Tuesday, 12 January 2016


A number of versions of the Harlow account appeared in the press at the time. This one contains detailed information and highlights the complexity of the Harlow account. Mr. Miller's letter conveys a tone of earnestness which was ignored. 

Clarence and Richmond Examiner, Thursday 4 November, 1909.


The following is a copy of a letter,whichwas addressed to Messrs. Gilchrist, Wattand Sanderson, Sydney agents for theWaratah, by Mr. T. C. Miller; formerlyof Newcastle, N.S.W., and now of Manilaand a personal friend of some of thepersons on board the missing steamer :
Dear Sirs, Captain Bruce, of the steamer Harlow, reports the following:
On July 27th 7.30.p.m. noticed alarge steamer, with two masthead lightsand the red sidelight. (As she was onhis quarter he could not see the greenlight). From the way she gained on himhe would say she was travelling at therate of 13 to 14 knots an hour. 
Some accounts quote that Captain Bruce first noticed smoke from a steamer at 5.30 pm. But, by 7.30 pm, he was able to establish two very important clues:  two masthead lights and a port side red light. This suggests that Waratah had swung out relative to the coast.
Significantly, Captain Bruce was able to calculate the speed of the large steamer which implies that this complex witness account followed a timeline and was not a once off, momentary observation. 
A tremendous amount of smoke was issuing from her and he called the chief engineer's attention to it. They came to the conclusion she was on fire, and returning to Durban for assistance. 
Although steamers of the era could produce a great deal of smoke, especially under full steam, Captain Bruce referred to 'a tremendous amount of smoke', suggesting that it was out of the ordinary. He then called his chief officer and together (dual witness account) they decided she was on fire
Logically, if the large steamer was the Waratah, she would be returning to Durban for assistance. This assumption suggests that the two men either considered the possibility of the Waratah at the time, or more likely, in reflection after the incident - see later in the extract.
While they were watching her, a huge flash occurred throwing a flame about 5ooft. into theair. A few seconds later, another much larger explosion took place, the flash going fully 1oooft. into the air.
The flashes of light, as described, were very specific rather than non-specific bush fire flares.
When it had cleared, all lights of thesteamer had disappeared. As there werebush-fires along the coast, the chief officer was of opinion that the flames werefrom bush-fires, but they could not understand the disappearance of the steamer'slights. 
This is a critical junction in the witness account: 'all the lights of the steamer had disappeared'. Although the chief officer considered the possibility that bush fires had caused the 'flames' (more than a month after the Lunds first suggested bush fires mimicking flames / steamer) he still could not understand why the steamer's lights had disappeared. 
This is very important and differentiates his observations into two separate categories: confusing the flashes of light with bush fires and the independent feature of the steamer's lights, which he clearly did not believe were related to bush fires. If not, there can be no explanation for the use of the words 'could not understand'. 
The steamer had not signalledfor help before the explosion, though shewas then right abreast of Cape Hermessignal station. The captain cannot understand how they did not see her, for her lights were burning brightly, and above her was a dense volume of smoke.
The Harlow, by this time, was about 7 n. miles northeast of the lighthouse and the position of the large steamer according to the original coordinates, see image below.Although there was clearly a fire on board the large steamer (according to this account), it might not have reached a critical stage by that stage - otherwise Captain Ilbery would most certainly have 'signalled for help' and been tracking a course closer to shore. Whatever caused the flashes of light, or was associated with them, inferred a catastrophic and unexpected event. 
I am still of the belief that the flashes of light (particularly because they were dazzling red and persistent - not consistent with the aftermath of explosions) were distress flares; a last ditch effort to call for help after something catastrophic had occurred - eg. 
- struck submerged wreckage or St John Reef.- struck dynamite- was hit by a rogue wave- hull failure (due to prior damage, overloading and fire damage)- shifting of lead concentrates

etc. etc. etc.

From the terrific explosions they were ofopinion that everyone must have beenkilled instantly.
This would certainly explain why he did not go back to investigate the last known position of the 'disappearance'. This might also have been an excuse for not going back.

