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.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Anecdote Saturday - the SS Yongala ('good water')

The Yongala was a passenger and cargo steamer built 1903 and owned by the Adelaide Steamship Company. 350 ft in length, she was constructed of steel and could average 15 knots from her single steam triple expansion engine and screw (propeller). Her five steel boilers feeding the triple expansion engine burned about 67 tonnes of coal per day while cruising at 15 knots.

23 March 1911, on a voyage between Melbourne and Cairns the Yongala encountered a cyclone and foundered off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland.  All 122 souls (72 crew) on board perished but unlike the Waratah, cargo and wreckage washed up onshore at Cleveland Bay. One piece of hull wreckage suggested that she had struck an object such as rocks, possibly causing her to founder. However, such damage could also have occurred after she had foundered rather than before. If damage after a rock-strike was the cause, rather than the cyclone, it is a case in point illustrating that steamers could sink very rapidly after such an incident.

The Yongala had similar modern conveniences to the Waratah: Electric lighting; refrigeration; powerful windlass and capstan; seven winches with derricks and derrick -posts; two steam cranes aiding in efficient cargo handling; and a steam and hand steering gear fitted aft, but controlled by the bridge.

In 1906 the Yongala was credited with being the first vessel to complete a direct voyage between Fremantle and Brisbane, covering 5000 km. Captain William Knight, 62 years old, master of the Yongala and had an unblemished record with the Adelaide Steamship Company spanning a career of 14 years.

The Yongala loaded passengers, cargo and a racehorse 'Moonshine' at Brisbane, their second to last port of call.  She reportedly departed in excellent upright condition. Unhurried the Yongala headed in the direction of Mackay, steaming well. Mackay 23 March she discharged 50 tons of cargo leaving a remaining 617 tons, appropriately and securely stowed. She departed at 1.40 pm and was still in sight of land when the signal station at Mackay received the cyclone warning between Mackay and Townsville.

Tragically as in the case of the Waratah the Yongala was not fitted with a wireless set (Marconi) and very similarly to the Waratah (which was due to be fitted with one on her return to London) the Yongala was awaiting a Marconi set dispatched from London. Five hours later the lighthouse keepers at Dent Island, Whitsunday Passage observed the Yongala steaming out into the oncoming cyclone, the last reported sighting of the vessel. The cyclone would have hit the Yongala at right angles with full force. The storm left a trail of destruction at Cape Upstart.

After the Yongala was reported overdue the Premier for Queensland Digby Denham offered resources for the search, including seven search vessels. Apart from wreckage and the racehorse Moonshine washed up at Gordon Creek, no trace of survivors or bodies were discovered.

Theories as to her loss were aired including: being overwhelmed by the force of the gale; slewed broadside into the wind after anchors were dropped; hitting a submerged reef between Flinders Passage and Keeper Reef; run into Nares Rock or founded on Cape Upstart.

The Queensland Authorities offered a reward of 1000 pounds for any information regarding the whereabouts of the Yongala, but nothing came to light until many years later in 1958 when she was discovered lying in waters south of Townsville.

The Yongala Distress fund from church and village hall donations amounted to 900 pounds and because it was not issued (for reasons unknown) to families of the lost crew and passengers, was credited to the Queensland Shipwreck Society in 1914.

The Marine Board of Queensland met in June 1911 to finalise the inquiry into the loss of the Yongala.  The inquiry followed a similar approach to that of the Waratah with no survivors nor eye witnesses to verify the reasons for her loss and had to focus on the seaworthiness of the vessel and general efficiency of the Captain, William Knight, instead.

The Yongala had proven herself in the seven years of service without mishap and tests carried out by the superintendent engineer, Mr Adamson, showed a vessel which complied with all standards and regulations.

As regards Captain William Knight the board remarked:

"The ability of the captain was unimpeachable, and with no desire to indulge in idle speculation, simply find that after becoming lost to view by the light keeper at Dent Island, the fate of the Yongala passes beyond human ken into the realms of conjecture, to add one more to the mysteries of the sea".

The Board went on further to say:

 "The risk of navigating the Queensland coast is considerably enhanced during the hurricane months, from December to April, and although with plenty of sea room and a well-found ship the observant master can, by heaving to on the right tack, or keeping out of the path of the storm, invariably avert disaster. But when caught inside the Barrier Reef, with the number of islands and reefs intervening, the Board think it will be generally conceded that the only element of safety is to be found in securing the best anchorage available".[2]

Due to the mystery of her disappearance stories in subsequent years described a ghost ship sighted between Bowen and Townsville.

