Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Waratah - 'would take wreckage (out) to sea'

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)  Previous issue Tuesday 24 August 1909


'The steamer Wonga Fell, which sailed from
Capetown on the day on which the Waratah
was due at that port from Durban, arrived at
Sydney yesterday after a direct run of 21
days, but brought no news of the missing

'The Waratah was not regarded as
overdue when the Wonga Fell sailed, and the
officers were unaware until they reached
Sydney that grave fears are entertained for the
big Blue Anchor liner.'

'Captain Campbell, the commander of the
Wonga Fell, describes the storm which raged
on July 26th the day on which the Waratah put
to sea from Durban as one of exceptional

The date quoted is incorrect.

The storm of 'exceptional violence' took place 28 July, 1909.

"We were snugly at anchor In
port at Capetown on that day," he said, "but
the wind blew with hurricane force, and
brought up mountainous seas. It was about
as heavy a north-east gale as I have seen for
many a day, and the weather was extremely

Anyone who has lived in Cape Town is aware of the gale force winds that periodically lash the Cape Peninsula.

'The storm was not spoken of as the
most severe on record, but it was regarded
as the most violent tempest for some years.'

"This tempest raged with unabated fury for
about 15 hours, and right along the coast of
South Africa the conditions were dangerous."

"Of course, the wind was behind the Waratah,
but nevertheless she must have had a very
rough time. The gale moderated on July 27
and was succeeded by a fresh south-westerly
gale, with a high cross sea."

A south-westerly gale (relating to a cold front) would be ahead of the Waratah sailing in a south-westerly direction.

"When we sailed from Capetown for Sydney direct on July 26
the south-easterly gale was still blowing, and
we encountered a nasty cross sea outside."

"We went right out of the track of the
Waratah, and had no opportunity of sighting

"After leaving Capetown I steamed south
until reaching latitude 43 south, where we
always expect to get strong winds. We ran
our easting down between the parallels of 42
and 43 until within 700 miles of Tasmania,
when we proceeded north to make Bass

"I have not found any theory to account
for the non-appearance of the Waratah at
Capetown, but from what I have gleaned since
I arrived the position seems to be a serious

"I should say that if a ship was sea-
worthy she would not meet with a disaster
in the tempest which raged on July 26 (sic). By
seaworthy I mean the proper stowage of her

"When cargo is improperly stowed,
and a ship rolls heavily in a terrible seaway,
such as that experienced on the coast of
South Africa at the end of last month, there
is a liability of the cargo shifting, and then,
no matter how fine the ship may be, she may

"The Waratah, I am told, has a lot
of top hamper, and if she was in light trim
during the gale she would experience a bad

No, she was fully loaded and stable.

"The fact that the wind was behind her
would not save her it the cargo shifted."

"Of course, it is quite possible that the
Waratah is drifting disabled, and she may
have encountered a circular storm that has
carried her away from the track of vessels."

"She may have met with a serious accident, in
the engine room an accident that might take
weeks to repair."

"Or her non-appearance may
be due to an accident to her propellers. I
am aware that the Waratah is a twin-screw
steamer, but if she lost one of her propellers
the revolving shaft might strike the other and
disable it. Such accidents have occurred be-

This, apart from rudder failure, would have been a very plausible sequence of events resulting in the Waratah drifting at the mercy of the currents.

"The fact that no wreckage or any description
has been sighted along the coast of South
Africa or by the search vessels is consoling,
although it must be remembered that the wind
may have shifted and, aided by the currents,
taken the wreckage away to sea."

"A south-westerly wind would take wreckage to sea
and we had south-westerly to westerly winds
about that time."

This crucial further explanation could explain why no officially confirmed wreckage of the Waratah was ever discovered.

"I can offer no definite opinion as to what has happened,
but hope that she has not capsized, or that any serious disaster
has overtaken such a fine ship."

"Time only will tell."

The clock is still ticking....

Important update:

wreck - ocean floor

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