Famous Stolen Submarine

John Philip Holland

In 1881 the there was a big community of support in New Haven for the Irish struggle against the British. At the time John Philip Holland an engineer from New York was trying to realize the idea of building one of the first practical submarines. This was very advanced and experimental for the time.

He needed funding and the Fenian Brotherhood, the American counterpart to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, hired him with the Fenians' Skirmishing Fund. The boat was named by press the Fenian Ram and to be built in New Jersey.

Holland was focused on the engineering and perfection of the boat which meant the scheduled delivery ran behind and the project ran over on costs. He became at odds with his funders.

This is when the New Haven Fenian Brotherhood crew goes down to New Jersey. They forge Holland's signature to gain access to the facility then steal two prototype submarines, they sink one in the Long Island Sound by mistake and tow the other (Fenian Ram) back to New Haven.

They decided they are going to figure out how to use this thing. So they tow it out to New Haven harbor and start trying to learn driving and diving. Apparently they were making a lot of mistakes and scaring boaters because the New Haven Harbor Master declared it a "menace to navigation" and banished the boat from the harbor.

Holland's subs.
The Ram in the Lumber Shed

Defeated they decide they need to hide their stolen goods in case Holland tried to reclaim it. So they hauled the Ram ashore and placed it in a lumber shed on the Mill River (99 Mill River Street) across the river from where District now stands, near where the highway crosses.

It stayed hidden for about 40 years on that location, it was discovered and then exhibited at Madison Square garden, eventually being moved to the Paterson Museum in New Jersey near where it was built.

6 Images of Fenian Ram being towed down Olive Street New Haven in 1916. Digital files saved from Ebay (sold to other purchaser). -Colin M. Caplan

Fenian Ram on exhibited at Paterson Museum. Image Source