Thursday, 7 May 2015

Waratah - Sawyer's startling account.

The Advertiser (Adelaide), Friday 19 November, 1909
The narrative of Mr. Claude G. Sawyer,  one of the passengers who joined the Waratah at Sydney for London, and who abandoned the vessel on arrival at Durban, has  been received from South Africa. Mr.  Sawyer, who is a director of various public  companies, visited Australia on a businessmission, and is well-known in SouthAfrica. After leaving the Waratah atDurban, he embarked on the KildonanCastle, and on reaching Cape Town said:
"During the first portion of the voyagethe weather was somewhat rough, but nothing of any consequence. The latter portion of the voyage was extremely fine, andalthough the captain anticipated rough weather on approaching the longitude of Mauritius, his expectation was not fulfilled, and we experienced beautiful weather. I hadintended going on to Cape Town with the ship.
It was about 10 days before we arrived at Durban that I decided to leave the ship, because I was not quite satisfied with her and the way in which she behaved; she pitched and rolled, as the case might be, so dead; she was anything but lively. She recovered herself very slowly, and stayed in the position in which she was when rolling or pitching for a long while before recovering. I even spoke about the rolling to one of the officers; on another occasion I spoke to a passenger, a solicitor, of Melbourne, who conducts most of the leading shipping cases. Mr. Ebsworth who had also been a sailor and an officer for seven years.
I spoke to him about the rolling. We decided one day, accordingly, to watch t the Waratah's behaviour. It was a calm, fine day, with big rollers coming straight towards us. going fore and aft. Whenever a particularly big roller came the ship did not take it as she should have done, but put her nose right into it and remained there, apparently without any life in her. Mr. Ebsworth was, I thought, rather upset, and said that it was the first time in the whole of his experience that he had seen a ship do this. 
I often watched this afterwards and several times told other passengers that I wished I were off her. At that time I said so being to a Mr. Muller, when we were within sight of Durban on the Sunday, morning.
"Several times during the voyage I lookedat the list of the passengers as distributedby the captain amongst the various boats incase of an emergency. Mine was No. 4 withMorgan, Muller and with the third officerin charge, and on one day I saw that ourboat had a water cask. However, if theship turned turtle there would not, ofcourse, have been time to get the boatsout. On that account I made the changeat Durban, and I tried to persuade severalother passengers to do the same. Severaltimes after leaving Sydney I thought shewas higher out of the water than any othership I had seen except one. At Port Adelaide it struck me that her bow was deeper in the water than her stern. I saw her coming in. and she took an hour and a quarter to get alongside. What I especially noticed was how she bumped the wharf while pushed by the tender. What passed through my mind was that the momentum of 10,000 tons at the rate of a foot a second on a small spot in the middle of the ship was not very nice. Afterwards I heard Captain Ilbery remark that he did not like bumps.
"After leaving Adelaide the ship rolled a good deal, occasionally giving several of thepassengers severe falls. One morning on my way to the bathroom my steward remarked that she had been rolling heavily during the night, to which I replied that I had not noticed it as I had slept well, but while in my bath I was astonished to tee the water suddenly take an angle apparently over 45 deg. and remain there so long that it brought to my mind what befell H.M.S. Captain in the Bay of Biscay. I spoke to one of the officers, and asked him what angle it registered. He said he did not know, whereupon I asked him if he had an instrument on the bridge, to which he replied that they had not, but the builder had seen to this, and he supposed it was all right." 
This is a very comprehensive account made by a man who was to become synonymous with the Waratah mystery. It will forever remain in the public mind that Claude Sawyer had the presence of mind to disembark a doomed steamer.
His account highlights important points. The overall description of the behaviour of the Waratah equates with a heavily loaded (overloaded) vessel with reduced buoyancy - creating an impression that she was 'dead'. 
The comment about the list to 45 degrees seems highly exaggerated and another passenger commented at the time that the angle of list was probably in the order of 4.5 degrees.
Mr Sawyer must have caused both irritation and alarm on board the Waratah. He approached officers and Captain Ilbery regarding his concerns and was clearly not satisfied with the 'inadequate' responses. Captain Ilbery did explain (not mentioned in this article) that the Waratah was very heavy which accounted to some degree for her tendency to hold in a list - relating to momentum and shift of many thousands of tons dead weight. But reassurances fell on the proverbial deaf ears.
Sawyer shared his concerns with fellow passengers and ENCOURAGED them to disembark at Durban. His convictions must have created a great deal of anxiety among fellow passengers and there were those who followed his advice and got off at Durban. Of course, it saved their lives, but this does not validate Sawyer's concerns that the Waratah was not seaworthy.
It is, however, of concern that the Waratah bumped into the wharf which could have further contributed to compromise in the structural integrity. This combined with the grounding at Adelaide gives an impression of the Waratah's hull subjected to unnecessary strain with possibly resultant structural damage. Structural damage would almost certainly have contributed to the steamer foundering quickly after striking an object.
Claude Sawyer was certain of his convictions that the Waratah was doomed and did not hesitate to share this with all and sundry. I would not be surprised if Captain Ilbery was glad to see the back of him at Durban.

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