Monday, 16 September 2013

Waratah - wreck discovered?

In  the ensuing months and years efforts turned from recovery to establishing where the Waratah might have gone down. The conflicting testimony at the Inquiry did not help to narrow down the likely location for a search, and in the first few months the coastal route was extensively searched by Naval and chartered vessels, but all to no avail.

In 1925, Lt D.J. Roos of the South African Air Force claimed to have spotted the wreck off the Transkei coast from his plane. Based on this and conjecture, the search for the Waratah was narrowed down to the Xora River mouth.

In 1977, a wreck was identified off the Xora River mouth which created a frenzy of excitement and seemed to corroborate the evidence that Waratah had gone down in the vicinity. As it turned out, the wreck was confirmed to be the SS Khedive, sunk by German U-Boats during the Second World War.

Further searches were conducted through 1991, 1995, and 1997, without success. In 1999, great excitement in the tabloids claimed that the Waratah had been discovered 10 km off the coast (Addley). A sonar image of the wreck corresponded with the dimensions of the Waratah and for a while it seemed that the mystery was at last solved. Unfortunately the team had to confront profound disappointment when the wreck was identified as the Nailsea Meadow, another ship sunk during the Second World War. The search efforts ground to a halt and Emlyn Brown was quoted  'I've exhausted all the options. I have no idea where to look'.

This brings us to an alleged eye witness by the name of Joe Conquer, who contributed to this confounding and gripping story. 28 July while engaged in a live shell fire exercise at the Xora River Mouth, Joe Conquer claimed he saw a large steamer at about 12.30 pm labouring in the rough seas. Some 20 years after the event Conquer reminisced how he watched the steamer rolling heavily, and when he looked again, she had disappeared. Conquer assumed that he had witnessed the Waratah sinking.

However, the Waratah could not have been at that position and time 28 July, 1909. Conquer could conceivably have mistaken the date, which more accurately was 27 July, 1909. If he had in fact seen the Waratah as claimed, there is a possibility that what he interpreted to be 'foundering' may in fact have been the Waratah heading out to sea, disappearing beyond the horizon. Conquer estimated that the steamer in question to be about 4 miles out to sea, viewed from an elevated vantage point.

If we go back to the account of the Clan MacIntyre, we know that the Waratah had started off close to shore between 4 and 6 am, 27 July, and over the course of 3 and 1/2 hours proceeded out to sea, eventually passing the Clan MacIntyre and going out of site at 9.30 am roughly abeam of the Mbashe River mouth. Conquer claims he saw the Waratah at midday (even if the date is corrected) which does not correlate with the Clan MacIntyre account, unless Waratah came about shortly after 9.30 am and retraced her course.

My view is Joe Conquer's eye witness account does not hold water and this was confirmed by failed exploration initiatives off the Mbashe River mouth.

to be continued....


Graham Clayton said...

The unfortunate thing about personal eyewitness and their accounts is that they can get dates, times and other factual information wrong, and then interpret an event as something totally different.

andrew van rensburg said...

I completely agree with you Graham and the same could apply to the Harlow account. Please note corrections made in the content of this post. Andrew

greenseaships said...

The maddening thing is that humans can also be RIGHT sometimes, forcing us to try and pick which accounts to believe and which to discard. Remember that before the wreck was discovered, only a few witnesses insisted that the Titanic broke in half. They were discarded until the wreck was discovered in 1985.

andrew van rensburg said...

Absolutely! Humans love a mystery and speculation, particularly this one :)