Tuesday, 23 June 2015


The missing steamer Waratah signalled"good-bye" to the steamer Clan Macintyre just outside Durban on July 27.Three days earlier Mrs. Alexander Hay,one of the Adelaide passengers, wrote thelast letter received by her family. It wasposted at Durban when the Waratahtouched at that port. Mrs. Hay had theutmost faith in the stability of the vessel, and a great admiration for its comfort as a seaboat. She made the voyage from England to Australia in the Waratah, and, as will be seen by the extract given hereunder from her letter, she retained her good opinion to the moment of writing it. She says: -
"I am sitting on the deck of this finesteamer trying to write a few lines to youto post at Durban. We have had, onthe whole, a fine-weather passage, thoughthrough the Bight, or rather, I shouldsay, across the mouth of it, we had, as usual, some stiff blows, which came to a climax when rounding the Leeuwin. It is very seldom that portion of Australia does not give its final kick, and it gave us a pretty good specimen of what it can do. The captain said he was sure the mail boat would make much worse weather than we did." 
"Nearly all the passengers are old. We have not one married couple on board, at least in the saloon, and only one child. It is a very good thing that I have the new story to occupy me for otherwise I should have nothing to pass the time. Bridge is a great thing afternoon and evening, and that I do not play. One gets very tired of the monotonous expanse of ocean, with not a vessel of any sort to break its desolateness." 
"This is my eighteenth passage. I had thought it was the seventeenth, but I find it is the larger number. It seems to me ages since I left Adelaide, but I  dare say after Durban it will not seem so long. The last two days we have had splendid runs, 330 miles each day. So, owing to these great distances, we shall reach Durban on Sunday instead of Monday."
"Nothing can exceed the comfort of this steamer, both as regards her cabin and build, and also the attention of the captain and all the attendants on board. I have only to hint at a want, and it is at once supplied. Only fancy, the first vessel sighted since we left Australia was seen this morning, a sailing ship. There has been nothing but water, water, water."
"The Waratah is certainly a splendid vessel. I don't want to sleep on shore tomorrow night, but they say the coaling may be very unpleasant. I believe we shall leave for Capetown on Monday night, July 26. There has just been the most glorious sunset, but it does not beat those of Australia."

This letter is a gem. It gives a rare insight into the voyage over from Australia. On the whole Mrs. Hay found the Waratah comfortable, the facilities and service exemplary. She describes a steamer that handled the conditions off Cape Leeuwin with ease, certainly by comparison with the mail boat.  Mrs. Hay refers to the story she was writing - and intended to present the manuscript to a publisher inLondon. She describes an impressive 300 miles per day, which translates into 13.75 knots. Mrs. Hay refers to sleeping onshore to avoid coaling, which implies that the process was probably messy, smelly and noisy. But there's more:
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (NSW) Saturday 8 January 1910
What may have led to misgiving as to the stowage of the coal taken on board at Durban was the fact that as the vesselwas lying close to the wharf, it wasfound convenient to load it into thebunkers below (not the emergencyspar bunkers), by means of shoots, openings of which were on the boat andpromenade decks.

Due to the position of the moored Waratah, coaling had to take place via chutes on the promenade deck - i.e. where Mrs. Hay's saloon was located.
Note that Mrs. Hay makes no reference to Claude Sawyer or talk about abandoning the Waratah at Durban.
This letter is one of the few treasures emerging from what was otherwise a tragedy of epic proportions.

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