John Albert Marsland

Date of birth: 9th October 1880
Place of birth: Leeds, Yorkshire
Date of marriage: 1902
Place of marriage: Devonport, Devon
Service No.: 8274
Rank: Chief Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class
Regiment / Division: Royal Australian Navy
Battalion / Vessel: HMA S/M AE1 on loan from (RN/270573) Royal Navy
Died: 14th September 1914 aged 33 years
Death location: At sea

Life before the War
John’s father was John who was born in 1848 in Dukinfield, Cheshire and died in 1914.  John’s mother was Annie, born in 1851 in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, dying in 1920. His siblings were:

Charles N born 1876
Ethel born 1879 and died in 1943
Louis born 1883
Roger born 1886 and died in 1921
Clarice Annie born 1890 and died in 1924 leaving a Probate:
“Marsland of 9 Hunslet Road Leeds spinster died 3 December 1924. Administration Wakefield 24 January 1925 to Ethel Marsland spinster. Effects £85 11s 9d”

The family lived at 9 Hunslet Road, Leeds as per the 1891, 1901 and 1911 Censuses.  John senior had his own business as a Confectioner and owned a shop which he ran with his wife.

There was no further trace of John Albert after 1891, although we do know he married Nellie Louise Griffiths Leybourne in 1902 in Devonport, Devon.  Nellie was born in Southampton in 1880.

War Service  (information supplied by Dorset Submariners Association)

ERA Class 2 John Albert Marsland
Service Number: 8274   Lent by RN 1 December 1913 for 3 yrs
DOB: 9 October 1880
Place of birth: Leeds, Yorkshire, England
Next of Kin: Wife, Nellie Louise Griffith Marsland, “Waterloo House”, Clifford Street, Southampton, England
(Son of John and Annie Marsland, Leeds, England

Finding the Lost Submarine:  The Mystery of AE1
The oldest mystery of Australian naval history revolves around the fate of submarine AE1.  Together with AE2 she was the first submarine to be purchased by the fledgling Commonwealth government and undertook a record-making voyage to Australia in 1914.  After arranging to return to port at Kokopo (then Herbertshohe) in New Britain on September 14, AE1’s thirty-five officers and crew sailed into a sea mist and were never seen again.  Since then there have been many speculations about her fate and a number of attempts to locate the wreckage.  Forgotten, though AE1 was in the ensuing events of the war, her brief life and the unexplained circumstances of her loss made an extraordinary impact on the Australian public and still have the power to move us today.

The Commonwealth government paid just over £105,000 for each boat, taking delivery from the builders in Barrow-in-Furness in January 1914.  Six weeks later AE1 and AE2 were commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy, their 35-man crews having joined the boats early the same month.

AE1 had been subjected to balancing tests before leaving England, the results of which suggested that there may have been problems. The report includes extracts from John Marsland’s diaries, which on one occasion, he wrote with a justifiable note of satisfaction that they had “completed a most wonderful journey of endurance, both for men and engines.”

Two months later AE1 and AE2 were still being refitted from their record-breaking journey when war between Britain and Germany was declared on August 5 1914.  Australian ships were tasked to attack the German Pacific Fleet.  The repaired submarines, with their parent ship Upolo, joined an Australian flotilla near Rabaul, New Britain (then the main island of what was German New Guinea) as part of the hunt for the enemy ships.  On September 14 AE1 and Parramatta were patrolling together near Cape Gazelle.  The ship and submarine – called a ‘devil fish’ by the indigenous Wirian people – were exchanging visual signals until shortly before AE1 was last seen just before 3.30pm.  Parramatta returned to AE1’s last known position but did not sight the submarine.  Assuming that AE1 was returning to harbour as planned Parramatta made for Herbertshohe, anchoring at 7pm.  An hour later AE1 had still not returned and Australian Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Patey ordered a search for the missing submarine.  Encounter, Parramatta, Warrego and Yarra spent the next two days combing the area. Yarra damaged her propellers on a shoal in the poorly charted waters west of the primary Duke of York Island, further reducing the effectiveness of Patey’s squadron.  AE1 was not found, nor was any wreckage and it was determined to convene a Board of Inquiry.  This was never held.

Not only were they the country’s first submarines they were also tantalisingly top secret and, at the time, novel fighting machines.  AE1’s disappearance caused an outpouring of public grief and commemorative activity.  There were messages of sympathy from the King and Queen and from Winston Churchill in his role of First Lord of the Admiralty.  The Royal Australian Navy produced a blackedged memorial booklet and special payments and arrangements were made for the wives and families of the officers and crew.

Over the years many searches have been undertaken to find the AE1 but none was able to confirm any definite sightings. However in 2007 HMAS Benalla, with Foster aboard, made a likely sonar identification of a man-made object of the right size and shape – the location has not been disclosed.  Until private sponsorship can be found, no further investigations will be possible to confirm this sighting.

Researcher: Becky Lonergan
Published: 19th November 2013
Updated: Insert dates here

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