1. Memorial:Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon4

Awards & Titles:


Family :

Son of Isabella E. Messenger, of 82, Humffray St. South, Ballarat East, Victoria, Australia.

Service Life:


Unit / Ship / Est.: HMA Submarine AE1 

" Thomas Fleming S. BESANT had entered the Royal Navy at the age of 15 years in 1898. Thomas was the third child of five children to Edgar Besant and Mary Evans. (double check this with Dorothy) His eldest sister married but had no children; his elder brother Reginald never married. Younger brother Lionel migrated to Canada and his youngest sister Janette went to Hong Kong. In 1930, a cousin, Arthur Digby Besant, had this to say about Thomas Besant in a monologue called 'The Besant Pedigree' - ""He joined the navy at the early age of 15, that being the practice of those days; and less than two years later, as a young midshipman, he saw active service in China during the Boxer rising. On his return home he began by specialising in gunnery and torpedo courses; but shortly afterwards he decided to devote all his energies and brains to a study of the new field which submarines and hydro-aeroplanes were then opening up to the keenest type of the young school of intellectual naval officers. He quickly became recognised as an expert in submarine matters, and early in 1914 was selected to command A.E.1., the first submarine constructed here for service in Australian waters. His vessel, travelling under its own power, reached Sydney in May, and was the first submarine to stand the test of a long ocean voyage. The next few months were occupied in cruises and naval manoeuvres There his submarine A.E.1. mysteriously disappeared and no trace of her has ever been found. War broke out in August and the movements of the vessel in the preceding weeks had not been kept secret. Of her fate nothing can learnt: we can only surmise what happened. Fleming , at any rate, with all his gallant crew, went down with his ship.""5 "

Action : Naval Accident 

During the war there were a number of Naval Accidents which we have isolated because of their shocking caualties and the corresponding impact on members of the craft. There were a number of vessels destroyed in port by explosions which we would today categorise as 'Health & Safety' failures.

Detail :

The AE1 was a new submarine (one of 2) commissioned by the Australian Navy and built by Vickers at Barrow. Both submarines had been handed over and departed from Portsmouth in March 1914 for Australia. AE1 was under the command of Lt Commander Thomas BESANT. The voyage to Australia was without incident and on arrival the AE1 went to Cockatoo Island for refit and operational preparation. Ten weeks later - on the outbreak of war - they were still there. They were quickly prepared for war service, being ready by 10 August. Towards the end of the month, the two submarines sailed northward from Port Jackson. The convoy's initial destination was Palm Island just north of Townsville, where the sailors and soldiers of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) were exercising preparatory to commencing operations against Rabaul, the capital of German New Guinea. The little convoy arrived on 2 September and sailed the same day for Port Moresby, The plan of operations was for the submarines to patrol off Cape Gazelle to the east whilst other vessels supported landings on German New Guinea, and to guard against hostile incursions by Admiral von Spee's Pacific Squadron or other German warships. It was while engaged on this duty that AE.1 was lost with all hands. In company with Parramatta (LEUT W.H. Warren RAN), she sailed from Herbertshhe at 0700 on 14 September, their only orders to search in St George's Channel. To this end the destroyer turned south, while AE.1 headed north-east towards the Duke of York Islands. The still morning was hazy and this got worse during the day, obscuring the submarine from Parramatta's view, the latter turning north-west to regain contact. She sighted the submarine off Berard Point (Duke of York Is) about 1430, and the two vessels 'spoke' briefly before the destroyer steered easterly to continue her patrol. AE.1 was last seen from the destroyer about 1530, running south-west and apparently heading back to harbour. She was never seen again.

A search area was extended to cover all waters between New Britain and New Ireland, but to no avail - no wreckage or other evidence was ever found, and AE.1 was presumed lost with all hands. In the absence of eyewitnesses and without any effective sub-surface search capability (this was long before the days of ASDIC/SONAR), speculation as to the cause of the loss was rife in the squadron. Although no formal inquiry seems to have been carried out, the eventually accepted opinion, later expressed by the Official Historian, was that: out of many hypotheses the least improbable is that the AE.1 dived for practice in the ordinary course when nearing the mouth of Blanche Bay, and came up so close to the coastal reef - which there forms a precipitous, if not overhanging, edge to the deep channel - that her thin steel plates were cut through by the coral rock. The objection to this hypothesis is that no traces of oil were found; whether that objection is insuperable must be left to technical experts. (Jose, 3rd Ed. 1935, p. 97). And so the matter stood for 60 years. In 1975-6 approval was given for the survey ship HMAS Flinders to conduct a search of this area using her side-scanning sonar and, on 17 May 1976, she located a contact 1,000 m NE of Credner Island at a depth of 240 m. Unfortunately, the tantalizing possibility that this was the wreck of AE.1 has remained just that - a possibility. The sonar was unable to provide positive identification (although it was established that the object was not a natural feature), and no further search has been undertaken. Thus, the loss of Australia's first submarine, her officers and ship's company remains an intriguing but largely-forgotten mystery. Lost on the AE1 were Brother Masons: Engine Room Artificer Jack MESSENGER of HOPE LODGE No 2153, and the Captain, Lt Commander Thomas BESANT of PHOENIX LODGE No 257.
Sources SUBSUNK 1914 - the Loss of HMA S/M AE 1, Peter Sinfield 2003

Masonic :

TypeLodge Name and No.Province/District :
Mother : Lodge of Hope No. 2153 E.C.Hampshire & IOW

15th May 1913
18th May 1913
16th July 1913

Listed as a 24 year old Engine Room Artificer of the Australian Navy upon his initiation into the Lodge of Hope No. 2153, when resident at Gosport. The contribution record shows that he "Died Sept 15 1914."

Source :

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Additional Source:

Last Updated: 2020-11-29 09:16:48