Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Waratah - family and friends subjected to a cruel and protracted hope.

Initially the Fuller was sent out to search for the Waratah, but due to hostile sea conditions had to abandon the search.

The Royal Navy deployed cruisers HMS Pandora and HMS Forte (and later HMS Hermes) to search for the Waratah. The Hermes, near the area of the last sighting of the Waratah, encountered waves so large and strong that she strained her hull and had to be placed in dry dock on her return to port.

In September 1909, the Blue Anchor Line chartered the Union Castle ship Sabine to search for the Waratah. The search of the Sabine covered 14,000 miles, but yielded no result.

1910: relatives of the Waratah passengers chartered the Wakefield and conducted a search for three months, which again proved unsuccessful.


Melbourne, September 13.

"The Aberdeen line steamer Salamis,
which arrived from London today, made
a fruitless search for the Waratah."

Many commercial vessels plying the South African coast were asked to keep watch for signs of the Waratah, but all to no avail.


MELBOURNE, December 12.

'Captain Tickell, the Victoria naval commandant, whose son is a passenger on the missing steamer Waratah, said yesterday that, in spite of the fact that the Sabine had returned from an unsuccessful trip, and that the Waratah was to be posted as missing on December 15 if no news was to hand, he still had hopes that she was afloat.'

Melbourne, February 16, 1910.

'A meeting of the Waratah search committee today decided to send a cable to the Premier of Natal, expressing indignation at the delay in the Wakefield's departure to look for the missing vessel, and urging him to expedite it in every possible manner.'

'The life insurance companies do not intend to pay on the lives of the Waratah's passengers until the court grants probate, and even then they will require an indemnity.  They do not regard the fact that the English Court is granting probate of Captain Ilbery's will as binding on them.'

It took until December, 1909, to post that the Waratah was officially missing. Life insurances were withheld until the Court granted probate. As if it wasn't enough for widows and families to deal with the unknown, they were left in financial limbo while extensive searches were conducted for many months after the waratah failed to arrive at Cape Town. 

What were widows to do while they waited in vain?

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Waratah - more on spar deck coal? Why not...


"In some quarters it has been expressed that the disposition
of the coal loaded at Durban has had something to do with 
the non-arrival of the Waratah, to put it bluntly coal placed 
on the spar deck bunker and so upsetting the centre of gravity 
that when she listed in the seaway she turned turtle." 

"When spoken to at the Port Adelaide
people well acquainted with the ship and
the principles on which she is loaded and
coaled RIDICULED the suggestion.'

"When she left Port Adelaide the Waratah had
2 200 tons of coal on board, and arriving at
Durban she would ship about the same
quantity (actually 1929 tons), allowing for the fact that
some of the Port Adelaide coal had not been
burnt, she would have about 2000 tons of
coal on board."

"When she left the Natal port at Durban 
she landed only 200 tons of cargo,
so if anything she would be stiffer than
when she left Australia."

"Where would the coal most likely be

"It was in the bunkers which are all
below the main deck."

"The Waratah took on 1,000 tons of loose
coal at Port Adelaide, which was placed in the bottom
of the hold when the ship left Port Adelaide
for the eastern states, in continuation of her
voyage for London it would increase
her steadiness, and add to her stability "

"Was there any indication of unseaworthiness
when she left from the outer harbour walls?"

"On the contrary she must have been in
splendid form. She made the trip to Durban
in 18 days, which is a record for the
trip "

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931)  Wednesday 18 May 1910


"When she returned from the eastern States
she loaded cargo at Ocean Steamers' wharf
(Adelaide) and at the Outer Harbour, 
and in addition took in 180 tons of bunker coal, 
which was placed in the bunkers."

"She had no coal on deck (spar) when she left the Outer Harbour."

No coal was loaded in the spar deck bunker outbound for Durban some 5936 miles distant. It would seem more plausible that all coal bunkers, including the reserve spar deck bunkers, would be utilized for such a lengthy voyage (no emigrants on the spar deck). The relatively short trip from Durban to Cape Town, 790 miles (7.5 times shorter), would certainly not require coal loaded into the destabilizing spar deck bunkers, which the builders had advised against at the outset of the Waratah's short-lived career.

