Friday, 22 May 2015

Waratah - more on Sabine search.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Friday 1 April, 1910
Melbourne, March 31.
The Minister of Customs has received acomplete copy of the report of the steamerSabine's search for the steamer Waratah.The log shows that the total time occupiedby the Sabine on her voyage was 87 days8 hours, and the total distance coveredwas 14,730 miles. The average speed was7.14 knots. 
The chief interest attaches to the visitof the Sabine to the Crozets andSt. Paul Islands. She arrived at 1 p.m. onOctober 24, off American Bay, PossessionIsland, one of the Crozets Group, andsteamed to within half a mile of the shore.The whistle was blown continually. Therewas no sign of any people about, but therewas what appeared to be a storehouse inthe north-west corner of the bay, and somewhite posts, with cross bars, which Captain S. H. Owen stated looked like goal-posts. He assumed that the posts were used for drying skins. Having satisfied himself that no one was in the vicinity of the bay he proceeded to Ship- Cove, where he arrived at 2.35 p.m.
On a Lonely Island.
Anchors were dropped in 21 fathoms ofwater, about 400 yards from the cliffs, andabreast of the cave. At 3.30 p.m. the captain sent the whaleboat ashore in chargeof Mr. White, the second officer, who wasaccompanied by Lieutenant Beattie and acrew of five men, including two naval signalmen. A beacon, consisting of a boxsecurely nailed to a piece oi scantling, waserected. It contained an airtight tin,lashed to the upright, in which was a statement to the effect that the ship had calledthere, and was proceeding towards St.Paul's Island. 
The statement was directed, "To whomit may concern," with a request thatit might be forwarded to Messrs. DonaldCurrie, & Co., London. At 5 p.m., theboat returned to the ship, and Messrs.Wright and Beattie reported that they hadfound the remains of what had been ahouse, and the remains of a boat, and twoiron blubber pots. The remnants of thehouse were on the spot where the refugehouse was marked on the chart. Therewere no signs of any recent habitation. Thelanding was effected without difficulty. Thewind was strong from the north-north-eastand the water was smooth in the cove, butthere was a slight swell, The shoresabounded with seagulls. penguins, and sea elephants. Captain Owen intended to stayin the anchorage all night to enable the engineers to do a little overhauling of theengines, but as the weather looked verythreatening and the anchorage anything butsecure for a vessel of the Sabine's size, hethought it better to get to sea again beforebe met with any accident.
Oil on the Troubled Waters.
At 6.25 p.m. the Sabine hove up anchorand proceeded to sea. At 4.30 a,m. anorth-west gale of exceptional violencesprang up, This lasted in its full fury until11 a.m., and the sea and squalls were terrific. The ship lay most of the time in thetrough of the sea. Three oil bags werepassed over the side. One sea which brokeon board carried off the accommodationladder and broke the bolt clean away. Theoil bags, however, had a beneficial effect. 
For a week prior to the Sabine's arrival at Possession Island, and while approaching the Crozet Group thick, boisterous weather was encountered, so that great difficulty was experienced in getting observations to ascertain the vessel's exact position. Dense fogs were encountered, and it was impossible to obtain really reliable observations even when these did not prevail. The horizon was false, and no two observers could get anything like the same altitude. Captain Owen endeavored to find Apostle's and Hogg Islands on October 22, but the weather was much too thick to approach such a dangerous locality.
In the morning he managed to obtain asnapshot observation of a very blurred sunwith an equally bad horizon, and at noonsecured a latitude by observation, whichhe considered reliable to about four miles.This latitude placed him 10 miles to thenorth of Apostle's Island. Accordingly heran due east clear of the island, and shaped a course for Dark Head, on Possession Island. Thick walls of fog had caused the captain to steam cautiously on his course, but eventually he saw the small peak spiring up above the clouds and fog. Half an hour later the sun came out quite bright, and there was an almost perfect horizon. This enabled the ship's officers to obtain a fairly accurate bearing.
A Misleading Chart.
It was afterwards that the vessel wassteered for American Bay. In referring tothe chart sailing directions regarding theseislands, Captain Owen pointed out thatmany of the statements were misleading.The small plan of Ship Cove on the chartwas also rather misleading. It appearedto be somewhat out of drawing, as thecove was not nearly so circular as the chart made it appear. When the Sabine was anchored, although she did not attempt to drag, she sheered about in a most alarming manner. That led Captain Owen to the conclusion that there were very strong eddy currents. Large fields of kelp extended about 150 yards from the shore, and if a ship became entangled in that he doubted if she would be able ever to extricate herself.

