Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Waratah - Harlow summary.

In this blog I have studied the witness account of Captain Bruce (CB), SS Harlow and concluded the Waratah foundered off Port St Johns (Cape Hermes), 27 July, 1909. But the question remains; why did the Harlow not go to the aid of the Waratah?

Let's review the facts:

- The Waratah was the only large steamer which could have been astern of the Harlow, gaining on her steadily between 5.30 and 7.50 pm, 27 July. There were no other listed steamers of that size and speed in that location, at that time.

- CB made his judgement based on the steamer's twin masthead lights - smaller vessels had one.

- He estimated the steamer was making 13 knots (the Waratah's listed speed) relative to the Harlow's 9 knots.

- CB assumed the Waratah had come about and was attempting to return to Durban, and based this assumption on his observation she was producing smoke in excess of that which could be expected from her single funnel. He concluded the Waratah was on fire.

- But the fire was not of a serious enough nature to prevent the Waratah maintaining a steady course, making 13 knots.

- The volume of smoke associated with the Waratah, being blown by the prevailing wind towards the Harlow, was consistently associated with the approaching steamer, and did not originate from land.

- Bush fires onshore did however contribute to general smoke and light. Smoke produced from coal is dark (almost black) compared with the lighter shade of dispersed smoke-haze produced by bush fires.

- The description of the steamer's lights is highly specific - twin masthead lights and a port side red light - which excludes light from bush fires which create 'lines' of light on land, not out at sea and don't have port side lights.

- The Waratah was initially further out to sea relative to the Harlow, steadily closing towards the coastline (port side light visible but not the green starboard light).

- The Waratah had turned around out at sea and was making her way on a heading which would ultimately 'hug the coast' - as one marine expert of the time said 'in case Captain Ilbery needed to beach the Waratah'. Additionally, a course closer to shore would be faster, making use of the winter 'sardine' current and avoiding the counter Agulhas Current.

- The crew of the Harlow observed two flashes of light from the direction of the Waratah, the descriptions of which match distress flares (socket signals).

- Explosions were NOT heard despite the prevailing wind blowing from the Waratah to the Harlow, less than 4 miles astern.

- Shortly after the flashes, the consistent dense volume of smoke which had accompanied the Waratah for two hours, started to clear. Once the smoke had dissipated, the lights of the Waratah ('which had been shining brightly') were no longer visible despite the continuous bush fires onshore.

- The smoke and steamer lights had been consistent markers of the approaching Waratah over a period of two hours and the factors by which CB estimated the Waratah's speed. This was not a once off momentary sighting dispelling the notion of mirages, hallucinations and bush fire flares.

- Something catastrophic had occurred and the Waratah disappeared within a matter of minutes. The time was 8 pm, 27 July, 1909.

- It was dark out at sea and in all probability overcast, taking into account the time of year and the approaching cold front from the south. CB was confronted with a dilemma. If he came about, attempting to locate the Waratah, he would be faced with difficulties establishing her last exact position.

- The Harlow was not fitted with a searchlight.

- Although a cold front storm was developing far further south, the winter seas off Port St Johns are rough, which would make rescue efforts difficult.

- His search would further have been hampered by smoke from shore drifting over that segment of sea, compromising navigation and therein lay his next problem.

- The last position of the Waratah was estimated to be less than a mile offshore. There are a number of submerged reefs and rocks off Cape Hermes and Port St Johns, which would present a threat to the Harlow. CB no doubt considered the possibility the Waratah had struck one of these reefs, hence her rapid disappearance. Even if he was able to find the location where the Waratah sank, there was a significant probability the Harlow would strike the very same reef and founder. Maps of coastal regions, circa 1909 (even off the coast of the UK) did not have all reefs / rocks well demarcated and highlighted.

- The Harlow was a small tramp, cargo steamer with limited passenger accommodation. If they did indeed manage to find survivors in the water, how many could be taken on board and how many would have to have been left in the water?

- It would realistically have taken the Harlow about half an hour to come about and cover the distance to where the Waratah was last seen, by which time the likelihood of finding survivors was remote.

- CB realised there was in reality very little he could do to help, without placing his own crew at risk.

- When all was considered, the Harlow continued on her voyage and the fate of the Waratah was consigned to the perils of the seas.

- CB upon his arrival at Durban inquired if any vessels were overdue there. None had been reported.
This must have reinforced his belief that the steamer they witnessed could only have been the Waratah, which had turned around. His belief (which he later related) was confirmed when the Waratah was listed overdue at Cape Town.

