Friday, 20 December 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Charles S. Price (for Louise)

The Charles S. Price was a cargo transport steamer built by the Amercan Shipbuilding Co. in 1910, weighing 6322 gross tons, 500 ft in length, and powered by a triple expansion steam engine driving a single screw.

She was owned by the Mahoning Steamship Co of Cleveland, operating on the Great Lakes and commanded by Captain W.A. Black.

Between 7 and 10 November, 1913, a storm of hurricane proportions swept across the Great Lakes.  It later became known as the "Big Blow', "Freshwater Fury' or 'White Hurricane'.

The Great Lakes Basin and Canadian province of Ontario suffered the brunt of the storm, which peaked on 9 November, smashing and overturning ships on four of the five Great Lakes (especially Lake Huron).

Slow weather reports contributed to shipping being caught unaware.

When the storm blew out 250 people were dead, 19 ships destroyed, and 19 ships disabled. The shipping and cargo losses amounted to $5 million (probably $100 million in today's currency).

The genesis of the storm demonstrates remarkable similarities to storms off the Wild Coast.

The Great Lakes have relatively warm water for that time of year. Cold Fronts converged with the warm water creating  gale force winds and waves up to 35 ft in height.

Cold Fronts moving up the Cape coast in winter months converge with the warm Agulhas current moving down the coast. As in the case of the Great Lakes storm, gale force winds and waves up to 35 ft have been recorded.

After the storm had passed and people ventured out to witness the aftermath, those on the shores of Lake Huron discovered a remarkable sight.

A huge steel hull steamer was was seen to be floating upside down.

But no one knew which of the lost steamers this was.  Speculation ran rife in the press for a few days until on 15 November a hard-hat diver by the name of William Baker from the tug Sport, eased himself down the steel hull and emerged with the news:

"She is the SS Charles S. Price"

Two days later the steamer succumbed to the waters and slid to the bottom.

Salvage attempts were unsuccessful.

The engine room gauges panel from the Charles S. Price was recovered and restored and now resides in the Port Huron Museum.

The Waratah sailed into similar seas on the 27 July (the gale gaining in severity into 28 July) and one Waratah theory suggests that she turned turtle and floated for a period of time before foundering.

The Waratah, if this were the case, would have been subjected to the swift and powerful Agulhas current and drifted beyond the areas initially searched.

However, there is one vital difference between the Charles S. Price and the Waratah.

The Charles S. Price had only one screw (propeller) which implies that if her engine failed she would have been at the mercy of the storm and possibly struck broadside, causing her to turn turtle.

The Waratah, on the other hand, had twin engines and screws and should one of the engines have failed, she still had another to keep her bow into the oncoming waves.

A story from the Great Lakes storm highlights the horror as follows:

The barge Plymouth towed by the tug James H. Martin, dropped anchor when the storm hit.

The tug steamed to shelter.

But when the tug returned two days later the Plymouth and her seven crew had disappeared.

One of the seven, Christopher Keenan had scribbled a message which he placed in a bottle.  This bottle was found on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

The message read:

"Dear Wife and Children: We were left here in Lake Michigan by McKinnon, captain of the James H. Martin tug, at anchor. He went away and never said good-bye or anything to us. Lost one man last night. We have been out in the storm 40 hours. Good-bye dear ones, I might see you in heaven. Pray for me --- Christ K.I felt so bad I had another man write for me. Huebel owes $35.00, so you can get it. Good-bye forever."

One shudders to imagine the fear that overwhelmed this man and others trapped on the Great Lakes awaiting their moment of 'execution'.

SS Charles Price - turned turtle
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, 19 December 2013


29 March 1911

"A Sudden End"

"Judgement and Report"

"Court Outspoken"

"The Court of Inquiry found that the Waratah was lost near Durban, in the gale of July 28 1909, which was of exceptional violence for those waters, and was the first great storm she had encountered."  

"It was led to that conclusion (writes the Sydney 'Herald' correspondent) by the facts that she overhauled the Clan MacIntyre, which afterwards experienced the gale, and was last seen heading in a direction which would take her into a position where she would feel the full force of the storm, and was never after sighted by the Clan MacIntyre." 

"Had she only been disabled it is almost certain that she would have been so sighted, and if not, would have been picked up by one of the many ships subsequently on the lookout for her."  

"The court could not say what particular form was taken by the catastrophe, but the fact that no wreckage had been found, in spite of the most careful search, indicated that it must have been sudden." 

"On the whole the court inclined to the opinion that she capsized, but what particular chain of circumstances brought about this result must remain undetermined.  There was no reasonable doubt that, whatever the cause, all the passengers of the Waratah met their death at sea shortly after she left Durban"

The Court of Inquiry was left with no option but to make this declaration based on the evidence at hand. They ruled out a disabled liner which stood to reason considering the failed extensive searches. 
However, in my opinion, the Court of Inquiry failed to address certain aspects of logic. The Court stated that she must have foundered when she sailed into the gale and was not sighted AGAIN by the Clan MacIntyre. This is flawed based on the fact the Waratah was a faster vessel and seen to be pulling ahead of the Clan MacIntyre when last (officially) sighted. Therefore, the fact that the crew of the Clan MacIntyre did not sight the Waratah again cannot be drawn as a conclusion that she had foundered en route to Cape Town - unless the statement is based on the 'false' Guelph sighting.

