Monday, 31 March 2014

Waratah - Could she lie off the Continental Shelf?

The nearest point of the Continental Abyss off Port St. Johns is the head of a great undersea canyon, 12 to 15 nautical miles due West of Cape Hermes lighthouse (SA Marine Geosciences Series 1).

This was discovered by the UCT Research ship 'Thomas B. Davie'.

"...Off the east coast the continental shelf is narrow and quite irregular,
particularly near Port St. Johns, where it is cut by several canyons....".

I believe the Waratah foundered 3.247 nautical miles north east of Cape Hermes (on the Durban side). According to the reference above, the nearest point of the Continental Abyss is on the western side of Cape Hermes. The Waratah, as Captain Bruce related, should be resting on the Continental Shelf in an estimated 36 m of water. Why, if this is the case, has she not yet been discovered? The Umzimvubu River which flows into Port St. Johns deposits large quantities of silt into the bay, and the Waratah may very well be buried beneath a layer of sediment.

I do not believe the Waratah lies in the Abyss.

My thanks go to Kevin Oram who provided me with information on the Continental Shelf.

The Continental Shelf off New York - note how relatively narrow it is, demarcated by the Shelf Break descending into the Continental Slope and ending in the Abyssal Plane

The Abyss off Port St. Johns is estimated to be at least 4500 m deep

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Waratah - Cape Hermes Lighthouse.

The Cape Hermes Lighthouse, under the direction of  H.C. Cooper, was built between May and October 1903. It consists of an octagonal stone tower, 13 m high. The granite stone used in its construction was quarried from nearby. The build cost 6 191 pounds. Situated near Port St Johns, on the Wild Coast (Transkei), the Lighthouse was named after a ship, HMS Hermes (sent to map the coast of Pondoland). Coordinates:  31 38 06 South, 29 33 23 East. Commissioned in 1902, it was a signal station with ship's mast head light hanging in front. Today it is equipped with a radio beacon feeding off the grid and with a backup diesel alternator set.

The Cape Hermes site on the Wild Coast overlooks a particularly treacherous stretch of coastal waters. The Continental shelf is at its narrowest here, some 10 km in width, creating turbulent, rough seas and notorious freak waves. Jagged reefs jut out from shore. Wrecks are scattered in the vicinity, having succumbed to storms or dashed onto rocks.


Automatic / electric
Light Character One flash every three seconds
Light Range 13 sea miles
Light Power 5 000 CD
Height of focal Plane 55 metres above high water

Cape Hermes Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is perched on a promontory with Port St Johns in the background to the right. If bushfires were burning on the hillside surrounding the Lighthouse, 27 July, 1909, it would have been very difficult for the signallers to make out ship lights at sea. I believe Waratah lies about 3.247 nautical miles northeast of this Wild Coast landmark.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Anecdote Saturday - USS Cyclops

The USS Cyclops was a Proteus-class collier, built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia and launched in May 1910. She was almost the length of the Waratah, 542 ft, and displaced 19 360 long tons. Cyclops was crewed by 236 officers and during the great war carried 4 x 4 in guns. Powered by twin steam engines she could make 15 knots.

The Cyclops disappeared without a trace some time after 4 March, 1918, in what is known as the Bermuda triangle. 306 crew and passengers lost their lives. There was speculation at the time that she had been captured or sunk by a German vessel. The German authorities however denied this and after the war no records were found to substantiate this. At the time Cyclops was transporting 10 800 long tons of Manganese ore. An Inquiry came to the conclusion that she "probably sank in an unexpected storm".

Initially the Cyclops, with Lieutenant Commander George Worley in charge, operated with the Naval Auxiliary Service in the Baltic as a supply ship. Later she serviced the east coast route, Newport to the Caribbean. During the troubles in Mexico, 1914 -1915, the Cyclops coaled ships on patrol off the coast and received a commendation for helping with the evacuation of refugees. During the Great War although she served in convoys, the Cyclops mainly operated along the east coast.

February 1918, the Cyclops departed Rio de Janeiro Baltimore, overloaded with manganese ore, and one of the steam engines disabled with a cracked cylinder. She made one stop in Barbados, and the water level was observed to be below the  Plimsoll line, confirming she was overloaded. The Cyclops was not officially sighted again after 4 March, disappearing without a trace. It was theorized that she succumbed to catastrophic structural failure in a storm within the Bermuda triangle. An incident occurred involving a similar freighter the Chuky, where waves were a distance apart supporting the bow and stern, but leaving the middle unsupported, resulting in the vessel snapping in two. The Waratah, fully loaded (10 000 tons) could have suffered a similar fate off Port St. Johns, breaking in two and foundering instantly. Further investigation into manganese ore cargo revealed that when it became wet (only covered by canvas), it turned into slurry, which shifted causing the vessel to list.

Her master, Captain Worley, was actually Frederick Wichmann from Sandstedt, Hanover, Germany. He had jumped ship in San Francisco, 1878, where he assumed the name Worley, taken from a seaman friend. He joined his brothers who had emigrated earlier. During this time he qualified as a ship's master. He captained vessels in the merchant trade between San Francisco and the Far East. Some accounts refer to opium forming part of the cargo. He was generally disliked as a master and equated with Captain Bligh of the HMS Bounty, brutalising crew for minor offences. It is alleged that during the loading of the manganese ore at Rio, he designated an inexperienced officer to oversee the loading, while the more experienced officer was confined to quarters.

Worley was pro German during the war and surrounded himself with a crew of German sympathisers.
Many believed he colluded with the Germans and handed the Cyclops over to them. However, German records have never substantiated this theory. Worley was eccentric and often strode about the Cyclops dressed in a derby hat, long underwear and brandishing a pistol. The following telegram from the Consul Brockholst Livingston (his son transcribed for him) says it all:

'Washington, D.C.'
17,, 2 April p.m.

