Friday, 11 December 2015


Reports as to the Sighting of Bodies. 

These emanate from two ships, the "Insizwa" and the "Tottenham." Both reports relate to the same day, the 11th August. 

1. The master of the "Insizwa" said that when about 10 miles off the Bashee River on that date, he sighted four objects in the water floating beneath the surface, and that they looked suspiciously like human bodies. The sea was too heavy for a boat to be lowered to investigate. Two of his officers also saw the objects; one of the officers was inclined to agree with the master, the other declined to express an opinion. 

2. Certain officers of the steamship "Tottenham" state that when she was 20 or 25 miles south of East London on the same day, they saw some human bodies in the water. This was reported to the master, who at once put back, and from what he saw he was disposed to consider that what were taken for human remains were nothing more than dead sunfish or whale offal. It was stated by a witness that there is a whaling station at Durban from whence a large amount of such offal is set adrift. The Court is inclined to accept the explanation offered by the master of the "Tottenham." The "Waratah" was last seen by the "Clan Macintyre" at 9.30 a.m. on the 27th July, and was then abreast of the Bashee River. Throughout that day the "Waratah" must have made considerable progress to the south; she was not at any rate overhauled by the "Clan Macintyre." She must consequently have passed East London before she met the heavy storm to which she probably succumbed, and, if she did so succumb, her loss must have taken place some distance south of the most southerly point where the presence of dead bodies was reported. The whole set of the current in that part of the sea is southward and westward, and, on the above-mentioned supposition, any bodies from the "Waratah" would have drifted with it in a direction away from the Bashee River. Even if it be suggested that they had at the time of observation not long risen from the submerged ship, the facts that the latter, if she had foundered would have been lying much further south, and that the set of the current is southward and westward, are still against the possibility of the bodies being where they were said to have been. 

The alleged sightings of bodies is surely one of the most heart wrenching aspects of this tragedy. Mr. Day, of the Tottenham, declared under oath that there were bodies, and not 'offal' as claimed by the master. The Court assumed that it was impossible for bodies from the Waratah to be sighted at the Bashee River location, given that she had proceeded significantly further southwest by the time she foundered. Quite simply, the counter argument is this; the Waratah had come about and was retracing her course back to Durban when she foundered. Under such circumstances, bodies could have drifted from a position in the vicinity of Cape Hermes with the prevailing Agulhas Current and ended up where the alleged sightings took place. One would not expect bodies to drift in 'convoy', explaining the discrepancy in locations, north and south of East London.

It has been said that crews were honourable and as in the case of the Harlow, would have gone back to investigate if there had actually been a large steamer astern. In both the above cases, excuses were offered, but nothing done to confirm the alleged sightings or attempt to recover bodies. Insurance cover at the time precluded going out of course to 'investigate' or recover bodies. This was the Wild Coast, let's not forget. It would have been risky in challenging sea conditions for any of the vessels to 'have gone out of their course'.

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