- The disappearance of the Blue Anchor Line flagship was to capture the attention of the world, generating distress and hysteria alike. Cruisers were deployed at great expense to scour the coast and extend the search far out into the Indian Ocean. CB was no doubt overwhelmed by a sense of duty to share his witness account which appeared in the press.

- The Inquiry and even more so, the public, were likely to take a dim view of his decision to continue on course, ignoring obvious distress flares and making no attempt to locate the Waratah's last position and rescue any survivors - as remote as that may have been.

- CB and his First Officer carefully considered the best way to share their witness accounts without drawing negative attention to the fact that they had done nothing to assist a vessel in distress.

- CB needed to convey the essence of truth, preventing further expensive and lengthy searches at sea, and allowing families and friends of those lost the dignity of mourning, rather than holding onto false hope the Waratah was still adrift in the Southern Oceans.

- The owners of the Waratah planted a seed of doubt at the Inquiry suggesting bush fires onshore created enough smoke and light over the sea to confuse the crew of the Harlow, thus establishing doubt by conjuring up a 'mirage' of an approaching steamer.

- CB's First Officer 'ran with this ball' at the Inquiry and in the process significantly questioned his Master's judgement.

- I believe CB opted for a massive explosion as a likely cause for the rapid disappearance of the Waratah and went on to say that all souls were likely to have been killed. In one swoop he was released from the moral obligation to have searched for survivors. After all, there had been smoke suggesting a fire and a catastrophic explosion could account for the sudden disappearance of the steamer. But he contradicted himself by clearly stating that he had not heard explosions.

- CB's reliability as a witness was lost.

- If the Waratah had indeed exploded, there WOULD have been scattered debris, which was never discovered.

- The keepers at the Cape Hermes lighthouse did not report the sound of explosions. But why did the keepers not see the flashes?


- CB, who had demonstrated sound reasoning, establishing a plausible sequence of events and a convincing description of the Waratah, resorted to one blatantly misleading 'suggestion' to save himself and crew from the wrath of the Inquiry and the public. The seeds of doubt had been planted, confusion established, and his witness account much like that from the Guelph, relegated to the realm of the unsubstantiated.

- CB and his First Officer had overshot the mark, accounts which could not to be taken seriously.

- Fate placed the Harlow in the wrong place at the wrong time and dished up a smorgasbord of difficulties, hampering attempts to establish what had become of the Waratah or to rescue survivors.

- When all is said and done, the large steamship consistently gaining astern of the Harlow over the period of two and a half hours never overhauled her.



The Waratah, so near, yet too far

This is the 211th post, every one of them in memory of the brave souls lost with the Waratah.

Waratah - should have been sighted by SS Runic.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 - 1954) Sunday 15 August 1909


MELBOURNE, Saturday.

'It is safe to say that in no other
instance of ocean disaster has the
tension of anxious agony been greater
than in the case of the missing
steamer Waratah, now three weeks
overdue in 'the three days' run be-
tween Durban and Cape Town.'

'Every day even in Perth, where
the associations with the vessel are
not intimate, the feeling has been in-
tense, and. it can easily be imagined
how the relatives of those on board
in different parts of the world have
awaited each day's cabled news
eagerly grasping at the least scrap
of hope.'

'On Tuesday, for instance, it was
wired that the Union Castle liner
Guelph, had sighted the Waratah
Eastward of East London on the
night of the 27th, but two days
later it was announced that this
report had no foundation in fact.'

'Meanwhile, the White Star liner
Runic arrived at Cape Town from
Durban, and would probably approximate
to the course which would have
been taken by the missing steamer,
but she saw no sign of Waratah, of
any kind.'

The Guelph and Runic, unlike the Harlow, were not in the right place at the right time.

                               SS Runic

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Waratah - sufficient, qualified crew.

Loss of the "Waratah."

HC Deb 08 September 1909 vol 10 c1455W 1455W

'Mr. SUMMERBELL asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been called to the overdue steamer "Waratah," with over 300 souls on board; if he can state how many able seamen she was supposed to carry to be efficiently manned, if he can state how many sailors and firemen signed on per month, to be discharged in Colonial ports, on her signing articles in London on the 23rd April, 1909; how many of the seamen produced certificates of discharge to prove their qualification as A.B.'s; how many sailors and firemen were paid off during the voyage and how many changes in the crew, composed of sailors, firemen, trimmers, greasers, and quartermasters, have there been since the vessel sailed from Loudon on her last voyage; whether all the men shipped at Colonial ports produced certificates of discharge for three years' sea service; and what was the number and composition of the crew and their various ratings when the ship left her last homeward port?'