'Department's 15th. Confidential. Master CYCLOPS stated that required six hundred tons coal having sufficient on board to reach Bermuda. Engines very poor condition. Not sufficient funds and therefore requested payment by me. Unusually reticent. I have ascertained he took here ton fresh meat, ton flour, thousand pounds vegetables, paying therefore 775 dollars. From different sources gather the following: he had plenty of coal, alleged inferior, took coal to mix, probably had more than fifteen hundred tons. Master alluded to by others as damned Dutchman, apparently disliked by other officers. Rumored disturbances en route hither, men confined and one executed; also had some prisoners from the fleet in Brazilian waters, one life sentence. United States Consul-General Gottschalk passenger, 231 crew exclusive of officers and passengers. Have names of crew but not of all the officers and passengers. Many Germanic names appear. Number telegraphic or wireless messages addressed to master or in care of ship were delivered at this port. All telegrams for Barbadoes on file head office St. Thomas. I have to suggest scrutiny there. While not having any definite grounds I fear fate worse than sinking though possibly based on instinctive dislike felt towards master.'

Clearly the Cyclops was doomed to disaster; overloaded, operating with only one of the twin steam engines, and commanded by an eccentric ex German with a focus on unreasonable discipline rather than seeing to the seaworthiness of his vessel, and it's safe and efficient operation.


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 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


Wednesday, 26 March 2014


Manawatu Standard, Volume XLI, Issue 9071, 16 November 1909, Page 2

The Waratah

"Seen Off Cape Hermes
Burning Steamer Mystery
Captain Bruce's Report"

'Dear Sirs, Captain Bruce, of the steamer Harlow, reports the following : -

'On 27th July at 7.30 pm, noticed a large steamer, with two masthead lights and the red side light. (As she was on his quarter he could not see the green light).'

In this account the Waratah is referred to as a 'large steamer' rather than a 'fast steamer'. Large steamers had two masthead lights. Smaller vessels had one. Nothing could be more specific and un-bush fire-like than two masthead lights and the red side light.

'From the way she gained on him he would say she was travelling at the rate of thirteen to fourteen knots an hour.'

This is precisely the listed speed of the Waratah, without the favour of the Agulhas Current, because she was travelling in the opposite direction ie. towards Durban.

'A tremendous amount of smoke was issuing from her, and he called the chief engineer's attention to it.'

The smoke is a description we cannot ignore and although steamers under full steam could produce a great deal of smoke, the mere fact Captain Bruce consulted with his chief officer suggests the Waratah was probably on fire - a chronic coal bunker fire, steadily progressing and spreading. This was also a dual witness account and discussion at this point.

'They came to the conclusion she was on fire, and returning to Durban for assistance.'

Here we have two separate individuals aboard the Harlow agreeing that there was indeed a large steamer astern, probably the Waratah, on fire and attempting to return to Durban, and moreover an acknowledgment that the steamer was Waratah because she was returning to Durban. How did they know it was Waratah if they were en-route from England and did not stop at Cape Town? This might have been a modification of the account after the fact.

'While they were watching her, a huge flash occurred, throwing a flame about 300 ft into the air. A few seconds later a much larger explosion took place, the flash going fully 1000 ft into the air.'

The description of the 'explosions' when related in detail at the Inquiry equated more with distress flares substantiated by the simple fact Captain Bruce claimed he 'heard nothing'. 'Hearing nothing' in relation to an explosion is highly unlikely taking into account the wind was blowing from the direction of the Waratah to the Harlow, and the distance between the two vessels was less than 10 (probably 4) miles.

Second Officer Alfred E Harris (Harlow), later remarked on the flares as 

'a glow among the smoke - then a large flare up in the heavens lasting a minute or two'.... 

'narrow at the bottom and mushrooming out at the top'.

Even he referred to the flashes of light as 'flares'.

News broadcasts of explosions clearly show create dark clouds of smoke and not dazzling red lights rising into the sky, persisting for up to two minutes. No debris confirming an explosion was ever discovered off the Wild Coast. Socket distress signals resembled the description above. Captain Bruce did nothing to come to the assistance of the Waratah in distress which, in my opinion, is precisely why he stuck to this story of explosions rather than the very obvious distress flares. Nothing could excuse the Harlow for not going to the Waratah's aid.

'When it had cleared, all lights of the steamer had disappeared.'

All of this appears to have taken place within a short period of time creating the initial seeds of confusion, when the bush fires had conveniently 'allowed' the smoke to clear and no longer resembled a steamer's running lights.

Anecdotal posts have revealed that hitting uncharted rocks or reef resulted in steamers foundering very rapidly indeed - within minutes. It is also conceivable the fire on board had compromised both bulkheads and the very hull itself, adding to the rapidity with which the Waratah slipped beneath the waves.

'As there were bush fires along the coast, the chief officer was of the opinion the flames were from the bush fires, but they could not understand the disappearance of the steamer's lights.'

The chief officer questioned blaming bush fires for the entire incident. He could associate the flashes with bush fires but logic dictated that steamer's lights were far too specific and another matter entirely.

Captain Bruce and his chief engineer questioned the disappearance of the steamer's lights but could not rationalise the rapidity of the disappearance and thus started to QUESTION what they had just witnessed.

'The steamer had not signalled for help before the explosions, though she was right abreast the Cape Hermes signal station.'

This implies that the crisis on board Waratah escalated dramatically in the distance of 3.7 miles between Cape Hermes and her final position.

'The captain cannot understand how they did not see her, for her lights were burning brightly, and above her was a dense volume of smoke.'

What ever  the reasons for no one at the signal station responding to the crisis Captain Bruce reinforces the truth of the account by questioning why Waratah's distinct lights and smoke were not noticed.


'From the terrific explosions they were of the opinion that everyone must have been killed instantly.'

Again, this is an attempt to explain to themselves what had just been witnessed, and 'everyone must have been killed' is an excuse not to have gone to their aid or at least to investigate.

'The Harlow arrived in Durban the following day, and remained two days. As there was no report from Cape Hermes, and nothing reported missing, Captain Bruce forgot about the explosions.'

In another report Captain Bruce made inquiries at Durban as to whether any vessels were overdue.
Captain Bruce attempted to trivialise the incident as something of little consequence. Understatement of this nature suggests a cover up of 'failure to act'.

'On arrival of the last Australian mail in Manila, Captain Bruce heard of the loss of the Waratah, and, on comparing notes and dates, felt sure that the steamer was the Waratah.'

So, he had kept notes after all. At this later stage and with the mounting hysteria surrounding the loss of the Waratah, Captain Bruce felt he had to do something, and in so doing ACKNOWLEDGED his witness account of the Waratah foundering.

'She left Durban on 26th July and must have discovered the fire on 27th July, and was returning for assistance when she blew up.'

