Wednesday, 9 December 2015


Mr. Sawyer's evidence had considerable prominence during the course of the investigation, but while the court is convinced that this gentleman was doing his best to assist the Court by his evidence, there seem to be in it only three points requiring detailed examination. These are: (1) the big list off Melbourne, (2) the behaviour of the ship off Cape Leeuwin, and (3) her behaviour when pitching. 

1. Mr. Sawyer's evidence is to the effect that the ship started from the wharf at Melbourne with a list to port. Outside the Heads it changed to starboard, and later on returned to the port side. The initial list cannot have been very appreciable, because Mr. Dow, the pilot who took the ship from the wharf to the heads, noticed "no sign of a list while at the pier or while going down the bay." Information was sought by the Court through the Board of Trade as to the weather prevailing outside Port Phillip Heads when the "Waratah" passed. A telegram from the Registrar of Shipping states that the wind was S.E., a moderate gale, and that the sea was moderate. The effect of a strong south-east wind on a ship coming out of the bay would be to list her to starboard. When she had proceeded some distance further she would have the wind aft, and the initial list, if existing, would again become evident. The weather conditions seem adequately to explain Mr. Sawyer's observations.

My belief is that Mr. Sawyer was prone to exaggeration. He claimed that the Waratah listed to 45 degrees, which was never the case. Having a prominent top hamper, the Waratah was likely to list to some degree in a 'moderate gale'. I agree with the Court's assessment.  

2. As to the behaviour of the ship off Cape Leeuwin, the Court had the letter of Mr. Ebsworth written to his wife before the loss of the ship, and his description entered in his diary at the time. Mr. Richardson also dealt with the point. He described the rolling as a slow majestic roll with a distinct pause at the extremity. Mr. Sawyer is probably describing the same action.

Mr. Ebsworth was not alarmed by the performance of the Waratah and referred to her as a comfortable vessel. Captain Ilbery explained the 'distinct pause at the extremity' relating to the many thousands of tons (heavy vessel) in motion in with a significant momentum, subjected to a change in force (righting action) resulting in the pause. 

3. Briefly, Mr. Sawyer's complaint is that she did not rise forward as she encountered successive waves; but there was nothing in the construction, trim, or loading of the vessel which would make her behaviour in this particular different from that of other ships of similar size and type in like conditions of sea.

I disagree. Mr. Sawyer had in fact observed the performance of a heavily loaded, somewhat under powered steamer, with reduced buoyancy, and this was corroborated by Mr. Saunders. He voyaged on a number of vessels, of equivalent size, and was discerning in this observation. Of course, by this stage, the Court had avoided discussions surrounding the possibility of a steamer that was too heavy and were to hold this course throughout the Inquiry to conclusion. Such influence certain parties must have had !

It should be noted that whilst Mr. Sawyer was so alarmed by what he saw of the ship's behaviour that he left her, Mr. Ebsworth, who had the same opportunities of observation, and who had discussed the matter with Mr. Sawyer, went on in the vessel, and had made arrangements with Mr. Saunders (see his evidence set out ante) to return in her to Australia. 

Aside from the heaviness factor, both Mr. Ebsworth and Mr. Saunders were both satisfied that the Waratah was generally safe, having experienced the Waratah with a significantly improved GM. Mr. Ebsworth was an expert and his commitment to returning on the Waratah was enough evidence of the Waratah's steadiness to support mutual 'arrangements':

'It may not be generally known that Mr. Ebsworth is himself an experienced sailor. A few years ago he published a little book dealing with the law of master and seaman and claims for salvage.' 

Claude Sawyer 

John Ebsworth

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