Friday, 28 February 2014

Anecdote Saturday - the SS Koombana

The Koombana launched in October 1908, was built by Alexander Stephens and Sons, Glasgow, and registered to the Adelaide Steamship Company. The Waratah was built at the same time across the river Clyde on the opposite bank by Barclay, Curle and Co. Two steamers destined to sail into the dark side of history.

The Koombana was 340 ft in length, had a gross tonnage of 3668 and a draft of 20 ft 8 (Waratah: 30 ft 41/2 in.). She was designed to carry passengers, cargo and mail between Fremantle and ports along the coast of Western Australia. 20 March, 1912, she sailed into a tropical cyclone carrying 76 passengers and 74 crew. Apart from a small quantity of wreckage, she disappeared without a trace off Port Hedland. A number of other vessels succumbed to the storm as well. All hands were lost making this the worst weather related maritime disaster in the 20th Century. One could argue that the loss of the Waratah according to the Board of Trade Inquiry was weather related. As a result of her loss the Adelaide Steamship Company withdrew from the northwest coastal service trade and this galvanised the formation of the State Shipping Service of Western Australia.

She was constructed according to the British Corporation shelter deck rules, carrying first and second class passengers, cattle and a significant quota of general cargo. The Koombana derived her name from Mr Robert Forrest's 'Koombana' mill, Bunbury, Western Australia - the name meaning 'bay of spouting whales'. She was luxurious, some comparing her with the quality fittings of the Titanic, and praised as  "... the acme of perfection as regards the comfort of passengers, facilities for handling cargo, and appliances for skilful navigation ..." However, she was also criticised as "... too good for the trade." Similar to the Waratah she had watertight compartments and a steel double hull.

The Koombana had a number of decks:

- orlop deck above the lower hold;
- main deck;
- spar deck (passenger accommodation and dining rooms);
- promenade deck;
- bridge deck;
- boat deck;
- navigating bridge, perched on top.

The Koombana was referred to by some as 'top heavy' and taking her draft of 20 ft into account, I would be inclined to agree with this statement. She was narrow, had a low draft (to negotiate shallow port entrances) and a number of decks creating a top heavy hamper.

"The drawing and smoke rooms were both located on the promenade deck. Each was lavishly decorated and handsomely appointed, with particular attention being paid to the colours of the upholstery. In the drawing room, there were portable lounges and Waring & Co furnishings, all upholstered in purple plush. The drawing room was also equipped with satinwood panelled walls, an elaborate bookcase with up-to-date library, and other furniture, including a Broadway piano and a pair of Chippendale-style writing desks. Its ceilings were white painted canvas with a gilt-edged floral design; its main entrance and the stairway leading to the promenade deck were both panelled in mahogany. The smoke room was upholstered in scarlet."

Modern inventions found place in the kitchen (electric egg boiler) and bakehouse (electric dough mixer). She provided accommodation for 300 first and second class passengers, cabins luxuriously appointed and with easy access to the deck and saloons - all fitted with electric fans. Triple expansion steam engines gave the Koombana an average speed of 13 knots. The bridge housed the latest electrically operated equipment for navigation and communication aboard the steamer. Electric lights were standard. A motor launch was available should the Koombana miss the tide at port. On the downside of the luxury equation, the Koombana had pens for the transport of 220 head of cattle, or 1500 sheep. Refrigeration was available for 800 tons of cargo. Hydraulic power for the quadrant davits rounded off the list of modern fitments.

Koombana was based at Fremantle replacing the SS Bullarra. On her maiden voyage to Carnarvon, the Koombana ran aground on a sand bank near Denham in Shark Bay. In the light of Captain Rees' past good record, the absence of damage (assessed at the time), mistaking a mark buoy and headland bearings in hazy weather, no further action was taken.

28 April 1909, after leaving Derby with a ministerial party aboard, the Koombana struck a submerged obstruction. Although no damage was reported, a Court of Marine Inquiry investigation was opened. Once again Captain Rees was exonerated.

May 1909, the Koombana was found to be taking on water in one of her tanks. Cement from the bottom of the tank had broken away and a rivet broken off. She was sent to Sydney for repairs 13 June 1909.  Once in dry dock it was discovered that she had no less than 13 broken hull plates from the grounding at Shark Bay.

"She was evidently kept afloat only by the top skin of her ballast tanks"

This incident raises important issues relating back to the Waratah. The Koombana was reported as having sustained no significant damage after grounding at Shark Bay. Clearly this was not the case and only when she was in dry dock did the full extent of the hull damage become apparent. The Waratah grounded at Adelaide before departing for Durban in July, 1909. At the time Captain Ilbery was angry about the incident, and for good reason. The Koombana incident reminds us that the 'brittle' steel hull plates and rivets of the time were susceptible to significant damage, compromising the seaworthiness of a vessel.

Mishap was never far off when it came to the Koombana and a fire broke out in the No 1 cargo hold, 20 October, 1910.  The hatch was sealed down and the vessel's modern Clayton Patent fire extinguisher used to douse the flames. Wet sheep wool was to blame and a considerable amount of water was pumped into the holds (No 2 included at this stage) to extinguish the fire completely.
Again, no damage to the vessel was reported. We know that the Waratah experienced an ongoing coal fire adjacent to the engine room on her maiden voyage. It took a number of days to extinguish. The Koombana illustrates that the best course of action in such instances is to make for the nearest port and assistance.

