Sunday, 22 November 2015


Witnesses were forthcoming as to the vessel's behaviour on her last voyage. Their evidence is set out in tabular form as follows:


Nicholas Sharp

Seaman on "Waratah"

London to Sydney.

At sea since 1896.

She was all right in fine weather and smooth water, but as soon as you got the wind a little on the beam she would hang over that way she seemed to be top-heavy. She was very crank. I did not think she was safe, and shammed sick to get clear of her.

The chief officer, when engaging me, said, "If you can get anything else, take it, because this ship will be a coffin for somebody."

Going round the Ushant Light, the vessel had the wind and sea on her beam, and she there commenced to roll very noticeably. She appeared to hang and shake at the end of the roll, before recovering herself and commencing the return roll. The roll to leeward was more pronounced than the roll to windward. She would sometimes roll to leeward, stop, and then continue the roll further, and then recover.

The vessel appeared to be very badly balanced, and to be "dead" in the water if there was any sea on. 

Could it get more damning than this? One wonders if the changes suggested by the builders had been implemented. If there were indeed 3456 tons of coal in permanent and reserve bunkers, one can understand the persistence of a 'crank' ship. I doubt whether the chief officer would have made such a comment. It was hearsay and the chief officer gone to the depths.

Alfred Philip Pinel. 

Carpenter's mate on "Waratah."

In the Royal Navy nine years.

As regards seaworthiness, she was all right. As regards stability, she was a bit top-heavy. She rolled very heavily. There was a big roll crossing the Bight, and I thought she was never going to come back two or three times.

At least this comment was moderated by 'bit' top-heavy. However, saying that Waratah 'was never going to come back two or three times' is a terrible indictment of a top heavy steamer!! Furthermore, this man had navy experience and did not equate this performance with dreadnoughts - visually top heavy. In seemingly understated fashion Mr. Pinel damned Waratah - penultimate voyage.

Samuel Lyons

Steward on "Waratah"

One day she gave a very heavy lurch, and stopped there, over to the starboard side. The boatswain said, "By God, I wouldn't like to be on this ship in a storm; she would go to the bottom."

She was very top-heavy; she never seemed to right herself.

Going from bad to worse.

Frederick Carl Lusakin.

Steward on "Waratah"

First experience at sea.

The ship was right enough. Never heard anyone on board run her down. The carpenter was my intended brother-in-law, and he never complained of the ship. 

Hard to believe and in the light of his brother-in-law worrying that Waratah would not 'come back two or three times'. One wonders about witness accounts such as this one!

William Stephen Powell.

Steward on "Waratah"

First time at sea.

Seemed a steady enough boat, but it was good weather all the way out. Heard the sailors say she was top heavy. 

Similar to the above, but in this case reported that the sailors referred to the Waratah as top heavy. There was no getting away from this impression and rightly so during this particular voyage.

Alan George Melville.

Clerk who tallied grain from "Ennerdale" into "Waratah" at Sydney.

I said to Mr. Owen (the chief officer) in the presence of Mr. Morgan (third officer), "Well, how do you like your new ship, Mr. Owen?" He replied, "Splendid." I said, "What's she like in a seaway?" He replied, "I was never in a better." Mr. Morgan then said, "She's like a rocking chair."

The comments started to roll to a more favourable side, but this one seems perfectly ridiculous in its exaggerations!

Brightmer John Shore. 

Steward on "Waratah" 

Always had a list and would change her list as often as three or four times in the course of an hour or an hour and half. Rolled heavily. 

This is starting to get depressing. Seems that no measurable changes, for the better, had been made in stowing and ballasting the flagship.

William. H. Pearson Baker. 

Seaman on "Waratah," but worked in the stokehold. 

Had nothing against the ship, she only rolled when there was a bit of a blow.

Well, that stands to reason taking into consideration her three prominent superstructure decks. But there is a ray of light emerging in favour of the much-maligned steamer.  

Herbert Duncan Mason. 

Passenger. An engineer holding a first class certificate, 33 years at sea. 

Nothing to prove the ship seaworthy or not coming out because smooth all the time. The only time there was a bit of a breeze, coming out of Melbourne, she heeled over very heavily. She did not recover herself properly, was not quick enough. In my opinion, if she got in a heavy seaway and did not recover herself which I do not think she would, she would get another one on top of her and I believe she went over. 

The mate and I were old friends, and I said to him, "Owen, if I were you I would get out of this ship; she will be making a big hole in the water some of these days." He said, "I'm afraid she will," and he told me himself that when discharging cargo in Adelaide they had to be very careful in getting them out; she would go over as easily as possible either one way or the other. 

All trace of favour gone in this one account by an undoubted expert. Mr. Mason described a tender ship. By the time Waratah was 'coming out of Melbourne' she has discharged cargo at both Adelaide and Melbourne which would have contributed to tenderness - although one must acknowledge that a certain amount of cargo was shipped at Adelaide (how much??). We do know that her draft was an eye-watering 21 ft. 5 in., more than 7 ft. short of her final voyage draft!!! No wonder Mr. Mason had this to say!!

George Doughty Short. 

A.B. on "Waratah" 

A good sea boat, no list to notice, but a fine weather passage.

A no-nonsense account, brief and to the point. He did however make the important point that the Waratah was not challenged by rough weather. 

Reginald Thomas Richards. 


Had been an A.B. 

Noticed nothing peculiar, but no rough weather. A first class seagoing ship.

Comments swinging back to the side of favour, but again the point about 'no rough weather'. 

William Duncan 

Chief officer. s.s. "Hunter," which discharged bullion into "Waratah" at Sydney. 

She had a big list over on to the wharf, but that might have been due to the way they were discharging cargo. She struck me as being tender.

Confirms our knowledge that the Waratah was tender in a port setting, and as Mr. Duncan stated, part of the problem could have related to unbalanced offloading of cargo, in the absence of appropriate ballast. 

Thomas John Burrin. 

See ante (maiden voyage homeward). 

Between Gabo and Sydney was awakened by the list which had become very pronounced, she righted herself, list only lasted a few minutes. 

Behaviour of ship gave no cause to fear for her safety.

A draft of 21 ft. 5 in. is still ringing in my ears!!!

Edward Dischler 

A.B. on "Waratah" 

Had been in 14 deep sea vessels. 

The ship when rolling went over on one side and did not seem to be able to recover herself, but stayed there quite an appreciable time. 

She appeared to be dead in the water and to have difficulty in keeping on an even keel. 

The unsteadiest boat I ever made a voyage in, and was absolutely unseaworthy in my opinion. 

If there was a shade of hope in the form of the relatively favourable accounts, Mr. Dischler shattered any illusions about the flagship. In Mr. Dischler's opinion, the Waratah was NOT SEAWORTHY.

It was said that Captain Ilbery's health was not good before departure and Captain Pidgeon was earmarked for the task. But at the last moment Captain Ilbery took charge and responsibility. This could explain why Waratah departed London in this condition before Captain Ilbery was given chance to implement important changes. He certainly implemented effective changes by the return voyage, not that that made any impression on the top heavy legend destined to live into posterity.

SS Eastland - top heavy, despite the absence of towering superstructure decks.

No comments: