Thursday, 8 May 2014

Waratah - Harris Archibald Gibbs and tribute to Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery

Very little information is available regarding the details of the Waratah's crew, final voyage. However, the following gives a glimpse into the background of Harris Gibbs, an apprentice on the steamer. Harris Archibald Gibbs was born in Bognor Regis 1890 to Harris Hornsby Gibbs (born Littlehampton) and his wife Ella (née Plucknett), married 1878. Harris's father was a builder who developed Ellasdale Road, Bognor Regis, West Sussex, and named the road after his wife. He was also responsible for the building of houses in Sylvan Way, Bognore Regis. At time of the 1891 Census the family were living at Sefton Lodge, Lyon Street, Bognor Regis. By 1910 the family resided at Normanhurst, Sylvan Way, in a house built by Harris senior. In 1972, there was still a Gibbs family in the house. Church gates were donated to the Parish Church of St. Wilfrid, Bognor Regis, in memory of Harris Gibbs.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)  Previous issue Wednesday 4 August 1909


'Commander Ilbery, of the Waratah, is the
commodore of the Blue Anchor fleet, and is one
of the most popular and trusted master mariners 
engaged in the Australian trade.' 

'His personal friends number hundreds in all the ports
of the Commonwealth, and he enjoys the complete confidence 
of his owners. Captain H. C. Kent, writing in reference 
to Commander Ilbery, says:-

"The Waratah is commanded by
one who has (with one exception) made more
trips to Australia from the old country than
any commander. He certainly possesses the
record of having been half a century in one
employ, and commanded 13 of their steam-
ships, one after the other, in addition to
one sailing ship in the China trade." 

"The first was the Dalcomyn, of 2600 tons, and the last
is the Waratah. He is a splendid specimen
of the 'ancient mariner' class, and thoroughly
enjoys a yarn about the old sailing ship days,
but can tell no tales of shipwreck or disaster,
as his has been a career (with one slight
exception) of smooth sailing throughout." 

"He points with pride to the long list of 
steamships he has commanded, and claims to be the
oldest sea captain afloat."

"After he had been eight years in the ship
Mikado the Lund line built a ship called the
Sorapta, and Captain Ilbery sailed her until
the steamer Dalcomyn was launched." 

"Then he took charge of her in the Sydney trade. This
was the beginning of the Blue Anchor Line,
aud Captain Ilbery took each following steamer
as she came off the stocks:- The Yeoman,
Hubbock, Riverina, Culgoa, Woolloomooloo,
Warrigal, Warrnambool, Narrung, Commonwealth, 
Geelong, and Waratah." 

"When one considers that this popular skipper 
has commanded each one of those vessels between the
years 1880 and 1909, and that he has been at
sea since the year 1857, and never had an
accident worthy of the name, we must allow
that his career as a seaman is unique."

"Fifty-two years at sea and 30 years in
command without disaster is a record to be
proud of, and one cannot speak or write of
Captain Ilbery without feeling that he has
every right to be looked upon as a mariner
who has done well in upholding the dignity
of the British flag, and left his mark on the
annals of notable British mariners."

This is a fitting tribute to Captain Ilbery. It reminds us that the master of the Waratah was highly competent and experienced. There must have been very good reason for his decision to attempt to return to Durban. The status of the Waratah and conditions off Port St Johns, 27 July, proved insurmountable even for a master of this calibre.

Out of respect for Captain Ilbery's illustrious career and competency as a master mariner, I choose to believe that he had done everything within his capabilities to bring the Waratah safely back to the Port at Durban. Captain Ilbery had to carry the immense burden of responsibility for the 210 lives on board his vessel, and in those last moments the anguish must have been overwhelming.

Captain J.E. Ilbery

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