'Mr. CHURCHILL My attention has been called to the case of the "Waratah" but as it seems possible that it may be necessary to institute an inquiry in the case, I do not think it advisable that I should at present make any statement upon the points to which the hon. Member refers.'

The Waratah when she departed Durban had a crew number in excess of requirements. The crew were capable and skilled for the job at hand.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Anecdote Saturday - delicious menus.

Culinary Department on a Steamship - 1910 Travel Guide

'In former years the supply of salted meat, hardtack, etc., for the equipment of the steamer formed the most essential part of the catering, which was occasionally improved by carrying cattle on the hoof, and the victualing and culinary arrangements closely connected therewith, belonging to the most important department of the modern passenger vessel, have been considerably improved and changed during the last twenty years, owing to great advancement in the art of cold storage.'

'These improvements and changes have attained a degree of perfection which is not excelled in the first-class hotels in even the largest cities. The improvement made even in the catering for the steerage passengers during the last two decades plays an important part in the kitchen arrangements. The competition of the steamship lines, as well as governmental regulations, have both been effective.'

'The arrangements which have had to be made by the kitchen and bakery, owing to this great advancement, have given rise to the adoption of arrangements which are totally different from those formerly used. The modern bakeries, situated between-decks, bake delicious bread and rolls of all kinds, while the bakeries of the pastry cooks and confectioners are famous.'

'A steward of one of the large trans-Atlantic liners told the writer that the allowance for food for each first class passenger was $2.50 a day, without counting fuel, cooking, or any charge for service. On one of the large coastwise lines, the boast of the manager of the line was that the food for the first class passengers cost only 67 cents a day per passenger.'

'From this it will be seen that there is every desire to be liberal as regards the table of the first class. The table of the second class is equally good, considering the passage money paid, and is far better in every way than will be found in the ordinary country hotel. The food is better cooked and better served, and there are apt to be fully as many fresh vegetables.'

'The necessity of catering for 1,000 or 1,200 first and second class passengers on the modern express steamers presents conditions which are paralleled only by the most luxurious hotel. About twenty kinds of warm dishes, besides hot beverages, must, as a rule, be prepared for breakfast on the modern passenger steamer.'

'The luncheon comprises, in addition to the introductory course and salads, which latter are prepared daily and in a large number of different ways, three or four different soups, and eleven or twelve warm dishes, besides four or five different vegetables and an ample supply of cold dishes. The dinners on some of the ships consist of ten or twelve courses.'

to be continued....


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Waratah - Court grants letters of administration for Mrs Hay's will.

ADELAIDE, December 20 (1910)

'The Full Court has granted letters of
administration in the estate of the late
Mrs. Agnes Grant Hay; who with her
daughter, went down with the steamer

'Only a codicil of her will has
been found, and it is inferred that the
will itself either disappeared with the
vessel or was destroyed in a fire which
ruined Mrs Hay's mansion, at Victor
Harbour, shortly before she embarked on
the Waratah.'

'Another daughter, swore
to the contents of the will
in an affidavit.'
Agnes Grant Hay

It is shocking to discover that Mrs Hay's will was only 'sorted out' one and a half years after the Waratah disappeared.
She was a widow and what did her surviving children, engulfed in grief, do about finances in the interim?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Waratah - 'was not built as an experiment'.

The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933) Wednesday 21 December 1910


LONDON, Monday.

'Mr. .T. W. Lund, the ship owner, giving
evidence to-day, at the official inquiry into
the loss of the steamer Waratah, said the
Waratah was not built as an experiment,
and no alterations were either suggested
or made during the construction of the
vessel or after her maiden voyage.'

This confirms the Waratah was planned, designed and built as per requirements and specifications.

'The builders did not adversely criticise the design.'

The builders would not have criticised the design as a number of passenger vessels at the time had similar specifications.

'Captain Ilbery did not threaten to
leave the ship if the boat deck was not removed.'

The Waratah was intended as an improvement on and evolution of the existing Geelong. Captain Ilbery, the Blue Anchor Line's Commodore, was instrumental in the planning and design process from the start.

'Not one of the officers and crew
either threatened to leave not did leave the ship.'

There was no reason to leave the Waratah, she was a sound design circa 1908.

'On her last trip the Waratah was not
ordered to make an unusually fast voyage.'

But they were consistently ahead of schedule, due to arrive back at London two full days earlier. This does make one wonder....The owners would certainly not admit to this....

to be continued....

                                                                                      experimental screw frigate 1867

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Waratah - drew 28 ft 9 in.

