Thursday, 27 March 2014

Waratah - Cape cruiser sights burning steamer.


'There are points about the foregoing story, and in connection therewith, which at least call for comment (says the Sydney journal).'

'Why didn't Captain Bruce report the matter in Durban? Did he make a log entry of the incident, and if not, why not?'

Quite simply, the Harlow had not gone to the aid of a steamer in distress and did not want to draw attention to this fact.

'He has said he sighted the vessel 180 miles from Durban at 7.30 on the evening of 27th July, but the distance was too great to identify her.'

Again the figure of 180 miles is quoted, which places the Harlow and Waratah closer to Coffee Bay which is incorrect. +/- 150 miles is correct. At night it would be difficult to identify a steamer categorically even less than 4 miles astern. But hey, let's not forget that they knew it was Waratah astern so must have at a time closer to the catastrophe established her identity.

'But William Lund and Sons, owners of the Waratah, state the steamer Clan MacIntyre, reported sighting the Waratah at 9.30 on the morning of 27th July in the approximate position of latitude 32.17 south, and longitude 29.17 east, a distance of about 51 miles ahead of where the Harlow saw the burning vessel.'

This places the Clan MacIntyre and Waratah off Bashee River mouth. It stands to reason given the initial sighting of the Waratah took place 3 1/2 hours previously, off Cape Hermes.

'Of course, she may have turned back.'

She did!

'And, stranger than the Clan MacIntyre report , is a statement, which has, however, not been verified in detail, to the effect that the steamer Guelph sighted the Waratah after the time mentioned by Captain Bruce.'

'(There is some doubt as to this sighting, which depends upon the third officer's reading of the last three letters of the steamer's name - 'tah').'

This is far too inconclusive to be taken seriously.

'As for the explosions, there was nothing particularly inflammable in the Waratah's cargo, which consisted chiefly of frozen carcasses and flour. How far her coal supply might have generated a explosive gas, is a question which experts only could decide upon.'

Coal dust contained within bunkers IS explosive. But explosions were not heard by the crew of the Harlow, less than 10 miles distant and explosions cause large volumes of black smoke rather than distinct dazzling red lights rising into the sky and persisting for up to two minutes.

'In connection with the fire, a naval officer attached to one of the Cape cruisers, who pricked off the chart the position stated by the captain of the Harlow, as that in which he saw what he supposed to be a burning ship, was right at Gordon's Bay, in the mouth of the St. John's River.'

St John's River is near Cape Hermes. Could this be yet another witness account, and if so why did these vessels not go to the Waratah's assistance?

'Some weeks before a man-of-war was passing along the coast near there, and the officer of the watch reported to the captain that he thought he saw a ship on fire, which turned out on closer inspection to be a bush fire.'

It seems the notion of bushfires resembling burning vessels had taken hold.

'Evidently too, from Mr Miller's letter, the chief officer of the Harlow thought that the fires they saw were bush fires; but how, then, account for losing the steamer's lights after the apparent explosions?'

Therein lies the crux of the matter.

'burning steamer ?' - yes, if steamers travel on land


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