But it was only in 1958 when skin divers located the wreck and brought to the surface a steel safe from one of the Yongala's cabins. Instead of treasures the safe revealed only black sludge. It was later confirmed tracing the Chubb strongbox through the serial number that it was from the Yongala's purser's cabin.

The wreck of Yongala lies within the central section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is approximately 48 nautical miles (89 km) south east of Townsville and 12 nautical miles (22 km) east of Cape Bowling Green. Its official location is 19°18′15.9″S 147°37′31.6″ECoordinates: 19°18′15.9″S 147°37′31.6″E.[5] and is protected by the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act of 1976.

The wreck was even associated with a murder.  Tina Watson was murdered by her husband on the 22 October 2003 near the dive site of the Yongala.

SS Yongala - similar to Waratah
My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

Thursday, 21 November 2013


Daily Observer

Flagship Steamer - Waratah:

“Although mainly British, there was an international flavour to the ship’s crew of 119. In the complement of firemen, trimmers, greasers, cooks, stewards and able seamen were five Germans, five Swedes and one Frenchman. The youngest crewman was 16-year-old cabin boy Fred Trott. There were only two stewardesses on board: 40-year-old Emma Swan and 35-year-old Sarah Whitehorn,”

“At Durban, the Turner family, with five children ages three to 14 and a nursemaid, joined the growing passenger list. David Turner was a landing agent for Scottish railways."

“The human manifest also included Dr. J.T. Carrick, the famous biologist who discovered gold in the Orange Free State; Neil Walter Black, a young man from Victoria who was planning to propose to a lady he had been courting; Nora Connolly, the widow of a coal miner who was returning to Dublin with her daughter and $5,000 in savings; Alf Clarke, a world champion wood chopper [from Tasmania]; Ernest Page, a travelling showman and hypnotist; and Charles Taylor, a renowned miner from Sydney heading to Europe with his wife and two children.”

"After her launch the Waratah’s maiden voyage from London to Adelaide started on 6 November 1908 and arrived in Adelaide on 15 December and at Sydney on Christmas Eve 1908. She was back in London on 7 March 1909 without any incidents although it was said that she had run aground at Kangaroo Island."

"Without any delay she was loaded again and started her second trip for Australia on 27 April with cargo and nearly 200 passengers, arriving in Adelaide on 6 June. After visiting Melbourne and Sydney she was back at Port Adelaide on 2 July."

"In Adelaide she took on 300 tons of lead concentrates and a large quantity of refrigerated meat and boxes of butter and grain, a total of 6,665 tons as well as 82 passengers."

This one sentence yielded so much information. First of all the Inquiry came to the conclusion that Waratah carried about 6250 tons of cargo - TOTAL. However, the truth revealed here does not include cargo from both Sydney and Melbourne. Stevedores at Adelaide referred to the Waratah departing that port with about 9000 tons of cargo, which is far closer to the truth. The Waratah had a pre-existing or acquired 1000 tons of lead concentrates, primarily used as dead weight ballast. The additional 300 tons took the total figure to 1300 tons. It was quoted at the Inquiry that Waratah took on 970 tons of lead concentrates at Adelaide, but my personal feeling is that this referred to the inbound voyage and was kept outbound.

"Among the passengers boarding in Adelaide were M. Morgan, Mrs H.H. Carwood, J. McNaught, A. Brookes and E.J. Waters and family. All were going to Durban."

"Going to Cape Town were Col. P.J. Browne, Miss Lees and her maid."

"Among those going ‘home’ to England were Mrs Agnes Hay, nee Gosse and her daughter H. (Dolly) Hay, Miss Jones, Mr and Mrs Waters and child and R. Lowenthal. There were also many passengers from Melbourne and Sydney."

"Before sailing Captain Ilbery had taken on several new crew members. Among those from Adelaide were F.H. Benson, A. Barr, H. Taylor, W. McKiernan, F. Sterne and James Costello."

"After leaving Adelaide on 7 July she arrived a day ahead of schedule in Durban on 25 July. Here she unloaded some of her cargo before proceeding to Cape Town to take on more passengers and coal for the remainder of the voyage."

"As late as January 1911 the Waratah Board of Inquiry examined Sir William White who stated that the ship was first class in every aspect."


Tuesday, 19 November 2013


TERANG, Monday:

"In consequence of
a letter which was circulated in
Melbourne on Saturday, a telegram was
received here announcing that the missing
steamer Waratah had been found. This
message was conveyed to the Messrs Mack
solicitors, and bells were rung
in the town as a sign of joy over the safety
of Mr Klick. When later the telegram was
contradicted the apprehension
was deepened and great sympathy is felt
for the relatives of the missing passengers."

