Thursday, 30 April 2015


The following extract from a newspaper report is one of the vital pieces of circumstantial evidence supporting the theory that the Waratah foundered off the Wild Coast and not further down the coast. For bodies to have been discovered off East London two weeks after the Waratah went missing, they would have to have drifted down the coast with the prevailing Agulhas Current. At the time when these statements were made, there were no other reports of vessels foundering off the Wild Coast. The bodies could only have originated from the Waratah. Mr Day was prepared to support his allegations under oath:

"When the Tottenham arrived off the Cape of Good Hope the sea became fearfully high and the master deemed it advisable to turn back and go to Simon's Bay. On arriving there a boat put off from H.M.S. Forte with an officer aboard to make inquiries whether the Tottenham had seen anything of the Waratah, and reply was given by the chief officer that there was nothing to report."

"The second officer, signalling with a Morse lamp, inquired of the warship if she had any further news of the Waratah, and was informed that the steamers Director and Insizwa, which had left Durban about the same time as the Tottenham, had reported seeing bodies floating off East London, and that the Forte had orders to proceed to the vicinity and ascertain what these bodies were."

"It will be remembered that the Forte afterwards reported that she had seen some large fish floating, and that it was surmised that these were what the captains of the Director and Insizwa had seen. Concerning this, however, Mr. Day says:--"The chief and second officers of the Tottenham stated to me and others on board the ship that they saw the body, of a little girl, and could stake their lives that it was that of a girl 10 of 12 years of age, and not fish."

"Mr. Day adds that the second engineer also stated that he saw the body of a woman and the trunk of another body close to the ship. The seas were running mountains high when the Tottenham was proceeding on her voyage."

"Speaking from memory as to dates, having, unfortunately, left his notebook on the Tottenham, Mr. Day says the Tottenham arrived at Durban about midnight on Saturday, August 7, and anchored in the roadstead, signalling her arrival to the lighthouse."

"The Insizwa was also anchored in the roadstead, and at about 1 a.m. Mr. Day, who was then on watch, received a signal from her, asking if he knew anything about the missing Waratah. Mr. Day replied in the negative, stating that the Tottenham had just come from Port Pirie (Adelaide). Owing to the rough state of the weather the Tottenham remained in port till the Tuesday morning at 8 o'clock when she left for Antwerp, with instructions to keep a diligent look-out for the Waratah."

"The sea at the time was very high. When off East London the incidents already described took place. Mr. Day says he pointed out to the officers an albatross sitting on something, and the steamer was brought round to make an examination, which fully convinced him that the object on which the bird as perched was the trunk of a body, with the arms and legs missing."


"Mr. Day says that strict injunctions were given on the Tottenham to say nothing of the affair, and that he overheard the apprentice, by request, give an account of what he had seen to a gentleman whom he believed to be the agent of the Tottenham."

"The apprentice was then advised to say nothing of the affair, as it might cause friction."

"Let me remark," added Mr. Day, "lest people think I might bear prejudice against anyone, that such suggestions, if they are made, are absolutely incorrect. I deny any prejudice, and any statement I have made here I am prepared to make on oath. My reason for making this statement now is that, while I was on the vessel, orders were given to keep the thing quiet, and now I am off the vessel I am free to speak my mind as regard to what I saw and what others on the ship told me they saw. I have clean discharges from and credentials from all ships on which I have served."

Why would such reports have caused 'friction'?

Firstly, I believe that the general public would have taken a dim view of the master's decision not to retrieve the bodies - rough seas or not.

Secondly, there was a desperate prevailing hope that the Waratah was adrift and her souls alive. This brutal evidence would surely have shattered such hope and I do not believe the Tottenham's master was prepared to take such responsibility.