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931) Tuesday 21 September 1909


'However, she went out of Durban on her last trip
drawing 28 ft. 9 in., and, speaking as a practical seaman,
I say that no question of her instability entered anyone's
head there.'

'I boarded the vessel five minutes before she sailed out
of the harbor to say good-bye to the captain.'

'There was no coal above the deck.'

'The coaling foreman at Durban was loud
in his complaints because he was obliged to
load his coal all down one hatchway.'

'This points to the fact that all the coal bunkers
were full, which would make the vessel
more stable.'

'Much has been said about the
superstructure of the vessel being top
heavy, but to the main portion of the
steamer it bore about the same
relation as a hat box would to
a railway porter's trolley.'

'The boat left Durban about 8 p.m. on July 26.
On the following night she was spoken near East
London by the liner Guelph. This was
10.30 p.m., or 26 hours after leaving Durban.'

'This means that she was about eight
hours late, and to those acquainted with
the speed of the ship, this betokens a
breakdown possibly shortly after she left

'The time she took to travel the
distance was almost exactly what would
be required with only one engine working.'

'Thus it appears to me one engine bad been
disabled for some considerable time.'

'Assuming that to be so, you must look at
the position from the point of view that
would be adopted by a prudent seaman like
Captain Ilbery. What would he do under the circumstances?'

He was off East London, the barometer was low, presaging
a storm of unusual violence. There were
two alternatives - one to make his way
back to Durban for repairs, and the other
to continue his voyage.'

'If he did the latter, naturally his instincts,
developed by long experience on
sailing vessels, would be to put as
much blue water between him and the coast
as possible.'

'Thus, when he was due at Port
Elizabeth it was possible for him to be 60
miles from the coast. At this time the gale
was exceptionally severe, and it raged for
upwards of three days.'

The sandbar at the mouth of the port was about 32 ft, which implies 28 ft 9 in. cleared the sandbar without mishap. According the Durban Pilot, Mr Sheppard, if there were problems on board, particularly relating to machinery.

Mr Sheppard surmises that one of the engines failed resulting in the Waratah being 8 hours behind schedule when 'sighted' by the Guelph. He adds that the engine trouble would have to have occurred shortly after leaving Durban for this to be the case. This does not correlate with the time and place the Waratah exchanged signals with the Clan MacIntyre. She would have to have been steaming normally as per specifications for two engines, for her to have been in the vicinity of Cape Hermes by 4 - 6am 27 July. The claimed 'Guelph sighting' falls short.

The analogy of the hatbox on a trolley makes the point that most of the Waratah's stability related to the weight and distribution of cargo and ballast within the hull. Under fully loaded circumstances, the superstructure (hatbox) contributed a relatively insignificant component to the stability of the Waratah. She was not top heavy.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Waratah - storm, 28 July, 1909.

The Sydney Morning Herald - Thursday 9 December, 1909
'It was on the following day- July 28- thatthe great cyclonic tempest which will probablybe known in history as "the Waratah storm,"swept the coast of South Africa.' 
'During the whole day the wind blew from WSW to W, with squalls of hurricane force.' 
'A tremendous sea was running, rising in a wall-like formation, owing to the current being against the wind.'  
'Mariners who experienced the storm unite indescribing it as one of exceptional violence.'
'It was not perhaps spoken of as the most severe on record but it was regarded as themost violent tempest for some years.'
'The hurricane raged with unabated furyfor about 15 hours, and right along the coastof South Africa the conditions were dangerous.' 
'Of course the wind was behind the Waratah, but nonetheless she must have had a  very rough time.' 
'The gale moderated on thefollowing day, and was succeeded by a freshsouth-westerly gale, with a high cross sea.'
'The Illovo, a vessel of 1930 tons, left Natal6O hours before the Waratah, and experienceda very rough passage down to Agulhas.' 
'There was a continuous gale with terrible seas.' 
'When off Danger 'Point the ship was struck by amountainous sea and 30 tons of coal had tobe jettisoned.' 
'After that the weather became  worse, and the vessel took 32 hours to makethe passage from Agulhas to Capetown whichis usually done in 11 hours.' 
'So tempestuous was it that the captain tried to put into Struys Bay, but on account of the thickness of the weather, could not get in.' 
'The gale was  evidently of a cyclonic character.'
The Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah came to the conclusion the Waratah succumbed to this 'violent gale'.
I am of the firm belief the Waratah foundered off Port St Johns 27 July.
If the Waratah had still been on course and confronted such a storm there is a possibility that she was swamped and foundered.
The route to Cape Town was a relatively busy shipping lane and a number of humble vessels negotiated the storm without mishap.
Finally, the large steamer gaining on the Harlow over a period of two hours must have had an identity. There were no other steamers fitting this description at that time and place.

