Saturday, 31 October 2015


The plan adopted in the following report has been first to give the usual formal description of the ship, then to set out a condensed statement of the evidence, in historical sequence. This is divided into three parts, (1) the first voyage, (2) the interval between the two voyages, and (3) the second voyage. This is followed by a discussion of all the data relating to the ship's stability, directed to the elucidation of two questions; the first whether there was any defect inherent in the design of the ship which would render her unstable under ordinary seagoing conditions, and the second whether on her last voyage instability was produced by the manner in which her cargo was distributed. After dealing with the questions of the ship's stability as constructed and as loaded, some other possible causes of her loss suggested by the evidence are, necessarily briefly, examined. Then come some remarks as to the reports of sighting dead bodies, followed by an account of the search made for the missing ship. Other matters upon which the Court feels it desirable to comment are dealt with; the questions and answers follow; the concluding remarks, and a schedule giving the names of those persons, passengers and crew, who left Durban in the ship on the 26th July, 1909, complete the report. 

And so the scene was set for a lengthy and challenging inquiry. It is interesting to note that the Court was careful to insert the words, 'under ordinary seagoing conditions'. This raises the question; is a 'violent' storm at sea considered 'ordinary seagoing conditions'? Given that the Court would come to the conclusion that the Waratah was lost in a 'storm of exceptional violence', it does seem rather ambiguous. The Waratah had proved herself prior to 27 July, 1909, in terms of 'ordinary seagoing conditions'. The challenge, it seems, is to define when a storm at sea is considered to be a part of 'ordinary seagoing conditions' and when it goes beyond that boundary, and enters the realm of perils of the sea. The tricky issue at hand, related to the many, far more modest, vessels at sea during 27 and 28 July, none of which foundered. The Waratah, alone, failed to make port.

Thursday, 29 October 2015


London, 22nd February, 1911. 



Preliminary observations. 

This Inquiry was held at the Caxton Hall, Westminster, on the 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th of December, 1910, the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 30th and 31st of January, and 1st and 22nd of February, 1911. 

After the sixth day of the hearing, Mr. Hallett, who had been very unwell from the commencement of the proceedings, found himself unable to continue the Inquiry. The Court regretted very much the loss of his valuable assistance, but, as no allegation whatever had been made against the vessel's machinery, all the evidence on the contrary going to show its thorough efficiency, it was considered better to proceed with the Inquiry without an engineer assessor, and, with the consent of parties, this course was adopted. 

On the whole I agree, but there was the question of a section of copper piping (used in the heat transfer system) replaced at Durban. The copper was found to be flawed which had greater implications for the 'thorough efficiency' of the 'vessel's machinery'. Such a small, flawed item could have been the precursor to a significant explosion in the engine room.

Mr. Frederick Laing, K.C., Mr. Norman Raeburn, and Mr. Digby appeared for the Board of Trade; Mr. Butler Aspinall, K.C., and Mr. Craig Henderson for the builders; Mr. Leshe Scott, K.C., M.P., and Mr. Daniel Stephens for the owners; Mr. Bucknill for Dr. Edward Bryan, and for others interested in the passengers. Mr. W. M. R. Pringle, M.P., at first appeared for Mr. H. E. Starke, but he withdrew at an early stage of the proceedings. 

At the outset of the case it was agreed by counsel for the parties that any matters tending to throw light on the circumstances of the ship's loss should be placed before the Court, although, according to the strict rules of evidence, they might not be admissible. The Court approved the adoption of this course, but has had to consider what effect should be given to such "hearsay" evidence. While desirous that the natural anxiety of the public, and particularly of the friends and relatives of those lost in the ship, should, so far as possible, be set at rest by a complete examination of every scrap of information available, the Court had to remember its functions as a legal tribunal upon which it was incumbent to observe the law of evidence. The rule which, in the peculiar circumstances of the case, it laid down for its own guidance was, that, while any findings of fact must be based upon strictly legal evidence, yet it would consider those findings in the light of the more or less irregular evidence allowed to be introduced, and see how far its conclusions were thereby fortified or invalidated. In the absence of direct evidence it is satisfactory to the Court to find that the inferences it has drawn from the legal evidence would not require any modification had the "hearsay" to which it has listened been evidence upon which it could have acted. 