'I give the position as near as possible:

Latitude 31 degrees 38 min South, longitude 29 degrees, 55 min East.' 

These coordinates are the very essence and core of the Waratah mystery.

'He says if two launches are sent out and sweep with a wire a mile or two long, they will surely locate her.'

By this stage Captain Bruce must have reconsidered his moral position on the question of what he and his crew had witnessed and bravely gave advice regarding the search for the Waratah wreck. He would not have suggested such an expensive undertaking if he was not sure.

'She is in about 20 fathoms of water, right off St Johns River (no - Nkadusweni River), and a diver could easily work there.'

Twenty fathoms is 120 ft, 36.6 meters! This is relatively shallow, certainly within the scope of experienced divers.

'He also mentions that the weather was very calm all the way from off Cape Town to Durban.'

This almost certainly excludes rough seas and freak waves as a cause for the Waratah foundering at that position and time, even though Port St Johns can be known for freak waves. The 'fierce gale' was evolving considerably further south and had nothing to do with the final moments of the Waratah.

'Immediately on giving me the news I cabled you, but so far have received no reply; therefore I presume you do not put much faith in it.'

How could Captain Bruce blame them after the confusion he and his first officer had created in earlier witness accounts?

'However, it would not be much trouble for the launches from HM ships Pandora and Forte to run the drag'.

Again a commitment to an endeavour which could have turned out very embarrassing for a respected steamer master - IF HE WAS LYING, which I do not believe he was.... 


to be continued...

Port St. Johns

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


"The Waratah", The Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 14 August 1909, page 13


LONDON, August 5.

'The tug that has been searching for the steamer Waratah has returned to Mossel Bay, near Cape Town. No trace of the missing steamer has been seen.'

LONDON, August 6.

'The wreck of the Maori has deepened apprehensions regarding the Waratah, whose reinsurance has risen to seventy guineas.'

'It is roughly estimated the vessel is valued at £175,000, and her cargo at £200,000.'

The Inquiry quoted figures of :

The cost of the ship to her owners was £139,900, the builders' contract price; extras, £390; refrigerating machinery, £7,475; plate, linen, crockery, &., £3,739; incidental and travelling expenses, wages, and supervising during building, £2,352; in round figures, £154,000. 

The insurances were:” 

On hull and machinery 


On disbursements 


£ 150 000.

No references were made to the value of the cargo at the Inquiry. This is interesting in itself and perhaps reflects the confusion surrounding the exact nature and weight of cargo - underestimated by Mr Larcombe. Moreover there is a intriguing question surrounding gold on board Waratah and whether it was relocation of Commonwealth gold with very significant implications for overall cargo insurance....  


London, Aug. 12.

'The reinsurance on the steamer Waratah amounts to 90 guineas, which is the highest ever paid on a vessel of that size. The underwriters suggest that she may have broken her propeller or rudder, instancing the case of the steamer Waikato, which was missing south of the Cape for a long time (103 days).'

'Reinsurance is insurance that is purchased by an insurance company from one or more other insurance companies (the "reinsurer") as a means of risk management. The ceding company and the reinsurer enter into a reinsurance agreement which details the conditions upon which the reinsurer would pay a share of the claims incurred by the ceding company. The reinsurer is paid a "reinsurance premium" by the ceding company, which issues insurance policies to its own policyholders.'

Marine Insurance Act 1908
Public Act 1908 No 112
Date of assent 4 August 1908


'A contract of marine insurance is a contract whereby the insurer undertakes to indemnify the assured, in manner and to the extent thereby agreed, against marine losses—that is to say, the losses incident to marine adventure.'

'Subject to the provisions of this Act, every lawful marine adventure may be the subject of a contract of marine insurance.'

'Maritime perils means the perils consequent on or incidental to the navigation of the sea—that is to say, perils of the seas, fire, war perils, pirates, rovers, thieves, captures, seizures, restraints, and detainments of princes and peoples, jettisons, barratry  (misconduct by crew of a ship resulting in its damage), and any other perils, either of the like kind or designated by the policy.'

'Subject to the provisions of this Act, every person has an insurable interest who is interested in a marine adventure.'

'In particular a person is interested in a marine adventure where he stands in any legal or equitable relation to the adventure, or to any insurable property at risk therein, in consequence of which he may benefit by the safety or due arrival of insurable property, or may be prejudiced by its loss, or by damage thereto, or by the detention thereof, or may incur liability in respect thereof.'

'Unless the policy otherwise provides, the declarations must be made in the order of despatch or shipment. They must, in the case of goods, comprise all consignments within the terms of the policy, and the value of the goods or other property must be honestly stated, but an omission or erroneous declaration may be rectified even after loss or arrival, provided the omission or declaration was made in good faith.'

'Unless the policy otherwise provides, where a declaration of value is not made until after notice of loss or arrival, the policy must be treated as an unvalued policy as regards the subject-matter of that declaration.'

'In a voyage policy there is an implied warranty that at the commencement of the voyage the ship shall be seaworthy for the purpose of the particular adventure insured.'

'Where the policy attaches while the ship is in port, there is also an implied warranty that she shall, at the commencement of the risk, be reasonably fit to encounter the ordinary perils of the port.'

'A ship is deemed to be seaworthy when she is reasonably fit in all respects to encounter the ordinary perils of the seas of the adventure insured.'

'In a time policy there is no implied warranty that the ship shall be seaworthy at any stage of the adventure; but where, with the privity of the assured, the ship is sent to sea in an unseaworthy state, the insurer is not liable for any loss attributable to unseaworthiness.'

In the case of the Waratah, she had to be declared seaworthy before departing Durban Port. Inspection was undertaken by a Lloyd's representative. However, this inspection could not take into account latent defects (hidden structural weaknesses).

A declaration with regard to the cargo manifest value had to be made 'in good faith'. On the surface this should simply have been a matter of submitting customs records of cargo and value. 'Good faith' seems a bit dodgy. The Inquiry struggled to establish the exact cargo contents of the Waratah when she departed Durban. Legislation clearly provided a loophole.

The conclusion of the Board of Trade Inquiry refers to the storm of 28 July, as a 'gale of exceptional violence'. This takes care of the clause referring to a vessel being seaworthy for 'ordinary perils of the seas'. The storm as described was not 'ordinary', and therefore Lloyds and the re-insurers were liable for losses.