                                                               Princess Sophia

Sunday, 18 May 2014




"Many may cling to the belief that the
Waratah is still afloat, but I don't,"

said another old mariner, who does not now
follow the sea for a livelihood.

"My firm conviction is that she has gone to
the bottom. The presumption is that the
steering gear carried away, that she drifted
round into the trough of the sea, careened
over, that the water flowed in through
one set of ventilators, whilst the air rushed
out of the other set. and she then went
down without giving her passengers or
crew any hope of escape."

"I've seen Father Neptune in an angry mood
many times and whilst he is in that state the most
seaworthy vessels must need take care."

"The Waratah has a double bottom. This
would help her in the event of her striking
a rock, but it would have the reverse effect
in a very high sea if the vessel became unmanageable,
for she would heel over hard as the water flowed in the air
within the space of the two bottoms (which) would
lift upward, and so help to prevent her
from righting herself."

"My opinion is the Waratah was struck by a heavy
sea and thrown over on her side. Before she
could right herself other heavy seas hit her
and she thus filled with water and went

"Of course, it is only an opinion
and I may be wrong. I hope it is. But I
think you will find that it is correct."

Crucial to unravelling the mystery of the eyewitness account of the crew of the Harlow is the rapidity with which the Waratah's lights disappeared after the two flashes of lights. The implication is clear; the Waratah foundered very quickly - explaining the official absence of flotsam and bodies.

This extract raises a further potential access point re flooding. The Waratah was fitted with very prominent ventilation funnels (see picture). In order for these ventilation funnels to take on water, the Waratah would have to have been on her side (90 degrees), which would be an irreversibly critical point.

I am not entirely clear what the mariner implied when he referred to water entering into the space between the double hull which would then 'lift upward'. If a significant volume of water could flood the space between the double hull, my reasoning is the hull on the flooded side would not 'lift upward' but the reverse, causing the steamer to heel over further beyond the critical point.



Friday, 16 May 2014


1910 a travel guide from the United States to and from Europe gives one an impression of steamer travel during the time of the Waratah.

'The cost of a first-class passage to Europe varies with the line and the season of the year. Vessels of the first class command a very high minimum rate even "out of season." At the time of writing it is hardly possible to obtain a first-class passage for less than $87.50, on good ships, and good accommodations will cost $110.00 to $125.00 on other than Mediterranean steamers.'

'The choicer cabins bring extremely high prices, and it is nothing unusual to find accommodations which are a thousand dollars or more for cabins for one or two persons. There are many factors connected with the price of staterooms; the time of passage must he considered, for every increased knot of speed means a vastly increased coal consumption, which is almost inconceivable to the layman; the saving of a day in passage may mean double coal consumption.'

This is a very revealing passage giving an insight into the economics of steam travel. The Waratah may have been capable of a faster speed with her twin quadruple expansion engines, but this was restricted to 13.5 knots to save cost.

'The costliness of ships must also be considered. It naturally costs more to travel in a vessel which has involved the expenditure of $7,000.000 than in a comparatively small and cheap ocean liner costing five or six hundred thousand.'

I feel there is some exaggeration expressed here. The Waratah cost 139 000 pounds to build. I certainly wouldn't classify vessels costing between 500 000 and 600 000 dollars cheap modes of transport, even taking into consideration the pound, US dollar exchange. I cannot find any steamships that cost 7 million dollars, 1910.

1906, The RMS Lusitania, one of the largest and most luxurious steamers of the time cost roughly 1.3 million pounds. 1912, the Titanic, then the largest and most opulent liner afloat cost 7.5 million dollars to build.

'A slower boat with large freight-carrying capacity is often more comfortable than the express steamer which races through the water at a high rate of speed with constant vibration. The number of passengers is also much more limited and there is more room for promenading and for the steamer chairs.'

The Waratah was just such a vessel and her specifications suited those who could afford her first class saloons. It is interesting to note that the faster vessels were less comfortable and engine vibration constituted a drawback. Vibration was particularly a problem with the enormous luxury steamship, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

'Those who wish to rest at sea should bear this in mind. The traveler who desires comfortable lounges. palm-gardens. Dutch cafés, gymnasiums, and Turkish baths. electric baths. etc. should be willing to pay some $25.00 or more extra for each passage.'

