Monday, 13 April 2015

Waratah - another theory...

Another disadvantage to the quadruple expansion engine, apart from vibration and sub-optimal performance, is complexity of the machinery. A mariner at the time made this comment about the pins joining the pistons to connecting rods:

"The vessel has two sets of quadruple expansion engines,
I believe this means there would be four of these pins in each
set of engines. Now, if one of these pins
were to break say the high pressure cylinder
where the steam enters from the
boilers, and where, of course, the greatest
steam is, the connecting rod would immediately
fly over with a crash, and probably
go through the skin lining, and thus cause
an inrush of water before anything could
he done to stop the leak."

The Waratah had two engine rooms housing the steam engines and if this were to have happened, water could have rushed into the one engine room causing a rapid and marked list to that side before action could be taken to secure the gash in the hull. Under such circumstances the Waratah would list dangerously. A heavily loaded Waratah, lower in the water with reduced buoyancy, would not have taken kindly to a deteriorating situation of this nature. One of the pins could have failed under circumstances where Captain Ilbery pushed a very heavy steamer, with fire on board, in an attempt to reach port. 

I have assumed the Waratah must have struck a reef off Cape Hermes to have foundered as quickly as she did. But there are other scenarios such as this would could equally account for the rapid sinking of a steamer. She could also have struck half submerged wreckage, which had potential to cause major damage. Whatever it was, one moment there were running lights and the next, after the smoke cleared, a void where once the great steamer made a gallant attempt to return to Durban.


Friday, 10 April 2015

Waratah - final stamp of approval.

"J. H. Gibbon, Lloyd's surveyor at Port
Adelaide, testified that the ship was placed
in the highest class, and was well finished."

"He had not observed anything unusual
about her, nor was he aware of any defects in her."

"In his view she had not excessive top hamper."

"In fact, she had less in proportion to her beam
than other ships with which he was

When addressing the issue of the Waratah's seaworthiness, it is important not to lose sight of a vital component. The Waratah was insured with Lloyd's and throughout the construction process surveyors assessed progress and quality of the build. When the Waratah departed Adelaide for South Africa she was given a 'stamp of approval' by the surveyor, Mr Gibbon. 

Is there a possibility that Lloyd's were not thorough and used 'rubber stamps' when giving vessels the all clear, before departing port?  

I don't believe this is the case for a number of reasons, not least of which, Lloyd's had a reputation to uphold. It does not make sense that Lloyd's surveyors would approve non-seaworthy  vessels. If anything the insurance company would not place itself at risk for payouts relating to seaworthiness short-comings. For the insurance to be valid and claims in terms of loss at sea, substantiated, Lloyd's would in all probability err on the side of over-caution. Any other approach simply does not hold water.

Anecdotal reports are flooded with the Waratah being top heavy. It is important to note that according to this observer, the Waratah did not have an excessive top hamper and more importantly, her proportions were 'better' than 'other ships'. We often look at the Waratah in isolation without taking into consideration that there were a number of triple deck steamers in service at the time which either matched the proportions of the Waratah or even pushed the envelope further.

The following are examples from 1908 / 1909 (see previous post). None of these vessels 'disappeared without a trace'.



                  and the Waratah....

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.