Monday, 19 October 2015

Waratah - Enquiry snippets.

Examiner (Launceston) Friday 10 February, 1911

(Telegraphed to the "Argus" fromFremantle.)
One of the principal witnesses in theWaratah enquiry this week was Sir William White, formerly director of navalconstruction for the Admiralty, who wascalled as an expert with regard to thevessel's stability. His opinion, based ona photograph, was that she comparedwell with other passenger ships.
Indeed -
Questioned on statements by certainpassengers that the Waratah was sohigh out of the water as to be dangerously exposed to wind pressure, witnesssaid that there was no foundation forthese. "If she left Durban in the condition she was believed to be in regarding cargo distribution her want of stability was not the cause of her loss. It was possible for the Waratah to have a less metacentric height than she had and still be sufficiently stable. A slight list on one side for two or three dayswas totally unimportant. 
Sir William White certainly put matters into perspective. The Waratah was alleged to have departed Durban with a metacentric height of 1.5 ft. She could have departed with a metacentric height of .7 ft. and still have been stable.
Answering Mr. A. Bucknill, representing the relativesof certain passengers, witness said thatif the vessel were dangerously top-heavyit would be known before she left harbour. The fact that she had a long, slow roll and a heavy recovery indicated that in heavy weather she would be remarkably steady. A long, slow rollwas rather for than against a ship.
Replying to Mr. John Dickinson(president of the court), witness doubtedthe accuracy of the memories or judgment of witnesses regarding the Waratah's behaviour at sea.
Yes, witness accounts were varied and swung from one extreme to the other.
Mr. Phillips, chief officer of the ClanMacintyre, which last saw the Waratah,said that if in a storm which followedthe sighting of the ship, the Waratah'ssteering gear was disabled the vesselwould become unmanageable and exposedto grave danger.
Mr. Shanks, superintending engineerof Lund's, said that the Waratah couldbe moved in dock absolutely empty. Herspar-deck was a new departure in theAnchor line, but quite common on othervessels. 
Mr. Shanks exaggerated. When light, the Waratah was not easy to move in a harbour setting. But this of course had nothing to do with the Waratah's stable condition when at sea. Interesting to note that the spar deck was by implication used for reserve bunker coal on other vessels. I don't think this statement refers to interchangeable cargo stowage and dormitories for emigrants. 
The arrangements between theowners and builders was that the Waratah should be as stable as, but not morethan, the Geelong. He came from Glasgow to London in the Waratah, and denied that she behaved so as to frightensome officers.
In relatively light condition (not being fully loaded + passengers) the Waratah may very well have been somewhat tender between Glasgow and London. 
Captain llbery, returningfrom his first voyage, told him thatthe Waratah was an excellent sea ship.'He had heard nothing from other officerswho accompanied Captain Ilbery butpraise'.
Again, there is an element of exaggeration. Yes, once the loading plan and ballasting had been adjusted, the Waratah was a steady vessel.
Mr. Bucknill suggested that the extraconsumption of 115 tons of coal dailyon the second voyage from Sydney toDurban indicated that the ship wasbeing driven to make a good passage,but witness said that this was due toweather conditions, and the extra coalnecessary for distillation purposes, therebeing a shortage of fresh water.
The Waratah did make Durban a day ahead of schedule, but the same can be said for the maiden voyage. I suspect the heavily loaded vessel demanded an increase in coal consumption over and above the reasons given.
Mr. Bucknill produced a letter fromLund's to the builders, complaining thatthe decks leaked badly on the maidenvoyage. Witness replied:-"I am quitesure the decks did not leak badly." Heinspected the Waratah when she returned from her first voyage, and foundnothing wrong with her.
I wonder if leaking decks was a feature of new ships? That or this feature, if true, could add to the bolt head that snapped off; gaps appearing; deficiency in insulation aft of the engine room etc.. a vessel that was not as soundly built as she could have been for the budget of 139 900 pounds.
Mr. Bucknill asked witness if he hadheard anything about a coaling difficultyin Sydney, and receiving a negative reply, produced letters from Mr. Hodder,chief engineer, to witness, wherein itwas stated:---"We had a lot of troublebunkering in Sydney. Twice the coaling was stopped by the captain beingafraid of the ship listing, and we leftSydney with the shoots empty, whichmeant about 130 tons." Witness said itwas 12 months since he had read thatletter, whereupon Mr. Bucknill remarked,"Evidently so."
I'm sure careful 'bunkering' was a feature of many steamers from that era. It stands to reason, until suitable trimming was achieved. It is interesting to note that the chutes accounted for 130 tons of coal. It was mentioned that the chutes were 'full' when the Waratah departed Durban which theoretically could have added 130 tons to the 240 tons on the spar deck. However, the Waratah departed Durban with suitable metacentric height stability, suggesting that this issue did not effect top heaviness.
Professor Welch, assessor of the Boardof Trade, read to witness an affidavitby Walter Merry, of Adelaide, in whichhe stated that in London he was warnedby sailors who made the maiden voyagethat at Sydney the Waratah nearlyturned turtle at the wharf. They saidshe would not stand rough weather, andwould never reach Sydney on the secondvoyage. Witness said that he had never hearda word of such stories.
Mr. Merry was refuted, as illustrated in a previous post.
Captain Bidwell, marine superintendent of Lund's, spoke highly of the Waratah, and said that when the captain returned from her maiden voyage he described her as a first-class ship in every respect.
Mr. Bidwell would say that, wouldn't he?
Mr. Laing, counsel for the Board ofTrade, said that Mr. Lund had statedthat he had been informed by eitherMr. Shanks or Mr. Bidwell that theWaratah had not the same stability asthe Geelong. Witness said, that he did not recollectit. 
