Sunday, 13 April 2014


["Wireless and the Waratah", The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 10 August 1909, page 6]


'But the main thing at the present moment which is stirring the public mind is the value of wireless telegraphy.'

'We have word of the Powerful at a distance of 450 miles; and it is easy to imagine the Waratah sending news of herself to either Durban or Capetown right up to the minute of disaster, and after, so that help could have been at once forthcoming, if she had been so equipped.'

'The lesson of the Republic, the White Star liner of 15,000 tons, with nearly 800 people on board, which was rammed by the Florida, is fresh in mind. After the collision, and in response to ethergrams, many other liners steamed to the scene, and rendered assistance.'

'It may be remembered especially that the White Star steamer Baltic, of 23,870 tons, hurried forward, and Mr. Tattersall, her Marconi operator, stuck to his post for more than two days sending cheering messages to the sinking ship, and communicating with the shore.'

'So impressed were the public that a bill was introduced into the United States Congress with the object of making compulsory the installation of ethergraphs on all ocean-going vessels.'

'Almost immediately it was announced that the French Minister of Commerce and Industry was about to introduce a bill into the Chamber of Deputies to force all mail steamers of a certain tonnage to be equipped, and now the feeling will be general that something of the sort should be insisted upon with British vessels.'

'It may appear unfair to the various companies to propose to add to their expenses in this way. There seems to be no end to the demands which are made upon them nowadays, and there must be a point beyond which the levy must not pass.'

'But one can see how much may depend upon wireless telegraphy in a case like that of the Waratah. It might easily happen that enough money could be saved, by timely knowledge of a steamer's mishap, to equip a whole fleet with the necessary apparatus, and the relief to thousands of anxious hearts would be correspondingly great.'

'Lack of knowledge so often means serious loss, that in self-defence the companies will have to consider the question, all the more so because the various Legislatures will be forced by public feeling to pass laws, directly to deal with the matter.'

Ironically the older sister ship Geelong had a wireless. The Waratah was due to have a Marconi wireless fitted on her return to England. Perhaps the delay in fitting a wireless (until the end of her second voyage) related to the false belief that she was 'unsinkable'?

Marconi and his Wellfleet wireless


Graeme Cree said...

"Perhaps the delay in fitting a wireless (until the end of her second voyage) related to the false belief that she was 'unsinkable'?"

Who thought the Waratah was unsinkable? That was the Titanic, wasn't it?

Anyone who thought that the only use of a radio would be to summon help during a disaster would have been very foolish.


Thanks Graeme. The Waratah had a double steel hull and watertight compartments, much like the Titanic, hence the false belief. Steel does not float. Churchill believed the main advantage of wireless on steamers related to communications with port regarding arrival time - discharging cargo etc.