Thursday, 26 September 2013

Waratah - Blue Anchor Line and Captain J.E. Ilbery

The Blue Anchor Line was started in 1869 by Wilhelm Lund with one ship, the 714 ton barque, Ambassador. Part owner of the 320 ton Jeddo up until this time, Lund wanted to start his own line focusing on the route from the UK to Australia and back via China (in ballast) where tea was loaded for the return leg to the UK. The route took the vessels via the Cape of Good Hope, even though the Suez Canal had been opened in November of the same year. It saved the cost of using the Suez Canal and introduced the benefits of economic and passenger trade via the South African ports of Cape Town and Durban.

In 1880 Lund introduced steamships to his fleet, phasing the sailing ship clippers out. The line was identified by the distinctive blue anchor on the vessels' funnels. After the Hubbuck of 1886, Lund chose exclusively aboriginal names for his steamships: Murrumbidgee; Wilcannia; Echuca; Bungaree; Culgoa; Wallarah; Woolloomooloo; Yarrawonga; Warnambool; Warrigal; Narrung; Wakool; Geelong; Waratah. The "Commonwealth", an exception, was constructed in 1901 to mark Australia joining the Commonwealth.

The steamship trade via the Cape focused on emigrants outward bound to Australia, and cargo such as meat (refrigeration introduced on Geelong and Waratah), wool and grain, for the return voyage to the UK. First class cabins and staterooms were added to emigrant steerage dormitories, elevating Geelong, Waratah and the Blue Anchor Line to a prestigious carrier. Waratah was the 20th steamship added to the fleet.

Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery was promoted to Commodore of the Blue Anchor Line and although nearing his retirement, was given command of the new flagship Waratah. He was due to retire when Waratah returned to London after her second voyage - which was not to be. Captain Ilbery was born in Liverpool, 1840 which made him 69 in 1909:

Baptism: 13 Jul 1840 St Peter, Liverpool, Lancs.
Josiah Edward Ilbery - [Child] of Walter Ilbery & Eliza Vachell
    Abode: Norton Street
    Occupation: Clerk in the Customs
    Baptised by: John Cheetham Curate
    Register: Baptisms 1839 - 1840, Page 303, Entry 2424
    Source: LDS Film 1656423
1840 - Online Parish Clerks

He obtained his certificate in 1865 and his first command was Lund's clipper Mikado, 1868. Ilbery came from a seafaring family who through much of the 19th century were involved in the trade between the UK and China. It could be considered a joint venture; William Ilbery and Son of London crafted gold and enameled timepieces for export to China, no doubt in some instances transported by the seafaring Ilberys.

Ilbery received commendations from the US government for the rescue of the Grace Clifton. Other clippers under his command were: Serapis 1878 and Ocean King 1879. The first steamship of the Blue Anchor Line was Delcomyn, 1880, and again Captain Ilbery took the helm. While commanding this steamship Ilbery was noted for his "vigilance and humanity" in the rescue of the crew of the SS Koning der Nederlanden.

A popular Captain, Ilbery bought land in New South Wales, and a reserve in North Sydney, Ilbery Park, was named after him. Captain Ilbery was master of most of the new steamships introduced by the Blue Anchor Line: Yeoman, 1882; Hubbuck, 1886; Riverina, 1888; Culgoa, 1890; Woolloomooloo, 1891; Warrnambool, 1892; Warrigal, 1894; Narrung, 1896; Wilcannia, 1899; Commonwealth, 1903; Geelong, 1904, and finally the Waratah, 1908.

Mrs Alexandra Hay, one of the passengers on Waratah's last voyage, wrote this moving tribute:

"It has been my privilege to travel four times across the ocean with the commander of the Waratah, and on each occasion I have been more struck than before with his unique personality, and with the extreme suitableness of that personality for the position that he is called upon to occupy.

Simple and unpretentious in manner, he yet has a dignity about him that would at once forbid a liberty, and all who serve under him do so with the utmost respect, and, in most cases, with great love and veneration.

Who that has heard Captain Ilbery read the Church of England service, which he does every Sunday morning when there is no clergyman among the passengers, will forget the impressive manner in which the service is conducted, and the observant listener will not fail to notice that only one who enters into and participates in the petitions could present them in the tone of genuine devotion in which they are uttered"

courtesy: Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society vol 82, part 1, June 1996
"The Loss of the Waratah" by Peter Ilbery.

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