As hard as this may be to believe, the Koombana grounded again at Shark Bay, 20 December 1910.
No damage reported.

21 January 1911, another fire broke out in holds No 2 and 3.  Fodder was to blame this time (spontaneous combustion).  The holds had to be flooded to extinguish the fire. Again, the Koombana was declared free of damage.

19 April, 1911, while the Koombana was tied up at Victoria Quay, the SS Pilbarra rammed her starboard quarter.

20 March, 1912, the Koombana this time under the command of Captain Allen (who noted a falling barometer), departed Port Hedland, closely followed by the Bullarra. Both sailed directly into a tropical cyclone despite Captain Allen's reservations (subsequently denied at the Inquiry). Recorded in the Bullarra's log book:

"A Howling Hurricane"

The two vessels lost each other in the storm and the Bullarra limped into Cossack. The Koombana was never seen again. Several lighter vessels and pearling luggers were also lost in the storm. The only remnants of the Koombana discovered were: part of the motor launch, a panel from the promenade deck, planks from lifeboats, and some air tanks.

'The Court of Inquiry could not say what actually had happened to Koombana, but it seemed reasonably clear that the hurricane had been responsible for her total loss at sea. When leaving Port Hedland, she had been carrying a load of 260 tons of cargo, properly stowed, 460 tons of coal, 871 tons of water in her tanks, some 60 tons of stores, a total of 76 passengers and a crew of 74. The stability of the vessel with her known load had been tested with Ralston's stability indicator, and seven other tests had been made with the indicator under varying conditions of load. In each test, Koombana's stability had been shown to be entirely satisfactory.'

The Koombana had numerous decks, a relatively low draft of 20 ft, 73% of maximum cargo and ballast load when she sailed into the cyclone, and yet stability tests were 'entirely satisfactory'. I wonder?

SS Koombana

My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Waratah - 'body of a little girl clothed in a red dressing-gown'.

Wellington (N.Z.), Feb. 25, 1910.

"An extraordinary story bearing on the loss, or disappearance, of the big steamer Waratah was made the other day to the Press Association's agent at Westport, New Zealand, by Mr. Day, late second officer of the steamer Tottenham, which called recently at Westport for bunker coal, and sailed for Ocean Island."

"He says the Tottenham left Durban about 10 days after the Waratah,, and steamed over the same course, bound for Antwerp. While off East London at noon one day, an apprentice at the wheel reported to the third officer, who was in charge of the bridge, that he saw float past the ship the body of a little girl clothed in a red dressing-gown."

"The officer looked round but did not see the body. He, however, went down, to the chart-room, where the captain and second officer were laying off the ship's position, and reported that bodies had just floated past."

"The captain and second officer rushed on to the bridge, and the second officer said he saw something white floating on the water. The captain gave the order, "Hard a-starboard," and the vessel steamed round in the vicinity of floating objects."

"They did not catch sight of the body reported to have been seen fully dressed, but saw what appeared to be portions of human bodies. The weather being very heavy, the steamer was unable to make a thorough examination, so she proceeded on her voyage."

"Nothing to Report."

This must surely be one of the most chilling reports associated with the disappearance of the Waratah.

to be continued....

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Waratah - build-quality compromised.

The Waratah cost the Blue Anchor Line 139 000 pounds to build in 1908. If we compare the Waratah's specifications and build cost with those of the Marama (similar triple deck design):

                                          Waratah                                                      Marama

length:                                   465 ft                                                         420 ft

gross tonnage:                       9 339.07                                                      6437

passenger capacity:                1032 (432 cabins + dormitories)                    488

first class passengers:             110 cabins and staterooms                           270

cost:                                      139 000 pounds                                          166 000 pounds

The Waratah was larger but yet cost less than the Marama to build. Why? If we look closely at the figures there is one component that could account for this:

The Marama had a greater number of cabins and first class accommodation than the Waratah.

The Marama was noted for her lavish fittings.

The Waratah's first class accommodation and facilities were also luxurious but perhaps not as opulent as the Marama's. If we compare the Waratah specifications with another cargo / passenger steamer of 1908, RMS Hilary, the comparative chart is as follows:

                                              Waratah                                                     Hilary

length:                                     465 ft                                                        418 ft

gross tonnage:                         9 339.07                                                    6329

passenger capacity:                  1032                                                           500

first class:                                110 cabins and staterooms                          200

cost:                                        139 000 pounds                                          124 000 pounds

In this case we have an example of a steamer, also smaller than the Waratah, costing less than the Waratah, which on the surface seems to make sense. However, there are differences applying to both the Hilary and the Marama worth pointing out:

The Waratah had a comparatively large gross tonnage of 9 339.07, +/- 32% more than the other two vessels, even though she was only 10% longer. This might explain why, despite twin quadruple expansion engines, the Waratah with an average speed of 13.5 knots was slower than the competition.
Waratah's power output of 5400 ihp was significantly less than equivalent steamers of the time.

With dormitories deployed, the Waratah also had a far larger passenger capacity - more than double. The passenger capacity numbers (432 cabins) would be more comparable if one subtracted the emigrant component of the Waratah's outbound voyages. Clearly the Lunds were getting more out of their investment, with potential for a far greater profit margin, even taking into consideration the elevated first class fares of the other two vessels.