The Court claimed that the Waratah foundered in the gale of 28 July, which is the day AFTER she departed from the Clan MacIntyre (09h30 on 27 July). The Court failed to address in its summations, the glaring absence of any other sightings of the Waratah by other vessels in the busy shipping lane in this period of time after she departed the Clan MacIntyre.

The Court disregarded the witness account of the crew of the Guelph and the incomplete communication exchange some 12 hours after departing the Clan MacIntyre. There must have been good reason for the Inquiry to believe that the account was flawed in either truth or accuracy.

The Court disregarded the sighting of the Waratah by the crew of the Harlow based on the same premise that the account was either false or inaccurate. It is astounding taking into consideration Captain Bruce's insistence in later months that the site of his coordinates be dragged - AND THIS WAS NOT DONE. If cost was not to be spared (ref. extensive sea searches) surely the Navy could have at least dragged the site and conclusively ruled out the witness account?????

The Court also incorrectly claimed that this was the first great storm that the Waratah encountered. This was not the case. But the Court was absolutely correct in the assumption that no one from the Waratah survived and her loss was catastrophic.

The Court of Inquiry was not in a position to apportion blame, based on the conflicting witness accounts and lack of concrete evidence. But the Blue Anchor Line's reputation was damaged, bookings dropped dramatically and Lund's dream was to fold within a year of the loss.

The Blue Anchor Line template for transporting emigrants to Australia via the Cape, returning with passengers and cargo, was highly successful and adopted by other shipping lines. The flagship steamer Waratah was doomed and not only took 211 souls into the watery depths, but also dragged the reputation of the instantly recognisable blue anchor down with her.


gale at sea - nasty

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Waratah - further passenger lists.

" The accommodation provides
for 130 saloon and 300 third-class passengers."

"The Waratah took the following passengers:

From Sydney.-

Mrs. J. E. Mullon,
Mr. S. G. Sawyer,
Mr. J. C. Ritchie;
Mrs. B. A. Oslear,
Mrs. Govett, and
Miss Lascelles,
Miss Lees and maid,
Mrs Crawford,
Mrs. and Miss Moore,
Mrs, and Miss Hay,
Mr. Saunders,
Mr. Ebsworth,
Mr. Richardson,
Mr. and Mrs Taylor and 2 children,
Mr. S. Pearce,
Mrs. Allen 'and 2 .children,
Mr. and Mrs Wm. Cousons and infant,
Mr. D. T Boyce,
Mr. J. M. S. Hunter,
Mr. E. A.Murphy,
Mr. Henderson,
Mr. A. Wright,
Miss. A. Wright,
Mr. Wm. Hocking,
Mr Wm. Cumming,
Mr. and Mrs. C. Swain,
Mr. and Mrs. H. Flood,
Mrs. Harwood,
Mr. F. Norris,
Mr. G. Norris,
Mrs. Harvey,
Miss Miller,
Mr. Harvey,
Mr. and Miss Bowden,
Mr. L. Schauman,
Miss D. I Schauman,
Mr. R. Keys,
Mr. C. Murphy,
Mr. Barklemore."

"From Melbourne.-

Mr. J. E. Mullon,
Mr. S. G. Sawyer,
Mr. B. Oslear,
Mrs. 0slear,
Mr. Wilkinson,
Mrs. Starke,
Miss Starke,
Mrs. J. W. Wilson,
Miss L. Wilson,
Mr. F. C. Saunders,
Mr. G. A. Richardson,
Mrs. Wilson,
Miss Wilson,
Mr. J. Ebsworth,
Mrs. Govett,
Miss Lascelles,
Mr. Neil Black,
Miss M. Campbell,
Mr. W. K. Jamieson,
Lieut.-Colonel Browne,
Miss Lees and maid,
Mrs. A. B. Woods and child,
Miss Hay, Mrs Hay,
Mr. Morgan,
Mrs. Cawood,
Mr. E. B. Page,
Mrs. E. B. Page,
Dr. Fulford."


The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) (about) Previous issueTuesday 3 August 1909


LONDON, August 2.

"Reuter's correspondent at Durban
says there is alarm over the non-arrival
of the steamer Waratah at Cape Town."

"The vessel left Port Natal on July
26 with three hundred persons aboard (actually 211)."

"The Waratah is (optimistically in the present tense)
a large twin-screw steamer of nearly 10,000 tons,
and is the latest addition to Lund's Blue Anchor
line, trading between Australia, South
Africa, and London. She left Australia
in January last on her first homeward
voyage, and is now on her second, having
sailed from Sydney on June 26, Melbourne on July 1,
and Adelaide on July 7,
and having reached Durban on July 25."