'A range of coaling ports in the side, above the main deck, enabled the bunkers below that deck to be filled.'

"What may have led to misgiving as to the stowage
of the coal taken on board at Durban
was the fact that as the vessel
was lying close to the wharf, it was
found convenient to load it into the
bunkers below (not the emergency
bunkers), by means of shoots, openings
of which were on the boat and
promenade decks."

Final word. 

If for argument's sake 150 tons x 2 or as some references suggest, 250 tons of coal were loaded into the spar deck bunkers at Durban, this might have been the equivalent of a 'stage post', from where the coal was distributed to bunkers lower down. We know that the Waratah was delayed when departing Durban because of an uneven distribution of coal causing a list at the wharf. Part of the process to create equilibrium included adjustment of the coal distribution, suggesting that the ultimate destination of the total 1929 tons of coal no longer formed part of the loading details equation and subsequent confusion. 

 Mr William Robert Wright, Manager of Cotts & Company, supplying coal to the Waratah:

"She was late in sailing owing to a list, which was perhaps caused by too much coal on one side in the bunker."

Mr Wright acknowledged that the job of loading was not the complete picture. Adjustments still had to be made. He did not confirm at the Inquiry that coal was either loaded into or remained in the spar deck bunkers. He did not have to, it was not an issue.

Perhaps now is the time for evidence to the contrary........

Monday, 30 March 2015

Waratah - is a deckchair 'without a trace'?

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Saturday 10 December 1910

Melbourne, December 9.
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) Saturday 10 December 1910

"A deck chair bearing a passenger'sname, and 'S.S. Waratah.' was picked upon the foreshore at Coffee Bay on Thursday, November 3." 

The Waratah disappeared without a trace, or did she? One of the most compelling aspects of the mystery relates to an alleged complete absence of debris from the steamer. Apart from suspicious bodies discovered afloat off the Bashee River and further down the coast, there was nothing to indicate where the Waratah was likely to have gone down.

The deckchair sounds convincing and displayed the name of the Waratah and a passenger. It does seem strange that the newspaper article does not specify the name of the passenger and I am skeptical about the names of passengers appearing on deckchairs. If this was so, the name would have to have been affixed in a temporary manner, surely not resilient enough to have survived intact with the deckchair until November, three months later.

However, if the deckchair did originate from the Waratah, it would be a further confirmation that the Waratah foundered further up the Wild Coast, allowing the Agulhas Current moving in a southerly direction to deposit it at Coffee Bay (some 80 miles southwest of Cape Hermes). It makes sense, given this unconfirmed evidence, that the Waratah did not founder further down the coast and would have to have come about to give validation to the exchange with the Clan MacIntyre.

It is alleged there was also a cushion with the letter 'W' found on the coast near Cape Agulhas, very much further south and a life ring belonging to the Waratah off New Zealand. All very intriguing, confusing and unconfirmed. The cushion could easily have drifted down the coast to Cape Agulhas and the life ring could have fallen off the steamer when she was in Australian waters.

The discoveries beg the question, why were they not confirmed or disproved as originating from the Waratah? Surely these items would have been sent to the Blue Anchor Line for identification? Either these reports were elaborate hoaxes like the bottle messages or indeed were confirmation of the real deal. Would it have been in the interests of the Blue Anchor Line to confirm that the deckchair originated from their flagship? Perhaps not. After all, the Inquiry which convened a year and a half after the Waratah disappeared, was likely to come to the conclusion that 'perils of the seas' applied and due an absence of physical evidence, no single party was to blame.

But what became of the deckchair? The sparsely inhabited and hostile Wild Coast might very well have held the secret of additional items from the Waratah, washed up onshore. But if no one was there to find, identify and confirm these items......

Did the Waratah truly disappear without a trace?


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Waratah - a further reason for coming about.

