Holland 1, or as she was originally known HM Submarine Torpedo Boat No 1, holds a unique place in British naval history as the Royal Navy's very first submarine. Designed by the Irish inventor John Philip Holland, and pioneered in America, the Holland 1 was built under license from the American Electric Boat Company at the Vickers Maxim boatyard, Barrow-in-Furness. Holland 1 was the first of five such submarines whose fighting capabilities were now being reluctantly tested by the Royal Navy, and was launched without ceremony on 2nd October 1901. In September 1902, under the command of Captain Reginald Bacon, Holland 1 became part of the first submarine flotilla alongside Holland 2 and HMS Hazard.
Her naval duties continued for a further twelve years before she was sold to T W Ward Ltd as scrap. Whilst under tow to the breakers yard on 5th November 1913, the Holland foundered just off the Eddystone lighthouse and sank. Holland 1 remained at the bottom of the sea for the next 68 years until being rediscovered by HMS Bossington on 14th April 1981. A salvage operation was soon underway, and in September of the same year Holland 1 was finally taken safely back to Devonport Dockyard.
Although in remarkably good condition, a conservation programme was put into immediate effect and Holland 1 was moved to the Gosport Submarine Museum as a static display. By the early 1990s corrosion had become a serious issue and all attempts to halt it by cleaning and repainting were proving futile. It became clear that a new and more radical approach was required to stem the deterioration. Having identified that Chloride ions were the root of the problem, the answer was to neutralise them by immersing the submarine in a solution of Sodium Carbonate. In 1994 a huge fibreglass tank was constructed around Holland 1 and this was then filled with 800,000 litres of the required solution. Saturation of the vessel continued until late 1998, when ongoing tests at last confirmed that the treatment had been successful. Her conservation was concluded in 2001 when she was moved to the purpose-built gallery contained within an humidity controlled environment.
The pioneering days of submarines must have held many fears, and the eight-man crew of the Holland 1 would have worked in conditions that were both dangerous and very unpleasant. Powered by a 160hp 'Otto' petrol engine, the fumes proved to be one of the most serious problems, and several mice were carried on board as a primitive method of gas detection. The submarine's petrol engine was used for propulsion when surfaced, as well as recharging of the batteries. It was fed from a 600 gallon tank, situated forward, beneath the single internal torpedo tube, and was capable of 7.4 knots. When submerged a 70hp electric motor was used, which was capable of propelling Holland 1 a distance of some twenty miles underwater at a speed of 7 knots. To achieve this 60 large battery cells were located beneath the main deck, producing a combined weight of some 25 tons!
It was generally considered that Holland 1 could submerge to a depth of 100ft (30m) but modern tests have concluded that this would have been potentially fatal, and that half this depth would have been much more realistic. Like all submarines Holland 1 contained ballast tanks that were flooded to allow her to dive. To facilitate resurfacing she carried 53 high pressure air bottles that were used to 'Blow' the ballast tanks to remove the seawater. Now able to show off the primitive glories of her internal arrangements once again, Holland 1 has all her main components intact, including her torpedo tube.