It also explains why the Inquiry went into so much detail establishing whether the Waratah was unstable or not, ultimately deciding that the vessel was stable and seaworthy when she departed Durban.

Lloyds of London


'Insurances Withheld'

By telegraph - Press Association

(Received February 17, 12.25 am)

Melbourne, February 16, 1910.

'A meeting of the Waratah search committee today decided to send a cable to the Premier of Natal, expressing indignation at the delay in the Wakefield's departure to look for the missing vessel, and urging him to expedite it in every possible manner.'

'The life insurance companies do not intend to pay on the lives of the Waratah's passengers until the court grants probate, and even then they will require an indemnity.  They do not regard the fact that the English Court is granting probate of Captain Ilbery's will as binding on them.'

'Probate is a legal document. Receipt of probate is the first step in the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person, resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under a will.'

'An indemnity is a sum paid by A to B by way of compensation for a particular loss suffered by B.'

Beyond the anguish and despair suffered by families (particularly wives and children) of those lost with the Waratah, by February the following year almost seven months later, insurance payments were being withheld in lieu of on-going searches for the missing vessel.

It must have been terrifying for some widows and children waiting in financial limbo for the finalisation of the loss of the Waratah. There was a lot at stake establishing what had become of the Waratah.

a grieving widow and children, 1909

Sunday, 23 March 2014


["The Missing Waratah", The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), Monday 13 December 1909, page 5]


MELBOURNE, December 12.

'Captain Tickell, the Victoria naval commandant, whose son is a passenger on the missing steamer Waratah, said yesterday that, in spite of the fact that the Sabine had returned from an unsuccessful trip, and that the Waratah was to be posted as missing on December 15 if no news was to hand, he still had hopes that she was afloat.'

'The Sabine's search only covered a little more than half of the ocean to Australia, and from Amsterdam Land (Kerguelen Islands) to Australia remained unsearched.'

'The Sabine was out 90 days zigzagging across the track of shipping. She had a powerful search- light burning at night, which would have made, her conspicuous at least 20 miles on either side in clear weather, yet they had only news of her being sighted once during the 90 days, and that was when she came north.'

'By the report of the Sabine's search she could only go to Possession Island and the Crozets, being unable to get to the others owing to the fog. If she could not find islands that were marked accurately on the chart, she had a slender chance of sighting the Waratah, whose position she did not know.'

This highlights the difficulties with sea searches (even using modern technology as in the case of the missing Malaysian jet). Vast areas have to be covered with little hope of success, and in this case the Sabine, despite zig zagging across the sea lanes and using a powerful search light, was only sighted once by another vessel.

Captain Tickell lost his only son with the Waratah, and his frustration and despair must have been overwhelming.

Frederick Tickell was born on 7 March 1857 at Amoy Harbour, China, the son of Captain George Tickell, mariner and member of the Royal Naval Reserve, and his wife Charlotte, (née Crabbe). The early part of Frederick's life was spent on board his father's ship, but in 1869 the family settled in Melbourne. He was educated at Scotch College in 1870-75 and then went to sea as a merchant mariner. Tickell later joined the Union Steamship Company in New Zealand and gained his master's certificate.  He married Mary Elizabeth Figg on 18 December 1886 with Presbyterian forms at Williamstown, Victoria and in 1888 he became a Sub-Lieutenant in the Victorian Naval Brigade.
He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1889 and then spent six months, in 1890, attached to the Royal Navy's Australian Squadron, serving aboard the corvette HMS Rapid. In 1893 he was selected for instruction in England, where he gained first-class certificates in gunnery and torpedo, and also completed an ordnance course at Woolwich Arsenal. During his time in England he served as a Lieutenant in the protected cruiser HMS Royal Arthur, the training shipHMS Northampton and the battleship HMS Majestic.
On his return to Australia in 1897 Tickell was promoted to Commander and in November became commandant of the Victorian Naval Forces, a position he held until 1904. In 1900 the Victorian government offered assistance to Britain in putting down the Boxer Rebellion in China. With her navy all but defunct after a decade of neglect, Victoria could provide no warships, merely a naval brigade. Under Tickell's command two hundred men left for Hong Kong aboard the requisitioned liner SS Salamis in August 1900. The contingent was sent initially to occupy the captured forts at Taku and while the Victorians were employed as naval infantry they saw little action.
Tickell was Mentioned in Dispatches and was subsequently appointed as a Commander in the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St George (CMG) for his services in China.  In December 1900 he was promoted to Captain and after Federation became third in seniority in the Commonwealth Naval Forces (CNF) behind then Captain William Creswell and Captain C. J. Clare. In the reorganisation which followed the creation of the CNF Tickell served as naval commandant in Queensland in 1904-07 before resuming his former position as naval commandant in Victoria. He was acting naval director while Creswell attended the 1909 Imperial Defence Conference in London.
Together with his fellow officers in the CNF, Tickell was a strong advocate of a local naval force and a supporter of Creswell in his calls for a national Australian navy. In 1910 Tickell brought the recently completed destroyers Parramatta and Yarra from England to Australia.  Like other former colonial naval officers who did not have backgrounds in the Royal Navy, Tickell was transferred to an administrative position when the Royal Australian Navy was formed in 1911.
He became Director of Naval Reserves, subsequently renamed the auxiliary forces, a post which he held for the rest of his life. In 1912 he was appointed an aide-de-camp to the Governor-General. Tickell was promoted to Commodore in 1916 and then raised to the rank of Rear Admiral in March 1919 in recognition of his war work and length of service.
Rear Admiral Frederick Tickell died of a cerebro-vascular disease on 19 September 1919. He was survived by his wife and three daughters.  His son, who had joined the merchant navy, was lost at sea in 1909 when the steamer SS Waratah disappeared off South Africa during a storm.
Navy - serving Australia with pride.,d.d2k

Friday, 21 March 2014

Anecdote Saturday - SS Catterthun

The Catterthun was an iron hulled combination schooner rigged steamship, launched in 1881. She had a gross tonnage of 2179, covered 312 ft in length, and was powered by both sails and a twin cylinder steam engine of 250 hp. The Catterthun was built by William Doxford & Sons, Sunderland, England, and owned by the Eastern and Australian Steamship Company. She was designed to carry both cargo and 40 passengers.