This is a very important paragraph, illustrating the limitations confronting the Court. So much of what was reported on the behaviour at sea of the Waratah hinged on impressions, with limited legal admissibility. Over subsequent decades, much of what was said within the realm of impressions and hearsay, became entrenched as 'fact'. The Court was however ambitious, attempting to tackle 'every scrap of information available'. 'Irregular evidence' would be tested in terms of validation. This might explain why some circumstantial evidence did not appear to be fully explored through cross-examination and therefore not recorded in the Inquiry transcript. Such a scenario was to play favourably into the hands of certain parties,,,,, 

the owners in particular.

copper pipes

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


In the total absence of direct evidence, and with only conflicting evidence of an indirect character, the Court cannot say what particular form was taken by the catastrophe, but the fact that no wreckage has been found in spite of the most careful and exhaustive search which was carried out, indicates that it must have been sudden. The Court, on the whole, inclines to the opinion that she capsized, but what particular chain of circumstances brought about this result must remain undetermined. 

The Court does not desire to travel outside the scope of its functions as a tribunal inquiring into a specific casualty, but, in view of the great prominence which the question of stability has assumed in this Inquiry, feels it not out of place to suggest whether it may not be possible, with the help of a committee of experts appointed for that purpose, to arrive at some conclusions concerning the minimum stability requirements of different types of vessel, consistent with safety at set. A careful investigation by such a committee, including, as it would necessarily do, examination of stability curves of many vessels in all trades, might show the feasibility of recommending minimum curves for different types of vessel for general adoption. If so, rules for the stowage of cargo for a particular ship could be formulated by the builder for the guidance of the shipowner, with greater precision than is now possible. 

The Court is fully aware of the complexity of the subject, and of the difficulties of making rules sufficiently elastic to meet the requirements of varying types of ships and of diverse trades, and, being so aware, refrains from making any more definite recommendation. 

In effect not a shred of physical evidence substantiated what had become of the Waratah. The Court did not accept any of the following items as having originated from the Waratah:

In the course of the lengthy Inquiry no attempt was made to establish on what grounds, for example, the cushion with the letter, 'W', and the hatchway washed up at Mosselbay, were definitively eliminated as originating from the Waratah. The same applies to the deckchair found at Coffee Bay. There does not appear to have been a monitored, forensic chain bringing the cushion, hatchway, and deckchair from the places of discovery to Barclay, Curle and Co (the builders), and, under forensic supervision, establishing whether these items could have come from the Waratah or not. The owners (Lunds) of the Waratah denied that any of the items were from their flagship - they would, wouldn't they.....

'Conflicting evidence of an indirect character' was about to play a crucial roll in creating the mystery we have today.

The alleged stability issues surrounding the Waratah were about to take centre stage and it is somewhat encouraging to read that despite the terrible tragedy, the tribunal intended to convene a committee of experts to establish what in fact should be the 'minimum stability requirements of different types of vessels in all trades', in terms of minimum stability curves. Importantly, this statement reveals that there were no such minimum standards in place at that time, the discretion falling on the builders in conjunction with the owners. It is no wonder that, given the grey zone clouding stability curves and cargo stowage plans, there were issues relating to the calculation of free board, load line and draught minimum requirements:

The case of the Waratah was about to highlight these limitations. The Board of Trade regulations clearly did not provide Lloyd's assessors with proven, regulated minimum requirement references for various ships and configurations. This immediately raises the question, how thorough could the Lloyd's assessors have been?? This scenario left too much up to the discretion of the builders and owners, who were motivated by profit before safety.

Waratah - the Inquiry in detail.

(No. 7419.) 

"WARATAH" (S.S.). 

The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. 

In the matter of a formal Investigation held at the Caxton Hall, Westminster, on the 15th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th days of December, 1910, the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 16th, 17th, 30th and 31st days of January, and the 1st and 22nd days of February, 1911, before JOHN DICKINSON, Esquire, assisted by Admiral E. H. M. DAVIS, Commander F. C. A. LYON, R.N.R., Professor J. J. WELCH, M.Sc., M.I.C.E., and J. H. HALLETT, Esquire, M.I.C.E., M.I.M.E., into the circumstances attending the loss of the British ship "WARATAH," of London, which left Durban for Cape Town on the 26th July, 1909, was spoken by the "CLAN MACINTYRE" on the 27th July, 1909, and has not since been heard of. 