"According to our cablegrams, she
left the last-mentioned port on July 26
for Cape Town, and as the distance is
only 856 miles, she should have arrived
there on July 29."

"The vessel is 480ft, long, 59ft. beam, and 39ft. deep,
and is built to Lloyd's highest class. The vessel
was most carefully designed for the
special requirements of the trade."

This comment is in sharp contrast to the 'observer' (a previous post) who claimed that the top hamper was not in keeping with the Waratah's trade requirements.

"She has two sets of quadruple expansion engines,
capable of maintaining a sea speed
of 13½ knots."

"The steamer is divided
into eight watertight compartments, and
there is a cellular double bottom extending
the full length of the hull, which, in
the opinion of experts, "rendered her
practically immune from any danger of

The opinion of the experts gave everyone a false sense of security as was clearly demonstrated by the Titanic in 1912. The assumption was that a double hull or cellular double bottom with eight watertight compartments was impenetrable, and if so the watertight compartments would halt ingress of water.  The Titanic demonstrated that although the iceberg in effect only created a series of relatively small punctures in the hull, the brittle rivets and hull plates were vulnerable to cracking and snapping, allowing the rents to spread (due to the forces at play) in a zipper-like fashion along seams, across watertight compartments, causing general flooding and the vessel to founder. Similarly in the case of the Waratah damage sustained by taking the ground at Adelaide may have been initially a series of very small areas of compromise in the hull.  These in turn, subjected to forces, would spread into significance of catastrophic proportions.

an example of hull and rivets of the time - note damaged areas

Tuesday, 17 December 2013



"Stable as the vessel may have been,
however, a matter which must be taken
into consideration is the possibility of
"side slips"- the slipping of a vessel
down a swell of sea, which gives her a
list at a dangerous angle."

"It must be remembered that when the Waratah
was last spoken, the "sea was coming down like a wall."
Captain Owens, an authority on the stability of
ships, quotes the case of the sailing
ship Euerbank, lost off Cape Horn, in

"Enormous rollers had set in
from the west and south, and a south
westerly gale, arose. The ship tooled
over, and, without warning, fell broad
side into a trough that looked as deep
as a chasm, and in the descent
"turned turtle."

"If the roll of a vessel
in a great beam sea should synchronise
with her descending -position on
the sloping "shoulder" of an exceptionally
formed wave the crest of
which is parallel to the line of her keel,
conditions exist -which would tend to
capsize the vessel."

This informed report illustrates that a huge swell could be enough to capsize a steamer if she was 'broadside' to the 'rollers'. It seems unlikely under normal conditions that Captain Ilbery would have allowed the Waratah to get into such a vulnerable position. If we are to assume that the Waratah did not have engine trouble, corroborated by her pulling ahead of the Clan MacIntyre and 'catching up to the Harlow', then it is unlikely she would have lost her orientation to on-coming swell. I would have to agree in the event of a temporary problem with steering could have set up the scenario as described. 'Turning turtle' does account for the absence of flotsam and debris from the Waratah.

Let's not forget the Le Joola turned turtle and stayed afloat for a significant period of time.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Waratah - the story of a rifle lost.

The following is an account from

Chapter 10 describes two men working for De Beers, the one Franklin and the other 'name forgotten', took three months off to visit family and friends in Australia. This was the year 1909 and they decided to travel together, departing from Cape Town. The one fellow took his rifle with hoping to do some shooting for sport. He registered the rifle with customs in Cape Town which would effectively save him the one pound duty on his return.

Instead of 3 months the two fellows quit Australia after 6 weeks, boarding the Waratah destined initially for Durban. When the Waratah made port in Durban, Franklin suggested to his friend that instead of continuing on with the steamer to Cape Town, they should rather go to Johannesburg and from there to Kimberley, visiting friends en route. This would save time and they could both resume work before their leave time expired. The other fellow claimed that he could not afford the extra rail passage and would complete his journey with the Waratah.

Franklin continued alone to Johannesburg by train. However, before departing each other's company, Franklin entrusted his rifle and customs clearance form for Cape Town with his friend. This unknown man together with the other 210 crew and passengers was lost with the Waratah. Franklin along with a shocked nation became aware of the tragic loss of the Waratah. He was heard to have commented:

"Just my bally luck. Now I've lost my blinking gun!"

Friday, 13 December 2013

RMS Republic (1903)

Launched in 1903 and built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast, the RMS Republic was a steamship of 15 400 tons,  powered by twin expansion steam engines driving twin screws, and averaging a relatively quick, 16 knots. 570 ft in length, she was the pride of the White Star Line and one of the largest steamships of the time.

The Republic was designed primarily for passenger transport - 2830 passengers and 300 crew. She quickly acquired the label 'Millionaires' Ship' due to her luxurious appointments, comfort and wealthy passengers. She was also reportedly very sturdy and viewed as a safe option for transAtlantic travel.

