Tuesday, 19 June 2018



I have just read Emlyn Brown's beautifully compiled book 'The Mystery Runs Deep'. Emlyn's name is synonymous with Waratah and it is an eye-opener to be given such candid insight into the man behind the name and his searches for the missing flagship.  

It is one thing to explore every theoretical angle of the ship; her complement; the owners and the era. It is quite another matter to have dedicated so many years to finding the wreck. The extent of this endeavour is mind-blowing.

There was a significantly cruel twist to the search; the wreck of the Nailsea Meadow mimicked that of Waratah. Disappointment and disillusionment must have been overwhelming.  

Do yourselves a favour and get a copy of this marvelous book. The photos and images are sublime. Emlyn's easy style of writing makes the presentation almost conversational. I was sad to come to the last page but filled with an abundance of admiration for this brave pioneer.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


Thank you for the enthusiastic post hits of late. The complex subject creates a passionate debate with room for further analysis and exploration. It is a privilege to have blogs such as Waratah Explained, sharing profoundly detailed and fascinating material, backed by marine expertise. Long may it last! 

As for my journey, it must come to an end for now and with that a final (yes repeat) foray into what I firmly believe became of the TSS Waratah:  

The Advertiser, Adelaide, 23 January, 1911.

Captain John Bruce, master of the Harlow, 
of Sunderland:- 

..At a quarter past 7 he saw two masthead
lights and a red light about ten miles away,
and at about a quarter to 8 o'clock he saw
two flares or flashes, one about a thousand
feet up in the air and the other about
three hundred feet, and after this he saw
no more of the masthead light or the side
light. The flashes looked to him like an
explosion, but he did not hear anything.
His mate thought they came from the bush
fires. Afterwards he came to the conclusion 
that they had something to do with the 
Waratah, and that it was that vessel
blowing up about three and a half to four
miles off the mouth of the St. John River.
(see image below)
Asked what sort of explosion it was, witness 

"I thought it might be the bunkers or the boilers. 
They were broad, fantail flashes." 

He admitted that, having regard to the position 
in which the Waratah had been spoken by the 
Clan Mcintyre that morning, she must have re-
turned on her course towards Durban in
order to have been where he saw the

I have dissected Captain Bruce's account 'to death' in the course of this blog and yet this is the first time I have come across his actual description of the flashes. It is both illuminating and convincing that he described them as 'broad, fantail flashes' suggestive of bunker or boiler explosions. This is highly specific and directly associated with the disappearance of the masthead lights and red side light, once the dense volume of smoke had cleared - it is impossible that random bush fires onshore could have mimicked this combination of factors. Even his mate could not understand the disappearance of the masthead lights and red side light.


She was smoking fiercely, and two explosions 
occurred, with only a few seconds between each, 
before the vessel disappeared.

The steamer had not signalledfor help before the explosion, though shewas then right abreast of Cape Hermessignal station. The captain cannot understand how they did not see her, for her lights were burning brightly, and above her was adense volume of smoke.

The fact that the keepers did not see the two distinct flashes, as observed by Captain Bruce and two officers on the Harlow, does not mean that they did not occur.

As for not hearing the sounds of explosions, despite the prevailing wind blowing from the Waratah towards the Harlow:

Sound waves travel faster through cold air than through warm air. If there was a condition, prior to the arrival of a cold front, where a layer of warm air was overlying the cold sea, a phenomenon known as as acoustic shadow zone could have occurred both in the vicinity of the Harlow and Cape Hermes. The principal is based on sound being deflected upwards by the layer of warm air and not reaching the ears of those on the Harlow or at Cape Hermes, further compounded by ambient noise both on Harlow (machinery) or Cape Hermes (wind, waves crashing on rocks). Also, it is interesting to note that most of the passengers from RMS Titanic afloat on lifeboats did not hear the significant detonations of the distress rockets (eight in number). 

If Waratah's bunkers exploded what could have been the factors leading up to this catastrophe?

We know that Waratah experienced a coal bunker fire, December, 1908, and that a piece of burning coal was discovered on one of the boilers. Repairs were made to deficient insulation but from the Inquiry transcript it is not clear if repairs extended beyond the problem area = potential for another outbreak. The words 'small repair' were used suggesting that a more extensive sorting out of areas of deficient insulation did not take place.

