Wednesday, 6 January 2016


The Harlow account has attracted me from the start of this blog and journey into the mystery of the Waratah's disappearance. It's not a matter of preference for this theory over others, but rather based on the complexity and fascinating layers of the multiple witness account. There is no doubt that a heavy steamer with a relatively low freeboard would have been susceptible to foundering in the storm of 'exceptional violence', 28 July, 1909. But this theory offers no specifics in terms of where and when. The Guelph account on the other hand is specific to a point in that there were no other period steamers with the last three letters, 'TAH'. However, this account was limited to a momentary sighting, 9.50 pm 27 July, 1909, and relied on the accuracy of Thomas R. Blanchard's interpretation of an incomplete signal exchange with a steamer about five miles further out, during challenging weather conditions. The Harlow account on the other hand, took place during the course of 2 1/2 hours, and involved three witnesses: Captain John Bruce; First officer Robert Owens, and chief engineer Alfred Harris. It incorporated a number of specific observations: mast head lights; port side light (red); excessive smoke; estimated speed of steamer - 13.5 knots; two distinct flashes of persistent dazzling light; and coordinates (which have caused me great confusion).

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.

example newspaper extract, 1909.

The agent adds that the Harlow
sighted a smoking vessel at 7.30 on the
evening of July 27, and the explosion occurred 
at 8 o'clock. The distance was too
great for the Harlow to ascertain the ship's
identity. The position of the wreck was
latitude 31 deg. 38 min. south and longitude
29 deg. 55 min. east.

example newspaper extract, 1909:

Captain Weir, of the Clan McIntyre, stated
that he sighted the Waratah on July 27, at
6 a.m., in lat. 31.36 S., long. 29.58 E., which
is (approximately) the position of Cape Hermes. 
The Waratah crossed from the starboard to 
port bow, and went out of sight about 9.30 a.m.

This is what I got:

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 ! 

3.247 nautical miles northeast of Cape Hermes and 0.5 nautical miles offshore.

No comments: