Thursday, 12 November 2015


On Thursday, the 5th November, 1908, the "Waratah" left London on her maiden voyage. She carried 67 cabin passengers, 689 emigrants, and a crew of 154. She was surveyed the same day off Gravesend by the emigration officer, Captain M. H. Clarke, who found she fully complied with all the requirements of the Merchant Shipping Acts. From his report it appears that the ship had three Lord Kelvin compasses, one on top of the chart room, one on the bridge, and one in the wheelhouse aft, besides four boat compasses properly stowed in lockers.

Evidence as to the behaviour of the ship both on her outward and her homeward voyage was forthcoming from a number of persons. The effect of this evidence is exhibited in the following tabular statement:


Name of Witness.

Harry McKay Bennett.

Late third mate of "Waratah."

Left her on promotion to the "Narrung."

At sea since 1898, the "Waratah" his first passenger ship.

There was nothing extraordinary in her behaviour

She had no abnormal list, never more than four or five degrees due to wind pressure, or working bunkers.

Very easy in rolling

An even roll throughout

Would call her a tender ship

She was tender on the maiden, outbound voyage, but not to an extent that alarmed Mr. Bennett. We have to keep in mind that he was promoted within the Blue Anchor Line, and might have been biased in the Waratah's favour. However, the Blue Anchor Line, by this time, was absorbed into the P&O Line, so perhaps bias was not as great as imagined.

Frederick Little

General servant on "Waratah."

Left her at Durban on homeward voyage to take a shore job.

At sea since 1906.

Noticed nothing on the way out. No bad weather.

The behaviour of the Waratah on the maiden, outbound voyage, did not seem out of the ordinary to Mr. Little. He was 'at sea since 1906' which suggests that he did not have much experience at sea, so perhaps the expertise of his comment, was limited.

Herbert Comer Herbert.

Steward. Four years at sea on passenger steamers, none larger than the "Waratah."

Left because he did not like the ship.

She had a list nearly all the time

Would stop for a day or two on the same side, then go to the other side, and stop a day or two.

No excessive rolling.

Clearly Mr. Herbert was not happy with the tender Waratah. However, he makes the point that the Waratah did not roll excessively, which is a point we shall return to at a later stage. The Waratah was, by implication, probably the largest steamer Mr. Herbert had worked on, and as such, his experience on such vessels was limited.  

Edgar H. Pask

Ordinary seaman on "Waratah," acting as officers' servant.

Now captain of a racing yacht.

Other experience all in yachts and smacks.

I certainly thought she was top heavy

She had a long roll. She was a long while coming up at times, and she never seemed to be upright.

If there was a little air of wind she would simply lie on one side, and, if a blow of wind came, the other side, and sometimes if she got upright she was just as likely to drop on the other side.

Rolled excessively for the weather, a slow roll.

She was a good while lying down and a long while coming back.

A slow recovery, no jerk.

She always had a slight list away from the wind.

It was a long steady roll center through, and then came back slowly to the other side.

She would have a list even when the wind was ahead.

This is an important description by an experienced seaman. He described a tender steamer, with a significant top hamper. This does not imply that the Waratah was dangerously unstable, but simply, relatively tender. Passenger steamers, particularly those with luxury accommodation, were designed to be relatively tender, with long, slow, gentle heeling pattern. Mr Pask made a further very important observation; 'a slow recovery, no jerk.' This is in keeping with the Waratah's initially reduced GM. A 'jerk' is a feature of a stiffer vessel - something that was to come, later, when the GM was significantly improved.

Albert Vandam

Passenger, Cape Town to Sydney.

Had travelled on steamships for 15 years, P. & O., Union Castle, British India, and Nippon Yusen Kaisha.

List continued for two or three days and then went over to the other side, not an alarming list.

I have seen similar occurrences.

No roll out of the common, but all one way.

No noticeable jerk.

Again we have an informed comment describing the Waratah as she was on the maiden voyage. Mr. Vandam reinforced the fact that there was no 'jerk', which is in keeping with the Waratah as she was at that point in time.

SS Princess Charlotte, circa 1908. A significant top hamper was not exclusive to the Waratah.

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