GEELONG, Monday:

"In view of the lack of tidings of the S.S. Waratah, the
Geelong Harbour Trust, of which Mr Lascelles is
a commissioner, and who has a
daughter on the missing vessel, dispensed
with its usual meeting today. A letter of
sympathy with Mr. and Mrs. Lascelles and
family was forwarded by the chairman
(Mr. G. I. Holden, M.L.A.)."

BENDIGO, Monday:

"It has been ascertained that Messrs. Grigg and W.
Milburn, of California Gully, booked to Durban
by the Waratah."

Waratah - Captain Hanson of the Wilcannia speaks.


"Greater interest than usual was aroused
by the arrival here yesterday morning of
the Wilcannia, because she belongs to the
same line as the missing Waratah, displaying
a blue anchor on a white band
around the funnel the distinguishing
mark of the fleet."

"The Wilcannia is a much older,
and smaller vessel than
the Waratah. Naturally the fact
that the Waratah was missing formed an
absorbing topic of conversation among the
officers and crew of the Wilcannia when
the news reached them upon their arrival
at Adelaide from London, via Cape Town
and Durban."

"Notwithstanding the long
period that has elapsed since the Waratah
was due at Cape Town, most of the officers
and engineers of the Wilcannia are of
opinion that she is merely broken down,
and will turn up safe in the end."

"They are, however, so to speak, no wiser than
the man in the street conjecturing
as to the cause of the vessel's non arrival."

"They will not entertain the suggestion
that the Waratah may have capsized, and,
in the absence of wreckage, is of no use to believe
that she has been wrecked."

"You will, I think, find that the Waratah will
come to light," hopefully
remarked Captain Hanson, of the Wilcannia,
in discussing the matter yesterday....

"I firmly believe," he added, "that nothing
more serious than a breakdown of her
machinery has occurred, and that whilst
the engineering staff is endeavouring to
effect repairs the big liner is being carried
by the strong current towards the south
east, away from the African coast."

"She might, therefore, get a considerable
distance towards mid-ocean before such
repairs could be made and would then
probably have to retrace her steps very
slowly towards the nearest port in case
a second breakdown should occur"

"In reply to a question as to how far the
Waratah might stand off the land on her
trip from Durban to Cape Town Captain
Hanson said that if the weather was
exceptionally rough, which appeared to have
been the case, Captain Ilbery might follow
a course 30 miles out to sea for safety
(this contradicts the Guelph account - steamer only a few miles offshore).
He could not bring himself to think that
anything worse than an accident to her
machinery could have happened to such a
modern and well found leviathan liner as
the Waratah."

"It is a singular coincidence that both Mr
Hodder and Mr Hunter, chief and second
engineers of the Waratah should have previously
been associated in similar positions
on the Wilcannia.  After leaving the
Wilcannia, Mr  Hodder accepted an appointment
on shore, but subsequently gave it
up to take charge of the Waratah s engines,
with Mr Hunter as his chief associate."

All lost in a decision to take a job on the Waratah rather than onshore. Captain Hanson's conviction that the Waratah could not have foundered in the storm suggests that Blue Anchor Line masters were encouraged to give opinions 'on the brighter side' encouraging hope and reinforcing the Blue Anchor Line flagship's seaworthiness.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


This newspaper cutting gives an idea of the cargo on board the Waratah. The list is incomplete in that some contents were not possible to decipher from the original newspaper cutting. But the insurance of 200 000 pounds gives a clear impression that the Waratah was carrying a significant cargo load.


Following are complete particulars of the
cargo stowed away in the Waratah when
she finally quitted Adelaide on her

For Cape Town:

500 bags flour, 100 cases apples,
and sundries

For London:

1,077 bales wool, 711 bales skins,
15 bales leather, 8 bales barks, 107 casks tallow,
21 casks wine, 21 drums glycerine. 8117 bags
flour, 1773 bags wheat 130 bags oats, 23 bags
hides, 310 ingots, 114 old rails, sundries.


For Cape Town and London:

Bales wool, bales cuttings, bales skin pieces, 115 bales fur
skins, 17 bales glue pieces, bales rabbit skins,
leather, 817 cases tallow, 1,000 bags
flour. 1,050 pieces timber, 1,5.10 cases meats, 21 cases
whisky, 10 bags horns, furniture 7,600
bars bullion, 7,350 ingots, 1,000 boxes butter,
carcases of mutton, ,1,337 carcases rabbit, 58 packages


For London:

1,137 bags wheat, 100 bags bark,
1,004 bags flour, packages wine, 1,107 bags
bark, 183 casks tallow, 1,200 casks dried fruit, 23
cases machinery, casks of eucalyptus oil, 17 sundries,
20 cases crayfish, 500 crates rabbits, 1,238
cases oranges, 10,710 ingots copper.

