhead for 1538. Early trials were carried out by Garrett, a Captain Jackson, and engineer George Price.

At one stage they spent 36 hours with the conning tower hatch shut, although reports that they dived to the bottom of Liverpool Bay were never confirmed.

On the surface, still shut in as waves swept over them, they reported that the boat answered splendidly and that the seas passed easily over her and caused hardly any motion. Having resolved to tow Resurgam by sea round to Portsmouth for the Royal Navys 1880 Spithead Review of the Fleet, Garrett made a February evening departure from Rhyl, despite gale warnings. At dawn the craft were hit by heavy weather.

Apart from a temporary problem with the towing vessels boiler, the tow continued successfully throughout the day, although the Resurgam was swept regularly by waves.

The historical account is that the sub lasted on through to the following morning, when the tow rope snapped and the Resurgam was seen to drop back into the clutches of the seas and disappear for good.

Garrett went on to produce, in partnership with Swedish millionaire Thorsten Nordenfelt, submarines for the navies of Sweden, Greece and Turkey.

Some worked, others fell short of expectations - including a sub built for the Turks who, regardless, appointed Garrett as a naval commander, largely because he was the only one who could operate their new submarine. The last of the Garrett/Nordenfelt subs was surface-demonstrated at the 1887 Spithead Review, bought on the spot by the Tsar of Russia - and wrecked off Jutland during delivery. The Russians refused to pay for her.

Garrett turned his back on the manufacturing partnership and submarines for good. When the Church would not give him another position, he emigrated to the United States and invested in a farm.

Later he joined the US Army Corps of Engineers, rising to the rank of Corporal during the Spanish-American War before being discharged at the wars end.

Garretts remarkable life ended in New York in February, 1902. He died penniless, at the modest age of 50.