The coal supplied to Waratah was highly volatile bituminous coal, 'black coal', supplied from coal fields in the Elandslaagte area of Natal (ref. Kevin Oram).


this type of coal is known for releasing the largest amounts of firedamp, a dangerous mixture of gases that can cause underground explosions. Extraction of bituminous coal demands the highest safety procedures involving attentive gas monitoring, good ventilation and vigilant site management….”.

 "When coal is stacked at a loadport facility like BMA, special care has to be taken to keep it cool and stop spontaneous ignition of stockpiles. At RBCT there were (and are no doubt still) very sophisticated systems to monitor stockpile temperatures and to irrigate stacks, to keep dust levels down and I believe to prevent ignition of stacks." (ref. Kevin Oram)

There were clearly the makings of a catastrophic coal bunker explosion (+/- boiler explosion) if another coal bunker fire had broken out shortly after departing Durban and ultimately resulted in the dense volumes of smoke above Waratah as witnessed by Captain Bruce.

I think it is also important to affirm that although Waratah was not observed to be issuing signals of distress, there may have been a barrel of burning oil on her foredeck (international signal of distress at night), possibly associated with flames from a fire extending to the upper decks, giving the impression of a bush fire - quite aside from the distinct running lights and two subsequent distinct flashes of light.

Having arrived at the conviction that Waratah went down like a stone a mere 0.5 miles off Poenskop, just over 3 miles from Cape Hermes and the St Johns River (Umzimvubu) how is it possible that this huge 465 ft. steamer has escaped detection in 20 fathoms (36 m) over the course of 108 + years????

There is a plausible explanation:

The seabed off Poenskop is unique in some respects:

Birch (1981) reports up to 34 m of sediment across the shelf off the Mzimvubu river (111 ft.)

"the basement rocks are not exposed on the shelf except locally within
a few hundred metres of the shoreline."

"As the sediment is moved north the finer sediment is deposited in
the nearshore zone," (to 50 m = well within 36 m zone)

"a very fine-grained sandstone with intercalated siltstone. Clearly, the
bulk of the sediments being discharged into the sea by these
rivers, especially the Mzimvubu, are predominantly fine to medium
grained." (the courser the grain the further out into the shelf - inner zone (target zone) = fine and very fine sand.)

"the mud distribution pattern is almost a mirror image of that described
by the sand, except that concentration levels follow an inverse
gradient." (mud = clay properties)

"This means that fine sand progrades across a
base of mud and very fine sand, thereby producing an upward
coarsening depositional sequence."

"The amount of fine sand comprises up to 75% of the total sediment in the nearshore region (-20 to -30 m). It decreases rapidly to less than 5% on the middle to outer shelves north of the offset."

quicksand or unstable sand = right combination of fine sands and other materials such as clay / mud.

Quicksand forms in saturated loose sand when the sand is suddenly agitated. When water in the sand cannot escape, it creates a liquefied soil that loses strength and cannot support weight. Agitation is in the form of marked wave and current forces during winter months = July, 1909. 
The saturated sediment may appear quite solid until a sudden change in pressure or shock initiates liquefaction. This causes the sand to form a suspension and lose strength. The cushioning of water gives quicksand, and other liquefied sediments, a spongy, fluid-like texture. Objects in liquefied sand sink to the level at which the weight of the object is equal to the weight of the displaced soil/water mix and the submerged object floats due to its buoyancy.

If all of the above be true, then we have a sequence of events resulting in a steel, deeply loaded steamer with a central core of very high specific gravity (lead concentrates) sinking into and being covered by seabed sand within a short period of time, certainly quickly enough to have eluded searches utilising a drag wire from one of the HMS vessels' launches (as suggested by Captain Bruce). It would explain why charting of this region of the coast has not detected a wreck and fishing nets have never snagged anything in this location.  

In effect, Waratah and her souls are buried, a perfectly preserved time capsule.