One does wonder if the Waratah's hull was up to the job of transporting so much more? There are anecdotal reports of boltheads coming loose and gaps opening up in the superstructure after the Waratah's maiden voyage. This might in part have been related to reports of the Waratah grounding at Kangaroo Island (if this was true).

An important question is raised:

Despite an acceptable triple deck design and Lloyd's monitoring of the construction process, were the quality of building materials, attention to detail and overall size enough for the task at hand? Did the build cost equate with what was expected of the Waratah?

We can assume that the overall build quality was acceptable to the Lloyd's assessor and insurance cover verifies this point. However, the steel used was high in sulphur content, making it brittle and susceptible to fracture in certain conditions. It is possible that the 'acceptable forces' exerted on the Waratah's hull were exacerbated by the rough seas and cargo tonnage (just short of 10 000 tons and her gross tonnage) beyond that which the hull steel could withstand. With or without pre-existing hull plate and rivet damage, fatal cracks and leaks may have manifested 27 July. It is not a leap of faith to imagine structural compromise played a part in the ultimate demise of the great ship - so much more was expected of her than the build budget allowed.

SS Minnewaska (1908) foredeck - note triple deck configuration

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Waratah - design plans.

'The only plans we have are those from the builders Barclay Curle, which are likely to show her as originally designed.  They are:'

Waratah (1908)
Lines, body & 1/2 breadth
Boat dk, prom dk, fo'c'sle & poop dk
Upper deck and main deck
Lower deck & hold
Midship section
Rigging profile
Model fittings and details
Capacity profile and plan
Loading plan (sketch) BCA327
Loading plan (for stevedores) BCA327


Jeremy Michell, MA
Historic Photographs and Ships Plans Manager, National Maritime Museum

Controversy surrounds the issue of the Waratah's design. The concept of a 'top heavy' steamer is entrenched in the public mind. In previous posts I have demonstrated that the Waratah was neither 'top heavy' nor unstable when she departed Durban on her final voyage, 26 July, 1909.

The triple deck configuration (associated with the concept of 'top heavy' in the case of the Waratah) was utilized in other steamers of the time, another good example being the Marama. This configuration served the Marama well throughout her lengthy service life.

The Waratah was intended as a flag ship for the Blue Anchor Line and as such was a larger, more modern evolution of the pre-existing Geelong. Configurations and specifications were considered and discussed during the planning phase of the Waratah. However, once finalised, the design plans were presented as above (originals held by the National Maritime Museum).

The three levels of decks are clearly represented and there are no other design plans on record (to my knowledge) suggesting the deck configuration was modified once construction commenced. Lloyd's assessors inspected progress during the construction phase, verifying at regular intervals the builders' adherence to the design plans and standards of construction (as per regulations).

The Waratah was designed to be flexible. Temporary demountable emigrant cabins for the outbound voyages from England were situated on the 'tween' and spar decks. Provision was made for the first class passenger component on separate bridge, promenade and boat decks. The Branch Line and P&O used the Blue Anchor Line model to great effect and showed significant profits.

The evolution of steamer design, including triple decks, came about during the early 1900's. Passengers up until then were accustomed to smaller, single or twin deck steamer designs. It stands to reason that passengers had to adjust their perceptions regarding the larger, triple deck Waratah with her unique performance characteristics at sea. These perceptions were aired without hesitation at the Inquiry. But the Waratah was simply a manifestation of design evolution.

As the facts stand, the Waratah was not a unique design concept and nor was she 'unsafe' by the standards of the day.

This is not entirely true. Although stability was established for Waratah final voyage beyond the bluff at Durban she was too heavy, with a significantly low freeboard, and her twin quadruple expansion engines were under powered for her size and weight.

triple deck plans for the SS Umbria and SS Eturia

Monday, 24 February 2014


"A Waratah Joke", West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Vic.), Tuesday 05 October 1909, page 2


"A few days ago at Warrnambool a foolish fellow with little brains and less heart perpetrated "his joke" on the missing steamer "Waratah."

"This is how the "Standard" of that town deals with him."

"A day of two ago a bottle was picked up on the local beach containing a piece of paper on which was written a message purporting to emanate from the captain of the missing Waratah."

"The precious document was brought to the "Standard" office and was obviously such a palpable hoax as to be unworthy of notice."

"However, a report of the incident appears to have spread about the town, with the result that a number of enquiries has been made as to whether any reliance was to placed on the information said to have come to hand."

"It may therefore, be as well to explain that the alleged message was nothing more than a clumsily-concocted ruse, and that it had both ignorance and heartlessness stamped upon its face."

"The perpetrator of the "joke" is welcome to whatever satisfaction he can derive from this criticism, but if he accepts our advice he will at once attend the free night school at Warrnambool, and at the same time endeavour to develop some slight modicum of mental acuteness."

The mystery surrounding the Waratah's disappearance generated hysteria and speculation in the public domain.  This influenced witness accounts at the Board of Trade Inquiry and precipitated hoax bottle messages. Sociopaths seeking public attention contributed to the general misery with their destructive and misleading hoax messages.

