Sunday, 23 February 2014

Waratah - 'ship in great danger, rolling badly'.


"Mystery of the Waratah", The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Tuesday 26 May 1914, page 3

"MYSTERY OF THE WARATAH."

"CLUE TO LOST VESSEL'S FATE."
(From Buenos Ayres "Herald.")

"It is so long since the Blue Anchor liner, s.s. Waratah, 10,000 tons, disappeared from human ken that even those who were closely interested in that drama of the ocean have given up all hope of knowing the truth until the sea gives up its dead."

"Now comes the intelligence from Cape Town to Buenos Ayres by a recently-arrived ship of the discovery of a bottle containing a message of despair from one of the passengers on the ill-fated vessel. If the authenticity of the epistle can be established, it forever dispels all doubts about the Waratah's end."

"The bottle with its weird message from the deep has been had been cast up upon the beach of Bird Island (located some 100m off the shore of Lambert's Bay), which lies between Durban and Cape Town, and is charted almost directly in the course the Waratah would have steered after passing the Port Elizabeth light."

"The message bears a signature similar to that of one of the passengers known to have been on the liner. It is brief and dramatic in its hopelessness. Securely corked and carefully sealed in a bottle, it bears the ship's name, and reads:--

"Ship in great danger. Rolling badly. Will probably roll right over. Captain is going to heave her to (bringing the vessel to a complete stop)."

"Later. If anything happens, will whoever finds this communicate with my wife, 4, Redcliffe-street, South Kensington, London."

(Signed) John N. Hughes.

The only passenger with a name vaguely equating to this one was Mr J Hunter.  The surname Hunter is sometimes affiliated with the surname Hughes. Mr and Mrs James and Henriette Hunt lived at number 6 Redcliffe St during that time. At the south end of Finborough Road (adjacent to Redcliffe) the first occupant of No. 2 in 1869–70 was Arthur Hughes.

"The writing on the paper is plainly legible, large, and denotes great mental excitement. An indelible pencil was used, and the lack of punctuation would suggest that it was written hurriedly. Evidence of the finding of the bottle and its contents is given by four reputable local residents, and has caused considerable excitement in the coast ports."

"It is now just on four years and seven months since the Waratah left Durban for Cape Town en route to England. She was returning after her maiden trip to Australia with a full passenger list. Two days out she was spoken by the Clan Mcintyre, with whom she exchanged greetings. Since then no tidings of her have ever been heard, and the general presumption is that she "turned turtle" on September 28 in a gale which raged on the African coast about that date."

Such cruel excitement as it turned out to be:

"THE WARATAH."

"A BOGUS MESSAGE."
(From our Special Correspondent.)
London, January 16, 1914.

"What satisfaction any human being in possession of his senses can find in manufacturing messages purporting to be from people in dire peril of their lives at sea, and setting such messages adrift in bottles or cans is beyond the comprehension of the average man or woman."

"But there are creatures in every civilised land who appear to get some pleasure out of this silly pastime. The loss of the ill-fated Lund liner Waratah has produced quite a crop of these bogus bottled messages from the dead."

"The latest to be noted by the papers came by cable from the Cape. It was stated that a bottle containing a message from a passenger on the Waratah had been picked up off Bird Island. The message, dated September 6, 1909, was to the effect that the ship was rolling so badly that she was in imminent danger of capsizing, and that the captain was going to heave to, and the finder of the bottle was requested to send the message to the writer's wife, Mrs. John N. Hughes, at 4, Redcliffe-street, South Kensington, London."

"Whether there was, or was not, any such person as John B. Hughes in board the Waratah on her fatal voyage is not known for certain, but the fact that no person of the name of Hughes has lived at 4, Redcliffe-street, during the past 12 years has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt."

"The present occupant of No. 4 has lived there for three years. Prior to that the house stood empty for two years, after having been occupied by Lady Fitzgerald for about seven years, and Mr. Cox, who stayed at the house during the whole period of Lady Fitzgerald's tenancy, states most positively that no one of the name of Hughes was known there at that time."

"Moreover, a member of the firm of Messrs. Rogers, the agents who have the letting of the property, states that the firm have no record at ll of any person of the name of Hughes having an connection with the house."

"The tenant of No. 6 stated that she had a vague recollection of a Mme. Hughes in business some years ago in the West-End as a dressmaker, who lived at 2, Redcliffe street, but enquiries at that number disclose the fact that the present tenant came there several years before the loss of the Waratah, and had never heard of Mrs. Hughes, and the previous tenant of No. 2 certainly did not bear that name."

"Enquiries at other houses in the street and from local tradesmen also failed to produce any facts in support of Mrs. Hughes' residence in Redcliffe-street. Moreover, in spite of the wide publicity given to the Cape Town story, no person has come forward to claim relationship with John N. Hughes, so doubts as to the genuineness of the message may be reasonably entertained by the most credulous persons."

"The rest of us will probably decide offhand that the message is a bogus one, and allow ourselves to entertain for a few minutes a desire to kick the person responsible for it."

I think this is a mild response considering the anguish and false hope such hoaxes created. A wise friend of mine commented that writing messages in bottles was a stupid thing to do, with little hope of a measurably helpful outcome. If genuine, such messages could be construed as the last desperate communications with the living world. Sad and hopeless.


Bird Island South Africa


to be continued.....


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