The Harlow arrived in Durban the fol-lowing day and remained two days. Asthere was no report from Cape Hermes,and nothing reported missing, CaptainBruce forgot about the explosions. 
At this point Captain Bruce was unaware of the missing Waratah and because no steamers were reported overdue at Durban, 'forgot about the explosions. He would then be forced to reflect on what they had witnessed about a month later, relying on memory and the associated vagaries of such.
On arrival of the last Australian mail atManila, Captain Bruce heard of the lossof the Waratah and on comparing notesand dates, felt sure that the steamerwas the Waratah. 
'Felt sure' is a positive statement that cannot be ignored.
She left Durban on July, 26, must have discovered the fire on the 27th, and was returning for assistance when she blew up. I give the position as near as possible.  
Latitude 31 deg. 38 min. south, longitude 29 deg., 55 min. east. 

Something has always puzzled me about the coordinates quoted in the press for both Cape Hermes and the position quoted by Captain Bruce where the Waratah's lights disappeared after two significant flashes. Why on Google Earth do the positions reflect significantly out to sea? Instead of  relying on Google Earth for the independent coordinates, I decided to establish the distance between the coordinates quoted in the press i.e.  31 38 S, 29 55 E, for the location of the Waratah 'wreck', and the widely quoted coordinates for Cape Hermes, 31 36 S, 29 58 E.

Distance:6.013 km (to 4 SF*)
Initial bearing:231° 55′ 51″
Final bearing:231° 57′ 25″
Midpoint:31° 37′ 00″ S, 029° 56′ 30″ E

6.0 km is 3.247 nautical miles

The mouth of the Nkadusweni River is 3.7 nautical miles northeast of Cape Hermes.

The wreck of the Waratah HAS to be lying at a position just short of Poenskop and the mouth of the Nkadusweni River, bearing 0.5 nautical miles offshore.

The image below illustrates that the coordinates for Cape Hermes, as quoted in the press, are significantly 'out to sea' from the true mark, Port St Johns. The same applies to Captain Bruce's coordinates, but together, relative to one another, the truth of the mystery takes on a vivid and convincing meaning. There is clearly a marked discrepancy between the position of coordinates on Google Earth compared with coordinates charts, circa 1909. But if you shift the two points to a starting point at Cape Hermes, you get a position just short of the Nkadusweni River as the second, crucial position and outcome.

There is no doubt in my mind ! 


Immediately on giving me the news cabled you but so far have received no reply ; therefore, I presume, you do not putmuch faith in it. However, it would notbe much trouble for the launches fromH.M.S. ships Pandora and Forte to runthe drag.

Some weeks before, a-man-of-war was passing along the coast near there, and the office on watch reported to the captain that he thought he saw a ship on fire. The man-of-war was steering in the direction of the fire, whichturned out on closer inspection to be abush fire. Evidently, too, from Mr. Miller's letter, the chief officer of the Harlow thought that the fires they saw were bush fires, but how, then, account for losing the steamer's lights immediately after the apparent explosions?
In this case bush fires were mistaken for a burning steamer. On first examination this implies that bush fires could readily have mimicked a burning steamer, but this very report might have been a light bulb moment for the Lunds who then adopted the notion and made the first suggestions, later 'embraced' by the Harlow's chief officer. The lunds most certainly did not want the Harlow account validated.
There are flaws in the Harlow account, and if not, there would not be the mystery there is today. But it was a complex witness account involving more than one witness, during a significant timeline. It has always struck me as odd that there was more emphasis on it being a false account than possibly true. 
Surely the world, and more importantly relatives of those lost, wanted answers. The Lunds did not want to acknowledge the account with its implications that there was something wrong with the Waratah - the alleged incident occurred in 'calm weather'. Relatives and friends of those lost certainly did not want to entertain the notion that their loved ones were blown to smithereens. There were still searches being conducted and hope was all that they could cling to.
We are left with the chief officer's parting words ''thought that the fires they saw were bush fires, but how, then, account for losing the steamer's lights immediately after the apparent explosions?'
You may well ask, not that many at the time did, including Judge Dickinson of the Inquiry, or at least endeavoured to probe deeper in search of the truth.

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