Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Globe, Sydney, Wednesday 3 April, 1912.

This calls to mind the fact that someone on shore
was probably the last to hear or see the end of the
ill-fated Waratah, and the assumption is based on
the following letter, which appeared over the
signature of "Heather Gray" in a South African
paper about the time of the big ship's disappearance.
The writer said:

"I have just returned from a delightful holiday spent
with friends on the Transkei coast, about 120 miles
from East London. Whilst there I learnt that a few
months after the disappearance of the Waratah, the
frame of a deck chair and a basket with a border
of the colour known to have been in use on the ill-
fated vessel were washed up on the beach where
we bathed. I have negotiated for the basket.

A young Scotsman, who is still living in that part
of the country, was, at the time the Waratah
disappeared for some time watching a vessel
labouring in heavy seas, and  pitching and
rolling most terribly. He remarked:

"I should not like to be on board that vessel just

She suddenly disappeared.

Maria, the woman who acts as cook for my friends
when they visit their seaside home, also averred
to that time, that for a long time she watched a
ship struggling against a terrible sea. She was
frightened and kept a steady lookout, when the
ship suddenly disappeared from view. The testimony
of a native may not be considered very reliable,
but what about those tangible evidences - the chair
frame and the basket? The idea that they both
belong to the hapless vessel obtains general credence
among those living along that part of the coast. If
this hypothesis be correct, then it is to be supposed
that the ill-fortuned Waratah is lying fathoms below
the water of the Indian Ocean somewhere near this

I find this account both fascinating and chilling. In all the many posts on Waratah I have never come across this account. In fact, of all the supposed items originating from Waratah and presented to the press, the deck chair frame and basket received no mention, whatsoever. How many such cases were these, never reaching the public domain? 

I plotted the distance of 120 n miles from East London - see images below - and got a direct hit for Poenskop. Try this for yourselves. Maria may not have been considered a credible witness but her eye witness account matches that of the crew of the SS Harlow. Waratah simply has to be lying at or near the position marked on the image below. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016


Sometime ago I was contacted by a gentleman who claimed that he and his team had been searching for the wreck of the Waratah for the past five years, if I recall correctly. He was very interested in the Harlow theory because he had in his possession a tile and section of copper piping, which appeared to have sustained some form of explosive damage. More interestingly, he claimed that the tile had been sent to England for analysis the results of which allegedly confirmed that it originated from the SS Waratah. 

I was naturally intrigued and excited by this possibility and agreed to meet the gentleman's partner/financier (and wife) in Cape Town to view the tile. It turned out to be an informative and pleasant meeting, during which time I was presented with a tile (see image below) which exhibits marked encrustations/concretions on the reverse side, suggesting that it had spent a great deal of time on the seabed. Further than that I am not in a position to verify that the tile did in fact come from Waratah. 

However, the meeting proved fruitful in that there was every intention to continue exploring the Wild Coast above and below Cape Hermes. I am not at liberty to say exactly where the tile and pipe were retrieved, suffice to say that if genuine, Waratah did not founder beyond the Continental Shelf and certainly not southwest of the Xora. 

The team, allegedly, has used magnetometry and side-scan sonar analysis of sections of the Wild Coast but have been confronted with the limitations of separating iron in bedrock from that of wrecks. From what I understand the data was sent to the US for analysis but I have not been privy to results of these investigations. 

I contacted the team financier recently to ask how the search was progressing and if anything of note had emerged from data analysis. The response I received was saddening - other ventures and projects had relegated the search for Waratah to the bottom shelf. I,as am sure many readers, am disappointed that one would come so close and yet lose interest in a project of this magnitude. 

From what I understand the team was issued with a permit to investigate the waters below the surface of the protected reserve off Cape Hermes, but whether this has expired or been disregarded, I do not know. The financier, whom I met, expressed great interest in the Joe Conquer witness account, but assured me that extensive analysis of that region of sea had come up with no undiscovered wrecks. 

The team may or may not continue their search for the Waratah and the tantalisingly smooth texture of the beautifully intact outer surface of the tile may or may not originate from the Waratah, but if it does one thing is certain - she is accessible to discovery somewhere between Poenskop and Coffee Bay. The tile and pipe were not associated with a wreck lying nearby which highly suggests that the items were washed down the coast by the powerful Agulhas Current and periodic up-wellings which carry items closer to shore and chance of discovery (notably the one off the Xora). 

My hope is that those with the financial means do not give up on the quest to find the final resting place of SS Waratah. Those who believe that the wreck lies inaccessibly in the abyss off the Continental Shelf should take hope that she is not there and is probably cossetted in a blanket of silt. I am an optimist who believes in the veracity of the tile and the reality that one day, in the not too distant future, Waratah will regain centre stage and reveal her secrets to the world.  

Thursday, 3 November 2016



The Argus, Melbourne, Friday 31 March, 1911.