The insurance on the cargo amounts to

pay day for stevedores - loading completed

Friday, 15 November 2013


The Margarita was a cargo steamer built in 1901 by Barclay Curle and Co (the same builders, Waratah). She was powered by a single triple expansion engine, constructed of steel, weighed 4443 gross tonnes, 385 ft length. Initially registered to the Ellerman Lines Ltd of Liverpool, she was later sold on to Greek owners, Metaxas B. N.Cephalonia.

The Margarita sailed from East London 7 November 1925 destined for Dakar with a cargo of maize and hides. She went missing after a distress message was issued 8 November. As in the case of the Waratah she sailed into a significant storm between East London and Cape Town, foundered and was lost without a trace, including her crew of 34. There is very little more about this cargo steamer, 24 years in service without any noted problems before the 7 November 1925.

We have explored the spectrum of storms off the Cape coast including freak waves, which in some instances have been recorded as high as 30m. The Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah was ultimately forced to adopt the conclusion that the Waratah was lost in the severe storm of the 28 July 1909.
Given the similar circumstances one is inclined to agree that there is a storm pattern off the Cape coast capable of 'engulfing' large ocean going vessels such as the Margarita (385 ft long) and the Waratah (465 ft long).

I'm left with just one question:

Both vessels were built by Barclay Curle and Co. The Waratah was on her second to maiden voyage, and the Margarita had completed 24 years of ocean going service. Was there perhaps a common design flaw that only manifested in severe storm conditions at sea? It seems more likely that the Margarita in her 24 years of service would have encountered severe storm conditions off the Cape and other coasts before November 1925 and survived. Perhaps the common denominator is a chance encounter with a freak wave, in which case no factors could save 'any' vessel from a similar fate - lost without a trace.

Waratah - 'gloomy forebodings'.


"As each day passes without bringing any
tidings of the missing ' Blue Anchor' liner
Waratah the concern which is being felt
deepens, and anyone who visits the offices
of the agents seems prepared for the worst,
but no news."

"Many of these people
have during the past week been such
familiar callers that the office have
got to know them so well. They are
received with a shake of the head as soon as
they enter the door and before they have
time to put the oft repeated question."

"During the first couple of days following
 the non arrival of the Waratah the anxiety
 betrayed on her behalf was not of an alarming
 nature the general impression being
 that she had been delayed probably by
heavy weather and fogs and would shortly
 arrive at her destination."

"In this belief even people deeply interested in the welfare
 of friends on board were prone to look upon
 the bright side and turned away full of
 expectations that the next morn might bring
 news of the missing vessel."

"As the days wore on however, without these hopes
 being realized gloomy forebodings arose.
There was a look akin to despondency upon the faces
slowly directed their steps towards the
office of the agents in William St.
to the extent that fears were allayed
by the announcement of the agents that
many men of wide experience still clung
to the belief that the missing Waratah was
drifting about the ocean disabled and that
it would yet be well."

"One commentator expressed the opinion that weeks
might elapse before the crippled
liner returned to port supporting the belief
that she broke down a problem so
serious as to prolong the period
necessary to effect repairs."

"Yesterday the Waratah was nine days overdue. She should
have reached Cape Town on the last of
last month. ln the event of her having
suffered a serious break down the vessel might
have been driven by the strong Agulhas current far out of the
channel towards the south east, so far that
by the time repairs would be effected she
would have a long trip back up the coast."

Monday, 11 November 2013

Waratah - connecting rod failure.



"As the days go by with no word
forthcoming of any trace of the missing
vessel, the public will begin to speculate and
theorise as to the kind of accident that
could have befallen her."

"We can dismiss the question of the vessel
going ashore unless owing to a breakdown
of her machinery. Captain Ilbery's long
experience at sea would keep him well off
the coast. The theory of an uncharted
pinnacle of rock is untenable, as the coast
has been so well traversed that, if such an
obstacle existed it would have been well
known years ago."

"The chance of a collision is becoming more and more remote
every day. Striking floating wreckage is
a likely mishap, but as such unlikely to cause
such a modern vessel to go to the bottom, if
such is the fate."

"The total disablement of her steering gear would not prevent her
making port steered by twin screws, as
was done in the case of the battleship
Hood, some years ago, which sailed from
Malta to England with her rudder lying
on her quarter deck, the repairs to the
rudder being too extensive for the staff at
Malta dockyard to cope with."

