Sunday, 26 January 2014

Waratah - John McMillan finishes..


"The vessel was supplied with
proper and sufficient boats and life
appliances, in good order and ready
for use."

"Upon the evidence, the Court is
of opinion that the cargo was properly stowed,
that she had sufficient
stability as laden, was in proper trim
for the voyage, was in good condition
as regarded structure, and so far as
the evidence went, was in a sea-
worthy condition."

"There is not sufficient evidence before
the Court to show that all proper
precautions, such as battening hatches,
securing ports, coaling doors, etc., had
been taken."

Certainly no court of inquiry
within the range of living memory
could have been called upon to conduct
an investigation with less encouraging data."

"Theory after theory had been
tested. Objections could be found
to them all."

"Conflicting opinions came from ex
passengers concerning the Waratah's

"One person stated that after leaving
Sydney on June 28 he noticed an excessive roll
and a sustained list to starboard."

"Sometimes the "righting"
movement was made with a violent
jerk, and one morning he judged, from
the level of the water in his bath,
that the ship had rolled over to an
angle of about 45 degrees."

"Also she was "Sluggish" in her pitching. When
she lifted to a sea and then lowered
her bows into the succeeding trough,
she drove at times through the following oncoming sea
instead of rising to it."

"Against the statements of this passenger,
however, it was declared by
others, including former members of
the ship's company, that the Waratah
was as staunch and seaworthy as any
vessel in which they had sailed."

"Such were the circumstances of one
of the most remarkable problems in
the saga of the sea."

"A court might deliver a finding,
but it would be an astute court indeed
which could trace the events,
exactly and in detail, leading to a disappearance
as complete as though she
had never existed of a ship of 9.339
tons, carrying some two hundred
souls, not in a lonely waste of empty
ocean, but in a busy sea lane, where
there were other vessels within easy
steaming distance of her position
when she was last sighted."

Mr McMillan reminds us that the Waratah had a tendency to 'drive through oncoming sea instead of rising to it'. He also mentioned the Court's summation including no proof that the fore hatch was securely battened before the Waratah departed Durban. The combination of these two factors would have had a catastrophic effect (massive water inundation) causing the Waratah to founder very quickly. However, it does seem unlikely that the meticulous commodore Captain Ilbery would have put to sea with fore hatch inadequately secured. The hatch in the forward well measured 30 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 6 inches, and that in the after well 19 feet 6 inches by 26 feet. Both were fitted with hatch covers of 3-inch pine supported by transverse beams formed of 1-inch plate and four angles. The hatch coamings were 3 feet high. There is a possibility that a very large wave breaking over the fore deck may have been of such force and violence as to breach the coamings and smash in the 3 inch pine cover, which after all was wood and not as thick as one would imagine. This would account for an unexpectedly rapid disaster, not allowing the crew time to achieve launch of lifeboats. Against such a theory, in my opinion, are the following:

No remnants of the Waratah (save a deck chair allegedly washed up at Coffee Bay) were ever discovered. This would be unlikely if the fore hatch had smashed in releasing general cargo into the surrounding ocean.

After all as Mr McMillan wrote, it was a busy sea lane and highly unlikely that the Waratah was not sighted again after departing the Clan MacIntyre - unless of course she sank unexpectedly shortly thereafter. Whatever was wrong on board, it was of a sub-acute nature, I believe, gradually deteriorating and prompting Captain Ilbery to turn around.  She battled on until the two distress flares were fired off Cape Hermes at about 8 pm 27 July. Captain Bruce, as we recall, witnessed flashes of light from the direction of a large steamer coming up astern, causing persistent red glows observed reflecting in his map room aboard the Harlow, lasting up to two minutes. No other explanation apart from distress flares can account for this description and no other large steamers were in the shipping lane heading to Durban at that location. The seas were rough, but the gale only came into force on the 28 July. Rough seas in the evening would in all probability have accounted for an absence of traces of the Waratah after she sank - movables battened down on the decks or stowed below.

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