We know that the Waratah was over loaded and less buoyant than she should have been. Apart from making the steamer vulnerable in heavy seas there is a further factor contributing to Captain Ilbery's decision to come about and avoid the approaching storm from the southwest. It relates to a design feature of the Waratah and the following is an extract from the inquiry:  

'The hatch in the forward well measured 30 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 6 inches, and that in the after well 19 feet 6 inches by 26 feet. Both were fitted with hatch covers of 3-inch pine supported by transverse beams formed of 1-inch plate and four angles. The hatch coamings were 3 feet high.'

The forward hatch surface area equated with the modern house pictured below. This significant portal of entry into the cargo holds of the Waratah was protected by 3 inch pine supported by a 1 inch steel plate. If the Waratah had tackled high seas produced by a cold front storm of 'exceptional violence' there was a significant possibility the pine cover could be smashed in. It does not take much imagination to visualize the deluge of sea water which would turn the Waratah from a floating object into one which would sink within minutes.

181 Square Meter 1949 Sqft Modern Contemporary Home September 2011 Image

Waratah - alter(c)ations during construction?

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) Wednesday 21 December 1910


LONDON, Monday.

'Mr. .T. W. Lund, the ship owner, giving
evidence to-day, at the official inquiry into
the loss of the steamer Waratah, said the
Waratah was not built as an experiment,
and no alterations were either suggested
or made during the construction of the
vessel or after her maiden voyage.'

This extract is interesting from two separate perspectives. It reveals that not everything presented at the Inquiry appeared in the final transcript. Perhaps the Court did not believe Mr Lund's comment held any significance. I disagree.

The word 'experiment' goes to the heart of the Waratah stability controversy. It was generally believed that the Waratah was top heavy and the tensions between the owners and builders manifesting in Court in the form of differing opinions, fed this impression. Many wondered if the basic template design plans for the Waratah were altered during the course of construction. This was further fueled by the twin deck classification given to the Waratah. 

The Waratah was intended to be a progression from the preceding twin deck Geelong and the following design plans were submitted at the outset of the project. It is clear that the Waratah was intended to have three superstructure decks:

Waratah (1908)
Lines, body & 1/2 breadth
Boat dk, prom dk, fo'c'sle & poop dk
Upper deck and main deck
Lower deck & hold
Midship section
Rigging profile
Model fittings and details
Capacity profile and plan
Loading plan (sketch) BCA327
Loading plan (for stevedores) BCA327


Jeremy Michell, MA
Historic Photographs and Ships Plans Manager, National Maritime Museum

But there is one controversial aspect in the construction of the Waratah which could be interpreted as an 'experiment' which failed. The more detailed plans included permanent twin spar deck coal bunkers, capable of storing about 600 tons of coal. It is well known that 600 tons of coal on the spar deck would have negatively impacted on the metacentric stability of the Waratah. Some calculations suggest that this additional weight could have decreased top heavy stability by as much as 50%.

From the very outset when the newly completed Waratah departed the Clyde for London, the builders advised that coal should not be loaded into the spar deck bunkers, particularly in view of the fact that the Waratah did not have a cargo component for the voyage. This immediately alerts us to the suggestion that the controversial coal bunkers were an 'experimental' addition, and the space finally limited to cargo and emigrants, only. The mere fact that the spar deck coal bunkers were never used implies that the 'experiment' failed.

The owners and builders were clearly at odds and this tension overflowed into the Court. Alterations and altercations aside, the Waratah was doomed from the start and the Blue Anchor Line 'experiment' failed for all the world to see.

Waratah - should the Clan MacIntyre have sighted her earlier?

The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954) Tuesday 2 November 1909


London, November 1.

'But if an outbreak of fire had occurred on
the Waratah during the day the
captain would undoubtedly have
retraced his course, hugging the
coast in order to beach the steamer
and land the passengers.'

'Those who dispel the Harlow's narrative argue that if the
Waratah were on fire and retraced her course
to Durban she should have been sighted
earlier by the Clan Macintyre.'

The first passage makes sense, particularly as the barometer fell, signalling the approach of a severe storm front from the southwest.