BRISBANE, Thursday - In view of the
widespread statements that the Yongala
"turned turtle," Mr. Wareham flatly 
contradicted the possibility, and pointed 
out that the steamer had been running 
on the coast in the interstate trade for 
eight years - five years running between 
Sydney and Fremantle. Consequently she 
crossed the Australian Bight every four weeks, 
often with less than 100 tons of cargo and not 
more than 200 or 300 tons of coal. She never 
gave owners, master, crew, or passengers any
cause for uneasiness on account of her 
behaviour. It was unreasonable to suppose
that the Yongala, which left Brisbane with
2,000 tons weight in her bottom and only 5
tons of cargo on deck, could turn turtle.

This initial reaction from a representative of the owners is interesting. The scene was set for the Inquiry to come; under no circumstances was Yongala to be presented as a tender steamer which could have turned turtle in a cyclone. But the rumours were there as soon as one week after the disaster. Yongala did indeed have a good track record, particularly across the Bight. However, Mr. Wareham failed to mention that she carried 164 tons of pig iron ballast to compensate for minimal cargo and coal during these runs. The distance between Fremantle and Adelaide is 1720 n miles. Yongala consumed, on average, 60 tons of coal per day. Cruising at a modest 12 knots she would have taken 6 days = 360 tons of coal. Mr. Wareham already as early as 31 March, was prone to exaggeration in favour of dispelling the rumours and exaggerating Yongala's capabilities. He protested far too much! It is known from the Inquiry that Yongala departed Brisbane with 11 tons on deck. Again, Mr. Wareham attempted to underplay the top heavy component by reducing this figure to 5 tons. It is interesting to note that Yongala had a jerky recovery when steaming in ballast with the 164 tons of pig iron (forward). The pig iron lowered the centre of gravity, raising GM, and with it the righting force recovering from a list. This jerky recovery was not as pronounced when Yongala carried cargo, including cargo on deck. The deck cargo would have reduced the GM and done away with the jerky recovery. This reminds me of the Waratah. Captain Ilbery, finally on the last voyage, had sorted out Waratah's inherently tender condition by adding 1300 tons of lead concentrates in a lower hold at 11 cubic feet to the ton, 8 ft. high. This produced a stable steamer with a GM of 1.9 ft., which was pretty good in those days. However, the increased righting forced, as in the case of Yongala, produced a jerky recovery which had passengers falling on the promenade deck during the voyage from Adelaide to Durban. Many observers believe that by stowing 300 tons of coal on Waratah's spar deck at Durban made her dangerously top heavy for her fatal leg of the run to Cape Town. What Captain Ilbery was in effect doing, similar to deck cargo on Yongala, was to reduce the GM to a more palatable 1.5 ft. and the reduced righting force cured the jerky recovery = no more potential passenger falls. Captain Ilbery was not a fool, nor was he reckless by subjecting a steamer with a reputation for tenderness to further 'destabilising' coal on the spar deck. It was done for good reason. Returning to Yongala, I believe that the absence of the pig iron had a significant impact on tenderness and being 36% full in terms of cargo dead weight, most of which was stowed in the 'tween deck, made Yongala tender and vulnerable to turning turtle in a gale. You could not win with these inherently top heavy steamers.

There is no smoke without fire!

SS Yongala

SS Waratah, loading at Port Adelaide.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


I have consistently maintained that Waratah should not have had a freeboard of only 8 ft.. and quoted a calculation used in 1908 which implied that minimum freeboard should have been in the region of 11 ft.. There is another publication which suggests that Waratah's freeboard, based on her depth of hold, should have been 10.1 ft.. (3.5 inches per foot of depth of hold - winter). Either way I believe the point is clear; Waratah should not have been registered to operate with a freeboard less than 10 ft.. Of course in operational terms, taking into consideration inherent tenderness, this was neither practical nor possible. Captain Ilbery was caught between a rock and a hard place.'s%20clear%20side&f=false 

Friday, 30 September 2016


I have asserted that the 'jerk' described during Waratah's voyage across from Australia to Durban, July, 1909, was due to an over-correction of GM (increased righting force). By adding 1300 tons of lead concentrates at 11 cubic feet to the ton and 8 ft. high in the lower hold, improved GM to a figure of roughly 1.9 ft. which is stiff, not tender - tenderness being associated with top heaviness. Further to this I have asserted that Captain Ilbery needed to load about 250 to 300 tons of coal on the spar deck to reduce GM to a more palatable 1.5 ft. and thus remove the jerky recovery - passengers had fallen on deck due to this jerky recovery. There are many skeptics who dispute my assertions. The following is taken from my Yongala Revisited Blog. I believe the point is very well made:

Captain Mackay asked the witness about
the rumor that 400 tons of ballast had 
been taken out of the vessel, and the 
witness said he had replied to that. He 
pointed out that when the vessel was 
on the Western Australian trade she 
generally travelled from Fremantle to 
Adelaide with very little cargo, and often 
none at all. Her mean draught from 
Fremantle to Adelaide would be from 
16 ft. 8 in. to 17 ft. 6 in..

If the reporter documented the figure accurately 400 tons of pig iron were significantly more than the 164 tons of pig iron quoted in the Inquiry transcript:

'it was explained by the general manager that this ballast, amounting to 164 tons, became unnecessary, owing to cargo being obtainable both up and down the Queensland coast.'