Bottle messages have been deployed as far back as 310 BC. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus used a message in a bottle to prove that the Mediterranean Sea was connected with the Atlantic Ocean. Bottle messages are still used today in the study of ocean currents. Columbus cast a message (addressed to the Queen of Castile) sealed in a cask into the ocean during a fierce storm, fearing that he would not survive to relate his discovery. It was never found. During the 16th century the English used bottle messages to pass on enemy positions to those on shore. Queen Elizabeth I designated a 'Uncorker of Ocean Bottles' to reveal the messages.  Anyone else attempting this faced the death penalty. One bottle message thrown overboard in 1784 by a Japanese mariner (lost at sea) was washed ashore and discovered in 1935, near the very village where the mariner was born. In 1914, Private Thomas Hughes cast a ginger beer bottle with a note to his wife, into the English Channel. He was killed in action two days later. The bottle was discovered in the River Thames in 1999, and the message delivered to Private Hughes' 86 year old daughter in New Zealand. February 1916, the crew of the stricken Zeppelin L 19 dropped bottle messages into the North Sea. These were discovered six months later on the coast near Gothenburg, Sweden and passed on to loved ones. Migrants stranded on the coast of Costa Rica (2005) were rescued as a direct result of a bottle message. The oldest recorded bottle message was one cast into the sea off Scotland in 1914, part of an experiment to test currents, and discovered in 2012.  It was discovered east of Shetland.

It's estimated that the longest distance covered by a bottle message was that recovered in Dubrovnik (banks of the Neretva River), Croatia, having journeyed from Nova Scotia, 4000 miles distant - it had probably covered a distance greater than this during its journey. NASA has launched several 'bottle messages', examples of which were written on a gold-anodized aluminium plaque and later, a copper disk. Whether hoax, genuine, or for scientific research purposes, bottle messages are part of the human condition and demonstrate a desire to pass on a message or seek attention, usually of the worst kind. Either way, and in whatever form, they are part of maritime history.

NASA's Pioneer 10 message - has travelled an estimated 13 billion miles

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


(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:


(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.....

Friday, 21 February 2014

Anecdote Saturday - HMS Pandora - search for the Waratah

The HMS Pandora was a Pelorus-class cruiser of the Royal Navy. Designed by Sir William White (who testified at the Waratah Inquiry), she was well armed and served in the 'overseas' fleet policing the African coast. She displaced 2135 tons, 328 ft in length, 37 ft broad, armed with eight QF 4 inch 25 pounder guns, eight 3 pounder guns, three machine guns and two 18 inch torpedo tubes. Power came from triple expansion steam engines, giving the Pandora 20 knots. She was launched 17 January 1900, and crewed by 224 men.

Initially involved in naval manoeuvres and later, propeller trials, by 1901 she was commissioned to relieve the Melita on Malta. Pandora was deployed to Africa (1908) under the command of Captain Davidson, with a crew of 217 - 13 officers, 21 marines and a boy. The following are extracts from:

‘Too old at thirty-three: the log of William Henry O’Brien, 1908–10'

September 1908 Petty Officer Second Class William O’Brien left Dublin on the 9.20pm boat bound for Devonport and Portsmouth, the Royal Navy bases in the south of England.

10 September he had been ‘warned for draft' to Pandora, fitting out at Portsmouth for service on Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa station.

25 September, after a short spell in the Royal Naval barracks in Devonport, he travelled to Portsmouth and joined Pandora . . . 'found her in a very dirty condition and badly in need of a scrub out’.

In Portsmouth 9am, 6 October 1908 Pandora, was commissioned for service on the Cape station.

Before she could sail, however, she had to be scraped and painted white, coaled - 450 tons, a task that took from 6am to 4.15pm, 9th October - provisioned and inspected by Captain Hyde Parker.

14th October the crew were ‘paid a month’s advance' which was very welcome. 'Most of us being on the rocks’.

16th October the ship ‘left farewell jetty & proceeded to Spithead, swung for adjustment of compasses, carried out anchor trials and afterwards a repair trial which proved unsuccessful . . .’.

Finally, 17th October, Pandora ‘weighed & proceeded with trials 10.40am. Anchored and discharged dockyard officials, weighed & shaped course for Madeira . . .’

In Madeira, 22 October 1908, ‘the smell of cigarette smoke prevails everywhere & everybody appears to be tarnation lasey [sic], Miles’s beer at 4d per bottle is a very nice and refreshing drink but too much of it is not beneficial . . .’.

Next port of call was Las Palmas,

The responsibilities of ‘showing the flag’ had their social as well as their political dimensions. The navy possessed, as John Bach put it in his history of the Australia station, 1821–1913, a powerful mystique. It was, furthermore, ‘part of the self-image of Englishmen at home and abroad, a visible symbol of the Imperial power far more charismatic, so far as colonists were concerned, than those lesser vehicles, the colonial governors . . .’.

St Helena 14 November ‘Officers gave an "At Home" to the big pots of the island & an exhibition of bayonet fighting & boxing was given for their amusement’.

The crew’s amusements, however, were of a less formal nature:

Walfisch (now Walvis Bay), the principal port of Namibia, was at this time a small British enclave administered by the Cape Colony and surrounded by German South West Africa, annexed by the latter power in 1884.

‘The natives are Hottentots & number about 700, there are only about 30 or 40 Europeans’.

O’Brien noted, ‘a bird of the Penguin species & about the size of a duck . . . they are fond of swimming around the ship looking for scraps to be thrown them & are so taken that they allow themselves to be lifted out of the water & carried inboard. They seem just as much at home on board ship, as in the water, they run about the decks standing up straight like a man and are very amusing.’