This account gives a very clear idea of how difficult it could become for crew in adverse weather conditions. It is not hard to imagine how difficult conditions were for the crew of the Waratah off Cape Hermes - fire, smoke, darkness, counter currents, bush fires onshore etc...
It would not take much under such circumstances to lose bearings and strike a reef / shoal. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Waratah - Sabine visits St Paul island.

The Argus (Melbourne) Friday 1 April, 1910
Images of past tragedies were found atSt Paul Island (midway between Africa and Australia) which the vessel (Sabine) anchored and landed a party. Close to the landing place were five roofless huts, in the first of which were three white boats obviouslyfrom the vessel Reve from the Island ofReunion. ln a second hut were fiveunmarked boats, and one painted with thename 'Stella Maria'. Inside the door wasroughly painted, "Holt Hill, lost November13, 1889, 32 hands". The remainder of theinscription was undecipherable The landing party also discovered three letters, twoof which were addressed to 'Madam, thewidow of Felix Fleurie, St Dennis, Reunion," and the other to "Monsieur LeCommandant de Passage".  An inscriptionin illiterate French indicated that a boat in the hut had been built by the crew ofthe Reve in November, 1904 and therewas also a record of a visit to the island bythe s s Kent in January, 1907, in thecourse of her search for the missing dredge, Walrus.
'Nearby, ' the report proceeds ' there were three graves close together, surrounded with ship's cables and having wooden crosses erected near them. They bore inscriptions in French -
'Octave Potin, October 25 1903. Here lies Henri Modom, died......The owner of the ship Reve, Raoul Fleurie, died October 10, 1904 ' 
A wreath of everlasting flowers was secured to this last cross with wire" Some little distance away another grave bore a cross inscribed to the memory of 'Iracha, Joseph Emilion, died January 9, 1901 ' Close to it were two mounds bearing the appearance of graves and surrounded by a cemented wall but there were no crosses. In all directions were scattered iron bolts, blocks, wire, tanks, pots and small spars, and near to the landing place was an old marine boiler.
On the northern spit, which forms the entrance to Crater Lake, was found a squareblock of light blown stone on which thefollowing words could be distinguished -
"Coup de Venus of January 5, 1883 " Agranite block attached to this stone wascarved with the words (in French), 
"Transit of Venus, by the French Solar Observatory Expedition December 9, 1874"

to be continued.....

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Waratah - the crux of the matter.

SYDNEY, Friday. - Captain Millington,of the Lund steamer Narrung, which isnow in Sydney, was seen today in reference to the cable as to the wreckage on theSouth African coast found at Mossel Bay.
Captain Millington said that no significancecould be attached to the fact that acushion stamped "W" had been found. The furniture of ships belonging to the Lundline was not marked with the initials ofthe steamer. The cushion was nottherefore portion of the furnishings ofthe Waratah. It might, of course, havebeen the property of a passenger on themissing steamship, but Captain Millingtondid not care to express any opinion as tothe wreckage washed ashore.

The discovery of items (including the deck chair at Coffee Bay) onshore thought to have originated from the Waratah, remains one of the significant components of the mystery.
One can either view these findings as red herrings, in no way connected with the Waratah or evidence that the Waratah foundered off the South African coast.
If the former is true, the items could have been the product of wishful hysteria surrounding the loss of the Waratah. It does, however, raise the question: why were these items not submitted for official examination to verify their origins?
If the latter is true, drawing from the archive material available, it becomes clear that representatives of the Blue Anchor Line were disinclined to acknowledge that the items could have originated from the Waratah. Why?
I believe that there was so much 'hype' surrounding the loss of the Waratah and possible causes, that the Lunds pursued an angle of 'we don't know what has become of our steamer'. In so doing, it placed the responsibility in the hands of the Court of Inquiry, to establish what had become of the Waratah. With no verifiable physical evidence, the Court was obliged to come to the conclusion that the Waratah succumbed to the 'perils of the seas' - i.e. an unavoidable accident at sea. This would remove any culpability from the case.
The frustrating consequence of such an approach removed a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle from the table. If the deck chair found at Coffee Bay originated from the Waratah, this would prove that she had to have foundered further up the coast (prevailing southwesterly Agulhas Current) - Cape Hermes.
If the Lunds had acknowledged the deck chair, through examination, Captain Bruce's (Harlow) account would have taken on a new and highly plausible dimension. The Waratah was attempting to return to Durban. This would have opened a can of worms for the Lunds at the Inquiry.
 This deck chair from the SS France, circa 1909, demonstrates very clearly that the name of the vessel was stamped on the chair. This was common practice!
The deck chair discovered at Coffee Bay, November, 1909, had an allegedly similar plaque with the name 'Waratah' clearly imprinted.
This, readers, is the very crux and proof of the matter. The Waratah must have come about, attempting to return to Durban.