The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the ship was lost in the gale of the 28th of July, 1909, which was of exceptional violence for those waters and was the first great storm she had encountered. The Court is led to this conclusion by the facts that she overhauled the "Clan Macintyre," which afterwards experienced the gale; was last seen heading in a direction which would take her into a position where she would feel the full force of the storm; and was never afterwards sighted by the "Clan Macintyre." Had she been only disabled it is almost certain that she would have been so sighted, and if not, would have been picked up by one of the many ships subsequently on the look-out for her.

For coming posts I am going to present sections of the Inquiry Report, as it appears in the Wreck Report for the 'Waratah', 1909. It is a lengthy report, and one that requires detailed perusal if we are to understand what became of the Waratah through the eyes of the Board of Trade investigation. Many believe the Inquiry was a whitewash, but it stands as the only official document. I intend to express my personal opinion and 'read between the lines'. Interpretations vary, and there is a comment box for those who wish to shed their own light on the drama which was played out in Court over the course of 3 months.

The scene was set for a drama that was to become one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time. The Court was clear, and to a large extent the public as well, that the Waratah did not suffer mechanical failure, adrift somewhere in the southern oceans. The Waratah had foundered, but where; why; and when??

Tuesday, 27 October 2015


In a previous post, a reader commented that Pilot John McDiarmid was an exception to the expert opinions presented at the Inquiry. While most regarded the Waratah as stable, certainly by her second voyage, McDiarmid thought the Waratah tender, with an excessive top hamper. His full account as per the wreck report is as follows:

A. 11. 

John McDiarmid.

Licensed Pilot

Holds a master's certificate, and has had 30 years' experience at sea.

I was pilot to the "Waratah" inwards and outwards on her last voyage inwards. Took charge of her 2 miles to the southward of the Port Adelaide Lighthouse and berthed her at the Ocean Steamers Wharf, Port Adelaide. She had the assistance of a tug which was placed right ahead all the way to assist at the bends in the river. Her draught, as recorded by me after berthing, was 25 feet 8 inches forward and 26 feet 4 inches aft. Pilotage is paid for on tonnage and not on draught. We steamed in slowly. Had no difficulty in steering the ship or otherwise.

The Waratah's draught at this point was significantly reduced compared with her draught, departing Durban, 28 ft. 9 in.. In fact a difference of 2.7 ft.!!

She had a slight list to port when I boarded her, but it was very little. No remarks were made about it or anything else, except the business we had in hand. She was not down to her marks or anywhere near it when I boarded her. When going round the bends she had a tendency to list when the tug got a strain broad on the bows, caused by the action of the helm and tug combined. I would not expect this in a ship that was nearly loaded as this one was. It might be ascribed to several reasons, the principal one being that Port Adelaide being the last port and taking the heaviest cargo (flour, grain, &.),space would be left to take that cargo as low as possible. (makes perfect sense) Another reason might be the starting of pumping out water prior to taking in that cargo, and a third reason might be that she was naturally a somewhat tender ship. I had had charge of the vessel before and remarked this later to the captain on the previous voyage (that would be the first voyage when stability issues were acknowledged). Do not remember what he said, but am under the impression that he agreed with me. What caused the remark was, when negotiating the turn in the cutting at Snapper Point coming up the river she rolled from side to side without any apparent cause.

I boarded the vessel again as pilot to take her out of the port down to the outer harbour on the afternoon of 6th July, 1909. Had the tug "Wato" in attendance to help us off the wharf down the river and alongside the Outer Harbour Wharf. I turned the vessel on her inward trip so that she was heading down stream ready for departure. When starting the tug plucked her off from the bows to get away from the wharf and then went ahead. The ship was heavy in working and slow to answer the helm, but she had no sign of tenderness, neither did she on the way down the river or in going alongside the Outer Harbour Wharf (this is clearly a description of a heavy ship, rather than a top heavy, light one). The heaviness mentioned I attributed to her heavy draught going down the Port Adelaide River, which was 27 feet 9 inches on an even keel (the Waratah's heaviness was attributed to a draught less than that when she departed Durban, but was still regarded as heavy. The Waratah, when she departed the outer harbour and Durban was a HEAVY ship). I put her as close as I could to the wharf and the tug then left the bow and went amidships on the starboard side and pushed her into the wharf. I left the vessel when she was made fast to the wharf. The next afternoon I returned to take her to sea. She was then drawing 28 feet 3 inches forward and 29 feet 5 inches aft (very similar to the Durban figures, which again makes sense and implies that further cargo loading made her even more GM stable). The same tug was again in attendance and plucked her off the wharf at the stern, the ship heaving off to her cable to get her bow off. She was not then down to her marks. She was quite upright and stiff, and proceeded to sea as far as the Semaphore Anchorage without any difficulty or any sign that the ship was tender or that anything was wanting to make her a seaworthy vessel fit for the voyage ( in this McDiarmid acknowledged that by this stage of loading, a cargo that would remain roughly unchanged through to Durban and beyond, the Waratah was 'upright' and 'stiff'. This is not the description of a top heavy vessel.). I knew the master and officers only when on board the ship, and have not heard from anybody on board since I left her. I always looked upon her as a tender ship, but not to such an extent as to make her unseaworthy (tender when light but not when loaded to 28 ft. 9 in. as asserted by witness). Apart from my remarks to the captain about the ship rolling I never referred to the matter again, either to him or to the officers, and they never made any remarks to me as to that or the vessel's behaviour at sea. The circumstances being peculiar, i.e., the rolling, I mentioned it to some of the other pilots at the time, and they thought as I did.

It is a well-known fact that steamers loading on the Australian coast, especially in the wool season, are compelled, in order to complete their voyage with safety and stability, to keep their water ballast tanks full all the way home (Waratah had 1300 tons of lead concentrates for ballast and only about 360 tons ballast water - the balance of empty tanks were required to supply vital additional reserve buoyancy). This, especially if a ship is inclined to be tender, renders it all the more necessary for care in loading at the ports previous to arrival at Port Adelaide in order to leave room to put the heavy cargo of this port as low down as possible. I do not know whether that was done in this case, in fact I know nothing about the loading of the "Waratah."

But it must have been the case if the Waratah departed 'upright' and 'stiff'. Whether the Waratah was 'inclined to be light' when she was partially loaded is irrelevant. In her fully and deeply loaded condition, she was NOT tender.

Port Adelaide, 1909

Waratah - Girling's account re stability.

Pilot Girling stated that when pilotingthe Waratah outwards to Melbourne inDecember, 1908 with a draught of 26 ft aftand 21 ft 6 in forward, she was very tenderindeed when rounding Schnapper Point.
Well, she would have been wouldn't she, with a reduced draught of 26 ft. aft and 21 ft. 6 in. forward? What this had to do with the Waratah in a more stable, heavily loaded condition of more than 28 ft, when she departed Durban, is anyone's guess and the essence of confusion surrounding the question of stability.
Oh, and yes, there was a strong southwest wind blowing and the Waratah had discharged her cargo by this time. Duh!

Snapper Point (1913)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Waratah - mysterious winds.

The West Australian, Saturday 28 August, 1909
Bunbury, August 27.
Mr. A. S. Brown, chief officer of thesteamer Madura, which is now in porthere loading sleepers for Kurachi, hasas interesting theory regarding thewhereabouts of the missing Waratah.
The Madura left the port of Natal onJuly 23 for Bunbury, calling at DelagoaBay, on July 27, this being about thetime when the Waratah put out fromPort Natal. For the first time in hisexperience, Mr. Brown said that henoticed a peculiar irregularity about thecurrents. Sweeping southward along thewestern coast of Africa is the powerfulAgulhas current. 
Any steamer coming to Australia from that coast would takeadvantage of the Agulhas to get carriedsouth with the current which sweepsacross the Indian Ocean, and it runsnorthward as it approaches the Australian coast. Other boats, particularlysailing vessels, coming from Europe, andmaking for the southern parts of Australia, keep still further south in orderto catch the westerly set. 
Mr. Brown states that usually a steamer making forthe Western Australian coast, and getting into the east-north-easterly current has to point a little to the southward in order to counteract its northerly influence. 
On the voyage of the Madura,however, this current was found, contrary to the latest meteorological reports, to be setting due south, and aided by a north-easterly wind it compelledthe setting of the ship's head in a slightly northerly direction. 
At the time the Waratah went astray the windoff the south coast of Africa was blowingstrongly from the south-south-west, andMr. Brown's theory is that if the missing steamer were in any way disabled she would be carried into the zone ofthis extraordinary southerly set, and meeting continuously strong northerlywinds, such as those experienced by the Madura for about a fortnight, would betaken south into the westerly set, and should now be drifting in a verysoutherly latitude towards Australia.
Having this theory, and in the absenceof any signs of wreckage, he is convinced that the Waratah is still afloat, and may be found, as in the case of the Nairnshire some time ago, by one of the sailing ships running down her easting.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Waratah - wind blowing shoreward and gold.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Thursday 12 August, 1909.
LONDON. August IO.
The report from East London of a Lundliner having been sighted some distanceout to sea making for Durban lacks confirmation.
It is noted that the wind has been blowing shoreward since the Waratah was reported missing, which discredits the theorythat the vessel could have been carriedvery far eastward.
The cruiser Pandora, which lately returned to Durban after searching for theWaratah, covered an area of 250 squaremiles. The captain believes that if theliner is still afloat she must be seen by theForte, which is still out.
The Lund line have ordered the Geelong,another steamer of their fleet, which is justarriving at Cape Town from London, tojoin in the search for the Waratah.