On the morning of 23 January 1909 en route from New York to Gibraltar, she sailed into thick fog off Nantucket. Commanded by William Inman Sealby she carried 742 passengers and crew. Due to thickness of the fog and poor visibility the captain reduced speed and blew the ship's whistle as per protocol. A reply whistle was heard prompting the captain to reverse engines and turn hard to port. Unfortunately it was too late and out of the fog emerged the SS Florida which collided with the Republic at a right angle 'midships, instantly killing two sleeping passengers. These were Eugene Lynch's (liquor magnate) wife Mary and the wealthy banker, W.J. Mooney (not in the same cabin!). On the Florida six crewmen were killed bringing the total casualties from the collision to eight.

On board this voyage were such celebrities of the time as Mrs Sophie Curtis, wife of George Curtis; Mrs Mary Severance; Professor John M. Coulter; General Baryton C. Ives; Mr Samuel Cupples a well known St Louis millionaire; Mildred Montague; Countess Pasolini; Mrs Bessie Davis, daughter-in-law of senator Henry G. Davis.

The engine and boiler rooms of the Republic were first to flood and caused the steamer to list dramatically. The Florida, in no danger of capsizing, came about to assist with the rescue of passengers, later joined by the cutter Gresham, responding to the historic distress call. The Florida took on the majority of passengers which together with her own complement of 900 emigrants placed considerable strain on the damaged steamer.

The White Star steamer Baltic also responded to the distress call but was only able to locate the position of the Republic by that evening. Passengers were transferred from the Florida to the Baltic and a riot was narrowly averted when first class passengers from the Republic took precedence boarding over the emigrants from the Florida.

The Republic did not have an adequate number of lifeboats (as did the Titanic) for the quota of passengers and crew. In this case they were lucky and vessels in general relied on the busy shipping lane to provide assistance in times such as this, therefore not requiring a sufficient number of lifeboats. The Titanic in 1912 brought this naive shortcoming into the public domain precipitating a change in legislation.

Despite application of collision mats (canvas treated with sealant to stem leaks in hulls), the Republic sank on the 24 January, the largest vessel to sink up until that time. All crew and passengers were safely evacuated and only the eight mentioned above died due to the impact of the collision.

Rumoured cargo[edit] wikipedia:

"There are many rumours that the Republic was carrying gold and/or other valuables when she went down. One rumour is that she was carrying gold worth $250,000[8] in American gold coins to be used as payroll for the US Navy's Great White Fleet.[6][9] Another theory that she was carrying money for the relief effort for the 1908 earthquake in Messina, Italy.[10] A third theory, put forward by Captain Martin Bayerle, is that she was carrying $3,000,000 in gold coins as part of a loan to the Imperial Russian government.[7] Captain Bayerle has recently released his book, The Tsar's Treasure,[11] which supports both the $3 million Russian gold shipment and an actual $800,000 US Government in-coin currency shipment, as well as other valuable cargoes. All of these values, of course, are in 1909 dollars when gold was $20 per ounce. Today, the coin values would bring the recovery to at least many hundreds of millions of dollars, and some experts have estimated that the recovery (with proper marketing of the recovered coins) could approach $5 billion or more, making the Republic salvage the largest treasure recovery of all time.[12]"

Discovered in 1981 by Martin Bayerle, she lies 50 miles south of Nantucket Island. To date none of the rumoured treasures have been recovered. Salvage attempts continue to this day.

The Waratah was not fitted with a wireless even though her predecessor the Geelong was. The case of the Republic highlighted the advantage of the wireless in times of distress at sea. If the Waratah had been fitted with wireless her position and the nature of the problem could have been conveyed to a land base. This might not have translated into a successful rescue as in the case of the Republic, but it would have answered vital questions and the lessons learned might have prevented a repeat of the tragedy.

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, 12 December 2013



Adrift (or)
Suggested Quicksand.

"Speculation as to the fate of the
Waratah has not been allayed by the
fact of her having been posted missing
at Lloyd's."

"Many are willing to believe
she is still afloat, because, despite her
long absence, not a trace of her  wreckage
has been found."

"There are two theories which can
be advanced to account for the non
discovery of wreckage, said a gentleman
who was among the passengers
of the Waratah on her last voyage to
South Africa:

"Either she is still afloat, aimlessly drifting towards the
West Australian coast, or she has
gone down in such circumstances as
would prevent wreckage being washed

"A mariner of long experience
whom I met at Port Elizabeth made a
statement which has an important
bearing on the question. He said that
there were many indications that the
Agulhas bank, which extends for some
distance from the south-eastern and
southern coast of Cape Colony is a

"If this be the case it
would swallow up the remains of any
wreck that occurred in its immediate
vicinity, and no trace of the disaster
would remain to show what had

This revelation might be part of the explanation why no trace of the Waratah has been found after extensive modern day searches. Large volumes of silt are deposited off the Umzimvubu River mouth into the bay at Port St Johns (Cape Hermes). The wreck of the Waratah could have disappeared without a trace under this unstable 'quicksand'.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013



"At Cape Town, when going alongside the wharf a boat on
the port side was taken on board, and it
took 14 men to do it, because the davits
were so stiff. The same thing occurred
when taking a starboard boat on board
alongside the wharf at Port Adelaide.
These were the only two boats moved
while he was on board."