'fantail' explosion

(Southeast African continental margin)


Wednesday, 14 March 2018


"Mr. Hodder the Chief Engineer wrote a letter from Durban on July 25th 1909 to Mr. Shanks engineer superintendent for Lund's in London. He stated that on account of the ship being deep I could not fill No 8 tank with 250 tons of fresh water." (ref. Waratah Explained)


The Court has no evidence as to the amount of water ballast in the tanks leaving Melbourne and Adelaide, and has been compelled to assume it from the draught. There is evidence that on leaving Sydney she had 651 tons of water ballast in the double bottom. This tallies with the draught given in the log. On leaving Melbourne and Adelaide 360 tons of water ballast are assumed for the reason given above.

Waratah's draught departing Durban for the last time was the same as departing Adelaide, which implies two things:

- her overall dead weight must have been largely unchanged i.e. limited cargo discharged at Durban (240 tons), 'replaced' by 250 tons of coal, spar deck.

- her ballast tanks must have contained in the region of 360 tons which is not accounted for by the 250 tons quoted in the extract, nor the 222 tons available in tank 8 (hard pressed), and not precisely ballast tanks 1 and 8 filled = 351 tons (another GM stabilising recommendation).


About 240 tons of this total were consigned to Durban and Beira, and were discharged at Durban. No cargo was shipped at that port.

Makes sense in terms of overall weight and unchanged draught.

"on account of the ship being deep I could not fill No 8 tank with 250 tons of fresh water."

This one sentence has potentially 3 errors: which tank; how much water and whether it was fresh or salt water. A very high (relative) percentage of potential errors to draw any form of meaningful conclusion. 

If ballast tank 8 is true then 250 tons and fresh water cannot be true.

The production of fresh water from salt water through the distillation plant would derive the same source - salt water and blocked pipe.

If 250 tons is true, we need to have a tank holding that volume - there were none.

The bizarre nature of the admission to the superintendent strikes me as almost coded, indicating something else. Why else would Hodder report such a thing 25 July, day before departure, without indicating an intention to try the following day during high tide or at sea shortly after departure? We know, and I completely agree with the author of Waratah Explained, that filling tank 8 was an important stabilising factor, but we also know that the lead concentrates and cargo dead weight had already stabilised Waratah to large degree.

Furthermore, Hodder had the following to add:

"I was instructed by Captain Ilbery to drive home (full steam on all boilers) and take sufficient for same, it being a winter passage, I took sufficient coal to run no risks."    (ref. Waratah Explained)

This statement does not equate with an average speed of 12.5 knots to Cape Hermes between 8.15 pm, 26 July, and 6 am, 27 July. Something was not right - yes, a tired repeat...

"I took sufficient coal to run no risks" is loaded in itself! Although due diligence had been taken to inform Mr. Shanks that Hodder was allegedly not able to fill the crucial tank 8, obviously associated with stability, he omitted to inform his superintendent that he was not taking any risks, BUT LOADING 250 TONS OF COAL ON THE SPAR DECK (+/-110 TONS IN THE CHUTES). Surely this would have required some form of explanation when the builders had made it perfectly clear that there was to be NO coal on the spar deck and only limited cargo (100 cubic feet to the ton) on spar and upper 'tween decks. Yet again these extracts demonstrate that there were more questions than answers. Yes, such a report to the superintendent was brief by nature and did not allow scope for the detailed explanations and reasoning behind coal on the spar deck, but need it have been quite so obscure??   

The fact that she had a slight list before departure, which was corrected implies, as with ALL steamers of the era, that coal trimming was not as yet completed and balanced. This was certainly not an indication that Waratah was still tender, confirmed by the evidence that she did not fall into a list when pulled off the wharf by the tug.

The mere fact that Waratah departed Durban with the same draught as departing Adelaide, theoretically, the filling of the ballast tanks to 360 tons must have been achieved during the subsequent 24 hours!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018



The manifests are documents prepared long before anything untoward had occurred to the ship. On them freight was paid. They are therefore to be relied on. 

However, read on....

The captain's, or rather the chief officer's, stowage plan also was made before anything had happened to the ship. It was despatched to the owners from Durban. There is no reason to suppose that, so far as it goes, it is anything but accurate and trustworthy. The information it gives is, however, very general in character; in some cases only are sufficient details given to enable any particular parcel of cargo to be identified. 

