Tuesday, 5 November 2013


The following is an extract from a newspaper after the disappearance of the Waratah:

"In the hope that something might be seen or heard of the missing liner Waratah, a sharp lookout was kept from the Tainui on the voyage from Cape Town to Hobart. By night and by day the horizon was scanned by special men put on the lookout, but nothing suggestive of the overdue vessel was observed".

The "Australian Star" stated:

"It seems that a man who was being escorted to South Africa on the Waratah on a charge of murder, alleged to have been committed in Johannesburg, threatened that his escorts would never find him alive at the Cape for his trial."

"He is said to have made the remark with determination that if he saw no other chance of escaping his trial he would set fire to the ship.  This was regarded by the police at the time as mere bluff, but the threat has grown into significance in view of the cable that the steamer Harlow had on arrival at Manila, reported that when in the vicinity of Durban on 27 July she had seen a steamer on fire."

"In some circles the belief has been expressed that the burning vessel could not possibly have been the Waratah, as there was nothing particularly flammable on her (there are many case instances of fires on steamers when no specific causes could be found and 'nothing particularly flammable' on board).  Her construction moreover was of iron and steel, and she was completely equipped with modern fire fighting appliances."

"This being so, three facts are certain:  The prisoner made a threat; and about the time the Waratah was in the vicinity of Durban a vessel was seen afire; the third fact and grimmest of all, is that, after an interval of nearly two months, the vessel is still missing."

The prisoner in question, McLaughlin, disembarked under escort at Durban. 

"In connection with the steamer Waratah, it is recalled that a Mr Beet, a farmer at East London, reported what seemed to him to be signals from a vessel in distress on July 26.  He says that on that evening, he saw a large steamer off the coast at a point opposite Cove Rock, six miles to sea, steaming slowly westwards."

"After going about ten miles along the usual trade route, the steamer stopped and seemed to blow off steam.  She then drifted back towards East London, rolling heavily and showing signals of distress, or flashes of lightning."

"The Waratah left Durban on July 26 and it is stated that it is not possible that she could have reached the spot indicated by Mr Beet on the same day. Mr Beet's story was however corroborated by four separate witnesses, and a Mr Maclean has furnished a story of rockets going up, which fits in with what Mr Beet says with regard to the lightning flashes."

This is an example of the sorts of stories appearing in the press at the time of the loss of the Waratah, rumours upon rumours, fueling confusion and suspicion, ultimately creating the substrate for Waratah hysteria and mania.

Steel and iron were certainly no deterrent to destructive fires occurring on steamers of that era.



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