View Full Version : Civil War sub found

Levi Battery
01-22-2007, 12:56 PM
American Civil War submarine found
By Joanna Bale
A unique boat from 1864 may have inspired Jules Verne to create Captain Nemo's vessel Nautilus

A BRITISH explorer has found an early submarine that he believes was the inspiration for Nautilus, Captain Nemo’s vessel in Jules Verne’s novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.
Colonel John Blashford-Snell discovered the half-submerged, cast-iron wreck off the coast of Panama while searching for ancient ruins.

She was built in 1864 by a visionary craftsman, Julius Kroehl, for the Union forces during the American Civil War. But the boat, called Explorer, was never used in the conflict and was subsequently taken to Panama where she was used to harvest pearls.

She was ideal for this purpose because of a unique lock-out system, identical to the one in the Nautilus from Verne’s book, published in 1870.
The lock-out system is a reversible air-lock that enables submariners to leave the vessel, harvest pearls from the sea-bed, then return to the submarine. Like Explorer, Nautilus was also used to gather items from the seabed.

Colonel Blashford-Snell, who runs the Dorset-based Scientific Exploration Society, said:it had been told about the sub 20 years ago and it was described as a Japanese mini-sub. I was then told that in fact it was just a boiler, so I didn’t worry about it. Then recently I was on an exploration in the area looking for ancient ruins and forts. I was contacted by a maritime museum in Canada who knew we were in the area and asked if we could examine the vessel.

When Colonel Blashford-Snell and his team dived to examine the wreck they discovered that it was much older than previously thought.

He explained: It was quite an experience because we had an expert with us who said it was much earlier than we had thought and in fact dated from the American Civil War. It had a conning tower and I felt as if Captain Nemo should be in it at the controls.

The submarine, which measures 36ft by 10ft, was lying in under 10ft of water off Isla San Telmo, an island in an archipelago known as The Pearl Islands, since being abandoned after three years in the pearl industry. Her crew all died from what was described then as a fever but what was more likely to have been the bends after they regularly submerged to about 100ft to work.

Manned submarine technology was just developing when Verne was writing the novel in which Captain Nemo and his crew travel the world’s oceans.

Colonel Blashford-Snell, 67, added: What made it ideal for the pearl trade was its lock-out system, which meant people could get out of it, gather up pearls then return to the submarine. I realized it was identical to the system used in Nautilus. In the book it mentions that Nautilus was first spotted in 1866, just two years after the Explorer was built.

And 1864 was significant in another way because it was the year of the first sinking of a ship, USS Housatonic, by a submersible, the hand-cranked CSS Hunley. Wyn Davies, a maritime historian, said: If Jules Verne was researching the relatively new world of submersible vessels he would probably have heard of the Explorer’s lock-out system. Submarine inventors were keen to sell their products so there would have been none of today ’s secrecy and technologies would have been keenly scrutinized on both sides of the Atlantic. As far as I’m aware, the Explorer had the world’s first lock-out system and its uniqueness might have stimulated Verne’s imagination.

ASK Jim, captain of Cheers charter Yacht!

Colonel Blashford Snell Tries to steal all the Thunder

This article appeared on the internet in August of 2005

News Flash on Jules Verne Nautilus real-life Submarine
Date Posted: Monday, August 08, 2005 (CST) By: frassinetti

Inside scoop on the story behind the story of the recent discovery on the Panama coastline, as you know, according to International news sources, it seems that Jules Verne Nautilus real-life inspiration was found in the coast of Panama, but here is some more interesting details......

Jules Verne Nautilus real-life ........

We recently published an article telling the amazing story on the Explorer, an amazing submarine that according to the experts on location was the real life inspiration for Jules Verne Nautilus submarine described in 20,000 leagues under the sea.

Soon after publishing this article we received an amazing email, from our friend Jim-of-Panama.

Jim and his family have been exploring this amazing submarine for over 35 years, and he was kind enough to fill us on the story before Colonel Blashford Snell’s exploration.

It is without a doubt a key element to understand the value within the discovery as well as to know what was the story before these new features about the Explorer were finally unveiled.

It seems that this submarine was first identified as a Japanese Second World War submarine wreck. The experts addressed the wreck as a mini Jap sub, and for decades it was visited, photographed and written about following that hypothesis.

Recently, it was James Delgado of Vancouver who first identified the wreck as a CWE sub. He did all the research and wrote an article that was published in NAVAL HISTORY, December 2004.

And another amazing insiders’ story is that our friend Jim filled us with the exclusive information on who was the person that provided Colonel Blashford Snell the map of the southern Perlas Islands with the location of the sub It was Jim, captain of Cheers charter Yacht!

See Picture Image Gallery of the sub:


We’re very glad Jim contacted us and helped us fill in the blanks on this amazing story We’ll soon publish new and interesting information on this matter Keep posted!

Union Navy
01-22-2007, 04:31 PM
Kroehl's submarine was offered to the Union Navy, but rejected, as they had much trouble thinking what to do with the Navy's first submarine, USS Alligator. The Explorer's "lockout" consisted of the entire bottom of the submarine opening - great for pearl harvesting. The Navy did not have much use for a high-seas offensive submarine, due to the dimunitive size of the Confederate Navy. Destroying harbor obstructions was desirable, but problematic, as visibility in these waters is usually atrocious. Submarines, like "torpedoes" (mines), were considered infernal weapons, and most records pertaining to them (especially Southern) were destroyed at the end of the war. There may have been as many as 22 submarines built during the war.

A much more likely inspiration for Verne's Nautilus was Brutus de Villeroi's early submairne (predecessor of the Alligator), which he demonstrated in Nantes (Verne's hometown) in the 1830s. Verne may have witnessed these demonstrations in his boyhood. The Villeroi-designed USS Alligator also had a diver lockout chamber (in 1862) as its primary weapon, along with an air scrubber system. You can learn more about the Alligator, its history, deployment and the search for it at

01-22-2007, 08:32 PM
seems this would be of such value/interest to be preserved or museum housed as to be doubtful of its origin. Truly a civ war sub in friendly panama would have been big news long ago.

01-23-2007, 12:58 AM
Mr. Hayhurst, a more careful reading of the original post should reveal that the object has only recently been identified as being of Civil War vintage. Previous to that it had been mistaken for a Japanese mini-sub from the Second World War and had been widely described as such.

01-23-2007, 10:15 AM

01-23-2007, 11:12 AM

Could you provide a link to the actual newsletter itself so that we can see the full context behind the picture, especially since I suspect that it acknowledges that this is re-interpretation of an previously known artifact is, in essence, a "new" discovery of a CW era submarine? Thanks.

01-23-2007, 12:03 PM
...scroll down to.......



I was looking for a quick link to a photo of the sub.

01-25-2007, 09:24 AM
It would be certainly nice if she did join the Hunley in North Charleston. Two subs for the price of one admission.