Saturday, 26 December 2015


Advertiser (Adelaide) Tuesday 10 August, 1909.
The cable message which was publishedin "The Advertiser" on Monday, to theeffect that the missing steamer Waratahhad called at Durban, and, after discharging cargo for that port, had taken on thebridge-deck coal to the amount of 300 tons,created a false impression among manypeople, who pictured 300 tons of coal piledup on the captain's bridge. Such a stateof things would have been directly opposedto the safety of the vessel. A true explanation of the facts, as communicated to arepresentative of this paper by the localagents. Messrs. George Wills & Co., however, dispels any idea of negligence or carelessness in shipping the coal. The cablegramonly mentions 300 tons of coal, but, as amatter of fact, 2,200 tons were taken onboard to replace the coal consumed on thevoyage from Australia to Durban. Theother 1,900 tons were placed in the bunkersand in the coal chambers (lower hold).The 300 tons were then stowed in bunkersunder the bridge-deck, which is itself thethird deck down, the two above it being theboat-deck (with the captain's bridge) andthe promenade-deck. Thus it can be seenthat no extra -danger at all accrued fromthe coal being placed as it was. It is, infact, the usual custom to carry a reservesupply of coal in the bridge-deck bunkers.
The issue of coal on the spar or bridge decks garnered much attention. The figure of 300 tons was also realistic compared with other quoted figures of 250 and 340 tons. The Waratah had an established reputation for being top heavy and it was no wonder that this component of coal spawned the word 'negligence' and controversy that was to span decades to come. 
Sadly, no attempts to were made to see the 300 tons of coal in the context of adjusted cargo stowage and ballasting. Captain Ilbery was far too experienced and thorough to have resorted to blatantly negligent loading. He had an almost unblemished career record over some 50 years, which HAS to be taken into account. It upsets me that modern day attempts are made to discredit him, a man who went to his death with the Waratah and 210 other souls, never to be given a chance to defend himself in the world's eyes. 
I have gone to great lengths to prove that by the fourth and last voyage, Captain Ilbery had conquered the Waratah's natural tendency to top heaviness. But Captain Ilbery could not remake the Waratah and had to deal with his employers' steamer. Compensation came in the form of relative overloading, which was better the devil he knew. In fact, on the final voyage from Adelaide to Durban, Captain Ilbery created a steamer which was too stiff, resulting in an excessive righting force, sending passengers sprawling on deck. 
The solution at Durban was a simple one - instead of readjusting cargo stowage and ballasting, Captain Ilbery placed 300 tons of coal on the spar deck reducing the GM from 1.9 ft. to a very satisfactory, but more comfortable and safe, 1.5 ft. - no further hazardous jerks on recovery. 
We are left with one final, eye witness-confirmed piece of evidence that Captain Ilbery had established an upright, GM stable steamer. Both the Captain Weir and officer Phillips watched the Waratah's progress over at least 3 hours. In this time she showed no signs whatsoever of being tender.
But the Waratah's legacy was entrenched and very few modern day observers are prepared to look at the logic of the sequence of events, disregarding Captain Ilbery's expertise and valiant attempts to bring the Waratah to heel. I do not believe the Waratah rolled over in the storm of 28 July, due to top heaviness, whether the Harlow account is true or not!

Captain J E Ilbery

it appalls me that modern day innuendos of negligence are cast in the direction of this great mariner.

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