This paragraph is highly significant. Assuming of course that the report is accurate we can move beyond the superficial fact that the Waratah had enough lifeboats for crew and passengers to the issue of mobilising the lifeboats in a crisis situation. If the davits were as stiff as reported, requiring 14 men per boat, even if there were enough time to launch lifeboats during the last moments of the Waratah, it is suggested that the crew may not have been able to 'release' them from stiff davits.
It may also be one of the reasons why no lifeboats were discovered adrift or ashore - they were virtually 'glued' to the Waratah judging by the account of 14 men required to 'fit' one lifeboat.

"On arrival of the Waratah from London,
via South Africa, on June 8, 1909, the steamer
had on board 209 passengers, including
the following for Adelaide:-

From London -

Mr. and Mrs. J. Jardine,
Mr. Andrew Rodger,
Mr. and Mrs L. Browne,
Mr E Macleod,
Mr. Albert E. Wright,
Miss. Holt and infant,
Mr. H. T. Browne and
Mr. R C H. Dawes.

From Cape Town-

Mr. C A Oldham.

On her return from the
eastern States, on her homeward voyage,
she had 67 passengers, including the following
for Adelaide:-

From Sydney-

Mr. and Mrs. B. Oslear,
Mr. Murphy.

From Melbourne-

Mr. Wilkinson,
Mr. W. R. Jamieson,
Mr. J. Marshall.

On her departure for London, via South Africa, she had
75 passengers, including the following:

From Adelaide for Durban -

Mrs. H.Cawood and
Messrs. H. Morgan,
James McNaught, and
A. Brooks.

For Cape Town-

Colonel Browne, and
Miss Lees and maid.

For London-

Mrs. Hay,
Miss H. Hay,
Miss Jones,
Mr. Waters,
Mrs. Waters and infant, and
Mr K. Lowenthal."

"The following members of the crew left
the vessel when she arrived from Melbourne
on her homeward trip:-

Mary Anderson (stewardess) and
W. Merry (general servant).

The following were shipped:

F. H. Eenson,
H. Taylor, and
W. McKiervan (trimmers),
H. Barr (carpenter's mate),
E. Sterne (general servant), and
James Costello (A.B.)"

Tuesday, 10 December 2013



"He did nor like the large awning or shelter deck,
because it presented too much space to the
wind if the ship heeled over with the
wind broadside on. If she were rolling it
would help her over, and when over tend
to prevent her righting herself quickly."

This is the first time that attention has been drawn to the awning over the top deck. If one looks at the photograph of the Waratah below it is very apparent and a feature not repeated on many of the contemporary steamers of the time. I can quite believe that this awning surface area in the right wind conditions would act as a type of sail helping to 'pull' the vessel into a list and 'hold' her there. There are a number of photos of the Waratah where the awning is absent or retracted. I doubt whether Captain Ilbery would have deployed the awning, mid winter, Wild Coast, July, 1909.

"John Henry Maxwell, a fireman, who
worked his passage from London to Port
Adelaide in the Waratah on her last voyage,
said that when lying in the London
dock without cargo she had a "pretty fair
list to port."

"At Sydney, while discharging from one hold to another
she seemed a bit crank, first to starboard and then to
port. She was upright when loaded."

This stands to reason in any period steamer, I would think..

awning prominent in this photograph of the Waratah

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'

Sunday, 8 December 2013



"He estimated the total dead weight of
cargo on board at 9,000 tons, and that her
draft was 28 ft. 3 in. forward and 29 ft.
5 in. aft."

Again, one of many references to a total cargo component of 9000 tons.

"Captain Ilbery always spoke
most highly and proudly of the Waratah,
and never suggested any defect or anything
remarkable about her behaviour at sea."

This can be interpreted in one of two ways. Either Captain Ilbery was very loyal to his employers the Lunds, and presented this public opinion of the Waratah. Or else he genuinely believed the Waratah was a fine ocean going steamship, which seems more likely. Captain Ilbery made a comment after the Waratah's maiden voyage that once he had 'solved' the issues of cargo-plan, ballasting and deadweight relating to stability, he had every confidence in the Waratah's performance and safety at sea.

"All the principal officers on
the last voyage were on the ship
on her maiden voyage, and Mr. Neill never
heard any statement or hint as to any defects."

Again the same principle of interpretation applies to the officers of the Waratah.

"The cargo shipped for Durban consisted of
89 tons of flour and dried fruits,
and for Cape Town 318 tons of wheat and

"Mr. F. E. Thomas (of Messrs. George
Wills & Co.) deposed to having taken a
trip to Melbourne and Sydney in the
Waratah. He saw nothing while on board
to correspond with the reported statement
of Mr. Sawyer at Durban."

