Monday, 31 August 2015

Waratah - Australia's history of ship losses.

Cairns Post, Wednesday 20 August, 1930
A glance at the long record, , extending over a period of 150 years of shipping disasters in the Australian trade, reveals a long tale of woe (says the Melbourne "Herald")- Wrecks, foundering, fires, piracy, captures, collisions, barratry, mutiny and abandonment are all represented in the colossal list of "Maritime Casualties," but of them all, none are so pathetic or so heartbreaking, so mysterious or so inexplicable as those vessels which are included under the sombre heading; "Missing.'
Missing ships were frequent in theold days before the advent of steamand wireless, and the rigid restrictionsof the Board of Trade, are notso common nowadays, when every precaution that can be taken for the safetyof ships and life at sea is the subjectof international concern. Even so,occasionally a vessel is reported as overdue then very much overdue after aninterval, the dread notice "Missing" isposted up.
As long ago as 1790, when CaptainRiou ("the gallant Riou") was bringing His Majesty's storeship "Guardian"to Britany Bay with stores, and provisions for the infant settlement he ran slapbang into a gigantic iceberg when 12 days out from Cape Town on a black night. The Guardian was almost a total wreck. The shock brought hermasts down and she was awash. Fourof the boats left the ship with 200 ofher crew, but Riou, with 26 others, declined to leave her, and after incredible exertions, managed to bring her back to Cape Town to the amazement of the inhabitants, who imagined she was in Sydney. 

HMS Guardian, striking an iceberg.
Maybe, a similar disaster befel the Kobenhavn, the largest and finest sailing ship afloat. Many theories have been advanced to account for her mysterious disappearance, butit is probable, that her fate will neverbe known. The fact that no wreckagehas ever come ashore seems to indicatethat she foundered far from land.

The Kobenhavn disappeared without a trace en route from Buenos Aires to Australia, December, 1928. Master, Hans Andersen, 25 crew and 45 cadets were lost. A number of theories for the disappearance have been advanced. The most commonly accepted is that the ship struck an iceberg in the dark or fog. If so, the ship may have sunk too quickly for the crew to react. The lack of wreckage found later may have been the result of the ship's particularly secure loading and rigging, a necessity against the strong winds known as the 'roaring forties'. An alternate theory is that the ship, which was in ballast with no cargo, may have been capsized by heavy winds, disabling the lifeboats for survivors.

How eerily similar to the Waratah, which was also lost in in the 'roaring forties'.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago a small vessel named Integrity sailed from Sydney Harbor for far Valparaiso with Government dispatches. It was a long passage in then unfrequented waters. She never arrived with her dispatches, and she was never heard of again.

Over a hundred years later this run to the West Coast proved a veritable graveyard for ships engaged in the Newcastle coal trade bound for the West Coast of South America. In 1895 the Drumcraig met a similar unknown fate. The mystery of these ships has never been solved. They may have been burnt out, due to spontaneous combustion in the coal; they may have foundered in a gale or sprung a leak but no one knows.


On May 9, 1852, the popular vessel favorite, sailed out of Port Phillip Heads bound for Sydney. May is not a bad weather month, the ship was was sound, the passage short and well known. But she never arrived in Sydney, though she was seen off Gabo in heavy weather.
The clipper Ariel was a very famousship in her day, and her praises are stillsung by many people who are oldenough to remember the past passageshe made in the China and Australiantrade. She left London in 1872 forMelbourne, but she never arrived; and to this day her fate remains a mystery.

Then there was the little Lottery, of 150 tons, which sailed out of Melbourne one day in 1878, and was never seen again. 
In 1866 (actually,1887) the good ship Kapunda left London for Australia crowded with migrants, but they never reached the Promised Land.

Thirty years ago the Caswell, again with a cargo of coal from Newcastle failed to reach her destination on the West Coast of South America.
In 1907 the French ship Biarritz sailed from Marseilles for Hobart, but she was never heard of again, and two years later the world mourned the missing Waratah.

Only 10 years ago the Antares (1914), formerly the famous old Sutlej, bound from Marseilles to Melbourne failed to reach her destination. She is supposed to have foundered in Bass Strait, but as there were no survivors her fate is one of the mysteries of the sea.
Consider the case of the Boveric, a well found steamer. When in mid ocean, 2,000 miles from the Australian west coast she lost her propeller and the ship was helpless. Some attempt was made to set sail as she drifted hither and thither and after several weeks she was sighted by chance, picked up and taken in tow to Fremantle.

That was 28 years ago, and Marconi had just succeeded in sending messages across the Atlantic. To-day a ship in such a plight could wireless her exact position and receive assistance at once.

