Monday, 3 February 2014

Waratah - 'sustained no damage since leaving Adelaide'.


"Further evidence regarding the Waratah's preparedness for her voyage was obtained from Captain Airth, Lloyd's surveyor in Durban.  Captain Airth expains that it would have been obligatory upon the captain of the steamer to notify any defect in hull or machinery affecting his vessel's seaworthiness to the Board of Trade authorities, since, in the event of previous damage being discovered after a casualty, unreported at the last port at which the vessel called, not only would the captain's certificate be endangered, but the steamer's insurance would be affected."

"Captain Airth added to his remarks that, from his own personal acquaintance with the Waratah, he knew her to be an exceptionally fine steamer."

"I would go anywhere in her" he added.

"As to the vessel being overweighted with superstructure, or unstable in any way, Captain Airth observed that there was sufficient guarantee of the soundness of her design in the fact that every detail of her proportions had been examined with mathematical precision by the first experts in England, while she was being built, and without the most absolute assurance of her security regarding buoyancy, her gravitational adjustment, and her 'meta centre' - or the point of safety at which vessel rolls in a beam sea - she should not have been allowed to leave the builders as such."

Captain Airth could not have made his favourable opinion of the Waratah any clearer.

"As a further confirmation of the Waratah's soundness before she left Durban, the certificate given by her master, Captain Ilbery, to the Collector of Customs, as Board of Trade officer, was obtained, and a copy taken."

It is as follows:

Port Natal, July 26, 1909

To the Collector of Customs.  Port

Dear Sir,

"I hereby declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that my vessel, the SS Waratah, has sustained no damage from any cause whatever since leaving the last port, Adelaide, and I have nothing special to report."

Yours faithfully,

(signed) J.E. Ilbery,

Master, SS Waratah.

We know that the Waratah grounded at Adelaide Port before departure for Durban and that Captain Ilbery was very unhappy about the bilge keel striking mud. We know that a vital copper pipe integral to the steam transfer system fractured on the voyage from Australia to South Africa. But Captain Ilbery worded his brief report very carefully. He refers to the Waratah not sustaining any damage 'since leaving the last port' which excludes the grounding episode. To the best of his knowledge there was no hull damage - after all the hull was not and could not have been inspected in dry dock by himself or anyone else at that time.

The fractured copper pipe was dealt with adequately - otherwise there would have been reports of steam escaping into the engine room or worse. This was repaired and as such the problem attended to.
The fact that the copper in the pipe was flawed and potential fractures in the myriad copper pipes could have had a catastrophic impact was beyond the scope of Captain Ilbery's report. This was after all a design flaw independent of damage sustained on the voyage over from Australia. He did not have a crystal ball to predict what might occur regarding copper pipes on the Waratah during the balance of the outbound voyage. But he must have been concerned.

Captain Ilbery 

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