"The only thing he noticed was that on leaving Melbourne
for Sydney the steamer had a slight list
to starboard, and on the next day on looking
over the side he noticed 'she was discharging
rusty-looking water'.

I am concerned about this report of  'rusty coloured water' (if it were indeed true) being discharged from a vessel on her second to maiden voyage. Corrosion in ballast water suggests a breach in the 'protective' surface area (oil, grease or tar used) of the ballast tanks. This could have come about in a number of ways including the very real possibility that hull plate damage and compromise could have accounted for such breaches and even small areas like this would 'rust' quickly.

Another alternative refers to the rivets used to secure hull plates. Water could enter along the rivet line where it attaches the double hull, eventually working its way into the hull core / ballast tanks. Rivet heads (brittle steel) were also prone to breaking and allowing water ingress.

instead of the screw a rivet was used - the principle however is clearly demonstrated

"The chief engineer explained that they were pumping
out a tank to rectify the list."

"The list, however, continued."

This is highly subjective and could have been an uninformed contribution to mounting suspicions that the Waratah was 'unstable'.

However, the flip side of the coin could point to problems with water ingress and an inability to (bilge) pump it out adequately?

"After the Waratah's
first voyage he heard some remark to the
effect that the ship was "a crank one."

This is blatant hearsay and describing a steamship as 'crank' without substantiation amounts to 'fear mongering'.

"During his trip he asked the officers if there
was any truth in the statement."

"They all agreed there was not."

"On account of his long and intimate
connection with the line
and its officers, if there had been any defect
in the ship or anything out of the way
in regard to her behaviour at sea he would
have heard something about it."

At least he had the common sense to verify the allegation of 'crank' by checking with the officers on the Waratah, who denied this allegation.

"Mr. W. Fisher (manager of the South
Australian Stevedoring Company) stated
that the usual course was followed in regard
to the supply of the loading plant
by the agents of the Waratah."

"The Adelaide cargo of the steamer was thoroughly
well and judiciously stowed."

By the second to maiden voyage of the Waratah the importance of adequate stowage had become very clear to her master. At Durban where there was no rush relating to schedule making it highly unlikely that cargo, including carcasses in hold one and Copper ingots in hold three, were loaded and stowed in a sub standard manner.

The lead concentrates were also in hold 3, loaded 11 cubic feet to the ton and 8 feet high - not good.

to be continued....

rusty bilges

Friday, 6 December 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Princess May

The Princess May was a coastal steamer launched in 1888. She was half the length of the Waratah measuring 249 ft, weighing 1717 gross tons and powered by twin triple expansion steam engines driving twin screws (propellers). The Princess May was owned by a succession of shipping lines including the Formosa Trading Company and the Canadian Pacific Railway Coast Service. Built by Hawthorn, Leslie & Co Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, she operated the Coastal British Columbia Inside Passage.

The Princess May had electrical lighting installed and a Marconi wireless, but not an auxiliary battery. Under the name Cass she initially serviced the China coastal route between 1888 and 1901. During this time there was a mutiny and an attack by pirates. She was then sold to the Formosa Trading Company and represented one of two new steamers ordered by Taiwan - "shipping event of the year". The two steamers were part of an initiative to modernize Taiwan.

In 1901 the Princess May was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway Coast Service operating the busy route to south-eastern Alaska, between Vancouver and Skagway, Alaska, catering for the small mining, fishing and lumber settlements along the coastal route. 5 August, 1910, the Princess May departed Skagway bound for Vancouver under the command of Captain Macleod. She carried 80 passengers and 68 crew plus a consignment of gold on board. While steaming through Lynn Canal in heavy fog she ran aground on rocks at the north side of Sentinel Island, where there was in point of fact a lighthouse station.  Due to high tide the steamer was lodged bow up on the rocks which became very apparent when the tide went out and resulted in the famous photograph, attached.

As the engine room flooded and the power went out negatively impacting on use of the Marconi wireless (no auxiliary battery).  The wireless operator did not have enough time to send out a distress call before this occurred. However, the quick thinking operator managed to source power for the set by wading waist deep in the engine room to secure the telegraph battery. He was able to send the message:

"SS Princess May sinking Sentinel Island; send help"

Fortunately all crew and passengers were safely brought to shore, as was the consignment of gold (and mail). Passengers and crew were taken to Juneau aboard the Princess Ena. More than 120 plates were damaged on the hull which reminds us of the Waratah running aground off Kangaroo Island, and the type of damage that can be sustained. The engine room was flooded and as a result the Seattle-based salvage tug Santa Cruz was hired to get the Princess May off the rocks. A ship way was constructed and rocks blasted but initial attempts to remove her failed. It was only by 3 September 1910 that she was refloated and towed to port.