Having reached her station, the following months of Pandora’s tour of duty were to be spent in almost continuous passage up and down the east coast of Africa as far north as Zanzibar. The routine changed little: cricket, football and shooting matches against teams provided by local British residents, shore drill, sea exercises involving ‘burning searchlights’ and firing torpedoes, mock raids on shore stations, all punctuated by the inescapable coaling and consequent scraping and painting of the ship.

A similarly frequent and almost equally unpopular activity was the opening of Pandora to visitors:

15 January 1909 in East London ‘hundreds visited the ship & made themselves a general nuisance’

20 May 1909 Pandora  ‘landed an escort & funeral party in the afternoon to take part in King Edward VII’s memorial service in the Cathedral. The representatives of all the powers were present. Pandora and Piedmont fired 101 minute guns’

26 March 1909 Pandora moored in the harbour of Beira.

The following day, ‘Ship’s company were invited to a smoking concert by the British residents of Beira, about 100 men landed for the turn out & had a ripping time. Several fine speeches were made & some good songs were sung and Lager Beer was flowing like water. British Consul presided as Master of Ceremonies, the Portuguese commandant was also present . . .'

There were, however, more serious events to record in the course of Pandora’s routine.

1 August 1909, when the cruiser was in Durban together with the Forte, ‘S.S. Waratah of the Blue Anchor Line from Durban to Cape Town with about 300 passengers & crew reported missing’.

Forte sailed in search of her. After taking on 540 tons of coal, Pandora followed the next day.

‘4th midnight. Spoke S.S. Paprika of N. Zealand Shipping Company, reported no news of missing ship.'

'5th. Very bad weather.'

'8th. Shipped several heavy seas which did considerable damage to the deck fittings.'

'9th. Ship rolling heavily, nearly lost 1st cutter which filled up at davits, took on board several heavy seas which flooded stoke holds & after compartments & filled up all the cabins aft. Ship behaved as well as could be expected but on more than one occasion it seemed that nothing could prevent her from foundering.’

(This account highlights the dangers of the sea off the Southern African coast and how precariously vessels negotiated such weather, often sustaining significant damage or foundering.)

Pandora returned to Durban short of coal and with no news of the missing vessel.

10 August she put to sea again for a second search, in the course of which the ship’s dog, Dora, ‘gave birth to 10 pups, 5 sons & 5 daughters’, but no trace of Waratah was found.

In Simons Town 27 August 1910 Pandora ‘slipped buoy and left for E. London. Cheers were exchanged between Terra Nova & Pandora, Terra Nova crew sang Old Lang Syne as the ships were passing each other’.

She sailed for Beira 8th September, where ‘ship’s company were invited to a smoker on shore & had a good evening’s enjoyment. Colonel O’Sullivan [O’Brien’s emphasis] took the chair’.

The ship returned to Simons Town, and 5 October ‘C in C came on board to say goodbye. Left for St Helena at 11.45. Fleet manned ship and cheered.’

St Helena 13th ‘H.M.S. Aeolus arrived with reliefs on board’.

At this point O’Brien’s log ends abruptly.

William O’Brien subsequently saw service at the World War I Battle of Jutland on the battleship Collingwood, on which, according to family tradition, the midshipmen under his charge included two future kings of England, Edward VIII and George VI.

Unable to forsake the sea, on retiring from the navy he became a customs officer in Burghead in the north of Scotland.

Pandora was sold for scrap in 1913.

HMS Pandora

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Waratah - Mrs Agnes Grant (Gosse) Hay pays tribute..

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) (about) Previous issueWednesday 16 December 1908

(By A.G.H.)

"The idea of naming the steamships of
the Blue Anchor line with names peculiar
to Australia originated with the pioneer
captain of that line, and although in the
very earliest of the vessels the idea was
not adopted, yet it soon became apparent
to the owners that the suggestion was a
wise and graceful one."

"We have now a list of steamers trading between England
and the antipodes whose names, when mentioned,
immediately remind the hearer of
the different States in the great Australian

"The latest addition to
Messrs. Lund's Blue Anchor line has been
named after the gorgeous waratah, of New
South Wales, a magnificent scarlet blossom
indigenous to that State."

"As I sit on the promenade deck of the
Waratah in the great dividing line between
the two hemispheres, on this my
seventeenth passage between England and
Australia, the reality is borne in upon the
mind of the advantage of size in the matter
of transit through the ocean."

"Here we are steaming along in the large new
Blue Anchor liner, with a head wind, and
yet practically little or no motion is experienced."

Clearly a lady with no interest in exaggerating the Waratah's listing and pitching behaviour at sea.

"The reason of this steadiness
is not only due to the 10,000 tons burthen
of the Waratah, but also to her construction."

"When I first saw the new steamer
at Tilbury, the idea was that she.would
prove a great roller, owing to the height of
her many decks above the water-level."

"The lowest of these, for first-class passengers,
is one deck higher than the spar deck on
the P. & 0. steamers, and the promenade
deck, which also has extensive cabin accommodation,
is the same height as the
boat deck of most of the ocean steamers."

"The Waratah's boat deck towers above
these, and the bridge looks unusually high."

The navigation bridge was particularly prominent on the Waratah compared to other similar vessels such as the SS Koombana.

"The funnel seems an enormous size round,
but we are told that it is not so large in
diameter as the Geelong's, and considerably lower,
it being constructed in a
modern and improved style that does
not require such great size."