Her main route was between Australia and China, carrying gold to China and tea back to Australia.
Her crew consisted mainly of Chinese sailors and freed East African slaves, commanded by Captain J. Miller. 7 August, 1895, the Catterthun departed Sydney en route to Hong Kong.  She carried an unclarified number of European and Chinese passengers. She ran into a gale after midnight, and struck a reef near Seal Rocks. The steamer was badly damaged, taking on water rapidly in the holds.
Confusion prevailed. Instructions to launch lifeboats were not passed down the chain of command and in the rough seas, Captain Miller and two crew were washed overboard.

The Catterthun foundered within 20 minutes, taking +/- 55 souls with her. One lifeboat, with 26 aboard, did however manage to make it to shore. Little could be achieved by way of rescue efforts due to the rough sea conditions. Two days later a further two crewmen were discovered aboard a lifeboat.

As many as 11 000 gold sovereigns were assumed to be aboard and salvage attempts were started soon after the disaster. 7000 sovereigns were recovered. Treasure hunters in the 1960's and 1970's tried, without success, to recover the balance of the gold, despite the wreck lying in only 60 m of water.

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!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014



'and Captain Weir, of the Clan McIntyre, stated
that he sighted the Waratah on July 27, at
6 a.m., in lat. 31.36 S., long. 29.58 E., which
is (approximately) the position of Cape Hermes.'

'The Waratah crossed from the starboard to port bow,
and went out of sight about 9.30 a.m.'

'The Waratah when sighted
was proceeding fairly close to the shore at
about 12.1 knots, the Clan McIntyre making
about 10'.

 'The Waratah was seen to be
steering a little more southerly than the
other vessel, or taking a course further out
from shore.'

In order for the Clan MacIntyre to have covered the distance between Cape Hermes and the Bashee River, 59 nautical miles away (roughly where the Waratah pulled ahead) in 3 1/2 hours, she would have to have been making 14.8 knots, which implies she needed the Agulhas Current flowing at its maximum of 5 knots, to correlate with the quoted 10 knots, suggesting that Waratah had slowed down off Cape Hermes.

The Waratah 'proceeding fairly close to the shore' is mysterious. In so doing she lost the favourable advantage of the Agulhas Current outside the southerly sea lane. I can only think (if this account is to be believed) that Captain Ilbery had considered dropping anchor at the St John's River (Umzimvubu) mouth in order to assess the status aboard the Waratah and continue with leak repairs or increase attempts to extinguish a progressive coal bunker fire. But he probably reconsidered his options due to the turbulent seas and sandbar off the Umzimvubu River. Instead he charted a course heading further out to sea pulling ahead of the Clan MacIntyre, crossing her from starboard (shore) to port (out to sea) during the course of the 3 1/2 hours. Whatever took place aboard the Waratah, Captain Ilbery had made his decision.


to be continued....

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954) Previous issue Tuesday 2 November 1909


London, November 1.

'The "Times" states that Lloyd's at
first determined, owing to lack of substantiation,
not to publish the fuller report from Captain Bruce,
of the s.s. Harlow, regarding the supposed explosion of a steamer
(afterwards alleged to be the Blue Anchor liner Waratah) off
Cape Hermes, on the South African coast, on July 27.'

'Private perusals of the report, however, aroused conjectures
which were regarded as justifying the
publication of the document.'

"A critical examination of the facts", remarks the 'Times', "will show that if
all were well with the Waratah that vessel
would be 190 miles from Cape Hermes
when Captain Bruce saw the two explosions,
the first of which threw a flash
300ft. high, while the second threw a
flash 1,000ft. into the air".

'But if an outbreak of fire had occurred on
the Waratah during the day the
captain would undoubtedly have
retraced his course, hugging the
coast in order to beach the steamer
and land the passengers.'

'The latter theory would explain the reports from
Captain Weir, of the s.s. Clan Macintyre,
and Captain Bruce, of the Harlow, but
not the report from the master of the
s.s. Guelph.'

How convenient the Guelph's ambiguous report turned out to be...

'Those who dispel the Harlow's narrative argue that if the
Waratah were on fire and retraced her course
to Durban she should have been sighted
earlier by the Clan Macintyre.'

Not necessarily. When the Waratah departed the Clan MacIntyre, 09.30 am 27 July, she pulled ahead crossing from the starboard side of the Clan MacIntyre to the port side, and disappearing from sight after which time the Waratah headed out into a lane further south than the course of the Clan MacIntyre. When the Waratah came about for Durban she would have done so in an arc further out to sea not visible to the crew of the Clan MacIntyre.

'In connection with Messrs. Lund and Co.'s suggestion
that the captain of the Harlow saw bush
fires, this very explanation occurred to
the Harlow's chief officer, and owing to
this difference of opinion between himself,
the captain, and the first engineer
and the investigations at Durban
failing to show that any ship was overdue
the captain of the Harlow did not
report the occurrence until he heard of
the Waratah's loss."

I view this passage as pivotal in understanding the mystery surrounding the loss of the Waratah.

The owners of the Waratah were the first party to suggest Captain Bruce mistook bushfires onshore for a large / fast steamer coming up astern.

And it was this 'very explanation' that was relayed subsequently by the Harlow's chief officer and first engineer. This is an outrage! If this report is accurate, the owners of the Waratah planted the seed of doubt in the minds of the chief officer and first engineer of the Harlow. It suggests the owners of the Waratah had instigated the confusion and contradictions emerging from Captain Bruce's and the chief officer's statements at the Inquiry. Captain Bruce WAS convinced a steamer had been approaching astern, otherwise he would NOT have made inquiries at Durban as to whether a vessel was overdue. I suspect the owners of the Waratah were behind the misinformation and confusion.

After all, there was a lot at stake for both the Blue Anchor Line and the crew of the Harlow.


to be continued....

steamer astern

Sunday, 16 March 2014


Durham Castle - similar to Waratah

note:  steamers circa 1909 produced a great deal of smoke from their stacks. Judged from afar, I suggest that it would be difficult to differentiate between the smoke produced under full steam and a fire on board.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Anecdote Saturday - SS Penguin

The SS Penguin, a passenger/cargo steamship, was built by Tod and Macgregor of Glascow 1864 and launched in the same year. She was initially owned by G & J Burns also of Glasgow and later by the Union Steamship Company (1879). The Penguin was relatively small, 220 ft in length, with a gross tonnage of 874, powered by a twin cylinder compound steam engine, making 12 knots. She was deployed as an inter-island ferry based in New Zealand.