And there is the still stranger case of the Badger barque, which on her passage from Newcastle to Auckland was run down and sunk by the American steamer Nevada (1873). All hands managed to scramble into the boats, and some days later they were sighted and picked up by the barque Alice Canter which eventually landed them at Sydney, where they were received as though they had risen from the grave.
The Nevada had arrived in Sydneytoo, at an earlier date, but strange torelate she had neither stopped to savethe crew of the Badger nor had she reported the collision on arrival. But the facts soon came out and the master and owners were fortunate in getting off with a fine of £ 1,600 and costs.


Saturday, 29 August 2015


The Waratah of 10,000 tons register  owned by the Blue Anchor line sailedfrom Durban South Africa for CapeTown on July 26 1909. She should havereached Cape Town on July 29, but, exceptthat she was "spoken" by the ClanMcIntyre the day after her departure shehas not been seen since nor has any trace of her been discovered.
The ship left Melbourne on July 7.Among her passengers were well knownVictorians — Mrs and Miss Starke, motherand sister of Mr Justice Starke ; Mrs.Wilson, wife of the manager of the RoyalBank ; Miss Lascelles ; Mr Neil Black,a Western district pastoralist ; Mr Ebsworth, solicitor, who had been a ship'sofficer, and Mr G. Tickell, son of thenaval commandant of Victoria. Dr Fulford a graduate of the Melbourne University was surgeon of the ship. 
It was not until she was three days overdue that her non-appearance caused any anxiety. Even then the owners and the relatives of the passengers took comfort from the reflection that she had merely suffered a breakdown, and would find her way to port. As the days passed with no news, anxious inquiries began to pour into the office of the Melbourne agents. The fact that no wreckage was found by H.M.S.  Forte and Pandora and a tug chartered by the owners temporarily reassured those concerned. Messrs. John Sanderson and Co., the Melbourne agents, kept their office open until 10 p.m. each day in order that inquiries might be answered. On August 7, 433 persons called, and 134 telephone calls for news were received. 
There was a revival of hope on August 11, when report was received that a Blue Anchor steamer had been seen approaching Durban. This news was mentioned in Parliament and at the theatres, but it had no foundation. 
On August 17 the owners were still hopeful, but the underwriters were pessimistic. On August 23 the search was abandoned by the Admiralty. Up to this time no one had suggested that the vessel had capsized, but the view that she had done so rapidly spread, and rumours of prognostications that she would "turn turtle" were recalled in London as well as in Australia. The Commonwealth Government was moved to act, and the Union Castle liner Sabine, with naval officers on board set out to search from Cape Town on September 11. She was out for 88 days and covered 14,000 miles on her quest.

The log of the Clan McIntyre on July 28was as follows : — " 2 a.m., wind and seaincreased. Ship plunging heavily, enginesput half speed ; 4 a.m. whole gale, highsea ; vessel labouring heavily ; 8 a.m. vessel pitching heavily, shipped water foreand aft ; noon squalls of hurricane forceand tremendous seas ;4 p.m. storm withtremendous sea, hard storm, hurricaneforce, vessel shipped water fore and aft ; 8  p.m. strong gale, with high sea ; 6 a.m.on 29th weather moderated, and enginesput full speed ahead." The chief officersaid that in 13 years on the South Africancoast he had never met a storm of suchviolence. From noon to noon the steamermade only 32 miles. In such a storm ifthe steering gear broke down it would beimpossible to keep the ship out of thetrough of the sea. There would be dangerto a vessel, however stable she might be.Stephen Lamont, a midshipman on theClan McIntyre said that at 8 a.m. onJuly 27 the Waratah had a list to starboard, and was progressing like a yacht,heeled over. At 9 a.m. she still listed to  starboard.
Passengers Misgivings
"A Big Hole In the Water"
Mr. W. Church a passenger outward  on the first voyage, said that the Waratah was top heavy and some passengers for Australia left the ship at Cape Town. He told Captain Ilbery he could not compliment him on the Waratah, and the captain replied that he was not altogether satisfied with her, but there was no reason for alarm. 
Mr Sedgwick said he was told by an officer that the Waratah had not more decks than other vessels of her class but her decks were 10 in. or a foot higher than usual.

promenade deck, Kildonan Castle.

The Waratah's decks, according to this account were reported to be 1 ft. higher than average (above). This would almost certainly have contributed to the impression of top heaviness. But impressions are not reality.

Claude Sawyer, disembarked at Durban and continued his journey to Cape Town on the Kildonan Castle. She was used as a troop ship during the First World War, and the image above is from this period.