Wednesday, 30 December 2015


In the summer of 1932 a Canadian seaman by the name of John Noble was admitted to the Oshawa County Hospital. He was in critical condition and summoned a nurse to witness a faded copy of Lloyd's list. He made the following statement:

". . . became a member of the crew of the steamship
Waratah" and that "shortly after leaving Durban the ship
developed a heavy list. Among my mates were some
ready to mutiny, but I refused to join them. Then, at
four o'clock on the morning of July 23, 1909, while I
was on watch, I discovered the ten-year-old daughter of
a well-known and wealthy English family; she was crying
in the shelter of a deck ventilator. Suddenly, as I approached
the child, the ship rolled heavily to starboard,
and we were both thrown into the sea. We managed to
struggle ashore and at last reached East London."

South African police records support the fact that a man and young girl were seen in East London during August of 1909. The strange pair disappeared before further inquiries into their identities could be established.

This account is well known and flawed, but it is not the 'curious tale' in itself. Read on...

Mr. Day of the Tottenham had this to report:

"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, and the conclusion come to aboard the ship was that the Waratah took a head sea, and before she had time to recover took another, which stove in the fore hatch and caused her to founder."

"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."

In addition to Mr. Day's account, Chinese seamen on the Tottenham also claimed there were bodies in the sea. 

Now for the curious part of the tale:

Mr. Day's full names were          JOHN NOBLE DAY

One wonders if Mr. Day felt 'injured' to some extent not having his statement accepted as fact by the Inquiry. Revenge can take on strange forms. Mr. Day, if it was in fact he in the Oshawa County Hospital, had the last laugh and say on the matter of the Waratah mystery.

Monday, 28 December 2015


Cairns Post (Qld) Wednesday 01 February, 1911. 
LONDON. Monday-
In connection with, the Waratah inquiry, Mr Lund, junior, a member of the firm ofLunds, owners of the line of that name, to which the Waratah belonged, was recalled. Counsel pressed for an answer as to why the firm accepted the designer's opinion regarding the stability of the steamerin preference to that of Captain Ilbery, when urging the claim for demurrage. The witness said he was unable to say, or to rememberwhat Captain Ilbery said about therejection of his opinion. Mr. WilliamLund gave evidence that the builder's son designed the Waratah. He never heard that the vessel was wanting in stability. Captain Ilbery had watched the building of the vessel, and the witness was unable to account for his absence from the important heeling experiments. 
I'm quite sure Mr. Lund junior could not remember what 'Captain Ilbery said about the rejection of his opinion', because such a conversation was unlikely to have ever taken place. After the maiden voyage, Captain Ilbery, his employers and the builders were all on the same page regarding stability issues - the builders' suggestion to fill ballast tank 8 certainly did not come out of the air. I have an impression that the Lunds treated the Inquiry with disrespect, skillfully creating confusion. Under such circumstances Lund was highly unlikely to admit on the stand that he was aware the Waratah 'was wanting in stability'. 
It is interesting that the builder's son designed the Waratah.  I have no further information on this, but the word 'son' does leap off the page in the form of 'inexperience'.
Lund 'was unable to account' for Captain Ilbery's absence from the 'important heeling experiments'. Again, I don't believe Lund at all. Captain Ilbery had been present during the construction of the Waratah and would surely have wanted and needed to be there for the heeling tests?? Unless, there was already discontent between the owners and Captain Ilbery, who saw a disaster in the making and probably wanted nothing to do with the finished product??  Captain Ilbery was allegedly called away, explaining his absence. If he had been ill the reports would have stated such. Being called away, sounds like an excuse, further enhanced by Lund claiming that he was not able to recall the reason. A disagreement would have been a highly plausible reason for 'memory loss'.
Mr. Steel, naval architect, gave evidencethat he was satisfied as to the stability of the Waratah. He believed the steamer's loss was due to an accident. It was inconceivable that the Waratah capsized unless the water got in.
Mr. Steel was no doubt commenting on the Waratah's stability during her final voyage, which makes sense. He made a crucial comment, 'unless the water got in', suggesting an accident of some sort. Striking an uncharted reef would certainly account for water getting in.
But let us not forget that William Lund (senior) was an Associate of the Institution of Naval Architects. Mr. Steel and Mr. White had more at stake than giving an honest opinion. One slip and the house of cards would have come tumbling down.



