Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Waratah - earthquakes and cyclones.

Cairns Post (Qld) Wednesday 26 January, 1910
The Lost Waratah  
Mr. A. Meston, of the Queensland  Government Bureau in Sydney,      writes as follows to the "Daily  Telegraph" :—      
The Waratah was probably involved in one or two fatal forms of marine catastrophe, and in either case her doom would be annihilation. 
She was caught in the awful vortex of a circular cyclone, or disappeared in a moment into the abyss beneath which, in the words, of Shelley, the "Old Earthquake Demon nursed her young Ruin," just as ships in the great Lisbon earthquake sunk beside the quays with all on board, leaving not the remotest trace to tell that they ever existed.
Well known to our east coast mariners is Breaksea Spit, on the north end of Fraser's Island. When Cook in 1770, and Flinders, in 1802, took soundings off that Spit the lead recorded from 7 to 13 fathoms. In the same locality, in 1869, Lieutenants Bedwell, Bray and Connor found exactly the same soundings, but when Captain Sharp, of the steamer, Iris, was sent there to discover and repair a break in the Noumea cable, in 1901, he was amazed to find the Admiralty chart hopelessly wrong, and on the area above the old marine surveys gave 7, 12, and 13 fathoms the broken cable hung over a tremendous submarine precipice up to 1890 feet in depth : and Captain Mackay, the Brisbane Harbourmaster, told me this astounding and mysterious, subsidence probably extends over 100 square miles. The fate of any vessel caught in the vortex of that  subsidence would certainly have been  that of the vanished ships beside the Lisbon piers. 
How many of the world's lost ships have vanished in the whirlpools of these terrific sub-marine earthquakes ! A few years ago an area of the sea bottom on the coast off Japan sunk from a few fathoms to a depth of 3000 feet. Was Plato's lost Atlantis engulfed in one of these dreadful chasms in the ocean-bed far back in the volcanic morning of the world ? 
We come now to the circular cyclones, an account of which is incredible to all who have not seen the traces of their devastating tracks. A few years ago one came down on to the Coral Sea from the Cape York Peninsula, caught the   pearling fleet at anchor at the Flinders Group, wrecked about 65 luggers, and drowned 300 coloured men. For the first three months of the year I was out on the coast of that peninsula. An old beche demer fisherman told me that some of the luggers were lifted out of the sea, and thrown on top of the mangroves. And there are other authentic records to show that the cyclone in which the Government pilot Vessel at Coo'town, with all on board was annihilated, lifted acres out of the ocean on to the coast, and left sharks, rays,and turtles stranded on the rocks of Bedford and Cape Flattery. And in the pearl fleet cyclone the light-ship at Pipon Island, with two large anchors, and a three-ton stone anchor, disappeared with her four men, and no trace has ever been found to the present day. 
Just south of Cape Direction, I saw where a cyclone off the land, about 100 yards in width, swept across Night Island, tore all the mangroves up by the roots, or snapped them off like dry reeds, and carried them out to sea like so much tissue paper, and actually made a track across the loose coral rocks as if a band of navvies had been clearing a road. Your 12,000 ton steamers, with their double row of deck cabins, would get short shrift in the vortex of such a cyclone as that. The first three minutes would sweep cabins, boats, top hamper, funnels and masts into the sea, and probably the next five minutes would see the steamer at the bottom. 
Such cyclones cover a very small area, and probably do not go more than ten or fifteen miles from land. So far no steamer on the Queensland coast has been caught in one, and the chance of being involved is so small as hardly to be worth considering ; while the whole extent of coastline to which they are confined, extends only from Cape Bedford to Cape Direction. If such a cyclone came off the African coast, and encircled the Waratah, it would be useless to search even for wreckage, and it would be equally useless to scan the vast expanse of ocean if she had vanished in the chasm of a submarine earthquake.
In each case the friends and relatives of the loved and lost are only being delusively buoyed by that despairing hope which is but the bright to-morrow of the mind,which never comes, and those whonot interested, humanity should feel unusual sorrow for those to whom this dreadful marine catastrophe means, as in the case of Vittoria Colonna.
The lifelong martyrdom— The weariness, the endless pain of waiting for someone to come Who never more will come again.

SS Koombana, 20 March 1912, disappeared in a cyclone off the Northwest coast of Australia.
SS Koombana

The SS Yongala steamed into a cyclone off Cape Bowling Green, Queensland, 23 March 1911, and was lost.


SS Yongala


All of the above, highly unlikely in the case of the Waratah.

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