Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Harold Skarratt Thomas.  Seaman on the Waratah -

"On three occasions during my voyage on the Waratah her behaviour attracted my notice."

"The first occasions was when we were in the Bay of Biscay. The sea was choppy. The vessel rolled considerably, and did not appear to recover herself quickly at any time."

"The second occasion was on the voyage across the Indian Ocean during very fine weather. The water was smooth with scarcely a ripple, but there was a heavy swell which came from the south."

"One morning during that time I was having my bath. I had the bath full almost to overflowing, and had been lying full length in it for some time. The motion of the vessel had not been remarkable, when suddenly I was rolled on to the side of the bath."

"At first I was amused at the water flowing over the side of the bath, but a second or two later, it seemed to me that the vessel would never stop. When the roll did cease, the vessel appeared to remain on her side for some time."

"I am unable to say how long, but it seemed to me longer than should have been the case."

"When the vessel recovered herself, I was surprised to find that the water in the bath did not cover my body. I have a very distinct recollection of the incident, because I was startled by it at the time. The bath steward a few minutes later made some remark to me about the rolling of the vessel."

"The third occasion on which I noticed the behaviour of the vessel was one evening soon after we had cleared the Port Phillip Heads on route to Sydney. The wind was blowing hard, and the sea appeared rough."

"I had retired early that evening, and had been asleep. I cannot say how long I had been asleep, when I was awakened by being rolled forcibly against the side of my bunk. and I had to grip the railing hard in order to avoid being thrown completely out of bed."

"On the whole I do not think I had on that voyage much opportunity of judging the behaviour of the vessel, because we had such a smooth passage."

"On the three occasions, however, which I have mentioned, the behaviour of the vessel was sufficient to attract my attention, though it is only since the supposed loss of the vessel that I have really considered the matter."

"The vessel rolled considerably at times, and certainly seemed to me to be "dead" in the water. I mean by "dead" that when rolling she did not recover herself quickly."

Again we have witness testimony going into detail about the rolling and listing of the Waratah. But for the first time a very important addition to these comments:

"though it is only since the supposed loss of the vessel that I have really considered the matter".

This is the crux of the case. Witnesses who voyaged on the Waratah experienced rolling and listing with characteristics peculiar to a steamship of this size and configuration, circa 1909. But in the context of the Waratah disappearing, presumed foundered, many of these witnesses focused on the issues of listing and rolling as something 'abnormal' and 'probable cause' for the loss of the Waratah.
However, Mr Thomas draws our attention to the fact that many of these witnesses, if it were not for the circumstances of the Waratah loss, might have simply taken the rolling and listing 'peculiarities' for granted.

M. Macdonald. Trimmer on the Waratah -

"At times the Waratah had a considerable list on. It was more noticeable at some times than at others. The list was nearly always to leeward (wind pressure). As a trimmer on the coal, I know that the list was not due to the uneven distribution of the coal, because the coal was worked down evenly on both sides."

"When there was any sort of a sea on at all, the vessel had a big roll. It was bigger than what I had experienced on other ships."

"At the end of each roll she seemed to stop for a little while before she commenced the return roll. The roll was different from what I had experienced on other vessels. I had not felt on any other vessel the same pause at the end of a roll."

A similar rolling pattern was observed in Navy 'top heavy' vessels. But these vessels did not turn turtle in bad weather. There was so much more to the issue than impressions and observations.

"The vessel did not pitch as much as she rolled. She recovered quickly from a pitch."

"I don't think she was what is called "dead" in the water"

And so the witness testimonies rolled on referring constantly to the listing and rolling 'peculiarities' of the Waratah, and in this case the subjective impression that her performance at sea was 'different to other vessels'.

Walter Dewey. General servant on  the Waratah (no sea experience) -

"My quarters were in the No. 5 upper 'tween decks. After we had left Cape Town there were a couple of days during which there was a heavy swell on the sea and the vessel rolled very much, so much so that the port holes in our quarters had to be kept closed. One had been left open, and a lot of water came in and flooded one of the bunks. This water came in owing to the heavy rolling of the vessel."

"I noticed the rolling particularly because, as a steward, I had to carry soup and other things about to the tables. When the vessel rolled she always paused for a little time before she commenced the return roll, and I had to wait and be ready for that pause every time or else I would have been thrown off my balance. I can't say definitely how long that pause was, but it seemed to be a considerable time."

"She used to roll over steadily and then hang for a time at the extremity of the roll before she commenced to return. She did this whether the roll was to port or starboard."

"I did not take much notice of the pitching of the vessel and did not notice anything to draw attention to. My attention was devoted to the rolling because that interfered more with me in my work."

A further and umpteenth reference to the contentious rolling of the Waratah and holding for a length of time in the list, before recovering.

sailor posing - not a far cry from those called to the witness stand for their 'five minutes of fame'

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