William Lund was born in the Schleswig (Denmark) shipping city of Aabenraa, 1837. He was educated at a shipping company in Altona between 1850 and 1857. After this he took an extended trip to Batavia, Adelaide and Melbourne, which no doubt sparked an interest in the Australian trade. Lund returned to Denmark after 13 months and headed a shipping company, Christiania. 1860 saw Lund's relocation to England where he worked in a number of shipping companies before starting his own company, W.L. Ship Handler and Sailmaker, 1861. This new venture was made possible by the brothers Delcomyn, a name later given to Lund's first steamer. 
We know the rest of the story, starting in 1877 with the inception of the Blue Anchor Line servicing the route between England and Australia, via South Africa. Subsequent to the dissolution of the Blue Anchor Line early in 1910 (as a direct result of the loss of the Waratah) and the sale of 30 000 tonnes of remaining steamers to the P&O Line, Lund held onto his other shipping company, Kulforretning, sailmaker and ship chandlers, which continued to trade under the name of Wm. L. & Sons. This company was eventually passed to his son F.W. Lund, (who made waves at the Inquiry). F.W. Lund in his own right was involved with Anglo-Persian Oil.
William Lund was highly influential in English shipping and held a number of significant positions of trust:

- He was a member of the Board of Lloyd's Register and chairman of the classification committee.
- Associate of the Institution of Naval Architects.
- Vice Chairman of the General Shipowners Society of London.
- Director of the Bank of Adelaide (London Department).
- Director and Chairman of the Wallarah Coal Company of Sydney.

William Lund died in Chislehurst, 1928, aged 91. 

William Lund continued successfully in business after what remained of the Blue Anchor Line fleet was sold to P&O for 275 000 pounds. The loss of the Waratah and her souls became a footnote in history, an unresolved tragedy, a protracted misery destined to be carried forward through the generations by descendants of those who perished.
It is nothing short of astounding that William Lund held the positions listed above. He was a member of the Board of Lloyd's Register and chairman of the classification committee. It is no surprise to me that the classification of the Waratah did not meet her actual specifications. It has been a puzzle that this glaring discrepancy was not tackled in detail during the Inquiry. Lund not only held this influential position but also was an associate of the Institution of Naval Architects, and Vice Chairman of the General Shipowners Society of London.
The Inquiry was confronted with a sensitive predicament. If they aggressively pursued negligence in terms of the Waratah's specifications and more importantly her third deck, they would in turn have been forced to expose the potential scandal that her owner, William Lund, represented Lloyd's, the Institute of Naval Architects and the General Shipowners Society of London. If conclusions were drawn that the Waratah's design, specifications and build quality did not meet standards, the implications were far-reaching and could have been disastrous for the reputation of these distinguished organizations.
It is not surprising that the Inquiry came to the conclusion the Waratah disappeared in a 'storm of exceptional violence' (perils of the sea), which by implication, absolved the Lunds of responsibility. In my opinion, William Lund's list of credentials and influence made it possible to keep the Waratah in service without significant alterations, loaded beyond 26.9 ft., and let us not forget the outrageous number of emigrants on the maiden voyage. William's son Frederick was sent to the Inquiry to face the music and this no doubt distanced William from the inevitable disclosure of his highly influential positions of trust.
All of the above reminds me of the Shakespearean quote:

'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark'

Aabenraa as it is today.

Sunday, 27 December 2015


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Tuesday 10 August, 1909
I do not think she has turned turtle altogether, butthat she has gone down on her broadside.Large vessels of the present day carry sucha lot of top hamper that it is necessarythey should be 'stiffened' with heavy cargoto make them safe. With sailing vessels the authorities are very particular what may be carried on deck, but with steamers apparently anything is permitted.
This period comment captures the Waratah dilemma in a nutshell. She needed to be heavily loaded in order to compensate for her additional deck. 1300 tons of lead concentrates went a long way to contribute to the Waratah's stability. It is alarming to read that in the case of steamers anything was permitted on deck. Having followed the Waratah journey for more than 550 posts I am more and more convinced that regulations and the implementation thereof were a gray zone back in 1909.