Pandora, Forte, Hermes, Fuller, Sabine (extensive), Wakefield etc... Does make one wonder if rescue was all that motivated such vast expense and effort? Perhaps the recovery of Commonweath bullion played a bigger role than is commonly thought? Just saying....

Friday, 23 October 2015

Waratah - another hoax.

Barrier Miner, Tuesday 24 May, 1910.

Adelaide, Tuesday.
A telegram was recently received atAdelaide watchhouse from Mounted Constable Keating, stating that abottle had been washed ashore somedistance from Streaky Bay; containing a document referring to the missing Waratah,
The message reads: "August 1909. Waratah sinking rapidly, West Coast of Africa. Steamer on fire;(Signed) W. Scott, 18 Elizabeth-street.Sydney." , . ,
Nothing else was found for seven miles along the beach. 
The Marine Board was informed, the police look on the message as a hoax.
It is extraordinary how many of these bottle messages washed ashore. I found a link of archive newspaper reports from the era, specifying bottle messages. It went on for page after page after page. These sorts of hoaxes were all the rage back then. Rather than tragic, these people appear to have found the notion of missing ships, thrilling. How warped!

there's a lot of list going on....

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Waratah - assimilating evidence for the Inquiry

The Mercury (Hobart) Saturday 26 March, 1910

MELBOURNE, March 24.
The British Board of Trade has communicated with the Registrars of shipping in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adeaide, the ports of call in Australia, of the missing steamer Waratah, asking that complete investigation be made into the, circumstances attending the departure of the vessel from the ports named. 
The Board of Trade registrars of shipping in Australia are the collectors of Customsin the several states. The communications from the Board have been referred by the Controller-General of Customs (Dr. Wollaston) to the Federal Crown Solicitor (Mr. Charles Powers) who is now conducting the necessary inquiries through the most likely channels. 
Mr. Powers stated to-day that the investigation would embrace inquiries into, among other things, the following matters : - Description ofcargo and weight loaded and unloaded at Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney, to ascertain the total weight of cargo on board the ship when she sailed, weight of bunker coal loaded at Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide from stevedores, as to cargo loaded and amount in each hold, and how and where stored and secured, and as to bunker coal, and where, also, as to weight and description, etc., of cargo or bunker coal if any, on deck, and how secured; the vessel's draught of water in saltwater, and freeboard when she left the different ports; whether the vessel was upright on leaving each port; the number, names, and rating of the crew, passengers, and other persons on board when she left the different ports ; reports from the pilots who took the vessel to sea ; on the vessel's general condition, trim, and state of sea behaving of ship, etc, ; also the evidence of Messrs. Richardson and Saunders, who sailed to Durban in the vessel, left there, and returned to Australia; as to deck cargo or bunker coal, behaviour of ship, etc. ; the evidence from four seamen who left the shipin Australia on the behaviour of the ship and generally, evidence from any persons available in Australia who travelled by the ship to Australia; extracts from letters received from passengers to Durban if any reference is made to the behaviour of the ship on the way, or to the complaints referred to in the report of the interview with Mr J Saunders at Durban.'
Such thorough ambitions which did not translate completely at the Inquiry.

Board of Trade offices, London