The total cost of salvage and repairs:

$115 000

During the repairs the Princess May was converted from coal to oil-burning. Oil-fired burners were more efficient and required less out of service time compared with coal-fired equivalents. There was also a labour saving component as one man could do the work of 18 coal firemen and 9 trimmers. Re-fuelling was also faster and simpler.

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!


The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) Wednesday 18 May 1910


"The Collector of Customs (Mr. T. N.
Stephens), in his capacity as registrar of
shipping in South Australia, for some time
has been engaged in collecting evidence in
connection with the missing Lund liner

"Depositions have been taken by
him as a justice of the peace. Some of
the witnesses have been traced with difficulty,
and there are still some to obtain."

"The principal evidence obtained is given
below. Nothing of a sensational nature (I beg to differ),
however, is disclosed in it."

"Mr. J. C. Neill, Port Adelaide manager
for Messrs. George Wills & Co. (agents for
the steamer), stated that while the Waratah
was at Port Adelaide on her inward
passage in June she loaded 1,000 tons of
lead concentrates, which were put amidships in No. 3 hold."

No 3 hold, amidships equates with stabilising dead weight ballast. My thoughts are that these 1000 tons were left there for the return trip (although Mr Larcombe claimed at the Inquiry that 970 tons of lead concentrates were loaded at Adelaide). It also reinforces the Waratah's need for as much dead weight as possible to enhance stability, particularly at the end of a voyage when most of the cargo had been discharged.

"It was not unusual to take on dead weight at Port Adelaide."

'Deadweight tonnage (also known as dead weight abbreviated to DWT, D.W.T., d.w.t., or dwt) is a measure of how much weight a ship is carrying or can safely carry.[1][2][3] It is the sum of the weights of cargo (in this case, lead concentrates), fuel, fresh water, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew.[1]'

To understand lead concentrates better we look to Broken Hill situated in the far outback New South Wales where it was mined. Lead concentrates were part of the silver mining process and in fact a high percentage of silver could still be extracted from the lead (Parkes process). This ore was sent by rail to Adelaide for shipping or to the nearest and largest smelter at Port Pirie, about 135 miles distant from Adelaide. Why would 'raw' concentrates be loaded onto the Waratah instead of the processed product unless it was used as ballast?

The following newspaper article refers to 10 710 ingots of copper ore loaded in Adelaide destined for London.


For London -

11,137 bags wheat, 100 bags bark,
1,004 bags flour, x packages wine, 1,107 bags
bark, 183 casks tallow, 1,200 cases dried fruit, 23
cases machinery, x cases eucalyptus oil, 17 sun-
dries, 20 cases crayfish, 500 crates rabbits, 1,238
cases oranges,

10,710 ingots copper ore  *

total insurance on the cargo amounts to


Apart from an additional 300 tons of lead concentrates loaded at this port (see previous post), the Waratah already had her component of 1000 tons - ballast.

Returning to the newspaper article:

"When she returned from the eastern States
she loaded cargo at Ocean Steamers' wharf
and at the Outer Harbour, and in addition
took in 180 tons of bunker coal, which was
placed in the bunkers."

"She had no coal on deck (spar) when she left the Outer Harbour."

Again it is very interesting that no coal was loaded in the spar deck bunker outbound for Durban. This raises the question, why? After all the Waratah was setting out on a very long voyage to Durban, some 5936 miles. It would seem more plausible that all coal bunkers would be utilized for such a voyage (no emigrants on the outbound trip - hence spar deck bunker free for the alternative use - ie. coal stowage). It seems equally strange that the relatively shorter trip from Durban to Cape Town, 790 miles (7.5 times shorter), would require coal loaded in the spar deck bunkers when it was not even a prerequisite for the trans-Indian Ocean passage.

This question is answered in the following post:

lead concentrates

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Waratah - loading coal in spar deck bunkers, 'dangerous'.

The following is an extract from the Inquiry this time focusing on the sea trial of the Waratah and a very significant comment relating to loading coal in her spar deck bunker:

"On the 21st October, 1908, a load line certificate was issued by Lloyd's. The centre of the disc was to be 8 feet 1 inch below the spar deck line. "

"Mr. F. W. Lund was on board during this trip. He said that so far as he could recollect the water ballast tanks were full, and that about 3,000 tons of coal were on board."

"Mr. Shanks, the superintending engineer, who also made the trip, said she had 2,900 tons of coal on board, some in those permanent bunkers situated below the spar deck and the rest stowed partly in the spar deck bunker and partly in No. 3 hold, with some in the 'tween decks."

"He afterwards corrected this by saying there was no coal loaded in the spar deck bunker, as the builders stopped it being placed there, considering it unsafe that it should be so placed in this special condition for the voyage round to London."

"The weather was fairly good until the ship got to the English Channel, but it blew very hard when she was off Dungeness. There the ship was delayed an hour and a half waiting for a pilot."