'In case of sickness or death the company usually refunds all except agent's' commission. In case of necessity the lines have the right to substitute some other steamer or steamers, and even change the date of sailing without notice, and passengers have no claim or demand upon the companies except for a refund of the amount paid on account of the accommodation reserved.'

'When passengers are kept from sailing by misadventure, the company usually allows them to sail on other steamers of same line. A steamship company is a business corporation, and their good nature, which is large, should not be imposed upon.'

'On some lines servants accompanying first cabin passengers, if they have access to the first cabin accommodations, must pay a special rate which will be made known on application to the company. On other lines servants such special information as the cost of transporting bicycles, automobiles, dogs and other animals, excess baggage, and transportation of infants; special regulations as to children, etc.'

Servants and children were lumped together with sundries such as extra baggage and bicycles.

'It is very difficult in compiling a book of this nature to avoid a suspicion of partiality. The editor does not recommend any particular line or any particular steamer. It is matter for individual judgment and usually the passage money paid is a satisfactory criterion of the accommodations which may be expected.'

Booking Passage On A Steamship - 1910 Travel Guide http://www.gjenvick.com/HistoricalBrochures/Steamships-OceanLiners/1910-TravelGuide/BookingASteamshipVoyage.html#ixzz31mrZJ7ZJ

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)  Saturday 15 May 1909




SALOON CABINS on Upper and Bridge Decks.



The Waratah of this Line will leave Sydney
on the undermentioned date at noon:

June 20

Arrive Natal, July 24


Twin Screw (Captain J. E. Ilbery)

Largest and Best Appointed Cabins in the Trade.

THIRD-CLASS CABINS fitted with every comfort.

FARES:-London: First Saloon, £57.

third class. £10, £18, £20.

...fitted with laundry
...fitted with Signal Bells
...fitted with Bulkhead Closet Apparatus


For illustrated Pamphlets, Plans, etc., apply to

First Class Ticket

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Waratah - 'it was the worst weather the steamer had encountered, and she behaved splendidly'.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954)  Thursday 9 December 1909


'The Waratah, a handsome specimen of the
shipbuilder's art and less than a year old,
sailed out of Sydney Harbour on her second
and last homeward voyage on June 26, bound
for London.'

'She made calls en route at Melbourne and Adelaide,
leaving the first-named port on July 1, and the
South Australian port on July 7.'

'On the voyage across the Indian Ocean she
encountered very heavy weather conditions for
four days, and Commander Ilbery remarked
to Mr C. Saunders, a solicitor of Melbourne,
who was a passenger to Durban, that -

"it was the worst weather the steamer had encountered,
and that she had behaved splendidly "

'Captain Ilbery repeatedly assured him that the
Waratah was everything he could wish, and
Mr Saunders, speaking of his own experiences,
declared that he had no fear for the
vessel when she was reported missing.'

'Mr Morgan, another passenger from Australia made
a similar report. He said that near Cape Leeuwin the
Waratah encountered very bad weather, and for four days
was subjected to a severe strain.'

'She behaved splendidly, and came through her trying ordeal

The Board of Trade Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah came to the conclusion that she had succumbed to a storm of exceptional violence, and this was the first such storm that the Waratah had encountered, implying there was a residual element of doubt as to the Waratah's seaworthiness in extreme sea conditions.

It is clear from this newspaper report the Waratah had in fact negotiated a severe storm prior to her departure from Durban 26 July. The storm off Cape Leeuwin might however have further exacerbated any latent structural damage sustained when the Waratah took the ground at the wharf, Port Adelaide. But this remains in the realm of conjecture and in fairness to the great steamer, I don't believe she failed to meet the challenge of the gale, 28 July, 1909, which was safely navigated by far lesser vessels.

beautiful Waratah photo

Waratah - the crew was not incompetent.

 Auckland Star > 11 September 1909 > Page 5

'Incompetence Suggested'

'Official Silence'

(By cable. - Press Association - Copyright)

(Received 8.30 am)

London, September 10

'In the House of Commons today Mr T. Summerbell (Labour member for Sunderland) asked several questions respecting the manning of the Waratah, suggestive of a weak, incompetent crew.'

'Mr Winston Churchill (President of the Board of Trade) refused to make a statement pending the inquiry which will necessarily be instituted.'

Nothing of significance appeared at the Inquiry regarding the incompetency of the Waratah's crew.
If indeed there were problems with crew perhaps it could be inferred that this was one of the reasons why a coal bunker fire was allowed to progress out of control. But having said this I believe Captain Ilbery, a highly experienced master, would not have recruited a weak, incompetent crew. Further to this, all the crew without exception lost their lives in the disaster and suggestions that they were incompetent must have added to the anguish of their relatives and friends. Everything relating to the disappearance of the Waratah can be condensed into circumstantial evidence and speculation. To speculate that the crew were incompetent is a blatant contravention of 'innocent until PROVEN guilty'.

