The Fenian Ram
Holland II

H2-01-Fenian Ram at NY Marine School

The Fenian Ram at the New York
State Marine School (1916-1927)

US Navy Photo


H2-10-Fenian Ram Drawing

Drawing courtesy of Richard K. Morris


Length 31 feet
Diameter 6 feet
Displacement 19 tons


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The Fenian Ram was launched in 1881 from the Delamater Iron Company in New York. Construction was funded by the Irish Fenian Brotherhood's Skirmishing Fund.

"The Fenian Ram was a three-man boat. The operator sat in a kind of bucket seat perched over the engine. On the port side, the large flywheel revolved, driving an eccentrically fastened rod that operated a compressor mounted forward over a high-pressure air tank. On the starboard side, a second eccentric drove a similar compressor. Two upright levers served as controls, joy-stick fashion: the left one controlled the rudder; the right, the diving planes."
"The second member of the crew served as engineer. His task was to regulate flow through the numerous valves as required, check the gauges for pressure, or blow the fixed ballast tanks if an emergency required such action.... The long, tapered bow and stern each held a sealed compressed air reservoir calculated to assure positive buoyancy. Between each reservoir and the crew's central control room, separate water ballast compartments were provided...."
"A third member of the crew was the gunner who operated the sole piece of armament on board the Ram. This consisted of a pneumatic gun constructed of a nine-inch tube. Approximately eleven feet long, the gun tube ran through the center of the forward air reservoir. Its breech of heavy iron casting was centered in the forward water-ballast tank, opening by means of a hinged door into the control compartment. With the pointed bow cap screwed down into a watertight position, the gunner's task was to undog the inner door, load a six-foot projectile into the tube, shut the inner door, turn a crank which opened the bow cap, reach down and unscrew the balance valve sending a four-hundred-pound air charge into the breech, and thus fire the projectile. Water rushed in to fill the tube. The gunner cranked the bow cap closed. Then he blew the tube. forcing the water into the ballast tank that surrounded it...."1

During extensive trials, John Holland made numerous descents and operated successfully above and below the surface. Dives in excess of 45 feet were recorded. Dummy projectiles supplied by Captain Ericson, the designer of the Monitor, were fired successfully.

"The first Ericsson projectile was fired under a pressure of only three hundred pounds per square inch to avoid hitting a floating dry dock moored in the Basin. The Ram was submerged to a depth which put the bow cap of the pneumatic gun about three feet below the surface. The firing valve was released. The projectile cleared the muzzle by eight or ten feet. Then, it leaped out of the water and rose sixty to seventy feet in the air to plunge downward and bury itself irretrievably in the mud at the bottom of the Basin."2

Members of the Fenian Brotherhood stole the Fenian Ram in November 1883 in a disagreement over money. They took the submarine to New Haven Connecticut, but soon discovered that no one except John Holland knew how to operate it. Holland was understandably upset and steadfastly refused to help the Fenian Brotherhood. Unable to use or sell the Fenian Ram, the Society had the Ram hauled ashore and placed in a lumber shed on the Mill River. Her 15 HP Brayton oil engine was removed to operate a forge in the Brass Foundry of James Reynolds.

In 1916, the Fenian Ram was taken to Madison Square Garden in New York City where she was exhibited in order to raise funds for victims of the Irish Uprising. Afterwards, she was moved to the grounds of the New York State Marine School. In 1927, Edward A. Browne purchased the Fenian Ram and moved her to West Side Park in Paterson, New Jersey. The Fenian Ram remained in the park until the Paterson Museum moved into its present quarters at 2 Market Street in Paterson.

  1. Morris, Richard K., John P. Holland: Inventor of the Modern Submarine. (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 1966; 2nd ed., Univ. S.C. Press, 1998), pp. 39-40.
  2. Ibid., pg 42.

John Holland's "Notes on the Fenian Ram"


Copyright 1999,2000,2001,2002 Gary McCue

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