"As one who knows something about the
perils of those who go down to the sea in
ships, I venture a thought which must not
present itself to most people. Such an
accident has been known before and is
ever likely to occur in a vessel fitted with
reciprocating machinery. It is not at all
unlikely that one of the pins joining the
piston rod and the connecting rod of one
of the two sets of engines has broken."

"The vessel has two sets of quadruple expansion engines,
I believe this means there would be four of these pins in each
set of engines. Now, if one of these pins
were to break say the high pressure cylinder
where the steam enters from the
boilers, and where, of course, the greatest
steam is, the connecting rod would immediately
fly over with a crash, and probably
go through the skin lining, and thus cause
an inrush of water before anything could
he done to stop the leak."

"I do not know if the vessel is fitted with a longitudinal
bulkhead or not but most probably she
is. That would confine the inrush of
water, but as the vessel listed, it might be
necessary to flood the other engine room to
prevent her turning turtle altogether."

"The two transverse bulkheads would ensure the
water being confined to the two engine
rooms, or the one first flooded and unless
these gave way, the vessel would still have
sufficient buoyancy to remain afloat, although
entirely unmanageable."

"If the weather permitted, steps would be immediately
taken to jettison as much cargo as
possible, and the lighter the Waratah became
the greater would be the chances of
her being able to withstand any gales that
may occur, until she was picked up."

"If such is the nature of the accident then we
may still hear of her being picked up and
towed safely into port, although days and
weeks may elapse."

"It was one of the Cunard Company's
vessels I believe, although I am open to
correction which actually met with an
accident similar to the one I suggest has
happened to the Waratah. The vessel
was picked up in the Atlantic, and safely
towed into New York harbour in water
tight condition."


There were a number of possibilities potentially explaining the sudden loss of the Waratah. But this like many others remain in the realm of speculation.  

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Narrung and SS Boveric (adrift)

The Narrung (launched in1896) was a single screw steamer of 5078 tons purchased by the Blue Anchor Line in 1905.  400 ft long, with accommodation for 50 first class passengers and a significant number of emigrants, she serviced the UK to Australia route via the Cape of Good Hope. In 1902, she towed the 'Howard Smith' steamer Boveric to Fremantle, after the Boveric lost her screw (propeller) and had been drifting for 27 days.

3,987 gross tons. Lb: 105.2 x 15.2 metres. Steel single screw steamship built by Russell at Port Glasgow for SS Boveric Co Ltd (Andrew Weir), Glasgow. Cargo only. Triple expansion engine. 1889 purchased by W H Smith & Sons Melbourne, arriving 1900 Australian waters. 1901 owner changed trading name as Howard Smith, Melbourne. Vessel retained original name until 1906 when renamed Cycle. 1916 chartered to British Government. Duties within WW1 unknown. 1919 sold to Rederiaktiebolaget Transatlantic, Gothenburg (G Carlsson) renamed Svarten. Broken up at Gothenburg May 1933

Boveric was en route from Sydney to Durban with 965 horses for the Boer War.  Only 52 horses were lost:

Newspaper cutting:

