Monday, 9 March 2015


The disappearance of the Waratah triggered debate at the highest levels; should legislation be introduced enforcing the fitment of wireless equipment to all commercial steamers. Although there was some hesitancy at Westminster as to whether a Marconi wireless would have assisted the Waratah's plight, common sense prevailed and initiatives were implemented throughout the Commonwealth Nations and the United States, developing and expanding land-based radio receiver stations along all important coastal routes.

'The Cape Government are appointing a
Commission to inquire as to what arrangements
should be made for dealing with
shipping casualties on the coast, with a
view to providing reasonable facilities, for
saving life and property.'

'The Admiralty have been approached with
a view to securing the services of an experienced naval
officer to assist the Commissioners.'

In addition to communications, it is clear from this newspaper extract that the Cape Government recognised the importance of coastal facilities to deal with crises at sea. One can infer that this was considered a weak link along the sparsely populated Wild Coast and extended Cape coast. There is a modern-day assumption that debris washed up onshore from a steamer, circa 1909, would have been discovered. This is not the case. The notion of 'disappearing without a trace' is only as strong as the extent of facilities and personnel along the coast to make such discoveries or follow up on reports of such. The Waratah was believed to have foundered en-route to Cape Town and land searches were focused on the coastal stretch southwest of Cape Hermes. This further highlights the weak link - apart from the Cape Hermes lighthouse keepers, who was there to observe and report debris?

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