The Register, Adelaide, Monday, 30 August, 1909

An enormous fleet of vessels is continually traversing the Indian Ocean followingdifferent routes, and if the Waratah is stillafloat she should shortly be spoken. In the majority of instances the commanders have been requested to keep a strict lookout for traces of the missing steamer,which sailed from Durban on July 26 andwas due at Captown on July 28. 
The Waratah may be sighted by any of the following liners: —
Geelong (Lund's Blue Anchor line), fromLondon, bound to Australia. She leftCapetown on August 12 with instructionsto make a thorough search for her sistership, and will not follow her ordinarycourse. According to her time table sheshould reach Adelaide to-day, but heragents do not expect that she will arrivehere until later.
Commonwealth (Lund's Blue Anchorline), from Sydney, bound to London,sailed from Adelaide on August 5, andreached Durban last week.
Indralema (Tyser line), from London,bound to Melbourne and. Sydney, passedthe Cape of Good Hope on August 9, buther commander is probably unaware thatthe Waratah is missing.
Arawa (Shaw, Savill and Albion - Company's line), which left Capetown onAugust 13 en route from London to Wellington. The captain was requested at theCape to search for the overdue vessel. 
Goslar (German-Australian line), - leftAlgoa Bay on August 12, en route fromHamburg to Sydney, and is due at Melbourne on Wednesday next.
Franken (Nord-Deutscher Lloyd), sailedfrom Durban on August 10 on her wayfrom Bremen to Sydney. She will firsttouch at Fremantle.
Suevic (White Star Line), from London,bound to Sydney, took her departure fromCapetown on Angust 10, and is due at Albany next Friday.
Duiker (new dredge, purchased, by Harbour Trust Commissioners). LeftDurban on July 31 for Sydney and maypossibly sight the Waratah, though shewould probably be unable to render assistance.
Karoola (new steamer for McLlwraith,McEacharn. & Co.), from Glasgow to Melbourne, left Durban on Tuesday last, andis due at Albany on September 7.
Swazi, , dispatched from Adelaide onAugust 15 for South Africa direct.
Ruapehu (New Zealand Shipping Company Line), which left London for Wellington on August 5. will be asked to makea search in the Indian Ocean.
Perthshire (Federal-Houlder-Shire Line),left Sydney on July 28 for South Africaand London. She will first call at Durban.
Moravian (Aberdeen line), sailed fromSydney on July, 13 for London, and is dueat Durban on September 9.
Surrey (Federal-Houlder-Shire Line),passcd Capetown on August 10, en routefrom London to Adelaide.
Salamis from London, left Capetown onMonday last, and is due at Melbourne onSeptember 12.
Tasmanic (Swedish-Australian Line),which left Natal on August 13, en routefrom Gothenburg to Australia. Capt. Hakinnson undertook to make a search onhis way across. 
Orange Branch, from Sydney to Antwerpand London, left Albany on August 5.
Port Pirie (Anglo- Australian line), boundto Antwerp, left Albany on July 28.
The E.H.S. liner Ayrshire, whichberthed at Port Adelaide on Sunday afternoon, was one of many steamers speciallyinstructed to keen a lookout for the missing Waratah while steaming towards Australia. 
The Ayrshire left Capetown onAugust 8—13 days after the Lund boatsailed from Durban. Although a sharplookout was kept no trace of the missingsteamer or flotsam and jetsam of any description was observed. For four days andnights men were stationed in the crow'snest, in the hope of seeing signs of theWaratah.
In addition to vessels deployed in search of the Waratah, this article describes the full extent of attempts made to locate the Waratah adrift.
There can be no doubt that the Waratah did not suffer mechanical failure and did not remain afloat for a significant period of time.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Waratah Fan Club

Check out this amazing site on facebook:

Emlyn Brown is without a doubt the doyen of Waratah Watchers.

Another great site:

Monday, 13 April 2015


Another disadvantage to the quadruple expansion engine, apart from vibration and sub-optimal performance, is complexity of the machinery. A mariner at the time made this comment about the pins joining the pistons to connecting rods:

"The vessel has two sets of quadruple expansion engines,
I believe this means there would be four of these pins in each
set of engines. Now, if one of these pins
were to break say the high pressure cylinder
where the steam enters from the
boilers, and where, of course, the greatest
steam is, the connecting rod would immediately
fly over with a crash, and probably
go through the skin lining, and thus cause
an inrush of water before anything could
he done to stop the leak."

The Waratah had two engine rooms housing the steam engines and if this were to have happened, water could have rushed into the one engine room causing a rapid and marked list to that side before action could be taken to secure the gash in the hull. Under such circumstances the Waratah would list dangerously. A heavily loaded Waratah, lower in the water with reduced buoyancy, would not have taken kindly to a deteriorating situation of this nature. One of the pins could have failed under circumstances where Captain Ilbery pushed a very heavy steamer, with fire on board, in an attempt to reach port. 

I have assumed the Waratah must have struck a reef off Cape Hermes to have foundered as quickly as she did. But there are other scenarios such as this would could equally account for the rapid sinking of a steamer. She could also have struck half submerged wreckage, which had potential to cause major damage. Whatever it was, one moment there were running lights and the next, after the smoke cleared, a void where once the great steamer made a gallant attempt to return to Durban.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Waratah - family and friends subjected to a cruel and protracted hope.

Initially the Fuller was sent out to search for the Waratah, but due to hostile sea conditions had to abandon the search.

The Royal Navy deployed cruisers HMS Pandora and HMS Forte (and later HMS Hermes) to search for the Waratah. The Hermes, near the area of the last sighting of the Waratah, encountered waves so large and strong that she strained her hull and had to be placed in dry dock on her return to port.

In September 1909, the Blue Anchor Line chartered the Union Castle ship Sabine to search for the Waratah. The search of the Sabine covered 14,000 miles, but yielded no result.

1910: relatives of the Waratah passengers chartered the Wakefield and conducted a search for three months, which again proved unsuccessful.


Melbourne, September 13.

"The Aberdeen line steamer Salamis,
which arrived from London today, made
a fruitless search for the Waratah."

Many commercial vessels plying the South African coast were asked to keep watch for signs of the Waratah, but all to no avail.


MELBOURNE, December 12.

'Captain Tickell, the Victoria naval commandant, whose son is a passenger on the missing steamer Waratah, said yesterday that, in spite of the fact that the Sabine had returned from an unsuccessful trip, and that the Waratah was to be posted as missing on December 15 if no news was to hand, he still had hopes that she was afloat.'

Melbourne, February 16, 1910.

'A meeting of the Waratah search committee today decided to send a cable to the Premier of Natal, expressing indignation at the delay in the Wakefield's departure to look for the missing vessel, and urging him to expedite it in every possible manner.'

'The life insurance companies do not intend to pay on the lives of the Waratah's passengers until the court grants probate, and even then they will require an indemnity.  They do not regard the fact that the English Court is granting probate of Captain Ilbery's will as binding on them.'

It took until December, 1909, to post that the Waratah was officially missing. Life insurances were withheld until the Court granted probate. As if it wasn't enough for widows and families to deal with the unknown, they were left in financial limbo while extensive searches were conducted for many months after the waratah failed to arrive at Cape Town. 

What were widows to do while they waited in vain?