The stevedores' plan is a document which emanates from Sydney, appears to be completed at Adelaide, and thence returned to Sydney. There is some attempt upon it to discriminate between the various ports of loading and also between those of destination; but it seems to be a hurried production, gives no weights, or particulars, beyond the names of the various commodities, and is obviously inaccurate in places both in its colouring and in its disposition of commodities. 

The depositions were made after the event, and are confused and contradictory. The Melbourne deposition is misleading; the principal commodities are lumped together beyond hope of disentanglement, the smaller consignments are left out altogether, and yet a total is arrived at considerably in excess of the total manifest weights. 

The Adelaide depositions give no indication whatever of where the cargo was stowed. 

There is no evidence to show how the cargo was stowed at any part of this outward voyage. 

It is not helpful to give readership the impression that 'every ounce of cargo placed on board the Waratah was duly recorded by tally clerks for agents', the records of which appeared intact before the Inquiry.  

The above Inquiry extracts make the point perfectly clear without the need for further explanation.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 21 September, 1909
The owners of the Waratah, Messrs. W. Lundand Sons, have prepared for the London press synopsis of the cargo on the steamer at the time of her departure from Durban, from which it appears the total amount on board is 6128 tonsIn addition to this there are about 2000 tons of bunker coal. The ore and lead are stowed right in the bottom of the ship. As a matter of fact she has very Iittle cargo in her upper 'tween decks. She is on passage home iwhat is known as the "off  season," and, being a large vessel, this accounts for the amount of empty space she had. Some time ago it was reported that about 250-300 tons of coal were on the bridge deck. The Waratah has no bridge deck, and this coal is carried in a space on deck which was specially intended to be used either as cargo space, or for the stowing ofextra coal. (spar deck bunkers)

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Wednesday 18 May, 1910

Mr. J. C. Neill, Port Adelaide manager
for Messrs. George Wills & Co. (agents for
the steamer), stated that while the Waratah 
was at Port Adelaide on her inward
passage in June she loaded 1,000 tons of
lead concentrates, which were put amid-
ships in No. 3 hold. It was not unusual
to take in dead weight at Port Adelaide.
When she returned from the eastern States
she loaded cargo at Ocean Steamers' wharf
and at the Outer Harbor, and in addition
took in 180 tons of bunker coal, which was
placed in the bunkers. She had no coal
on deck when she left the Outer Harbor.
He estimated the total dead weight of
cargo on board at 9,000 tons, and that her
draft was 28 ft. 3 in. forward and 29 ft.
5 in. aft. 

Mean draft = 28.85 ft., which is a mere 1.5 ft. short of maximum draft, maximum load.

You decide for yourselves which of the above accounts is closer to the truth and how accurate the records of cargo and weights was.

For the record: the discovery (by the author of Waratah Explained) that Waratah carried about 1500 tons of lead concentrates during her final voyage, is in my opinion, the most important contribution to the Waratah mystery. It changed everything. The press had 970 tons + 300 tons, which is reasonably close, but not accurate enough nor compelling enough in terms of S.G. (specific gravity) and solving the top heaviness issue !!

Monday, 12 March 2018


"Once again we are starting to see tired old repeats from the blog site Waratah Revisited, the latest post from the 29th of December 2017  gives the headline, Proceeding to (o) Close to Shore. The post opens with a part report from a newspaper and is as follows,(when sighted by Captain Weir the Waratah was proceeding very close to shore at about 12.5 knots the Clan MacIntyre making about 10 knots. The Waratah was seen to be steering a little more southerly than the other vessel, or taking a course further out to sea.)
The author of the blog quotes this one paragraph of the of the article to give the reader impression that Waratah was sailing very close to the shore which was untrue. He conveniently left out an earlier paragraph which reads, Captain Weir, the Clan MacIntyres' skipper says,  he sighted the liner at 6.00am in Lat 31 36's long 29.58'e. The Waratah crossed starboard to port bow, and went out of sight about 9.30am. This position puts the Clan MacIntyre some 14.7 miles off shore from the nearest land."

One of my objectives in this blog is to question information and make sense of it rather than to take everything at face value, whether it be detailed archival records or newspaper reports of the day. One would hope that a 'professional analysis' would be just that. Unfortunately, the following extracts beg questions which simply cannot easily be answered.

