Preserving the story of HMAS AE1

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT James McPherson (author), Mr Bayden Findlay (photographer), Fugro Survey (photographer)

Location(s): Australian National Maritime Museum, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS AE1, Naval Heritage and History, Australian National Maritime Museum

Dr Nigel Erskine (front centre) and the Find AE1 expedition team reviewing survey data on board MV Fugro Equator. (photo: Bayden Findlay)
Dr Nigel Erskine (front centre) and the Find AE1 expedition team reviewing survey data on board MV Fugro Equator.

As the investigation begins into the final moments of the Royal Australian Navy’s first submarine HMAS AE1, moves are also afoot to educate the public on the submarine’s importance to Australia's wartime history.

Before the search for AE1 was mounted, careful consideration was given to what would become of any discovery and the information collected during the search operation.

The Australian National Maritime Museum was the obvious choice to become the custodians of the memory of the men lost in 1914.

Head of Research and Curatorial at Australian National Maritime Museum, Dr Nigel Erskine, was on board MV Fugro Equator when the discovery was made to provide expert advice and ensure the data was collected for posterity.

“The Navy is a large part of Australia’s story and the Australian National Maritime Museum is fully committed to interpreting the Navy story,” Dr Erskine said.

“Within our remit, the loss of AE1 is profound. Not only was it an unsolved mystery for so long, but it was the first major blow to the Royal Australian Navy.

“We already have in the collection the commissioning axe that was used to launch both HMA Submarines AE1 and AE2, medals belonging to Able Seaman James Thomas who is entombed within AE1, as well as original letters of condolence from the Prime Minister to the families of those who died.

“The Museum will now take all of the data and vision collected during the expedition and bring these objects to life.

“The story of 35 souls lost to us for 103 years is compelling and now we have found them, we will be able to better honour their memories and explore the themes around loss, mystery, and recovery. 

“It’s great to have been able to offer closure to the families during the Centenary of Anzac period,” he said.

The Museum has been an ongoing supporter of Navy, recently appointing a dedicated curator for Royal Australian Navy archaeology.

“Our archaeologists will work with the experts gathered for the search to begin the process of understanding what happened to the boat,” Dr Erskine said. 

“The men of AE1 died in service to our nation and the Navy family never gave up hope they would one day be found.

“The Australian National Maritime Museum will hold their record for future generations to know the bravery of Australians in war.”