Saturday, 26 December 2015


Clarence and Richmond Examiner, Tuesday 14 December, 1909
Mr. Lund, of Messrs. W. Lund andSons, the owners of the missing liner,stated that when sighted by CaptainWeir the Waratah was proceeding veryclose to the shore at about 12 1/2 knots,the Clan M'Intyre making about 10.The Waratah was seen to be steering alittle more southerly than the othervessel, or taking a course further outfrom shore.
It seems extremely unlikely that Mr. Lund would have been misquoted, December, 1909. We simply cannot ignore the statement; 'the Waratah was proceeding very close to the shore'. In this case the statement is a bird in the hand rather than two unfounded opinions to the contrary.
To a large degree there is logic in the report. If the Waratah was marginally inshore of the Clan MacIntyre, maintaining a similar trajectory, there would be no obvious reason for her then to be seen following a more southerly course, crossing the Clan MacIntyre from starboard to port. However, if the Waratah had started in a position 'very close to the shore' when first sighted, it would make perfect sense that her trajectory would be heading out to sea, and in this case, beyond the course followed by the Clan MacIntyre.
There is no reason for the Waratah being 'close to the shore' other than a period of decision-making - whether to continue or turn back. No explanations were offered in the polite exchange between the two vessels, but it would have been strange if the officers of the Waratah chose to share the outbreak of a bunker fire with a random tramp steamer.
It took the best part of eight hours before the fire on board the Waratah progressed to a situation similar to the one depicted below. Note the vast amount of smoke produced by the burning SS Sardinia. No wonder Captain Bruce spotted the Waratah from as early as 5.30 pm. Going by the image, one wonders if the Waratah didn't mimic bush fires on shore rather than the other way round.


Advertiser (Adelaide) Tuesday 10 August, 1909.
The cable message which was publishedin "The Advertiser" on Monday, to theeffect that the missing steamer Waratahhad called at Durban, and, after discharging cargo for that port, had taken on thebridge-deck coal to the amount of 300 tons,created a false impression among manypeople, who pictured 300 tons of coal piledup on the captain's bridge. Such a stateof things would have been directly opposedto the safety of the vessel. A true explanation of the facts, as communicated to arepresentative of this paper by the localagents. Messrs. George Wills & Co., however, dispels any idea of negligence or carelessness in shipping the coal. The cablegramonly mentions 300 tons of coal, but, as amatter of fact, 2,200 tons were taken onboard to replace the coal consumed on thevoyage from Australia to Durban. Theother 1,900 tons were placed in the bunkersand in the coal chambers (lower hold).The 300 tons were then stowed in bunkersunder the bridge-deck, which is itself thethird deck down, the two above it being theboat-deck (with the captain's bridge) andthe promenade-deck. Thus it can be seenthat no extra -danger at all accrued fromthe coal being placed as it was. It is, infact, the usual custom to carry a reservesupply of coal in the bridge-deck bunkers.
The issue of coal on the spar or bridge decks garnered much attention. The figure of 300 tons was also realistic compared with other quoted figures of 250 and 340 tons. The Waratah had an established reputation for being top heavy and it was no wonder that this component of coal spawned the word 'negligence' and controversy that was to span decades to come. 
Sadly, no attempts to were made to see the 300 tons of coal in the context of adjusted cargo stowage and ballasting. Captain Ilbery was far too experienced and thorough to have resorted to blatantly negligent loading. He had an almost unblemished career record over some 50 years, which HAS to be taken into account. It upsets me that modern day attempts are made to discredit him, a man who went to his death with the Waratah and 210 other souls, never to be given a chance to defend himself in the world's eyes. 
I have gone to great lengths to prove that by the fourth and last voyage, Captain Ilbery had conquered the Waratah's natural tendency to top heaviness. But Captain Ilbery could not remake the Waratah and had to deal with his employers' steamer. Compensation came in the form of relative overloading, which was better the devil he knew. In fact, on the final voyage from Adelaide to Durban, Captain Ilbery created a steamer which was too stiff, resulting in an excessive righting force, sending passengers sprawling on deck. 
The solution at Durban was a simple one - instead of readjusting cargo stowage and ballasting, Captain Ilbery placed 300 tons of coal on the spar deck reducing the GM from 1.9 ft. to a very satisfactory, but more comfortable and safe, 1.5 ft. - no further hazardous jerks on recovery. 
We are left with one final, eye witness-confirmed piece of evidence that Captain Ilbery had established an upright, GM stable steamer. Both the Captain Weir and officer Phillips watched the Waratah's progress over at least 3 hours. In this time she showed no signs whatsoever of being tender.
But the Waratah's legacy was entrenched and very few modern day observers are prepared to look at the logic of the sequence of events, disregarding Captain Ilbery's expertise and valiant attempts to bring the Waratah to heel. I do not believe the Waratah rolled over in the storm of 28 July, due to top heaviness, whether the Harlow account is true or not!