The Penguin foundered near the entrance to Wellington Harbour, 12 February, 1909, having struck Thoms Rock. 70 people died, 30 survived making this New Zealand's worst maritime disaster of the 20th Century. The Penguin had departed Picton bound for Wellington in fine sailing conditions. By 8 pm the weather had turned, strong winds and poor visibility setting the scene for disaster. Captain Francis Naylor charted a course further out to sea, but as the weather cleared and she turned towards the port, the Penguin struck Thoms Rock, quickly taking on water.

Women and children were placed in lifeboats which foundered in the rough sea conditions. Only one woman survived - no children. Survivors managed to cling to rafts and as the Penguin sank, water flooded the engine room causing heated boilers to explode, ripping the vessel apart.

An Inquiry was held, establishing the fact that the Penguin had struck Thoms Rock, near the mouth to Karori Stream in Cook Straight. The master on the other hand was convinced that his vessel had struck the submerged hull of the Rio Loge, lost a month prior. Wellington's mayor unveiled a plaque remembering those lost on the 100th anniversary of the sinking. The plaque can be found at Tongue Point, near the site of the wreck.

If the Waratah had struck a rock and taken on catastrophic volumes of water, she might have suffered a similar fate - boilers exploding. However, this event would disperse discoverable flotsam which was not the case.

SS Penguin
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, 13 March 2014


dazzling red distress flare

Captain Bruce at the Inquiry:

”At about 5.30 p.m. on the 27th July, he was to the southward and west of Cape Hermes, proceeding on a N.E. by E. course, at a distance from the coast varying from 1 to 2 1/2 miles. He saw smoke about 25 miles astern, which he took to be from a fast steamer coming up behind him."

The Harlow averaged 9 knots compared to the Waratah's 13 knots.

"Later, about 7.15, he saw two masthead lights and a red light, right astern, about 10 or 12 miles away. The lights were at times obscured by the smoke, which was blowing forward."

'Right astern' at 7.15 implies that the 'Waratah' was further out to sea relative to the Harlow. 

"About 7.50 p.m. the master of the Harlow went to consult his chart. When he returned a short time after, he saw two quick flashes astern, one of which went about 1,000 feet into the air, and the other about 300 feet. The flashes were narrow at the bottom, widened out as they ascended, and were red in colour."

"He heard no noise."

"His own eyes were dazzled with the strong light in the chart-room, and he asked the chief officer, who was on the bridge, where the steamer's lights were. The reply was that they were again obscured by the smoke."

The chief officer's response implies that at that time he believed that there was a steamer astern, otherwise he would have said 'what steamer's lights', I only see bush fires onshore.

"No steamer overtook the Harlow, although, judging by the rapidity with which the following ship had hitherto come up, she should have overhauled the Harlow."

"Long after, on hearing of the loss of the Waratah, Captain Bruce arrived at the conclusion that her bunkers had fired, she had turned back to Durban, the nearest port where the fire could be dealt with, and, when between Cape Hermes and the St. John's River, near the Hole in the Wall, she had blown up."

These locations caused confusion. I believe that Captain Bruce confused the Nkadusweni River mouth with that of the St John's River (Umzimvubu), which makes sense in context of the coordinates he offered to the press. Hole-in-the-Wall is about 40 miles southwest of Cape Hermes, which further created confusion, although relatively speaking it is 'near'.

"Of course, such an occurrence is within the range of possibility, but there are several circumstances which tell against its probability in this case. The wind was blowing from the direction of the flashes to the Harlow, and such a violent explosion ought to have been heard as well as seen."

Agreed. But explosions are conclusive in terms of survivability.

"Reports were received from the light keepers at the Cape Hermes Lighthouse. They saw no flares or fires at sea."


"Another circumstance is that a bunker explosion would probably have taken effect inwards, and is not likely to have destroyed the floating power of the vessel so suddenly as to prevent boats being lowered."

Unless the boats were difficult to mobilise which was suggested by witnesses at the Inquiry.

"It is to be noted that the chief officer of the Harlow does not support Captain Bruce in his account of what he thought he saw. The chief officer says that what Captain Bruce took for a steamer's lights was really the flare of a distant bushfire, several of which were visible at different heights, some on the hills, and some low down towards the shore."

He changed his story. Why?

"The chief officer adds the pertinent observation, with which the Court agrees, that had any steamer on fire been in the vicinity, she would have been sending up rockets and signals of distress, and these would have been easily distinguishable from the bushfires and flares."

Unless the two witnessed flares (persistent dazzling red light) were in fact distress socket signals.

"The facts that Captain Bruce made no attempt to verify what he believed himself to have seen, and made no report at Durban, indicate that he could not at the time have attached much importance to his observations."

Or he felt guilty not going back to investigate...

"The only circumstance which does lend some weight to this suggestion is the bunker fire on the first voyage, which has already been dealt with at length (see ante); but if the repairs mentioned were properly effected, a second outbreak of fire from the same cause was extremely unlikely."

Not if repairs were localised.

The Court of Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah started 18 months after the Waratah disappeared.
I have pieced together the sequence of events as best I can, accepting the limitations and putting forward my own analysis. There are however inconsistencies which we simply cannot ignore.
Captain Bruce was an experienced master and he was not likely to have made an assumption that a large (some sources), fast steamer making lots of smoke was gaining on the Harlow over an extended period of time, unless he was mentally unstable, which I do not believe to be the case.

"Later, about 7.15, he saw two masthead lights and a red light, right astern, about 10 or 12 miles away. The lights were at times obscured by the smoke, which was blowing forward."

These two sentences are very specific and informative - certainly not the observations of an hallucinating master. It is highly unlikely that bushfires onshore would be seen maintaining a course approaching rapidly astern, producing smoke 1 to 2 1/2 miles out at sea, and displaying 'masthead lights'. The court was far too lenient on  the chief officer's account. Captain Bruce was familiar with the coast and the winter brushfires. It is inconceivable that he would confuse the two very distinct and separate entities. The description of the 'flashes' of light do not equate with brushfires - 'dazzled his eyes in the chart room'. If there were brushfires creating this dazzling red light, the light would have persisted on and off for much of the voyage along the coast, given the frequency of brushfires onshore. Furthermore the flashes came from astern (sea) not the shore.

Captain Bruce also makes a jarring error in equating 'Hole in the Wall' (Coffee Bay) with 'between Cape Hermes and St John's River' (Port St Johns), 40 miles apart. Clearly this was not an error he was likely to make under oath unless he WANTED his statement to be misleading and confusing. But no one at the Inquiry questioned the 'hole in the wall', Cape Hermes inconsistency. Why did Captain Bruce claim that the Waratah had exploded when he 'heard nothing' - the wind was blowing the smoke from the direction of the 'steamer' to the Harlow? Captain Bruce's chief officer fundamentally accused his master of being delusional or at the very best, a man of exceptionally poor judgement.

However, Captain Bruce made one particularly loaded statement:

...."he asked the chief officer, who was on the bridge, where the steamer's lights were. The reply was that they were again obscured by the smoke."

This is a blatant acknowledgement on the part of Bruce that his chief officer at that point in time concurred with his assessment of a steamer astern. If not, the chief officer would have responded to the effect that there had NEVER been masthead lights obscured by smoke, only bushfires onshore. Why would they have misconstrued such vital evidence? They had witnessed the Waratah in distress, but had done nothing about it. Between the two of them, they created enough doubt with their conflicting witness accounts, almost guaranteeing the Inquiry would disregard the veracity of the collective account - thus 'letting them off the hook'.

The inconsistencies of these and other accounts at the Inquiry point to murky waters. Were any of the witnesses, including Captain Bruce and his chief officer subjected to some form of pressure regarding their testimony? It certainly would not have been in the Blue Anchor Line's best interests if the Waratah 'had exploded off Port St Johns'. With the sensationally mysterious loss of the magnificent Waratah, there was an awful lot at stake:

The reputation of the Blue Anchor Line.

The misery of desperate families and friends of those lost.

The insurance implications.

A mystery that had captured the public attention, spinning virtually out of control in the press.

Captain Bruce and his chief officer needed a justification for not going to investigate the area where the steamer's lights were last seen and 'needed a way out'.


steamships - NOT on fire

bush fires - with tears in my eyes......

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Waratah - was Joe Conquer the last eyewitness?

"Eight Bells at Salamander"
Lawrence G. Green

'Of course the sea mysteries that stand
grimly above all others are the missing
ships. Many would place the Waratah
at the head of the list; but I shall finish
with the Waratah here and now
because I am sure that the greatest
modern riddle of South African seas
has been fully explained. I knew the
man who saw the Waratah sink.'

'He was the famous Joe Conquer of the
South African Air Force, a sergeant-
major when I first met him, later a
commissioned officer.'

'Conquer was a signaller in the Cape Mounted
Riflemen on July 28, 1909, stationed
at the Xora River mouth in the
Transkei for live shell practice.'

'That day Conquer watched through his telescope
while a ship exactly like the
Waratah crawled down the coast in a
gale. Another signaller named
Adshead was with him.'

"I saw her roll very heavily," Conquer told me.

"She seemed to be overtaken
by a following sea, and then when I
looked for her again she had gone."

"I am convinced that I saw the end of the

"Three days later newspapers
reached our camp reporting that the
Waratah was overdue."

'Conquer marked on a map the spot
where he had seen the ship disappear.'

'A bearing of 240 degrees from the
knoll at the Xora River mouth gives
the direction, and he estimated that the
ship was four miles offshore.'

'He reported what he had seen to C.M.R.
headquarters, first by semaphore and
later in writing.'

'Wreckage was found
in the neighbourhood soon afterwards.
Deck-chairs, cushions and an oar drifted
ashore, but there was nothing bearing
the name of the Waratah.'

'Years afterwards a military pilot pin-pointed
a sunken wreck he had
observed while flying along the coast.'

'He compared his map with the map
Conquer had kept. The positions
almost coincided.'

'1925: Lt. D. J. Roos of the South African Air Force, reported that he had spotted a wreck while he was flying over the Transkei coast.  It was his opinion that this was the wreck of the Waratah.' (Wikipedia)

This must surely be the most controversial witness account relating to the disappearance of the Waratah. On the one hand the hearsay account of Joe Conquer in 'Eight Bells at Salamander' is very convincing, verified by the account of pilot DJ Roos in 1925. These accounts are so convincing that lengthy and expensive underwater investigations were undertaken off the Xora River mouth. Sadly and frustratingly for the investigation team, the wreck of the Waratah was not found.

If we analyse the passage there are points which are misleading:

The Waratah could not have been seen at that location 28 July, 1909. If she was in the vicinity it would have been 24 hours earlier.

"She seemed to be overtaken
by a following sea, and then when I
looked for her again she had gone."

There is no indication of the time period between when Joe Conquer saw the steamer and when it 'disappeared'. It is conceivable that the steamer turned out to sea / slipped over the horizon during this time and was no longer visible through the telescope.

The account does not qualify in which direction the Waratah was travelling, unless 'crawling DOWN the coast' infers a south westerly direction.

Joe Conquer claimed that he reported what he had seen (or thought he had seen) to the Cape Mounted Rifles headquarters. The newspapers of the time were awash with reports of the missing steamer. Why did Joe Conquer's story never reach the press nor the Inquiry and only surface some 20 years later? Why were the deck chairs, cushions and an oar not sent to the agents of the Blue Anchor Line?

If the Waratah was 'rolling heavily' in the seas off the Xora River mouth roughly midday, 27 July, 1909, it seems more likely Captain Ilbery would NOT have been this close to shore (4 miles), but rather further out to sea beyond the Continental Shelf where the liner would be assisted by the Agulhas Current and seas less turbulent / greater, more consistent wave lengths. However, if the Waratah was heading in the opposite direction, it would make sense that she was following the north easterly sardine current, closer to shore.

It is remotely possible the Waratah was at those coordinates if her speed relative to the Clan MacIntyre (Port St Johns) was 7 knots while the two ships were within communicating distance, increasing to about 9 knots when the Waratah pulled ahead. However, at the Inquiry the chief officer of the Clan MacIntyre, Mr Phillips, stated that his vessel was making 9 1/2 knots plus a 2 to 3 knot current (Agulhas) in her favour, which implies the Waratah pulled ahead making at least 14 to 15 knots, which would have taken her beyond Xora River mouth by midday.