"The apparent top-heaviness of the Waratah appears
to have no effect on the easy passage of the steamer through the water, as
it is counteracted by her breadth of beam."

The breadth as we recall, the length of a bowling alley.

"Having travelled three times in the
Geelong one naturally compares the two
steamers, and the conclusion arrived at is
that the lofty build of the Waratah does
not cause any excess of motion, but that
this is if anything less in her than in the

Well, that settles that.

"With regard lo the interior plan of
Messrs. W. Lund & Son's new liner it
differs in many respects from the older vessel,
and in some of these differences the
advantage is with the older steamer - at
least in the opinion of the writer."

"The first-class cabins are not quite so large as
those of the Geelong, and I understand
that the smaller steamers of the Blue
Anchor line have even larger rooms than
the last named steamer."

I'm sure economics played a roll. More passengers per passage. Evolution of the modern public transport system.

"Another difference in the plan of the Waratah is that
no single cabin in the first-class has à porthole close to the water,
owing to the fact that a gangway runs all round outside the
cabins. This last mentioned difference
causes less fresh air from the sea to come
directly into them."

"In other respects the
Waratah keeps up the record of the Blue
Anchor line, and this fact is more noticeable
as so many old faces are to be
seen on board the new steamer."

"The aged quartermaster, who boasts of his
79 summers, but who looks so hale and fit
that it is difficult to believe that he has
lived so long, is one of these."

"Then there is the purser, whose face is so familiar to
those who have travelled in the Geelong,
and who is most obliging to all."

"It has been my privilege to travel four times across
the ocean with the commander of the Waratah,
and on each occasion I have been more
struck than before with his unique personality,
and with the extreme suitableness
of that personality for the position that he
is called upon to occupy."

"Simple and unpretentious in manner, he yet has a dignity
about him that would at once forbid a
liberty, and all who serve under him do so
with the utmost respect, and, in most cases,
with great love and veneration."

A truly moving tribute to Captain Ilbery.

"Who that has heard Captain Ilbery read the Church
of England service, which he does every
Sunday morning when there is no clergyman
amongst his passengers, will never forget the impressive
manner in which the service is conducted,
and the observant listener will not
fail to notice that only one who enters into
and participates in the petitions could present
them in the tone of genuine devotion
in which they are uttered."

"Before closing this little account of a
new Australian steamer and her first passage,
I must mention one of our passengers
whose presence has materially conduced
to the pleasure and profit of the
passage. I allude to the Bishop of Inverina,
who I think I may safely say, has
endeared himself to all."

"His manly, unpretentious manner and his straightforward
deliverance of his messages in services
on Sundays have won him golden opinions.."

"I feel sure I am voicing the feeling of the
majority of those on board when I wish
him God-speed in carrying on the work of
his large diocese."

Mrs Grant-Hay along with her daughter Dolly, was lost with the Waratah. It is sometimes difficult to read accounts written by those lost and who must have suffered greatly in the last moments of a dying steamer. One hopes that it was all over quickly and the comradery so eloquently described in this account contributing to much needed courage and comfort.

Mrs Grant-Hay was married to Alexander Hay, a wealthy merchant, pastoralist and politician of Adelaide. Her son, William Gosse-Hay (1875), a lawyer (Trinity College), suffered a breakdown in 1911, having lost his mother and sister Helen (Dolly) on the Waratah (1909), his brother Alexander previously (1901), and the added stress of an insurance dispute relating to the destruction by fire of his parents' home, 'Mt Breckan' in Victor Harbor. He died at Victor Harbor in 1945 after attempting to save his home from a bush fire. William Gosse-Hay probably spent days and nights struggling to come to terms with the inexplicable loss of his mother and sister. The false sighting of the Waratah and optimistic speculations in the press must surely have eased a corrosive despair, only to have the armies of a harsh reality march once again on his soul. And so it must have been the case for family and friends of those listed as lost with the Waratah. His mother's legacy lives on, vivid in the words of praise for a steamer, much maligned, and a highly capable master whom I believe would have held firm, even when the battle against the sea was lost. A battle lost, but the human spirit aboard the Waratah was unlikely to have surrendered.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Waratah - a beautiful description.

newspaper cutting:

"The New Steamer Waratah", The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Tuesday 29 September 1908, page 10.


"Lund's Blue Anchor liner Waratah, which was launched on September 12, will leave London on November 6 on her maiden voyage to Australia. She will leave Adelaide on her return voyage about January 9."

"It is only suitable that a firm who have been so long connected with the shipping trade, between England and Australia, via South Africa, as have Messrs. W. Lund & Sons, should christen their vessels with Australian names, as for instance the Narrung, Wilcannia, Wakool, Commonwealth, and Geelong, which are the names of steamers at present composing the Blue Anchor line fleet."

"Another Australian name is to be given to the fine vessel about to be added to the line, namely, the Waratah. Although the origin of this name does not appear clear at present, it is doubtless aboriginal, and it is the name borne by the national flower of New South Wales."

"The steamer which is to bear this name is a twin-screw vessel of some 10,000 tons, her principal dimensions being being as follows:--Length, 480 ft.; breadth 59 ft.; depth. 38 ft. The vessel will be classed 100 Al at Lloyds."