Captain J E Ilbery

it appalls me that modern day innuendos of negligence are cast in the direction of this great mariner.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


The Mercury (Hobart) Saturday 30 October, 1909
LONDON, October 29.
The owners of the missing steamerWaratah (Lunds) say they cannot co-ordinate the statement made by thecaptain of the Harlow with regard tothe vessel that he saw burning 180 milesfrom Durban on July 27, with whatthey know to have been the position ofthe Waratah earlier in the day. Theowners believe that the captain of theHarlow saw bush fires.
The owners were not prepared to entertain the possibility that Captain Ilbery attempted to return to Durban. If they had done so it could have opened a can of worms as regards what had gone wrong with their flagship. This had implications extending blatantly into the realm of culpability. 
Further to this, the owners suggested that the Captain of Harlow mistook bush fires for a steamer in October, 1909, a full 14 months before the Inquiry convened, by which time, the chief officer had adopted this stance.
It seems to me the Lunds stopped at nothing to absolve themselves from any form of responsibility for the loss of the waratah.


I have the privilege of posting an article written by a Waratah expert, 

Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson:

Well after the loss of the Waratah, Captain S.A. Pidgeon, RNR, penned his account and provided an insight which centered on the ship in Durban.  Captain Pidgeon had joined W. Lund’s service as a boy of nearly 15 years of age in the Catalina and remained in Lund’s service for 21 years. He was given his first command before he was 30. 

Before the Waratah left London for the last time, Captain Pidgeon almost had the misfortune to be in command of her on that fateful voyage.  Captain Ilbery had been ill and the company looked for another Master to relieve him for the voyage.  Captain Pidgeon, who had been Captain Ilbery’s Chief Officer on the Narrung and Wakool when they were new ships, was the only Master available and held himself ready to take command.  However, Captain Ilbery recovered and took command of his ship before she sailed.

Fifty years later, in 1959, Captain Pidgeon wrote,

‘The Waratah had taken on a certain amount of frozen mutton to be discharged in Durban and whenever we had a cargo for Durban, it was the custom in Lund’s ships to stow it in the square of No. 1 hold, sometimes right from deck level, to the bottom of the hold. Any cargo for London was stowed in the wings and at both ends.  After the Durban cargo left the ship, the remaining slippery cargo of frozen carcasses had to be well shored-up, to prevent them from sliding everywhere.  We usually lowered big skids into the empty space and at both ends. These were kept in place by heavy beams, 6 x 6, which were placed across the empty space left by the Durban cargo and were jammed by wedges, which were placed and hammered home by carpenter and crew.
If this operation was faithfully performed, the remaining cargo was quite secure and could not move into the empty space in the centre, no matter how great the pitching and rolling of the ship.
Captain Ilbery trusted his executive officers implicitly and left daily inspection at sea to the Chief Officer, Surgeon and Purser, who did the rounds together.
The Chief Officer of the Waratah had been my Chief in Warrigal and was a very fine seaman.
The Chief Officers in Lund’s ships were always entirely responsible for placing the skids in No. 1 hold and seeing that they were securely in position.  If they were forgotten, or if they were not made completely fast, the result in a tender ship like the Waratah would be disastrous.
It seems quite possible that the skids were forgotten on this occasion, or that the work was not adequately supervised. The weather was not good as the Waratah sailed, and on those coasts, there are seas and cross-seas which are a menace to a labouring ship.
It would all have happened in a matter of seconds. The Waratah caught in a heavy roll, would pause at the end of it.  If a cross-sea dumped a huge wave on her forehatch, smashing it in, thousands of tons of water would rush down into the lower hold and find its level in the side of the ship held in the roll. With the cargo insecurely held back, thousands of carcasses would break loose from the wings and join the mass of water, adding to the enormous weight. Another huge sea breaking aboard would finish the ship and she would roll right over, never having had a chance to right herself.
Leaving Durban with the prospect of heavy weather, as they did, it would be unlikely that there would be much wreckage to come adrift. Any there was, would be swept with the current far out to sea and lost to sight forever.’ 1