Constant comparison with the Geelong at the Inquiry served no purpose whatsoever.
There were rumours in Lund's officeamong the clerks, - and when he mentioned these rumours to Captain Ilbery,the latter said they were only idle talk.Captain Ilbery said nothing about anycoaling difficulty in Sydney.
It does sound like gossip, particularly after the fact.
The president of the court read anextract from a deposition by one ofLund's tally clerks at Sydney, in whichhe said the second officer told him hedid not like the Waratah. "Between ourselves, I think she has a deck too many."Asked if the second officer was competent to express such an opinion, witness said, "Yes."
The Waratah was the first of the Blue Anchor Line vessels to have three superstructure decks. It was a departure from the familiar. I doubt whether a tally clerk had the expertise to comment and hearsay about what the second officer was alleged to have said was inadmissable.
The president then read a letter fromLund's to the builders, in which theysaid, "Captain Ilbery has been able toconvince us that this vessel is not morestable than the Geelong."Witness said that Lund's had nevertold him such a letter had been written,nor had he heard that the pilot whotook the Waratah in and out of Sydney had told Captain Ilbery she was atender ship.
Agreed. None of the pilots reported that the Waratah was tender when she departed the various ports.
A seaman and an apprentice on thesteamer Tottenham said that in August,1909 when off the African coast, theysaw objects like human bodies floatpast. One looked like a little girldressed in red. The captain would notlaunch a boat to recover the bodies, ashe said steamers were out searchingspecially for traces of the Waratah. Thecaptain told them not to say anythingabout what they had seen when theyreached Melbourne, as reporters mightquestion them, and it might causefriction.
It seems no one wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings that the Waratah had foundered.
Saunders, a stowaway on the maidenvoyage of the Waratah, said that hewas discovered at sea, and employed asa steward. He said a child could seethat the Waratah did not behave properly, and he left her at Melbourne. Shefairly scared him, and he made up hismind to get out. When a squall cameon she would be bound to topple over.
A stowaway is a very bad witness - period.
Trott, a cook on the maiden voyage,said that the vessel grounded on Kangaroo Island, and took six hours to refloat.
Mr. Stephens, representing Lund's,contradicted this statement. He saidthat the Waratah's log showed that shewas never less than 40 miles distantof Kangaroo Island on the way out. Onthe return voyage she passed at threemiles distance.
I wonder what the truth was about the Kangaroo Island incident? Stanley Robinson shared an interesting post describing a near 'hit', the first officer saving the day.
Depositions were read to-day, fromwhile the following are extracts:
Mr. Harris, chief engineer of thesteamer Harlow:-"On July 27, 1909,when off the African coast, I saw twolights, one a red light, apparently thoseof a steamer. I afterwards noticed largevolumes of smoke and a glare, afterwhich the lights disappeared. Therewere bush fires on shore. I expressed theopinion at the time that if that werea steamer she was on fire, the smokemight be attributable to bush fires."
I still find it difficult to digest that bush fires could have mimicked two masthead lights and a port side red light.
Captain Culverwell, of the steamerGuelph, said:-"On July 27 I saw asteamer, and signalled. I could only distinguish three final letters, "T.A.H,"
If the first letters were difficult to distinguish what probability is there that the last three were accurately interpreted?
The second officer of the Tottenhamstated:--"On August 16, when off theAfrican coast, I saw pieces of flesh inthe water. One was like the trunk ofa body. There was an albatross on it.All day we kept passing pieces of flesh,but could make nothing of them, as thesea was infested with sharks."
Gruesome and tragic. No one wanted to believe that the 'pieces of flesh' could have been the final outcome of souls on the Waratah. 
Sharp, a seaman who made themaiden voyage of the Waratah, said:"The lifeboats were very bad, continuallyleaking all the way from Las Palmas.We kept patching them with paint andputty, so that they could be filled withwater, 'Whenever there was any windthe Waratah was never straight, alwayslisting. She was top-heavy. I left atSydney, because I was frightened. Iwould not go back on her for £1000.When I applied to the chief officer fora berth in London, he advised me to getanother berth, saying, 'This ship willbe a coffin for somebody'. Some sailorswho made the maiden voyage told meI was foolish to join her, as she is topheavy, and nearly turned turtle in dockat Sydney. I heard the boatswain sayto the chief officer, 'These boats will beof little use to save life in.'
He would not go back on the Waratah for 1000 pounds, but applied to the chief officer for a berth at London. Assumptions, exaggerations and untruths.
Pinell, a carpenter, who made themaiden voyage, said:-"The lifeboatswere built of green wood, which openedout in the tropics. It was impossibleto repair them, as they had no material.The ship rolled considerably and waslike a cork on the water. The boatswould have nothing to do with the lossof the ship, but might have saved thepassengers."
The lifeboats were sorted out after the maiden voyage. Not that they would have been much help under the circumstances. Corks float very adequately - what is the point being made?
Lyons, a steward, said:-"I heard theboatswain say, 'I would not like tobe on this ship in a storm. She wouldgo to the bottom.' I heard the sailorssay they had to fill tanks to get herstraight, as she rolled too much. On thesecond voyage I believe the ship struck asubmerged rock after leaving Adelaide and loosened the plates underneath.
If the Waratah did in fact strike a submerged rock and loosened some plates, this could have been the setting and an important factor in the sequence of events which unfolded off the Wild Coast, 27 July.

a cork with a list


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