Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

Report on the wreck of the Sub Marine Explorer (1865) at Isla San Telmo, Archipielago de las Perlas, Panama, and the 2006 fieldwork season

Author/s M. McCarthy

Year of publication 2007

Report Number: 221

Sub Marine Explorer was an innovative vessel that was conceived and launched in 1865-1866 with the twin demands of the American Civil War and the Panamanian pearl fishery in mind. The product of the German immigrant ironworker Julius H. Kroehl, a gifted underwater engineer and inventor, Sub Marine Explorer was one of the most important and successful developments in the early days of the submarine boat. It was one of two technological successes and is one of only five submarines known to exist from that early period. It is the only one built for use by the Union still in existence, giving it an iconic status along with its contemporary the confederate submarine HL Hunley. Nonetheless its presence at the remote Isla San Telmo in the Archipielago de las Perlas, Panama was unknown until 2001.

Management of what is now recognised as a unique maritime archeological object with a wide-ranging technological, cultural and economic context has become a priority for the many stakeholders, notably James P. Delgado, then Director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum, now Executive Director of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) and who has led in the identification and analysis of the remains. In the wake its expertise in the interpretation, excavation, conservation and management of iron steel and steam shipwrecks, staff of the Western Australian Museum were invited to join the 2006 team. This report centres on that input and places it into the Sub Marine Explorer context.