Friday, 14 August 2015


Bendigo Advertiser (Vic) Monday 8 November, 1909
One hundred and five days have elapsed since the steamer Waratah left Durban forCapetown, where she should have arrived about three days later, and there does notappear to be much hope now that she is afloat. 
The mystery surrounding her fate is remarkable. If she had been wrecked in the course of her journey, or had taken fire, it is reasonable to suppose that there would have been a large quantity of wreckage, and even if she had foundered suddenly, it is inconceivable that she should have gone to the bottom without leaving some floating material as a record of her fate. 
In the absence of any evidence of one or other of these disasters it was a reasonable conclusion that she had been disabled and would be found drifting. The time that has elapsed since the Waratah was last seen, however, is so long that any lingering hopes that may have been entertained must have been abandoned. 
If the Waratah drifted into the Agulhas current it is calculated that she could have drifted as far as Australia by this time, and as Captain Ilbery would have been sure to despatch a boat or two to tho nearest port, as has been done in previous cases of the kind, the world would know of this and have been placed in possession of particulars as to the whereabouts of the vessel. The long silence is ominous, but until the search steamer Sabine has returned to port final judgment will be suspended, although there cannot he much hope now unless the search will be successful.
The finding of charred wreckage at PortAlfred revives interest in the story of thecaptain of the steamer Harlow, that hesaw a steamer on fire on the evening ofthe 27th July, and that three terrific, explosions occurred, one of which sent a flash up into the sky for fully 1000 feet.
It is, possible, of course, that the Waratah would try and return to Durban if a fire broke out and difficulty was experienced in subduing it. As against the supposition that vessel was the Waratah, there is the report of the Union liner Guelph that she passed the Waratah 0n the night of the 27th July, after the time the captain of the Harlow saw the explosions, and at a considerable distance south of the place where the explosions were seen. The stories of the Clan M'Intyre and Guelph therefore agree, and seem to dispose of the theory that the burning steamer was theWaratah. Then, again, there was nothing in the cargo of the Waratah to cause explosions. Wool, flour, wheat, and frozen meat do not even present much opportunity for fire, apart altogether from explosions. 
Moreover, if the Waratah did take fire, and did explode, there should have been an enormous quantity of wreckage long ago to indicate her fate, and it is highly improbable that the captain would have delayed the necessary stops for the safety of her passengers until all chance of saving them had gone. 
One of the officers of the Harlow was of opinionthat the fire was on the land, but presuming the captain was right about a burning steamer, there is at least presumptive evidence that it was the Waratah, the statements of the captains of the Clan M'Intyre and Guelph steamers notwithstanding. 
No other vessel has been reported missing. Cape Alfred, where the charred wreckage has been, found, is 170 miles south-west of the place where the alleged explosions took place, but the prevailing currents render it quite possible that the wreckage was carried that far. 
If it was the Waratah that was seen burning at place where it should not have been, and blew up so unaccountably, it is remarkable that conclusive evidence of the disaster was not abundant immediately afterwards in the shape of wreckage. If the captain of the Harlow was so sure, why did he not stop to investigate and rescue possible survivors, and why did he not report the occurrence at Durban the next day? 
In the absence of any further explanation, however, the story should be followed up and a thorough investigation made of the locality in which the captain of the Harlow described the explosions.
In my opinion, this single newspaper report captures the very essence of the Waratah mystery. A number of very important points are made:
- The first and most significant, is that charred wreckage was discovered at Port Alfred in November, 1909. This wreckage could be added to my list of Waratah debris, bringing the total to 12 separate discoveries.
- The searches were a failure, covering vast tracts of ocean over an extended period of time. Commercial vessels also did not see any trace of the Waratah. The Waratah did not drift, but foundered off the South African coast.
- The Guelph account was not conclusive. It would have been very strange for the Waratah to have been sighted by a vessel using the inside track, heading up the coast. With a severe storm brewing, the Waratah would have been very much further out to sea where the wave lengths and waves were more favourable. Also what would have been the purpose of attempting to exchange polite messages at night during a storm with poor visibility when the steamer in question was not flying signals of distress??
- Captain Ilbery would have attempted to return to Durban if a fire (coal bunker) 'broke out and difficulty was experienced in subduing it'.
- It is very unlikely, for the reasons given, that the Waratah exploded. The flashes of light, two in point of fact, were more likely to have been last desperate measures - distress rockets, or more specifically socket signals.
- There was 'at least presumptive evidence' in favour of the Harlow account.
- NO OTHER VESSEL had been reported missing, which could account for the charred wreckage.
- The prevailing Agulhas Current could most definitely have carried the wreckage to a position approximating Port Alfred.
- The crew of the Harlow DID fail to investigate and attempt to rescue survivors. I have expressed endless opinion about this and made comparison with the Californian which did not go to the aid of the Titanic. Both were predominantly cargo steamers with very limited passenger accommodation. Both captains would have been confronted with the moral dilemma of who to rescue and who to leave in the water. There is also an insurance issue surrounding attempts made by steamers to go to the assistance of those in distress in challenging circumstances - storm, reefs etc... no payout if they ran into trouble!
I believe that a fundamental reason why the Lunds and the public at large did not accept Bruce's story relates to the desperate hope that the Waratah and her souls were unharmed, adrift in the Southern Ocean.
A steamer with 211 innocent lives, burning and blowing up is a concept to0 ghastly for acceptance on any level.
Further to this, if there was a bunker fire, the Lunds could have been held liable based on the bunker fire during the Waratah's maiden voyage. On that occasion, the fire started due to deficiencies in insulating material. A repair was made at Sydney, but raises the question; how many other insulating deficiencies remained unattended? 
The Lunds deployed every possible effort to discredit the Harlow account!

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