It is a chilling thought that Captain Pidgeon could have been master of the Waratah during her second voyage. Given the knowledge we have about the Waratah's 'natural' tenderness and stowage issues during the maiden voyage, I cannot help wondering if Captain Ilbery, rather than ill, was reluctant to take command of the Waratah loaded with 3456 tons of coal, which significantly reduced an already compromised GM. Captain Ilbery, 69 years of age, was the commodore of the Blue Anchor Line. He had an impeccable career record, was an experienced and highly respected mariner who knew the route like the proverbial back of his hand. I doubt whether his conscience would have allowed him to hand over the Waratah to another master under circumstances of uncertain GM stability. Perhaps Captain Ilbery 'refused' to take command of the Waratah unless certain conditions were met. If this be the case, the Lunds, who were rather single-minded in achieving personal objectives, would probably have called his bluff and appointed Captain Pidgeon to take command. I do not believe Captain Ilbery would have allowed such a thing. If Captain Ilbery was genuinely ill, again bearing in mind his track record and reputation, I doubt whether he would have allowed another captain to take the helm of the problematic Waratah. If so, I cannot help wondering if this illness impacted negatively on him up until the flagship's disappearance, 27 July? However, I am speculating and all we know is that Captain Pidgeon was earmarked to take command of the Waratah for the second voyage. 

This superb piece is one of the rare glimpses into the reality of the Waratah. Captain Pidgeon had a working knowledge of the flagship (including cargo stowage) which reaches far beyond speculation and the confusing inventory details of cargo on board during her final voyage. From the scanty information gleaned from period newspapers, we are given a rough idea regarding the contents of the 250 tons of cargo destined for Durban.

Flour                          0.01 tons
Machinery                   23    tons  
Dried Fruit                   78   tons
Boxes butter                23   tons
Rabbits                       50    tons
Hares                         10    tons
peas                           30    tons

total                           214   tons

This list (such as it is) suggests that there were 36 tons short of the 250 tons discharged at Durban. A total of 68 tons of mutton carcasses were on board, a portion of which could have made up the balance. It does seem strange that Durban relied on produce readily available in the Natal colony. Perhaps it was cheaper to import from Australia than obtain from local producers? I digress. 

Captain Pidgeon's account gives us an important insight into the manner in which carcasses were secured and the dangers of shifting. My personal feeling is that Captain Ilbery with all his many years of experience, assisted by a respected and accomplished chief officer (Owen), was highly unlikely to have allowed mutton carcasses to be stowed without the measures described. The Waratah had presented so many challenges in her short lifespan that I don't believe her captain and officers took unnecessary risks. As it was the Waratah arrived in Durban well ahead of schedule implying that there was no rush to discharge cargo, secure the remaining mutton carcasses and set off for Cape Town.

Captain Pidgeon outlined an unsettling scenario - water inundating the forehatch. This possibility would most certainly have accounted for the rapid disappearance of the steamer. I believe that the Waratah was overloaded, with a reduced freeboard for her size. Under such circumstances it is not a leap of faith to imagine such volumes of water crashing over the foredeck. 

Finally, Captain Pidgeon made the important comment that wreckage would have been swept out to sea 'and lost to sight forever.' He also reminds us that in anticipation of rough weather, loose objects would have been lashed down or secured reducing the potential for flotsam washing up on shore.