Monday, 25 November 2013


Let's return to the witness accounts of the Harlow; Clan MacIntyre and Guelph.

Captain Weir of the Clan MacIntyre referred to the Waratah steaming ahead of them in fine upright condition and finally disappearing into the mist at about 09h30 on the 27 July 1909. Why did one of the junior crew (SP Lamont) contradict this statement and claim the Waratah listed and pitched like a yacht? Two men on the same vessel witnessing the same thing and giving entirely different accounts of the same ship. (It came out that Lamont was not on good terms with the officers of the Clan Macintyre and this might have influenced his contradictory claim). It remains unanswered why the Waratah was first sighted on a course closer to shore, which over the following three and a half hours altered to a course heading further out to sea, possibly beyond the standard course followed by the Clan MacIntyre and other vessels. No attempt was made by the Inquiry to establish a reason for this.

The Harlow witness account was entirely different and during the eight hours after departing the Clan Macintyre, the Waratah was assumed to be voyaging in the opposite direction towards Durban. Captain Bruce and his chief officer claimed that a 'large' steamer was seen astern approaching consistently over the period of two and a half hours. If the large steamer was indeed the Waratah (no other vessels were due astern at that position and time) she must have been experiencing the first stages of a problem of fire on board when the Clan Macintyre sighted her. Why details of this was not included in the signal exchange remains a mystery, unless the problem was at that stage not significant enough to warrant exchanging details. There had to be good reason for Captain Ilbery to bring his ship about and attempt to return to Durban.

One could argue that the Harlow crew were mistaken and the Waratah never diverted from her intended route to Cape Town as witnessed by the Guelph crew. However, the signaler of the Guelph could only make out the last three letters 'tah' identifying the other steamer. It remained obscure and incomplete with no reported attempts made to clarify the identity. If this sighting was accurate why was the Waratah eight hours behind schedule and why had the Clan MacIntyre not overhauled her during the interim? This was a busy shipping lane and it cannot be adequately explained why the Waratah, if she maintained course, was not sighted by numerous other vessels by 9 pm 27 July. Did the crew of the Guelph come under a 'similar' influence from the Lunds, further confirming the Waratah remained on course for Cape Town? Possibly but perhaps unlikely in the context of the eight hour delay which would raise independent questions.

Returning to the Harlow account we are also confronted with peculiar conflicting witness statements at the Inquiry. Although Captain Bruce and his chief officer observed the approach of the large steamer over a period of two hours, the Chief officer changed his story claiming that the running lights of the large steamer could have been confused with bush fires onshore. Surely seasoned seamen and officers would have been able to distinguish between the two entities? What if this is a third possible example of undue influence creating confusion at the Inquiry and diverting attention away from a flagship in trouble?

I suppose we shall never know the answers to these controversial issues. Whether the accounts were intended to assist the image of the Blue Anchor Line, is speculative. But in so doing and creating enough confusion that we may never know the true facts, a very cruel blow was delivered without mercy to families of the crew and passengers of the Waratah. They were never to know what had become of their loved ones and where they rest.


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