It must be said at this juncture that the mere fact Yongala required between 164 and 400 tons of permanent pig iron ballast, over and above the water ballast component, indicates an inherently tender (top heavy) vessel. The point is well made that there might have been significantly less cargo between Fremantle and Adelaide, but the witness failed to mention that Yongala, as late as December 1910, periodically serviced the route between Adelaide and Fremantle, and not exclusively the east coast! If Yongala was an inherently stiff steamer there would not have been the need for additional permanent ballast.

The water ballast she then carried would
be 400 tonsIn May, 1904 it was decided
to put some stiffening in her for the run
across the Bight, and on May 17, at Sydney, 
184 tons of pig iron were stowed in the
after end of the No. 2 hold. In May, 1907,
when the vessel was put on the trade from
Melbourne to Cairns, this was discharged,
as the vessel could rely on having cargo
both ways.

It appears that the reporter confused the figure of 400 tons with ballast water, as he or she might have done referring to 184 tons rather than 164 tons. I am going to take 164 tons of pig iron ballast as given (Inquiry transcript). If Yongala had retained the 164 tons of pig iron, taking into consideration that she was 36% full in terms of cargo, 23 March, she might have survived the storm. After all, the pig iron was added with reference to storm conditions off the Australian Bight and reduced cargo component.

The witness read a letter from Captain
Knight, dated June 11. 1907, stating that
the vessel seemed much better since the
iron was removed. It had done away, he
said, with the jerking recovery which had
been so noticeable when the iron was on
board and the vessel was in ballast trim.

This is a significant passage. Improved GM stability did not equate with passenger comfort. Further to this I cannot help but draw a comparison with the Waratah. Captain Ilbery of that vessel significantly improved GM stability (reducing the top heaviness factor --> stiffening) for Waratah's final voyage by loading 1300 tons of lead concentrates at 11 cubic feet to the ton and 8 ft. high in a lower hold, creating a significant shift of Waratah's centre of gravity downwards - reducing top heaviness. However, during the voyage over from Australia to Durban (South Africa) there were reports of just such a 'jerking recovery' described above which caused passengers to fall on deck. It seems to me that in both cases, making corrections for relatively top heavy vessels, created its own set of problems. 

SS Yongala

SS Waratah

Saturday, 17 September 2016


Range of Visibility of Lights: The coloured sidelights are only required to be visible for 2 miles, but are usually visible for a greater distance depending materially on atmospheric conditions; the mast lights are 5 miles, but again will usually be seen further— especially in the exceptional conditions described in this book.

Padfield, Peter. The Titanic and the Californian (p. 334). Thistle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Controversy will always surround the details of that which was seen by Captain Bruce and his officers of the SS Harlow, 8 pm, 27 July, 1909. Captain Bruce, his chief officer and chief engineer, all had the impression of a large steamer astern, showing two masthead lights and a red sidelight. Conditions were relatively clear, the storm of 'exceptional violence' evolving far to the southwest. Captain Bruce remained steadfast about the details of that which they had all witnessed despite the fact that his two officers submitted to the suggestion that bush fires onshore could have mimicked a large steamer astern. The truly interesting thing about the above passage is that sidelights (i.e. the red sidelight) could not be seen beyond 5 miles, in general conditions. This confirms Alfred Harris' statement that he estimated that the large steamer was less than 4 miles astern. This makes sense and further to this a steamer the size of Waratah could not have been mistaken for anything other than what she was, less than 4 miles astern of the Harlow.

Saturday, 10 September 2016


Examiner (Launceston) Friday 10 February, 1911.
Depositions were read to-day, fromwhich the following are extracts:
Mr. Harris, chief engineer of thesteamer Harlow:-
"On July 27, 1909, when off the African coast, I saw two lights, one a red light, apparently thoseof a steamer. I afterwards noticed largevolumes of smoke and a glare, afterwhich the lights disappeared. Therewere bush fires on shore. I expressed anopinion at the time that if that werea steamer, she was on fire. "The smokemight be attributable to bush fires."
Much has been said about Captain Bruce's account of the 'large steamer astern of the Harlow'. But Chief Engineer Alfred Harris' account was succinct and highly convincing. Not only this it mirrored Bruce's description of events - despite the simple fact that bush fire mirages are in the eye of the beholder and unlikely to present the same images to multiple eye witnesses. The reference to a 'glare' is interesting in itself and could have related to a fire on board. However, witnesses on the Californian, the tramp steamer within visual distance of the sinking Titanic, commented that they could see the masthead light of Titanic with a 'glare' aft. This confirms that if a large steamer with many deck lights was viewed from a distance at night head on, i.e. bow pointing towards the vantage point of observers,  these decks lights would be seen as a 'glare'. This would have applied to the Waratah astern of the Harlow. The large volumes of smoke could have been attributed by a fire on board but the glare might not have been similarly associated with flames on deck. It is also interesting to note how much confusion existed on the Californian as officers on watch witnessed numerous distress flares. Interpretations varied and ultimately the Californian did not go to the aid of the Titanic - such a similar situation to the Harlow account.
Food for thought....
SS Californian.