Sydney Morning Herald - 9 May 1902
SS Boveric  
MELBOURNE, Thursday.
The anxiety which was felt regarding the overduesteamer Boveric was relieved to an extent today by  the receipt of a telegram from Fremantle announcing,as was generally surmised, that the vessel had metwith no more serious misadventure than the loss ofher propellor. This, under the circumstances, wel-come news was brought by the chief officer of theBoveric, Mr Hayman, who together with three of thecrew of the Boveric had sailed 1500 miles in an openlifeboat to seek assistance for the disabled vessel.
The heroic adventurers were picked up off the coastnear Fremantle on Wednesday afternoon by thesteamer Willyama, and brought on by that vessel tothe Western Australian port they had had a longand arduous experience, having been no less than27 days in the life before they were discovered,      and their cruise has probably established a recordas regards distance and time in lifeboats
At the time of her mishap the Boveric was ap-proximately 500 miles north of the regular track ofsteamers coming from South Africa, and the chances ofher being discovered by vessels coming from the Capewere remote. 
When going from Australia to South  Africa steamers especially those with live stock onboard proceed over a much higher latitude thanthat taken by vessels coming the reverse way. Theobject of this is to escape, as far as possible, thestrong westerly winds which sweep the lower lati-tudes of the Southern Ocean. 
More favourable conditions are found over the higher latitudes,and it was for this reason that the Boveric,with her valuable freight of 960 horses on board, was ordered to steer a course between the parallels of 28° and 32°. Upon the receipt of the news  of the accident the Howard Smith Company entered into negotiations for the despatch of one or two steamers from Western Australia to search for the disabled vessel. 
The company has not at present a steamer in the west which would be suitable for such  a mission, and they are therefore arranging for assistance outside their own fleet. The negotiations which are in progress were not concluded up to to-night but it is almost certain that aid will be sent to the helpless steamer to morrow.
The voyage of the Boveric began inauspiciouslyfor Mr Hayman, the chief officer, and there seemeda prospect at one time that he would not be able to  go away in her. Whilst the last batch of horses wasbeing shipped at Port Melbourne the day before the  departure of the vessel one of the animals made asavage attack with its teeth on Mr Hayman, inflicting an ugly wound on one of his shoulders. The injured officer suffered acutely from the effects of the bite but resolutely stuck to his post. Mr Hayman is well known  in connection with coastal shipping Before joiningthe Howard Smith line he was in the service of the  Adelaide S.S. Company, Limited. 
Although it is  understood that the Boveric is amply provided with provisions for the crew, there is grave doubt as to  how the horses will fare in event of the voyage being much further prolonged. When the Boveric left here she took sufficient fodder to last the animals for 45 days, but it is more than likely that when the accident occurred their daily allowance of fodder was reduced in order to provide as far as possible for a protracted sojourn at sea. 
The vessel has now been 48 days out from this port the opinion is expressed by several nautical men that a vessel following the course of the prevailing current from the spot where the Boveric began to drift would probably be swept across to the coast of Mauritius.
The manager for Howard Smith and Co. receiveda telegram this afternoon from the chief officer of theBoveric at Fremantle as follows : 
"Boveric lost her propeller April 3, latitude 30°42 south longitude  93 42 east drifting till 11th, when chief officer left, about 25 miles per day north-west directions should be well northward of Australian-South African track " 

On Boxing Day 1912, while in the English Channel en route to Australia the Narrung almost foundered in a severe storm in the Bay of Biscay.  She issued an SOS distress call and managed to return to England.

newspaper cutting:

Intentions as to the Narrung
(Press Assn. - By Telegraph. - Copyright)
London, January 1, 1912

"In the House of Commons Mr Farrell gave notice of his intention to question Mr Buxton as to whether the Narrung, during a storm in the Indian Ocean on her last homeward voyage, heeled over at an angle of 54 degrees, with such danger that the officers were on the point of lowering the boats, and whether the Waratah, a sister ship, capsized through top-heaviness owing to her bad construction, and whether the Board of Trade intend to allow the Narrung to continue to carry passengers on long voyages."

It seems very unlikely that the Narrung heeled over 54 degrees and managed to stay afloat. She was sold to the Mexico Steamship Company in 1913 and renamed the Mexico City. She remained perfectly seaworthy until 1916 when she was grounded after a torpedo attack. But it was only after a second torpedo attack by U-101, and not due to her tendency to list dangerously, that sounded her death knell, 15 miles from South Stack, Holyhead, Anglesey, North Wales, with the loss of 29 souls, including the Captain.


SS Narrung

Thursday, 7 November 2013


Article image

There was opinion that the Waratah had not been challenged by a storm at sea until the exceptional storm 28 July off the southern African coast. This newspaper cutting presents a clear report that the Waratah did indeed cope admirably in stormy conditions.

Waratah - Guelph signaller the last witness?

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957)  Previous issue Tuesday 10 August 1909

LONDON, Aug. 10, 1909

"Yesterday brought no news regarding the
fate of the missing Blue Anchor liner
Waratah, and is nine days overdue on
the voyage from Port Natal to Cape Town."

"The Times" this morning states that the
owners of the vessel are still hopeful of her

"The White Star liner Runic arrived in
Cape Town, but had nothing to
report.  The Runic took the outward
course from Durban, but saw no trace of
the Waratah."

"The agency at Durban states that
the officers of the Union Castle liner
Guelph, which is in port, sighted
the Waratah eastward of East London
on the night of the 27th July,
the day after her departure."

