Thursday, 3 October 2013


The Waratah left the Durban Port 26 July, 1909, at 8.15 pm. Apart from the confirmed sighting by the Clan Macintyre the following day, she was never officially seen again.

The Board of Trade Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah took a closer look at the Waratah's status before and during her departure from Durban harbour. The Port Captain, John Rainnie had the following to say at the Inquiry:

"So far as I could see when that ship left Durban, I do not think it was top-heavy." 

"She was not at all "tender."" 

"I observed that when the ship was leaving the wharf she had no list whatever, and when our tug commenced to pull upon it, it seemed to have no effect in the way of creating a list." 

"We often see, if when we take hold of a tender ship with one of our heavy tugs, that she at once lists to the pull. But there was nothing of that in the case of the "Waratah."" 

"I have not the slightest doubt that when the vessel left the Port of Durban she was far "stiffer" than when she arrived at this port two days before."

Much has been said (and I will return to this issue yet again) about the stability of the Waratah. Every word by the expert witness, John Rainnie, confirms and underscores how stable the Waratah in fact was when leaving Durban 26 July. Unless Mr Rainnie had an alternative agenda, which under the circumstances (taking his position of responsibility at Durban's Port into consideration) seems extremely unlikely. He virtually draws a red line through all the witness testimony prior to this point describing the Waratah as 'light', 'top heavy' and unstable.

The court of inquiry then called the master of the Government tug boat "Richard King" who had the following to say about the Waratah:

"We towed the "Waratah" round from "C" shed." 

"She did not lean towards us at all." 

"Hawsers were put right on her port quarter." 

"We accompanied her outside the bar" (Durban has a sand bar at the entrance of the harbour). 

"She was upright at the wharf, and when we started towing her round as nearly upright as possible." 

"Had she been tender she would probably have leaned towards us." 

"She did not do so."

After this expert witness testimony corroborating that of the Port Captain, the case of an unstable Waratah putting to sea from Durban was looking decidedly weak. Called next to the witness stand was 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."

Oh dear, suddenly it looked like the expert witnesses were going to end up red faced, but Mr Wright was about to put that right:

"The captain insisted on Messrs. Nicoll & Company taking the list out and declined to go until that was done." 

"She went out perfectly upright."

So it seems that we still have a stable Waratah which departed Durban. This highlights the importance of loading steamships circa 1909.  Get it wrong and imbalances could cause stability problems. Get it right and secure all cargo appropriately would ensure a safe passage. Victor Lindsey Nicoll also of the coal company added to his colleague's statement:

"I saw an instrument in the chief officer's cabin which indicated that the ship was perfectly upright."

If I were a legal man at the Inquiry in defence of the Waratah, I might have been inclined to remark at this point:

"I rest my case, M'Lord"

However, there were still two expert witnesses for the stand. First up was William George Miller, leading mooring attendant at Durban:

"The ship looked in beautiful trim when she left the harbour. There was nothing in her appearance to indicate she was top-heavy."

And finally to the witness stand for Durban Port, the Government pilot Hugh Lindsey, and you could have heard a pin drop in the Inquiry court room:  

"I took "Waratah" out of port."

Yes, yes, do go on.... 

"The vessel did not appear to be at all tender." 

"When we left the wharf I put the tug on her aft with a long hauling wire. I have noticed in some ships when they are tender they lie over to it whichever way the tug pulls them, but the "Waratah" just pulled off steadily."

Mr Lund must have felt resoundingly vindicated by this stage of proceedings.

With this the expert testimony from the Port of Durban finished with a clean sweep in favour of a seaworthy steamship displaying no signs of instability whatsoever.

However, this testimony could not possibly have given any evidence on latent problems with the Waratah, which would only manifest during the course of the voyage.

We can only speculate what those latent problems and defects might have been, and how securely the carcasses were stowed and whether the lead concentrates liquefied and shifted.

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