Pauline Conolly (SS Waratah: Australia's 'Titanic') has generously allowed me to share an extract giving us a glimpse into the very personal tragedy of those lost with the Waratah.
Passengers embarking at Sydney for the return voyage to England included two sisters, recorded only as Leona and Dora Schaumann aged 11 and 10 respectively. Who they were and why they were travelling without their parents is another mystery. The strongest clue to the girls’ identity can be found in international shipping records, which reveal that on May 21 1898, 28 year old Klara O Schaumann arrived in the English port of Liverpool from New York, travelling second class aboard the Cunard Liner Etruria with her three young daughters; Leona, aged 4, Dora, 3 and Chancy, 10 months. By the time of the Waratah disappearance Klara Schaumann’s older daughters would have been 14 and 13 but it should be remembered that early records are not always accurate. The unusual names suggest that these were the two Schaumann children listed as being aboard the doomed Waratah. How they came to be in Australia is unknown.
The little girls boarded the ship in Sydney at the last minute, in the same party as six members of the Bowden family;
Mr Bowden aged 40
Mrs Bowden aged 34
Miss Kathleen Bowden aged 6
Master Harry Bowden aged 11
Mrs Bowden aged 55
Miss G Bowden aged 25
There were conflicting reports about the identity of the Bowdens. One paper suggested that Mr Bowden was a miner; another that the family was involved in the hotel business. No genealogical data on them can be found, and there is no information linking the Bowdens to the Schaumann girls.
In Melbourne, two brawny young Tasmanians joined the ship, bound for London. Alf Clarke was from Wynyard, on the north-west coast of the state. His companion was a twenty four year old, six foot five giant called Patrick John ‘Jack’ Calder, from the small rural community of Cygnet. The pair were champion axemen. Alf had won the World Championship Underhand Cut several years earlier. Stories are still told at Tasmanian wood chopping carnivals about his famous size fourteen boots, and the new pair he had bought in preparation for the trip to England. Both he and Calder were due to compete in exhibition matches to be held later that year at the famous Crystal Palace in Sydenham .
Among the more socially prominent passengers aboard the Waratah was Mrs Agnes Grant Hay, who joined the ship at Adelaide with her daughter Helen. Mrs Hay was the widow of the South Australian businessman and politician Alexander Hay. On 26 February 1909, the family mansion at Victor Harbour had burned to the ground and the trip to London was intended as a distraction from the disastrous fire.
One of those letters was from young Jack Calder who had written to a friend in Tasmania. It was full of excitement and anticipation, but in retrospect it was also very poignant;
You will be surprised to hear of me being this far away from Tasmania, and still going to pull up, I hope, in the greatest city in the world, London. I have with me, for a mate, champion axeman, Alf Clark. We are under an engagement to give exhibitions of chopping. We are taking Australian logs with us. We sailed by the S.S. Waratah, Lund’s Blue Anchor Line. She is 10,000 tons. We left Melbourne on July 1, had a few days in Adelaide, and set out for Africa on the 7th. We had only one really rough day, that was coming through the Great Australian Bight and around Cape Leeuwin. But the Waratah being such a grand sea boat we did not feel it much. I was never a bit seasick and feel better than ever I did in my life. With kind regards to self and all Tasmanian friends
Yours as B4
The fact that no-one could determine exactly when the ship sank caused legal difficulties for another family. Among the first class passenger who had embarked at Melbourne was a Mrs Starke, mother of the prominent Victorian barrister Mr Hayden Starke. Mrs Starke’s 90 year old aunt, Miss Maria Mattingley died in London on the very day the Waratah was last seen. Technically, if the ship had foundered just one minute after Miss Mattingley died, Mrs Starke’s children stood to inherit some £26,000 under the old lady’s will. One minute before, and the estate would go to another relative in England. Frustratingly, the outcome of the ensuing court-case held in 1913 is another mystery.