Monday, 21 October 2013


Pearson Baker.  Seaman on the Waratah, worked in the stokehold - 

"Had nothing against the ship and she only rolled when there was a bit of a blow."

Mr Baker puts the Waratah's rolling into the context of normality - ie responding to wind.

Herbert Duncan Mason.  Passenger (an engineer holding a first class certificate, 33 years at sea.) -

"Nothing to prove the ship seaworthy or not coming out because smooth all the time." 

"The only time there was a bit of a breeze, coming out of Melbourne, she heeled over very heavily. She did not recover herself properly, was not quick enough."

"In my opinion, if she got in a heavy seaway and did not recover herself which I do not think she would, she would get another one on top of her and I believe she went over." 

"The mate and I were old friends, and I said to him, 

"Owen, if I were you I would get out of this ship; she will be making a big hole in the water some of these days." 

He said: 

"I'm afraid she will," and he told me himself that when discharging cargo in Adelaide they had to be very careful in getting them out. She would go over as easily as possible either one way or the other."

In this instance we have an opinion from an engineer with a first class certificate.  He made the point that the Waratah's tendency to hold in a list and recover slowly would make her vulnerable to rolling over in heavy seas.

This is a very loaded statement and one that can neither be proved nor disproved.  All we do know, is that the Waratah safely negotiated rough seas before the 26 July, 1909.  Whether the Wild Coast was a step too far as regards rough seas, will have to remain in the realm of speculation, bearing in the GM of Waratah had improved dramatically by the time she was lost off the Wild Coast.

Making a 'big hole in the sea' is rather an insensitive way of describing the loss of a 500 ft steamer and all passengers and crew.

Reginald Thomas Richards. Passenger - 

"Noticed nothing peculiar, but no rough weather. A first class seagoing ship."

And just as quickly the witness accounts returned to describing the Waratah as a first class vessel.

William Duncan.  Chief officer SS Hunter, which discharged bullion into the Waratah at Sydney -

"She had a big list over on to the wharf, but that might have been due to the way they were discharging cargo."

"She struck me as being tender"

This had nothing to do with her performance at sea.

Thomas John Burrin. 

"Between Gabo and Sydney was awakened by the list which had become very pronounced and she righted herself list only lasted a few minutes." 

"Behaviour of ship gave no cause to fear for her safety"

Edward Dischler  A.B. on the Waratah  (been on 14 ocean going vessels) - 

"The ship when rolling went over on one side and did not seem to be able to recover herself, but stayed there quite an appreciable time." 

"She appeared to be dead in the water and to have difficulty in keeping on an even keel." 

"The unsteadiest boat I ever made a voyage in, and was absolutely unseaworthy in my opinion"

An experienced sailor with a very definite and negative opinion of the Waratah.

W. H. Baker.  Surgeon on the Waratah - 

"I did not consider at any time the list was a serious feature about the vessel. She rolled more to leeward than to windward." 

"When she got to the end of the roll to leeward, she seemed to hang over a moment of time and then appeared slowly to recover herself. The momentary stoppage at the end of the roll was very noticeable."

However, the surgeon did not equate these tendencies with compromised safety.


Mole said...

So much of the adverse criticism of the Waratah was hearsay, some of it downright self-contradictory, that it's difficult to form a judgement on these extracts. A great deal depended on the individual's perception. An experienced passenger who had sailed many times in the best ships of that age, Mrs Gosse Hay, found nothing wrong with the way the Waratah sailed and categorically stated so in print - but one can't ignore the fact that she was a fan of Captain Ilbery, which may have resulted in a certain amount of bias. Similarly, various seamen were quick to say 'I told you so' re her lack of stability, after the event, while others jumped to the ship's defence - they may all have had different motives. How to sort the wheat from the chaff? Thanks for your excellent and enlightening posts.


Mole, you raise vital issues which directly impacted on the Inquiry's inability to establish whether the Waratah was unstable and unseaworthy or not. In today's post I quote Harold Skarratt Thomas who made the pivotal comment "though it is only since the supposed loss of the vessel that I have really considered the matter" - the matter being the Waratah's so-called listing and rolling 'peculiarities'. Waratah 'mania' was sweeping through the media and many witness accounts in my opinion, were dramatised to enhance those 'five minutes of fame'. As regards the stability of the Waratah we have to go back to the original posts dealing with the subject and her metacentre. But we cannot ignore the witness comments which help also to give us a feeling for steamship travel of that era. Mrs Hay whether she was a fan of Captain Ilbery or not, strikes me as a credible witness account, further reinforced by the vital fact that she did not make her comments after the fact - she was lost with the Waratah. Sorting the wheat from the chaff will not be an easy task but there again I believe the Waratah turned around and was headed back to Durban for reasons that went beyond 'holding to long in a list' and rolling over in rough sea conditions. Thank you for taking an interest and your kind closing sentence, Andrew