Waratah - Mr. Shanks lets the side down.

Barrier Miner (Broken Hill) Thursday 12 January 1911
Mr. Shanks (Chief engineer for the Blue Anchor Line) said that neither the owners, the builders, nor himself had suggested utilizing the space on the spar deck for coal.
Counsel produced a plan, showing the space marked as coal bunkers.

Witness replied that he never regarded it as a permanent bunker. He did not think that the extra coal consumption indicated that Captain Ilbery was pressing the vessel. It might have been of some assistance in coaling to place a small quantity on the spardeck. He had not heard anything ofthe vessel's instability.
Asked why the coal was not placedon the spar deck at Glasgow, witnesssaid that ¡t was not considered safe todo so.
This extract does not say as much about the truth of coal in spar deck bunkers as it does about cagey witnesses. Mr. Shanks clearly found himself in a tricky spot. He seemed unsure of himself regarding the increased consumption of coal and whether that would necessitate coal being loaded into the spar deck bunkers. He covered this glaring issue by stating that 'it might have been of assistance in coaling to place a small quantity on the spar deck'. What does this mean? What is a small quantity? To make matters worse he 'lied' about the stability issue. Stability was all the company could think about after the Waratah's maiden voyage and what was required to improve stability through an improved cargo loading plan and ballast distribution (filling water tank number 8).
Surely in preparation for his appearance in court he should have established without a fraction of doubt whether coal was loaded into the spar deck bunkers at Durban, 26 July, or not?? His cagey, non-specific response leads one to think, after all, that coal was loaded into the spar deck bunkers. But in so doing, Shanks maligned Captain Ilbery (who could never defend himself) on two scores: Captain Ilbery 'pressed' (more than 13.5 knots) the Waratah and went against advice from the builders, owners and Mr. Shanks himself, by loading coal into the spar deck bunkers.  
Personally I don't believe Captain Ilbery, due shortly to retire, was in the business of 'pressing' the Waratah. If we calculate the speed and the time it took the Waratah to reach Cape Hermes by 6 am (when signals were exchanged with the Clan MacIntyre) Captain Ilbery definitely did not 'press' the Waratah. The 15 tons per day increase in coal consumption on the second to maiden voyage, suggests that overloading and weather conditions, rather than speed were responsible; both beyond the direct control of Captain Ilbery - he was after all an employee, like the rest of his crew, as regards how much cargo was loaded. 
I cannot believe that Captain Ilbery, with 50 years experience at sea and 30 years with the Blue Anchor Line as Commodore, would have gone against the advice of the builders, owners and Mr. Shanks by loading coal into the spar deck bunkers. He would have to have been bonkers, which he was clearly not.
It is interesting to note that for the voyage across from Australia to South Africa, 270 additional tons (15 tons per day) of coal were burned - funny coincidence that 300 tons of coal were alleged to have been loaded into the spar deck bunkers at Durban. In order to debunk this myth we need to return to the Waratah's voyage from Adelaide to Durban. 
There is clear evidence that coal was not loaded into the spar deck bunkers at Port Adelaide before her departure for Durban, 7 July. It was not necessary for the following reason: 
The 18 day crossing required an average coal consumption of 150 tons per day  ----> total of 2700 tons burned. If we add the additional 15 tons per day ----> 270 tons = 2970 tons, total. We know from the specifications of the Waratah, that she could load 2010 tons of coal into permanent bunkers below decks, and a further 1819 tons into lower decks / 'tween decks reserve bunkers ---> total of 3829 tons. Even if 'pressed'  3829 - 2700 = 1129 tons surplus. 
Officially, the Waratah was cargo-overloaded by 250 tons when she departed Durban. Roughly 2000 tons of coal were loaded at Durban, taking the total to 3129 tons, which is still short of the 3829 total capacity. 250 tons of additional cargo displacing this figure still gives us a surplus of 500 tons.
Loading coal into the spar deck bunkers was simply not necessary, and for the relatively short run to Cape Town, absolutely unnecessary. But the blithering Mr. Shanks hardly helped their case and raised questions of doubt, which were not adequately ironed out in court, leaving an issue suspended in virtual space for future Waratah observers.  