"Mr. Land said that she behaved very well indeed, and that when manoeuvring off Dungeness in that gale of wind the remark of those on the bridge was how easy she was to handle. She rolled very little and had only a very slight list when broadside on to the gale."

"Mr. Shanks corroborated Mr. Lund as to the good behaviour of the ship, and said that nothing occurred which could have given rise to the statement attributed to Mr. Hemy (the third officer) by Mr. John Latimer, who made a deposition at Sydney, that...

"We got caught in some heavy weather in the Channel coming round from the builder's yard to London and she gave me a scare, because I thought she was going over on her broadside."

I have two comments to make from this extract:

Firstly, the official statement on the outcome of the sea trial was one of favourable performance. Messrs Hemy and Latimer's comments to the contrary were effectively referred to as 'false'. The Waratah officially handled well even in gale force sea conditions.

Secondly, we have the curious issue of a corrected statement regarding loading of coal into the spar deck bunker. Initially Mr Shanks claimed that coal was loaded into the spar deck bunker, but subsequently corrected his statement and added that the builders were not in favour of loading coal into the spar deck bunker for safety reasons. Well, this correction certainly begged a few questions, one being; why then did the builders agree to install twin coal bunkers on the spar deck if they believed them when loaded to be 'dangerous'? Surely a spar deck coal bunker was constructed for just such a purpose and not just for emigrant accommodation, which if one follows the same logic could also potentially add to top heaviness and instability as well?

However, it must be remembered that when the Waratah was brought round to London she was not fully loaded as she would have been when operating between the continents. Under such circumstances coal loaded into spar deck bunkers would contribute significantly to top heavy instability. But I do think the issue raised concerns and even if the Waratah was fully loaded an element of doubt was introduced regarding safety at sea. The builders, by claiming that coal should not be loaded into the spar deck bunker for safety reasons, admitted constructing a facility that even they believed was a contentious safety issue.

'Shooting oneself in the foot' does come to mind.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


I have posted profiles of steamships from 1909, including the Waratah.

Yesterday when comparing the profile picture of the Waratah with her sister ship Geelong I was left with the impression by comparison that the Waratah could have been described as 'top heavy'.

Then I thought to myself, hey, wait a minute, there must be other steamships from 1909 to compare with.  I have randomly chosen a few to make this point.

Yes, one could argue that the other steamers 'were lucky' not to have 'turned turtle', but I am inclined to think that exaggeration was the order of the day when it came to the Waratah.

I mean, if nothing happened to the Waratah I doubt whether anyone would have given her spar deck another glance, never mind a second thought.

And oh yes, the Geelong was built prior to the grander and more expensive Waratah, which would explain her more modest upper decks.

Feel free to comment and give your own opinions on this subject 'that won't go away'.

Principessa Mafalda 1909

SS Eastern States - give it a little push from the side......

SS Malahat

if I think top heavy, this comes to mind

SS Arabic

SS Waratah

Actually the Waratah looks quite modest in terms of her upper deck elevations.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Waratah - impressions of top heaviness and instability.

Confusion was created by the witness accounts of crew on the vessels Harlow, Clan MacIntyre and Guelph. But my thoughts now return to the question of the Waratah's stability. If one glances over images of steamships from the era, including the Waratah's sister ship Geelong, there is not much about the profile of the Waratah which stands out as glaringly unusual. The additional superstructure boat deck on the Waratah did however create a (relative) visual impression of top heaviness.

By 1908 shipbuilders were adding extra third superstructure decks and power delivered by more sophisticated quadruple expansion steam engines. Steamships were moving with progress, becoming bigger and more powerful. It was not just enough to carry emigrants and cargo. The luxury component of travel was increasingly desirable. The Blue Anchor Line and the Waratah were no exception to progress. An larger number of luxury staterooms and saloons over and above cargo and emigrants had to be accommodated, forcing the necessity for additional decks.

An additional deck could theoretically contribute to top heavy instability if inadequate attention was paid to compensation, balanced substantial weight lower down within the hull of the vessel. Luxury also equated with comfort and these designs needed to find the balance between safety and comfort. Relative top heaviness provided a more comfortable rolling pattern. A larger number of witness accounts were in favour of the Waratah's comfort and performance.  In addition to this, most of the expert witnesses gave opinions in favour of the stability of the Waratah.

When the Waratah left port at Durban on the evening of the 26 July 1909, witnesses including the port pilot were adamant that she was stable, upright and in fine condition. The Waratah was also fully loaded ensuring adequate weight and ballasting lower down in the ship which offset relative top heaviness. The Waratah had a similar triple deck profile to a number of successful ocean going steamships in 1909, and when she left her final port of call she gave no cause for concern or speculation as to her seaworthiness. The Waratah was a fine sea going vessel and the pride of her master, Captain Ilbery. As she steamed past the bluff out to sea, no one including Captain Ilbery was likely to have been aware of latent problems, potential for fire and the sequence of events that would ultimately claim the 500 ft steamer off the Wild Coast.

SS Waratah

SS Koombana (1908)