Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Waratah - Marion Island sighting; what if?

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Monday 14 February, 1910
LONDON, February 12.
The whaling schooner Ulva, which hasjust arrived at Durban, reports having, onNovember 23, during a snowstorm, sighteda large two-funnelled steamer under sail,and evidently in distress, south of MarionIsland. The Waratah had only one funnel.On the other hand, no two-funnel steamerhas been missing.
Melbourne, February 11.
The following cablegram was received to-day by Mr. Short, secretary to the Premier, from the Premier of Natal:—"Instructions contained in your code telegramto-day will be communicated to the commanding officer of the Wakefield on arrival at Durban. The port captain has forwarded a report from the master of the schooner Ulva, which arrived at Durban fromMarion Island on .February 7. The reportsstate that on .November 22 or 23 last steamer was sighted from the island going south-east under sail, and appeared to be travelling about three knots per hour. The vessel was not sighted by the master of the Ulva, but was reported to him as having been passed by a sealing party on the south end of the island. 
According to the description given, it was a big vessel, with two funnels, and the fact that she carried all possible canvas seems to prove that she was in distress. The vessel was only seenonce between snow squalls, and disappearedin the fol.owing squall, the weather being very cloudy at the time."
Melbourne, February 13.
Captain J. Mitchell, after perusing themessage regarding the distressed steamerto-night and spending three hours in studyinghis charts and records or weather in the Southern Ocean since the disappearanceof the Waratah, said he had tried to think it was not the Waratah, but no other steamer, so far as he knew, had been reported as missing, and the waters in which Marion Island was situated were right outsideof the regular track. As the crow fliesMarion Island was 900 miles from AlgoaBay, the point to which the Waratah was last traced, and from the morning of July29, when she disappeared, to November 22was 117 days. Now if this strange vesselwas the Waratah, and circumstancesseemed to point to it being so, her drifthad worked out at about 7.5 knots per dayas the crow flies. The steamer Waikato,during a period of 90 days after her breakdown, only covered four knots per day,but she had variable winds, and the Waratah's weather, if afloat, would be from north and north-west. That would cause her to drift south out of the Agulhas current. The Waratah only had one funnel, but the sealers on Marion Island might have seen an improvised sail in position, which would lead them to mistake it for a funnel. These men could have heardnothing about the loss of the Waratah.
They were simple people, and they usuallywent out sealing for the whole season, sowould receive no news from the outsideworld. Their story, therefore, was certainly not a fake. The captain of the schooner evidently attached importance to what the sealers had seen, for he had made his report direct to the portmaster of Durban, thus giving the story a ring of truth.
"I should think," continued CaptainMitchell, "that if Captain Ilbery hadany command over his vessel atall after her breakdown he wouldkeep well to the south in orderto get the strong south-west and westerlywinds, to help him to make his eastingtowards Australia. Now Kerguelen Island lies about 1,320 miles from Marion Island, and at 20 miles per day as the crow flies it would take this strange vessel 60 days to get there. I have come to the conclusion, therefore, that she is in the vicinity of Kerguelen Island. The ship'scompany may be quite safe there now."
Captain Hallett, chairman of theWaratah search committee, in an interviewsaid, "I don't think the vessel sighted couldbe anything else than the Waratah. Myopinion is that a ventilating canvas flue hasbeen mistaken for a second funnel in thehasty glimpse the sealers caught of the vessel; consider the incident is a very hopeful one indeed."
Captain Tickell, who has his son on boardthe Waratah, and who has all along beenconspicuous for his hopefulness in regardto the missing steamer's safety, said-
"I don't know how any steamer could get where this one was sighted by legitimate means, and it is certainly one which has broken down and is in distress. We have not heard of any vessel being missing except the Waratah, so that I think the chances are that it is she." 

This fascinating report and commentary reminds me of a previous post:
One thing is clear, if the Waratah did end up in the vicinity of Marion Island, and drifted even further south into the 'wall of Antarctic Ice', she would have vanished without a trace.

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