Waratah - Mr. Merry damns the steamer.

Northern Times (Carnarvon) Saturday 1 January, 1910
Mr. W. G. Merry, of Cowell, on theWest Coast, worked his passage outin the steamer Waratah as a stewardon the last voyage of that vessel fromLondon to Port Adelaide. Mr. Merryis a mason by trade. Desiring tobetter himself and his family, be signed on as steward in thethird saloon of the Waratah. He wasgreatly interested in the narrative ofMr. Claude G. Sawyer, a passenger,who joined the Waratah at Sydney,but left her at Durban. 
His interest prompted him to speak of his own experiences on the ship during her last voyage out to the Common wealth, and he gave the following interesting account of the ship when interviewed by our correspondent at Cowell:
The vessel, remarked Mr. Merryleft the Royal Albert Dock, Londonand in the voyage to Port Adelaidefailed to encounter any rough weatherduring the whole of her trip. Soonafter leaving the dock Mr. Merrynoticed that the steamer had a decidedlist to port, and when righting herselfdid so sluggishly. At no time wasshe horizontal for any length of time.Owing to the decided list the chieffireman was called before the purserand asked which bunker he was unloading coal from. The fireman wastold to unload from the port side soas to right the vessel, there being aprobability that the vessel would turnturtle if the list increased. The unloading on the port side caused the vessel to right herself considerably, but there was still a list to starboard.
A bath in one of the compartmentsunder Mr, Merry's supervision, whichhe visited about 50 times a day toswab up the overflow of water, stillshowed enough list to overflow whenhalf full. This list was present allthe time, notwithstanding that theweather was exceptionally fair andthe passengers wondered what wouldhappen if the steamer encounteredrough weather. During this trip outthe steamer carried 350 passengers,including many emigrants for NewSouth Wales, who held assisted passages from the New South Wales Government.
The Waratah, remarked Mr. Merry,was the highest vessel out of thewater in the Royal Albert Dock whenshe left. Her action in the waterstruck him as being most peculiar, asshe seemed to wallow in the waves"like an old duck." He did not,however, attach much importance tothis, although he heard some of theseamen say that the steamer wouldnot stand severe weather.
When asked concerning the distribution of weight on the decks of thesteamer, Mr. Merry stated that thebalance of the ship when loadedseemed to be badly adjusted, as therewas practically no weight betweendecks, and a big weight above andbelow; consequently if she listed therewould be a tendency to dip sideways,and it would be difficult for her toright herself if her bulwarks gotbelow water level. There were occasions when the bulwarks were onlyabout 2 ft. from the water's edge, andit was extremely difficult to stand ondeck. Very often the crockery wouldnot remain on the tables in the calmest weather owing to the list.
The steamer was well provided withboats and life-saving apparatus. Therewere about 20 lifeboats on her, andabout 18 cigar-shaped rafts. Theselatter were so attached to the shipthat they could easily be cut adriftwhen required, and were about the sizeof a large boat.
Mr. Merry referred to a rumor,fairly well substantiated, that thevessel nearly turned turtle in SydneyHarbor after being loaded and takeninto deep water. The vessel on thatoccasion was reported to have listedso much that she had to put back toport where her cargo was adjusted.A suggestion was made then that hertop deck should be taken off when shereached London, but when the captainreported a splendid voyage out nothing was done.
Mr. Merry spoke highly of theofficers and crew of the steamer.Captain Ilbery was especially considerate to his passengers. He would eventurn a few points to save the inconvenience of encountering a heavy seasand once the vessel was kept southfor a few days out of her course toavoid a storm.
This is an interesting account in a number of respects. It is well known that the Waratah experienced teething problems on her maiden voyage with regard to the cargo loading plan and ballast. These problems were corrected by the final voyage.
It is strange the Mr. Merry misjudged the passenger numbers for the voyage out - almost 700 emigrants + upper deck passengers. This immediately casts an element of doubt on his narrative.
If Captain Ilbery was concerned about the cargo loading on the maiden voyage out, he would have undoubtedly avoided stormy conditions where possible.
There were many such accounts at the time and unfortunately readers often did not differentiate between the maiden and subsequent voyages, two vastly different steamers in one due to the cargo loading plan and ballast.
It seems extreme that there would have been any suggestion of removing the top deck on the Waratah's return to London. The poor Waratah was awash with negative rumours. It is no wonder that the Inquiry was confronted by confusing, misleading witness accounts. As many witnesses as there were claiming the Waratah was 'damned' there was an equal number of those who had nothing but praise for the steamer.