Wednesday, 4 November 2015


A range of coaling ports in the side, above the main deck, enabled the bunkers on and below that deck to be filled. 

The watertight bulkheads were seven in number, extending to the spar deck, and one, which was not watertight, extended to the main deck. 

There were nine tanks in the double bottom, and also fore and after peak tanks. Their capacities were:

Ballast tank no: 1      129 tons. 

Ballast tank no: 2      219 tons

Ballast tank no: 3      168 tons 

Ballast tank no: 4      118 tons 

Ballast tank no: 5      179 tons 

Ballast tank no: 6      78 tons 

Ballast tank no: 7      83 tons 

Ballast tank no: 8      222 tons 

Ballast tank no: 9      42 tons 

Forepeak:  53 tons 

Afterpeak: 47 tons 


1,338 tons. 

No 3 and No. 7 had each a watertight central division, and No. 4 was divided into four watertight compartments. All the other tanks in double bottom had central and side divisions which were pierced with holes. Nos. 4, 6, and 7 were used only for fresh water.

Captain Bidwell claimed that the Waratah's ballast tanks were empty on her return voyage. No explanation was offered at the Inquiry. This implies that the Waratah did not need 1338 tons of dead weight ballast in the lowest compartments of her hull. No doubt the 1338 tons were adequately offset by a very significant cargo component, deeply loaded. Empty ballast tanks would provide important buoyancy, particularly in an overloaded steamer.  

She carried 16 lifeboats capable of accommodating 787 people, one other boat which would take 29 people, and three patent rafts which would support 105 people. She also had on board 14 lifebuoys, two of which, fitted with Holmes lights, were placed on the navigating bridge, and 930 lifebelts (ordinary cork). She was provided with a sufficiency of distress signals and lights. There were three chronometers in the chart room, and all necessary charts and sailing directions. She had a Kelvin patent sounding machine, and four hand leads and lines. 

Lifesaving and navigating appliances were sufficient. Note the absence of wireless installation.

She was fitted with Kirkcaldy's distilling apparatus, capable of producing 5,500 gallons of drinking water in 24 hours. 

This system could produce 24.6 tons (corrected) of fresh water per 24 hours. Such volumes were extraordinary for 1909. Ballast tanks 4, 6, and 7 (279 tons) were designated for fresh water only, which the Kirkcaldy system could produce in 11 days (corrected). Perhaps the desalinated water from the Kirkcaldy system replenished ballast tanks 4, 6, and 7 in a daily demand system, providing the ship with fresh water? However, if we stick to the claim of empty ballast tanks - across the board - the increased demands from the Kirkcaldy system, in the absence of a supply of fresh water in ballast tanks 4, 6 and 7, accounted in part for the increased consumption of coal during the Waratah's return voyage. But if the ballast tanks remained empty, where could the fresh water produced by the Kirkcaldy's system have been stored?? 

The gear for extinguishing fire was in accordance with Board of Trade requirements.

Fire fighting gear, according to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, included:

(2) A sea-going passenger steamer shall be provided with a hose capable of being connected with the engines of the steamer, and adapted for extinguishing fire in any part of the steamer.

 (d) With a fire engine in proper working order and of such description and power, and either with or without such other apparatus for extinguishing fire as the emigration officer may approve;

If a fire ultimately did cause the loss of the Waratah, the Court of Inquiry would have been faced with an unsettling scrutiny of the Board of Trade requirements regarding fire extinguishing gear. One does wonder if issues such as this contributed to the ultimate disregard of the Harlow account??



Stuart Flood said...

What were the regulations regarding fire fighting equipment aboard ships in 1909? With all those wooden fittings and panelling especially in first and second class ships in that period must have been fire traps. The earliest reference to a shipboard sprinkler system I have heard of was one fitted to the HAPAG lines Imperator in 1913 due some fires breaking out in the first few months of operation.

andrew van rensburg said...

Hi Stuart. As far as I am aware, according to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, (2) A sea-going passenger steamer shall be provided with a hose capable of being connected with the engines of the steamer, and adapted for extinguishing fire in any part of the steamer. This basic system certainly had limitations, water not always being the solution to the problem; flooding of compartments leading to destabilization etc.. Annie Boyd, in her exceptional volume, 'Koombana Days', presented another option, not included in the above Act's regulations:

'The Clayton’s system consisted mainly of a combustion chamber and a large fan. In the combustion chamber, rolled sheets of sulphur, placed on trays, were ignited to produce a large volume of sulphur dioxide gas which was then forced into the sealed hold to starve the fire of oxygen. For most fires the method was extremely effective. If time were allowed for the hold to cool before fresh air was admitted, total extinguishment was the usual result. But spontaneous combustion in wool or fodder was notoriously difficult to extinguish, because the seat of the fire was hidden somewhere within a steaming, smoking mass. The problem for the Clayton’s apparatus, or for any system that relied upon a retardant gas, was that the gas did not always penetrate to where it was most needed. Naked flames on the outside of a wool bale would be quickly suppressed, while the glowing source remained hidden and insulated, like the buried ashes of a camp fire. After ordering the system activated, Rees allowed it to run continuously for thirty hours before opening the hold to check the results. As fresh air flowed in, the fire quickly re-established itself. He ordered the hold resealed and the process begun again.'

The Koombana, by the way, was built across the Clyde River from the Waratah, 1908.

Thanks for the info on the Imperator, 1913. Andrew