                                                                   Waratah's crew

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Waratah - steel pipes or copper pipes?

(this is the 200th post on the Waratah)

Victoria Daily Colonist - Wednesday September 1, 1909

'Weight is leant to the optimistic opinions of her owners by the
assurances today of Mr. C. S. Richardson , a marine engineering expert ,
who was a passenger to Durban , by the Waratah
on an official mission on behalf of the Geelong Harbour Authorities.'

'He praises the ship  and her machinery without qualification ,
and suggests that either the loss of a propeller
or some other temporary disablement caused by the
excessive strain of the gales accounts for her still being at sea.'

'He states that it is possible that the steam main pipe is ruptured , and criticises the
steel steam pipes with which the Waratah is fitted instead of copper.'

In a previous post I explored the issue of steam pipes on the Waratah and the following gives more detail:

"The Waratah did have one small repair carried out here, but it was of so insignificant a character that the cost did not exceed 3 pounds 15 shillings.  Mr Booth (of R Booth and Son, engineers, Greyville), who effected the repair, as being the removal of a suction pipe from one of the auxiliary feed pipes, from what is known as the Weirs pump to the heater, which raises the temperature of the condensed water preparatory to its being fed again into the boilers."
Compound steam engine with copper steam pipes

"The job was quite a small one, and was needed owing to a fracture which having occurred in the pipe - a copper one - due to a flaw in the metal. This took place some time before the steamer's arrival in Durban, on the voyage from Australia."

It is clear from this extract that the Waratah's pipes integral to the steam transfer system were copper and not steel. The copper was alleged to have been flawed and susceptible to fracture. This in itself if it occurred could potentially have caused a catastrophic breakdown.

If there were indeed steel pipes connected with the steam system, these would have been prone to corrosion due to residual moisture. The Waratah was only a year old and it is unlikely that steel pipes would by that stage have manifested significant effects of corrosion.

Monday, 12 May 2014


Poverty Bay Herald  17 August 1909  Page 5

'Vessels going from Durban to Cape Town steer right out to sea, and take advantage of the current which sweeps round the coast at a distance of from 3 to 40 miles distant, with a speed of 2 knots.'

'The weather at this time of year, remarked the officer, is likely to be bad, fogs and storms being met with, the latter occurring with remarkable frequency.'

'There is not much possibility of ice having been encountered, as, according to the late Admiralty chart, the last ice seen on the trade was in April, 1853.'

'The coast has a bad name for submerged wrecks, which are swept along by the current.'

"She may have struck something like that", added the officer,

"or have had a mishap in connection with the machinery, or run into a fog bank."

"If she left Durban on July 26, the Waratah should have been at Cape Town by July 28 or 29"

When the crew of the Clan MacIntyre first sighted the Waratah off Cape Hermes (4 - 6 am), the Waratah was 'proceeding close to shore'.

Given the above report, vessels tended to chart courses out to sea when heading southwest. It remains one of the unanswered questions why the Waratah was close to shore at that point in time, and at that location.

Instead of 'running into a fog bank' as the officer suggested, the Waratah ran into a smoke haze resulting from fires onshore leading to disorientation of position relative to reefs. 



Sunday, 11 May 2014

Waratah - Dr Howard Cecil Fulford; Thomas Newman; Edward Sterne

'The list of Melbourne passengers includes
some well-known names. Dr. Fulford is not a passenger,
but the vessel's surgeon. He was for two years assistant
to Dr. Davenport, of St. Kilda, before he
joined the Waratah.'

'This tablet (below) is dedicated as a tribute of affection and sorrow by his college comrades to the memory of Howard Cecil Fulford a resident student of this college from 1900 to 1905. He won high distinctions throughout his university course graduated with first class honours in medicine and was appointed resident physician of the Melbourne Hospital in 1906. He was a keen and public-spirited sportsman and was thrice stroke of the college eight. He left Australia for England on July 1st 1909 as surgeon of the S. S. "Waratah" which on some unknown date after 26th July was lost in the Indian Ocean with all on board.'

"Be ye therefore ready for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh."

