Monday, 9 December 2013



"The Waratah took the ground alongside the wharf at
Port Adelaide at low water, but as the
bottom was mud no harm resulted."

Not since the allegations the Waratah ran aground at Kangaroo Island has a paragraph had as much impact. Even if it was only 'mud', the stresses exerted on a large, heavy, steel steamer could cause damage to hull plates and rivets, which might not initially manifest in an obvious way giving rise to the statement 'no harm resulted'.

In the case of the Kangaroo Island incident, the Waratah was on her maiden voyage and returned to the UK where she was dry-docked and inspected.  It is possible that either no damage was present at this juncture or damage was latent - meaning there were no obviously visible indicators of it. That's if the Kangaroo Island incident was in fact true.

Damage can be undetected by the naked eye and yet, still be significant. A weak 'point' is vulnerable to further stress leading to an escalation in the scale of damage. In the case of the Adelaide wharf 'grounding', the Waratah may have sustained both visible and 'invisible' damage to hull plates and rivets. However, Captain Ilbery submitted the following statement on arrival at Durban;

"My steamship Waratah has sustained no damage from any cause whatever since leaving her last port’.”

The wording of this statement is important. Captain Ilbery states that no damage was sustained SINCE leaving the last port, not including the period of time at the last port.

The following newspaper article fleshes out the incident further:

"Charles Augustus Johnson (wharf man-
ager at the Outer Harbour) said he knew
Captain Ilbery had a strong objection to his
ship touching the bottom alongside the
wharf at Port Adelaide, for he heard him
say to the agent just before sailing that he
did not think it right or fair for a vessel
of her size and weight to be on the bot-
tom, as she was in Port Adelaide. "

Two vital clues are revealed in these extracts. It was NOT harmless for a large steamer to take the ground whether it be mud or other. Captain Ilbery then confirms that his vessel was significantly heavy. Whether concerns about brittle hull plates and latent damage came into his concerns remains speculative.

Captain Ilbery did not feel it necessary to report that a section of flawed copper piping integral to the steam system had fractured, requiring replacement. As small as this issue might have seemed it spoke loudly of a greater potential problem and shortcomings in the Waratah's construction.

Important update:

steamship grounded in 'mud'

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