"The steamer is divided into seven watertight compartments, and has a cellular double bottom extending practically the full length of the snip. The Waratah will cater for the conveyance of first and third class passengers, and the greatest care and attention has been paid to all the small details which will go to make the ship one of the most comfortable steamers afloat."

"No first saloon cabins are situated lower than the bridge deck, so that passengers will be able at practically all times to leave their cabin ports open. On this deck there are 24 cabins, containing two sleeping berths and a long sofa fitted with a spring mattress, and there are also two exceptionally large four-berth cabins (each with a sofa in addition), suitable for families."

"At the forward end of the bridge deck is placed the dining saloon, which is a fine apartment, capable of seating 100 passengers, and a large number of the tables are arranged on the restaurant system, which is one of the latest popular innovations on board steamers, and now being used for the first time in the South African and Australasian trades."

"The pantry and serving room are situated close to the dining saloon, but completely bulk-headed off from the passenger accommodation, so that it will be impossible for the smell of food to reach the cabins."

"Next to the family cabins on this deck is a good sized nursery."

"On the promenade deck is a large lobby, at the forward end of which is the drawing-room, a commodious apartment containing piano, four writing tables, and lounges conveniently placed for passenger wishing to play cards, &c. This room is lighted by means of large square windows and a dome from the boat deck above which runs through to the dining saloon below."

"Opening on to the lobby already mentioned are six single-berthed cabins, fitted with a square window each, and two large two-berth cabins, each with a porthole as well as a square window. The lower berths in these two choice rooms, as well as in some of the other cabins on the ship, are extensible, in order that, when required, they may form double beds, 4 ft. wide. Aft will be found 12 more two-berth cabins, all of large size."

"Right at the after end of this deck is a recessed deck lounge, fitted with tables, and here passengers will obtain perfect shelter whilst at the same time being able to sit out in the open."

"On the after end of the boat deck is a spacious smoking-room, panelled in oak, with skylight overhead, and containing writing and card tables. There is a bar attached. Outside this room is another open-air lounge, with tables, and it is anticipated that this innovation (fitted for the first time on a steamer in this trade) will be thoroughly appreciated by passengers."

"The forward end of the boat deck is reserved for passengers, in addition to the promenade deck. On this deck are also arranged the captain's and navigating officers' cabins, and above is the navigating bridge, at a height of about 50 ft. above sea level level."

"Every saloon cabin on this line is fitted in a manner to ensure the maximum amount of comfort to be obtained in a temporary home on the sea. and in every cabin for more than one passenger is a chest of drawers, a large wardrobe for ladies' dresses, in addition to patent washbasin, bootlocker, and drawers underneath the sofas."

"In the after part of the steamer, situated on the upper and main decks, is accommodation for 300 third-class passengers in cabins arranged with two, four, six, and eight berths. The comfort of these who wish to travel at a low fare has been well considered. The passenger who a few years ago booked at what was, and still is, known as the "open berth rate," will be able to obtain a berth in a six-berth or eight-berth cabin at the same charge."

"On the upper deck is a comfortable dining saloon, extending the full breadth of the vessel, fitted with revolving chairs, and at the after end of the deck and completely shut off from the cabins, are five bathrooms and up-to-date lavatory accommodation."

"Above the upper deck is a promenade reserved exclusively for third-class passengers, and a further promenade is provided on the boat deck overhead. Also on the promenade deck are found the smoking room and ladies' lounge."

"A piano is fitted in the dining saloon for the use of third class passengers."

"The Waratah is fitted with ample hospital accommodation, and the services of the ship's doctor are always at the disposal of passengers needing them. Two or more stewardesses are carried to attend to the requirements of ladies."

"The ship is lighted by electricity throughout, and all saloon cabins and public apartments are fitted with electric bells."

"The vessel is fitted with two sets of quadruple expansion engines which will be balanced to ensure of there being little or no vibration. They will be of great power, capable of driving the ship at a high speed. The most up to-date refrigerating plant has been installed, so that all on board will be provided with fresh provisions, vegetables, fruit etc., throughout the voyage."

"The Waratah will have close upon 15,000 tons of space for the carriage of coal, and general and refrigerated cargo, and to deal with this tremendous quantity the ship is fitted with appliances ensuring the quickest possible delivery to merchants."

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Waratah - deckchair, cushion and lifebelt discovered?

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Saturday 10 December 1910

Melbourne, December 9.
The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) Saturday 10 December 1910