Let us return to the Inquiry:  

She gradually overhauled us, and when abeam, at 6 a.m., and distant from 2 to 3 miles

She passed ahead of us, crossing our bow, and when we lost sight of her she was heading much the same way; she was then one point to one and a half points on our port bow, and would be 8 to 10 miles away, as the weather was fairly clear, and she would be about abeam of Bashee River, and about 12 miles out from it. Her speed all the time was quite 13 knots over the ground. She passed the 'Clan Macintyre' rather quickly, and we were making 9 1/2 knots by log, and the current was about 2 to 3 knots an hour in our favour.

We had Cape Hermes abeam at 7.11 a.m., distant 13 1/2 miles (not 14.7 miles), and the 'Waratah' was ahead as described,

When the Waratah was abeam of the 'Bashee River' (more likely the Xora River mouth given the distance traversed), Officer Phillips estimated that she was about 12 miles out. This gives us a figure of 4.62 miles out from shore for the Clan MacIntyre and the Waratah 7.38 miles further out than the Clan MacIntyre, a calculation based on 1 to 2 points on the Clan MacIntyre's port bow - roughly 8.4 degrees. The Clan MacIntyre was tracking SW true. From this we may deduce that the Clan MacIntyre could not have been 13.5 miles off Cape Hermes at 7.11 am, but roughly 4.6 miles!

If Waratah was observed to be 2 to 3 miles closer to shore than Clan MacIntyre at 6 a.m., we may deduce that Waratah was 1.6 - 2.6 miles offshore, which is very close to the shore in the context of large steamers proceeding, theoretically, along the outer track. 

Mr. A. A. Hoehling, eminent author of "Lost At Sea", quotes the Inquiry figure of 13.5 n miles off Cape Hermes and remarks that visibility must have been excellent to visualize this land mark at such a distance. 

You don't say!!

Furthermore, why has the same expert, in the context of a Waratah being pressed for speed, a valuable cargo of wool rushed to London, not questioned Waratah making an average speed of 12.5 knots from Durban to Cape Hermes, IF ALL WAS WELL???? Waratah made about 13.7 knots on the crossing over from Australia, without the favour of an Agulhas Current.    


It behoves us to question the incongruencies in the statement of Officer Phillip and the below average speed of a steamer in a hurry, in order to edge closer to the truth. As interesting as it might be, it serves no purpose to simply regurgitate archival documents as though they were engraved in the last word on truth without attempting to make sense of them.

The same can be said for cargo, but that is for another day....

(the following coordinates quoted above as Clan MacIntyre's position 14.7 miles offshore "Lat 31 36's long 29.58'e", were actually the coordinates given for the position of Cape Hermes itself. To put this into perspective:

example newspaper extract, 1909.

The agent adds that the Harlow
sighted a smoking vessel at 7.30 on the
evening of July 27, and the explosion occurred 
at 8 o'clock. The distance was too
great for the Harlow to ascertain the ship's
identity. The position of the wreck was
latitude 31 deg. 38 min. south and longitude
29 deg. 55 min. east.

example newspaper extract, 1909:

Captain Weir, of the Clan McIntyre, stated
that he sighted the Waratah on July 27, at
6 a.m., in lat. 31.36 S., long. 29.58 E., which
is (approximately) the position of Cape Hermes. 
The Waratah crossed from the starboard to 
port bow, and went out of sight about 9.30 a.m.

If one uses these two sets of coordinates on Google Earth, the result is crazy but valuable:

An adjustment can be made using the two positions (considerably out to sea) relative to one another as follows:

Distance:6.013 km (to 4 SF*)
Initial bearing:231° 55′ 51″
Final bearing:231° 57′ 25″
Midpoint:31° 37′ 00″ S, 029° 56′ 30″ E

6.0 km is 3.247 nautical miles

If one takes the 'crazy' Cape Hermes position and moves it to where Cape Hermes actually is, this is the distance and bearing between the two points:

In reality the Waratah's last known position is 3.247 nautical miles northeast of Cape Hermes, 0.45 nautical miles short of Poenskop and 0.5 nautical miles offshore.

31 36 33.22 S
29 36 19.02 E

This position coincides with a depth of 20 fathoms (36.5 m) quoted by Captain Bruce.)