Friday, 18 October 2013


Nicholas Sharp. Seaman on the Waratah (13 years seagoing experience) - 

"She was all right in fine weather and smooth water, but as soon as you got the wind a little on the beam she would hang over that way and she seemed to be top-heavy. She was very crank. I did not think she was safe, and shammed sick to get clear of her." 

"The chief officer, when engaging me, said, 'If you can get anything else, take it, because this ship will be a coffin for somebody.' "

"Going round the Ushant Light, the vessel had the wind and sea on her beam, and she there commenced to roll very noticeably. She appeared to hang and shake at the end of the roll, before recovering herself and commencing the return roll." 

"The roll to leeward was more pronounced than the roll to windward. She would sometimes roll to leeward, stop, and then continue the roll further, and then recover." 

"The vessel appeared to be very badly balanced, and to be "dead" in the water if there was any sea on."

If this witness statement is taken in isolation, a very bleak picture of the Waratah is painted suggesting that she was 'an accident waiting to happen'. I doubt whether the Chief Officer on the Waratah would have advised his seamen to 'abandon ship' at the first opportunity, and referring to her as a 'coffin'. Also the mention of the word 'shamming' alerts me to be cautious with this witness statement.

'Dead in the water' could also refer to the fact that Waratah's engines were relatively under powered for her size, which would have become noticeable in heavy weather.   

Alfred Philip.  Carpenter's mate on the Waratah (9 years Royal Navy experience) - 

"As regards seaworthiness, she was all right. As regards stability, she was a bit top-heavy. She rolled very heavily. There was a big roll crossing the Bight, and I thought she was never going to come back two or three times."

Here we have a concise statement expressing (unemotionally) concerns about the Waratah being able to right herself.

Samuel Lyons . Steward on the Waratah -

"One day she gave a very heavy lurch, and stopped there, over to the starboard side. The boatswain said, "By God, I wouldn't like to be on this ship in a storm; she would go to the bottom."

"She was very top-heavy; she never seemed to right herself"

Frederick Carl Pinel. Steward on the Waratah (no experience at sea) - 

"The ship was right enough. Never heard anyone on board run her down. The carpenter was my intended brother-in-law, and he never complained of the ship."

It's almost bizarre the contrasting content of these statements. 

W. Stephen Powell.  Steward on the Waratah (no experience at sea) -

"Seemed a steady enough boat, but it was good weather all the way out. Heard the sailors say she was top heavy."

Well, at least the Waratah's rolling and hanging in a list did not alarm this novice sailor. 

Alan  Melville.  Clerk who tallied grain from Ennerdale into the Waratah at Sydney - 

"I said to Mr. Owen (the chief officer) in the presence of Mr. Morgan (third officer), "Well, how do you like your new ship, Mr. Owen?" He replied, "Splendid." I said, "What's she like in a seaway?" He replied, "I was never in a better." Mr. Morgan then said, "She's like a rocking chair."

Here we have a statement referring to the Chief Officer, this time extolling the virtues of the Waratah. This to my mind confirms that the claims made by Nicholas Sharp were compromised.

Brightmer John Shore.  Steward on the Waratah -

"Always had a list and would change her list as often as three or four times in the course of an hour or an hour and half and rolled heavily."

At this stage we have many witness accounts referring to the Waratah rolling heavily and holding in the list. Whether this in any way negatively impacted on her safety at sea still remains 'up in the air'.

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