"The position of the Waratah at that time showed that
she was eight hours late.  Communication
between the vessels was attempted, but the
result was unsatisfactory. The Waratah was not flying
signals of distress"

This remains one of the most misleading clues as to the disappearance of the Waratah. Famously the signaler only managed to decipher the last three letters of the name of the mysterious steamer - TAH. There were no other steamers with the last three letters TAH. If it had been the Waratah it is strange that she was only a few miles offshore - not within the outer steamer track - and if so, that she was not overhauled by the Clan MacIntyre. Further to this if the Waratah was in fact 8 hours behind schedule attempts would have been made to communicate difficulties.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Waratah - steamer Wakefield search.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) (about) Previous issue Monday 17 January 1910


"No reply has yet been received to the cable
sent to the Agent-General by the executive
of the citizens' committee, asking if the Wake-
field's search for the Waratah might be ex-
tended an extra month if so desired. The
Premier has been asked to send another  

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) (about) Previous issueTuesday 25 January 1910



"The Premier (Mr. Murray) has received from
the Premier of Natal a message in reply to a
request that the Natal Government should
assist in every way in the despatch of the
steamer Wakefield, which has been chartered
to conduct a further search for the missing
Waratah. The reply is as follows:-"The Go-
vernment of Natal will do everything to facili-
tate the search for the Waratah."

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954) (about) Previous issueFriday 18 March 1910


MELBOURNE, Thursday.

"Though the steamer Wakefield left Durban
on February 25 (1910) on her voyage in search of the
missing steamer Waratah, the State authori-
ties are still ignorant of the exact course
her captain is following. The last news re-
ceived by them was to the effect that the
Wakefield would carry out her search in
accordance with the charter arranged by Sir
John Taverner, the Agent-General for Vic-
toria. In reply to a cable the Agent-General
has informed the Premier that the charter
was posted on March 4."

The search, although extensive, was fruitless.

lost at sea

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Missing Steamship "Waratah."

HC Deb 13 September 1909 vol 10 cc1734-5 1734

"Mr. STANIER asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he could give any information as to what the Government is doing to assist in the search for the missing steamship Waratah?"

"Mr. SIMON asked whether the Admiralty had given directions for any of His Majesty's ships to assist in the search for the missing liner Waratah; and, if not, whether instructions for this purpose could be given forthwith?"

"Mr. McKENNA acting under the instructions of the Senior Naval Officer at Simonstown, in the absence at sea of the Commander-in-Chief at the Cape of Good Hope, search was made by His Majesty's ships with full Admiralty approval, as follows:

"His Majesty's ship Forte—from 1st August (the Waratah being then four days overdue at Cape Town) practically continuously up to 17th August; His Majesty's ship Pandora—from 3rd August practically continuously till 23rd August; His Majesty's ship Hermes (flagship) arrived at Durban from Beira on 12th August, employed on search from 12th to 17th August."

"The search by His Majesty's ships was discontinued in accordance with the opinion of a conference held on the 17th August, at which the Governor of the Cape, the acting Prime Minister and another Minister, the captain of the Union Castle steamship Briton, the agent of Messrs. Lund and Sons, the owners, and the naval Commander-in-Chief were present. The conference suggested the chartering by the owners and underwriters of a steamer for a month."

"This is now being done with the concurrence and financial support of the Australian Government, the vessel (Wakefield) being chartered for 90 days. The Admiralty on 6th September were asked to lend a lieutenant for three months for this vessel and agreed to do so. The Commander-in-Chief has detailed an officer accordingly."

"Five naval ratings have also been lent as a search party to the steamship selected, which sailed on Saturday."

"Mr. J. D. REES Would not the vessel have been found long ago if she had been fitted with wireless apparatus?"

"Mr. McKENNA It is impossible to say without knowing the actual circumstances in which the ship may have found herself."

"Mr. REES Has wireless telegraphy not proved efficacious in such cases?"

"Mr. McKENNA In certain cases it has. But we do not know the conditions of the Waratah."

It is puzzling that the absence of a wireless on the Waratah was not considered a vital missing link as to the difficulties she was experiencing and her location.

Mr McKenna strikes me as someone who was attempting to avoid a 'sticky conflict of interests'.


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.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Waratah - search for the wreck.

In 1987 a joint venture was set up between Clive Cussler (the Author) and Emlyn Brown, a South African who had spent the previous 10 years investigating the loss of the Waratah. The aim: to find the location of the sunken Waratah.

Mr Cussler funded the operation through NUMA (South Africa National and Underwater Marine Agency) and Emlyn Brown, research director, provided the background data relating to the most likely site of the Waratah wreck. The partnership hired a marine survey firm, Sistema Ltd, to locate the wreck. Sonar outline of a wreck was discovered in the believed location but Gary Kozak of Klein & Associates studied the sonar images and reported that they were too vague to be confirmed as those of the Waratah.

The location for the search was based on two pieces of alleged eye witness accounts: Joe Conquer who alleged that he saw the Waratah founder off the Bashee Mouth at midday on 27 July, 1909. D.J. Roos, an airmail pilot who claimed to have identified the wreck of the Waratah as he flew over the location identified by Joe Conquer.

