Friday, 15 January 2016


Examiner (Launceston) Friday 10 February, 1911.
Depositions were read to-day, fromwhich the following are extracts:
Mr. Harris, chief engineer of thesteamer Harlow:-
"On July 27, 1909, when off the African coast, I saw two lights, one a red light, apparently thoseof a steamer. I afterwards noticed largevolumes of smoke and a glare, afterwhich the lights disappeared. Therewere bush fires on shore. I expressed anopinion at the time that if that werea steamer, she was on fire. "The smokemight be attributable to bush fires."
This is a fascinating interpretation of Mr. Harris' deposition. It highlights the 'red light' which was clearly distinctive and specific to a ship.  The report refers to noticing 'large volumes of smoke and a glare'. A glare does not equate with two distinct flashes of light and it is interesting in that a fire on board a steamer would produce a glare (at night) accompanied by significant volumes of smoke. The report then claimed that the lights disappeared after he noticed the smoke and glare, suggesting that there was NO explosion or distress flares, but simply some catastrophe of unknown origin which caused the lights to disappear. 
Mr. Harris volunteered the presence of bush fires on shore. This was not raised in cross-examination. He was very careful to state that he 'expressed an opinion', immediately introducing an element of caution to his statement. He wanted to be clear about the fact that he thought it was a ship and 'she was on fire', but did not want to be held to this AS FACT. He finished off by stating 'the smoke might be attributable to bush fires'. The word 'might' again let him off the hook in terms of not being held to the bush fire, burning steamer interchangeability. He was very clear about the red light and glare not being associated with bush fires, only the smoke.  
In Mr. Harris' formal deposition he described two flashes of light (not a glare), the first reaching about 300 ft. and the second shortly after, reaching about 1000 ft. into the sky. He went on to describe the flashes as mushrooming out at the top of range, dazzling red light persisting for up to two minutes. How do we correlate this with the report above where there is no suggestion of flashes of light being associated with the cause of the steamer's lights disappearing? It strikes me that these differing reports, taking into consideration the reporter's summary interpretation, were intended to create confusion and reasonable doubt. 

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