The fact however remains, in the time period between when Joe Conquer saw the Waratah 'being overtaken by a following sea', and when he looked again, he DID NOT in point of fact see the Waratah turn over or sink. He assumed she sank.

If the Waratah had turned about for Durban she could have reached the position where the crew of the Harlow sighted a large steamer coming up astern (6 pm - 8 pm), and the same would apply if she was already travelling in a northeasterly direction.

There are surely no words to describe the disappointment felt by the investigation team when they realized the wreck of the Waratah was not within a reasonable radius (100 square miles) of Joe Conquer's coordinates. Edward Joe Conquer did not see the Waratah sink. But he might have seen her disappearing over the horizon.

steamship on the horizon

Monday, 10 March 2014

Waratah - Sawyer 'saw the water below him'.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957)  Previous issue Monday 19 December 1910

"THE LOST WARATAH. Stability Questioned. A Dramatic Incident. Passenger's Warning Dream."
LONDON, Dec. 17.

"The Board of Trade inquiry into the loss of the Waratah was continued yesterday. It was presided over by Mr. John Dickinson, metropolitan police magistrate, with whom were the following assessors: Admiral Davis (retired); Commander Lyon, of the Naval Reserve; Professor A Welch, and Mr. J. Hallet.. The Board of Trade, the owners of the vessel, her builders, and relatives of passengers, were all represented by counsel. Mr. F. N. Laing, K.C., appeared on be half of the Board of Trade." 

"Mr. Peck, director of Barclay, Curie, and Co. Limited, of Glasgow, the builders of the vessel, stated that the owners had not made any complaint respecting the behaviour of the Waratah on her first voyage. They did complain regarding ability to shift the vessel from one dock to another without ballast."

"He convinced them that her stability equalled that of the Geelong, and other of the company's vessels." 

It is very clear that the Waratah was 'two' ships, an unstable 'light' one without adequate ballast (harbour setting) and a stable one with adequate cargo and ballast (at sea).

"Admiral Davis sharply cross-examined Mr. Peek as to why there had been no investigation of Captain llbery's complaints. Captain Clarke, emigration officer, gave evidence that Captain Ilbery, of the Waratah, after her first voyage, said that she was a very satisfactory vessel. His exact words were:-

"She's a very handy ship."

It seems that Captain Ilbery's reservations regarding the maiden voyage were directly connected with the manner in which the Waratah was stowed and ballasted. If there had been a complaint I believe Captain Ilbery reviewed this in terms of the 'learning curve' regarding dead weight displacement, which is not a reflection on the vessel but rather a matter relating to cargo loading and ballasting. 

"Mr. Claude G. Sawyer, a passenger, who left the Waratah at Durban, stated that the vessel rolled heavily after leaving Adelaide. Several passengers were injured through falling on deck in consequence of the rolling. She had a jerky roll, and a slow recovery." 

"He dreamt on three separate occasions that he saw a man with a long sword, and that the Waratah was struck by a roller and disappeared. This decided him lo leave the vessel at Durban. He considered that she was top-heavy." 

"In reply to further questions, the witness said that the Waratah, had a big list to port when leaving Melbourne. When going through disturbed water she wobbled a great deal, and took a list to starboard, and remained there a very long time." 

"Once she heeled over while witness was on the boat deck until the water showed beneath him. While recovering the Waratah often made a peculiar jerk (improved righting force). Several passengers who had been thrown to the deck and injured discussed the vessel's list of 4.7 deg. with an officer, who replied:-

"The builders have seen to the roll. It is all right."

Claude Sawyer is the thorn in the side of the 'truth' about the Waratah. There can be no more powerful message delivered by a passenger believing the Waratah to be unsafe, disembarking at the next port (Durban). The Waratah disappeared after departing Durban, supplying credence to Sawyer's misgivings and dreams. This will be forever imprinted in the public mind, despite the simple fact the Waratah was not unstable when she departed Durban.

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!

Sunday, 9 March 2014


The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931)  Previous issueTuesday 14 September 1909


LONDON, September 12.

"A Reuter's Cape Town correspondent says
the belief is still prevalent in naval circles
that the Waratah is afloat."

"The fitting out of the search steamer Sabine
was personally superintended by Admiral Egerton,
commander of the Cape squadron."

"Moreover, the embarkation of a bluejacket
searchlight crew has caused great satisfaction,
being regarded as ensuring exhaustive
night searches for the missing ship."


Melbourne, September 13.

"The Aberdeen line steamer Salamis,
which arrived from London today, made
a fruitless search for the Waratah."

"Two men 'were kept' aloft day and night, and a
powerful electric, light, having a radius of
visibility of 23 miles, was exhibited from
the masthead from sunset to sunrise."

"Captain Schleman said there were many vessels
out searching for the Waratah, but the
Salamis did not sight any of them."

"When he left Cape Town there was a general feeling
of hopefulness that the Waratah would
be picked up in a disabled condition."

"He himself has not lost all hope-, although he
admits that the chances seem small."

A subtle point is made in this report:

Even though the Salamis made use of a powerful lamp by night (poor chaps kept aloft day and night), not only were there no sightings of the missing Waratah, but nor of the many other vessels at sea searching for the missing vessel. Clearly, searches at sea of this nature had marked limitations, and a negative outcome (not sighting the Waratah) in scientific terms was a 'test' with low sensitivity, given that no other vessels were sighted.

The Salamis was not immune to misfortune:

She Departed Delagoa Bay 5 p.m., 6 August, 1912, bound for Port Natal, with a general cargo of 3600 tons. The vessel had a length of 392 feet and breadth, 47 feet. Her registered tonnage was 2665.62 tons.

7 August, 1912, the Salamis ran aground off the Bluff at Durban Port, the port anchor having slipped.
Messages were sent to the Port Department and two tugs dispatched to assist. Water rapidly flooded holds number one and two, and every effort was made during the next day to pump out the holds, cargo being discharged as quickly as possible. 

The diver discovered a hole in the shell plating in No. 1 hold E. which he reported to be about a foot square. This demonstrates that rents in steel steamers of the time did not necessarily have to be extensive to be fatal. A foot square was enough to take the 392 ft Salamis to the bottom, if she had still been at sea. Subsequently the cargo was removed and the vessel placed on a floating dock, 29 August.


SS Salamis