According to the research there were no other iron steamships on the seabed at that location, and those within 60 miles were accounted for. Due to the ambiguity of the sonar interpretations it was decided that the only way to comprehensively identify the Waratah was to send an ROV down to the seabed at that location.

January 17, 2001, the ROV identified a wreck and Emlyn Brown commented:

“…Although the submarine dive to the wreck was flawless, the wreck we thought was the Waratah, is in fact not, repeat not the Waratah,”

“It is a cargo ship carrying military hardware, tanks, tires, trucks, etc. that we now know was sunk by a U-boat in 1942. I, and all involved are stunned beyond belief, and almost speechless at what was finally seen on the ocean floor.”

This final search for the Waratah represented the ninth attempt to locate the Waratah since 1983. There have been no further attempts.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Clan Ranald

The Clan Ranald was a twin deck, turret ship built in 1900 by Doxford & Sons in Sunderland, England. 355 ft long, powered by steam driven screw (propeller), manned predominantly by Lascars (Asian sailors), the Clan Ranald was designed specifically for the transport of bulk grain cargoes.

The turret deck design in essence describes a curvature of the sides of the vessel, inwards after reaching the widest point. This in effect created a 'ledge' roughly half way up the vessel's hull serving dual purposes:

- increased cargo loading capacity

- reduction in the shifting of cargo (by compacting it).

An economic factor also contributed to the popularity of this design in the form of reduced port charges and Suez Canal dues, because of the narrow deck width.

15 January, 1909, the Clan Ranald was loaded at Port Adelaide with 39 862 bags of wheat, 28 451 bags of flour, 638 tons of coal (significantly, 170 tons on the top decks). 31 January, she left port with a list of 4 degrees to starboard, bound for South Africa. Captain Gladstone , 4 Manilamen,  16 Calcuttamen and 34 Lascars made up the crew. Off the coast near Edithburgh, south of Troubridge Island, at 2 pm, the Clan Ranald suddenly listed dangerously (45 degrees) to starboard. Crew scrambled onto the port deck (the starboard deck was submerged). Subjected to strong winds, the rudder out of the water, the vessel drifted towards Troubridge Hill. The lifeboats were lost in the rough sea conditions and crew were forced to create makeshift rafts from debris.

Distress flares were fired as the steamer drifted closer to the cliffs and a passing steamer was sighted.
The passing vessel, SS Uganda should have noted the distress flares but did not come to the Clan Ranald's assistance, for reasons unknown. By 10 pm, a full 8 hours later, the Clan Ranald capsized and the crew were forced into the sea, some sucked down with the vessel. Those who managed to reach the cliffs discovered that it was virtually impossible to climb over jagged rocks up the steep cliff face to safety, and many perished, some of the bodies battered beyond recognition. Those remaining in the rough seas were subjected to freezing conditions.

Troubridge locals who had seen the distress flares and recognised them for what they were, rushed down to the shore to render assistance. 24 survived of which 4 were British and the remainder, Lascars. The survivors were relocated to Adelaide, where the 4 British Officers were admitted to Woodcock's Royal Arms Hotel, and the Lascars relegated to the basement of the Prince Alfred Sailor's Home, whereupon they were subjected to a handprint and dictation test designed for them to fail. Having fulfilled this inevitability they were declared illegal immigrants under the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, relating to the White Australia Policy, and sent to Melbourne for deportation to Colombo on the Clan McLachlan. Despite this contrived legislation to get rid of them, the Lascars were given food, clothes and cigarettes by the people of Adelaide and the Mayor kindly sent them on their way with a monetary gift and good wishes.

Captain Kilpatrick of the SS Uganda claimed that he mistook the flares for light from the Troubridge Lighthouse. This takes us back to the Waratah and the crew of the SS Harlow, who also claimed to mistake distress flares for veld fires on the shore. Horrifyingly a witness from the shore alleged that the SS Uganda did in fact respond to the distress flares with a light signal, but decided to ignore the vessel in peril.

Another similarity to the Waratah apart from allegations of listing due to top heaviness, no established reason was found for the Clan Ranald listing over on her side and capsizing. There was no evidence of holes in her hull, and speculation ran to the 'stop cock' of the water ballast tanks being left open during the voyage and a crew of drunkards.

The Clan Ranald sunk in 20 m of water within easy reach of scuba divers who have plundered the wreck site, including blasting her propeller off with dynamite. Much of her collapsed hull remains with two large boilers and propeller shaft a popular scuba attraction. These wreck remains lie 14 km south west of Troubridge Hill within the Troubridge Hill Aquatic Reserve.