The following announcement refers to Able Seaman T Newman of the Waratah: from The Times 18 December 1909:

'NEWMAN Lost in the SS Waratah, Thomas, eldest son of the late Richard & Mary Newman, formerly of Devon, England, late of the Civil Service, Tasmania, grandson of the late John Feneran of Kinsale, Ireland, and nephew of the late Revd. T H Newman, M.A. Cantab.'

'Edward Sterne, a youth, who joined the
stewards' department of the missing
steamer at Port Adelaide, is a nephew of
Mr. G. T. Marfield, superintendent steward
of the Adelaide Steamship Company.'

monumentaustralia.org.au › Themes

Friday, 9 May 2014

Anecdote Saturday - HMS Captain

The HMS Captain was an iron frigate launched 27 March 1870. Built by Laird Brothers, Birkenhead, she comprised 6 960 long tons, 320 ft in length with a draught of 24 ft 10 in. She was a combination sail and steam vessel with twin 4 cylinder horizontal steam engines fed by 8 boilers. Her sail plan - ship rig: 37 990 sq ft of sail. This combination gave the Captain 15.25 knots. She was crewed by 500 seamen and officers.


4 x 12-inch 25 ton muzzle loading rifles (2 x 2)
2 x 7-inch 6.5 ton muzzle loading rifles (2 x 1)


Belt:      4–8 in (100–200 mm)
Turrets: 9–10 in (230–250 mm)

The Captain, a masted turret ship, was built against the advice of the Controller's Department, Royal Navy. Turrets were a new patent (Captain Cowper Phipps Coles) stemming from the Crimean War. Sea trials favoured the new development in the context of coastal defence. However, for ocean going defence, the combination of rigging, masts and turrets proved too complicated if a clear arc of fire was to be provided by the turrets.

1865, a committee was convened by the Navy to establish the viability of a twin turret fully rigged ocean-going warship. The Admiralty initially accepted the findings and ordered the construction of the HMS Monarch. However, due to concerns about the design, the Admiralty cancelled the project resulting in Coles launching a campaign against members of the committee and Admiralty. His contract as a consultant to the Admiralty was terminated 1866.

But Coles did not give up there and lobbied the press and Parliament which forced the Admiralty to concede and allow Coles to build his own twin turret design. Privately contracted out to Laird and Brothers, Merseyside, construction of the Captain commenced May 1866. The iron warship was designed with hurricane decks suspended above the turrets, to avoid damaging rigging when firing and tripod masts were used to minimise rigging. The design required a freeboard of only 8 ft. which could cause flooding of the gun deck.

Once again the Admiralty raised concerns, including the warship was too heavy and the centre of gravity was too high (low metacentric height). This was further exacerbated by the large surface area of canvas sail above the Captain. But construction continued, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir John Pakington wrote to Coles 23 July, 1866, stating very clearly that any responsibility for failure would fall at the feet of Coles and the builders.

Poor supervision during construction resulted in a vessel 735 long tons heavier than intended, a freeboard reduced from an already low 8 ft to 6 ft 6 in. due to the weight.  The centre of gravity rose by 10 in. creating a singularly unstable vessel. The sea trials in which the Captain performed relatively well mitigated concerns and the Captain was commissioned 30 April, 1870, under Captain Hugh Talbot Burgoyne, VC.

6 September, 1870, the Captain joined the fleet off Cape Finisterre, Galicia, Spain. An increasing wind and sea caused concern as waves crashed over the weather deck. The weather deteriorated into the night, forcing the reduction in number of sails and the Captain was pushed sideways as gale force conditions increased. Just after midnight the Captain heeled over 18 degrees, lurched twice to starboard and rolled over before any further adjustments to sails could be made. 500 souls, including Coles, perished. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Hugh Childers, and Under-Secretary of State for War, Thomas Baring, both lost their sons. A mere 18 survived the disaster.

The subsequent Inquiry (included such notables as Lord Kelvin, and William Macquorn Rankine) arrived at the conclusion:

'The Captain was insufficiently stable'.

The righting moment was calculated to be just 410 foot-tons when the Captain heeled over to 14 degrees. An inclining test had been performed on the Captain, but she had set sail on her final, fatal voyage before the results of the trial were published.

"the Captain was built in deference to public opinion expressed in Parliament and through other channels, and in opposition to views and opinions of the Controller and his Department"

The Waratah had a freeboard of 8 ft 1 in. when fully loaded, marginally better than the Captain's 6 ft 6 in. This would have facilitated flooding of the main deck during heavy seas and raises the question of the fore hatch stoving in under severe conditions. The Waratah however was stable, with an acceptable metacentric height and righting moment.

HMS Captain

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, 8 May 2014

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain J.E. Ilbery