But the second passage is somewhat confusing. It implies that the Waratah would have to have slowed down if there was a fire on board. This is not necessarily the case, confirmed by Captain Bruce of the Harlow's estimation that the large steamer astern was gaining, cruising at about 13 knots (registered cruising speed of the Waratah). Fire on board did not automatically give reason for a steamer to slow down, and in some cases, if the fire was within a coal pile, increasing transfer of coal into furnaces was a way to dispose of the burning coal - therefore increasing speed rather than decreasing it.

Also, earlier in the day when the Clan MacIntyre sighted the Waratah, apart from steaming close to the shoreline, there were no outward indicators of fire or problems on board. Signals were exchanged and the Waratah departed company of the Clan MacIntyre, heading in a more southerly direction. As in the case of a coal bunker fire in December 1908, which burned for four solid days in one of the coal bunkers, the crew of the Waratah ultimately brought it under control, using equipment on board and various hosing techniques. They did not fly flags of distress at the time, because coal bunker fires were a common occurrence and in most cases, manageable. A coal bunker fire early 27 July, would have been viewed in the same light, and not required extreme measures until much later in the day when it had progressed out of control.

The passage should rather have read; 'she should have been sighted again by the Clan MacIntyre'. This would be more logical, implying that the Waratah slowed down after departing the Clan MacIntyre in order to initiate manoeuvres to come about. This would have allowed the Clan MacIntyre to catch up, making more sense in the context of the report. However, it did not have to be the case. The Waratah was heading in a more southerly direction further out to sea where she could have come about in an arc beyond the shipping lane and then crossed it diagonally at a later time charting a course back to Durban, 'hugging the coast'. Under those circumstances she would not necessarily have been sighted by another vessel in the shipping lane, until she came up behind the Harlow.



Friday, 27 March 2015

Waratah - what about the naval officer?

There will always be skeptics when presenting the Harlow witness account of the Waratah foundering astern off Cape Hermes. Why didn't Captain Bruce make a note of the incident in the log book and report the incident on arrival at Durban? I have attempted to interpret his and the chief officer's actions, allowing benefit of the doubt. However, Captain Bruce's explanation that the Waratah exploded met with more than a little skepticism. If the Waratah had exploded, debris would have been scattered far and wide and the noise of the explosion heard by the crew on the Harlow, and surely the keepers at Cape Hermes lighthouse.

It is understandable that this theory is not entirely convincing and searches for the wreck off Port St Johns (Cape Hermes) deemed an expensive and arduous undertaking with little probability of a positive outcome. However, there is one further eyewitness account (apart from the policeman on horseback who may or may not have been in the vicinity) which deserves our attention:

'In connection with the fire, a naval officer attached to one of the Cape cruisers, who pricked off the chart the position stated by the captain of the Harlow, as that in which he saw what he supposed to be a burning ship, was right at Gordon's Bay, in the mouth of the St. John's River.'

It is almost astounding that this small account mentioned in a newspaper at the time, did not receive the gravity of attention it deserved. Captain Bruce of the Harlow was convinced at the time that the large steamer astern was on fire. The naval officer on a vessel further out to sea witnessed the exact same thing and in the same location. What is not included in the statement is the time. But we can assume that the officer correlated the date and time as well.

Nowhere else in the scanty data available to us so many years later, is there a second, independent confirmation of any kind as to what in all probability became of the Waratah. If the large steamer on fire off the St Johns river was not the Waratah, it begs the question; which steamer was it then??? There were no other reports of missing steamers at the time.

Perhaps it was assumed that the naval officer was 'cashing in' on the hysteria surrounding the disappearance of the Waratah? But to assume that he fabricated the additional eye witness account suggests that he did not represent the navy in an honourable manner. I find it hard to believe that a naval officer would be allowed to share a fabricated account with the press and if this had been so, the navy would surely have published a retraction at a later stage - which was never the case.

We can go round and round with the Waratah mystery, imagining that she foundered in the storm of 28 July, going down quickly at some obscure location along the South African coast and her wreck lies in waters too deep for discovery off the Continental Shelf. But before we do this, are we absolutely sure that the answer to the mystery does not lie in 36 m of water off Port St Johns, waiting to give much needed closure to the descendants of the unfortunate 211 souls prematurely snatched into a watery grave?