"A deck chair bearing a passenger'sname, and 'S.S. Waratah.' was picked upon the foreshore at Coffee Bay on Thursday, November 3." 
"It will be remembered that the Waratah was estimated to have been somewhere off Coffee Bay on the evening of July 27, 1909. when she disappeared." 
"The above cutting from the  "Cape Argus" of November 10 has been forwarded from Cape Town by Mr. A.Nickson, a former resident of Sydney."
"Mr Nickson writes -
"The deck chair was washed ashore some miles north of the port of East London, and close to the part of the coast where the Waratah was last sighted." 
"I, like many others on this side, am of the opinion that the Waratah turned turtle a little south of East London, going down like a stone, taking everyone and everything with her to the bottom."
"It would be an easy matter to discover ifsuch is the case. Soon after her disappearance I suggested here that a submarine be obtained from England to search along the bottom of our coast where the Waratah was last sighted."
Naturally a submarine was not commissioned to search for the Waratah.
Not only was a deckchair alleged to have been found at Coffee Bay, but it bore the name of a passenger (which one?) (Moir - not on the passenger list) and the Waratah's insignia. If this is true it seems most likely that the Waratah went down off Cape Hermes rather than south of East London. The explanation is a simple one and relates to the currents off the Wild Coast. If the Waratah had gone down off Cape Hermes, flotsam would have been carried south with the Agulhas Current.
Captain Bruce of the Harlow did make reference to a 'large steamer' coming up astern less than ten miles offshore in the vicinity of Cape Hermes, which suddenly disappeared.
If we combine the witness account of the crew of the Harlow with the discovery of the deckchair and the policeman on the shore who saw a large steamer foundering off Cape Hermes, we have three separate pieces of circumstantial evidence placing the Waratah off Cape Hermes when she disappeared.
During March 1910, a cushion with the letter 'W' was reported having been washed ashore at Mossel Bay.
In February 1912, a lifebelt with the name "Waratah" on it, was washed ashore in New Zealand. The lifebelt may very possibly have fallen overboard when the Waratah was in Australian waters.
Nelson Evening Mail, 5 March 1910.

"An officer of the Lund line says there is nothing to signify that the cushion found on the Cape Coast belonged to the Waratah."

"If any of the vessels cushions were marked, it would be with the name in full."

"It might, of course, happen if the 'W' was worked on the cushion that it was a present to an officer."

(Received March 5, 1910, 10.40 am)
London, Friday.

"Lunds do not place credence in the reported evidence of wreckage from the Waratah, since their Cape Town agents have not notified them, as arranged should evidence concerning the Waratah be discovered."

And so it was cast in stone. No verified flotsam was officially discovered from the Waratah. But what became of the deckchair with the passenger's name and the mysterious cushion with the letter 'W'?

Important update:

deckchair from Titanic 

Monday, 17 February 2014


'The ship was lost in a gale of exceptional violence, the first great storm she had encountered, and the vessel capsized.'

Such as the conclusion of the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. In our modern era legislation relating to vessels encountering heavy weather includes both the 'unforeseen' and 'unavoidable', allowing shipping lines to prevail upon the 'peril at sea' defence under the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act ('COGSA'). The legislation includes negligence on the part of the master (and shipping line) if action to avoid a storm is not taken.

For a storm to be categorised as a 'peril of the sea' it must:

"be of an extraordinary nature or arising from irresistible force or overwhelming power which could not be guarded against by the ordinary exertions of human skill and prudence" (Honorable Kurt Engelhardt of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana).

Central to this issue is the intensity of the storm and the weather conditions which would normally be expected in the geographic area at that time of the year. For a storm to constitute a 'peril of the sea' for purposes of the COGSA exemption, the weather encountered must be so severe as to be too much for a well-found or seaworthy vessel to withstand. To sustain the defence, Judge Engelhardt noted that the jurisprudence required the carrier to show:

1) the severity of the storm was sufficient to constitute a 'peril of the sea'.

2) a causal connection between the cargo loss and the 'peril of the sea'.

3) the carrier's freedom from fault and that the ship was not unseaworthy.

Factors that need to be taken into account include: 

- structural damage to the ship; 

- the force of wind and the height and violence of the seas; 

- the duration of time the ship encountered heavy weather; 

- the foreseeability of the heavy weather for the given location and time of year; 

- the size and type of vessel.

Cargo must be stowed in conformity with the stowage plan. Furthermore, the master of the vessel is expected to closely monitor the weather throughout the voyage and implement course and speed changes in an attempt to avoid the worst of the deteriorating weather and to minimize its impact on his vessel. In the case of the vessel "Atlantic Forest", 2002,  surveyors documented extensive damage to the vessel’s forecastle, including: 

- damage to the propeller hub, 

- anchor windlass, 

- railings 

- vent pipes. 

The heavy seas had: 

- pushed in the bulkhead to the forward house, bending the steel plating and steel beams. 

- various portals, hand rails and water tight doors were damaged. 

- various areas inside the ship’s accommodation had been flooded 

- the stores crane and boom were dented and distorted.

In the absence of this substantial damage to the ship, the 'peril of the sea' defence would not have been sustained.

This modern day case highlights a number of issues relating to the fate of the Waratah. Captain Ilbery would have been conscious of the severity of the approaching storm based on a number of factors including the time of year (frequency of frontal systems), the coast in question (notorious storms), the changing seas (27 July) and his barometer readings. The cargo in all likelihood would have been well stowed according to the stowage plan of the Waratah. If Captain Ilbery had believed his vessel to be seaworthy (like many other vessels at sea on the 27 and 28 July) would have taken all precautions but continued on course for Cape Town.

If this legislation had applied in 1909, Captain Ilbery would have been obliged to turn about and attempt to avoid the storm. However, if the Waratah was not seaworthy at the time (eg. taking on water or a coal fire causing structural damage) he may very well have elected to turn around after departing the Clan MacIntyre, a sensible decision.

The damage sustained by the "Atlantic Forest" in this case example, is sobering. This was a seaworthy, modern day vessel, assaulted by a harsh sea. It is clear even if the Waratah had been seaworthy and sound, she may still have sustained very significant (possibly fatal) damage in a 'storm of exceptional violence', even in the absence of a freak wave. The sea can be a fiercely dangerous and unforgiving environment, despite man's best efforts.