Monday, 29 February 2016


Northern Times, Saturday 1 January, 1910

From Durban October 28, 

....a passenger by the s.s. Suevic
writes to a Melbourne friend, as
follows :- "The feeling at Durban
and Cape Town is unmistakable that
the Waratah has gone down. Many
theories are advanced, but the most
favored is that by some means a hole
was made in her hull, and that she
filled and sank. The absence of
wreckage is explained by the set of
currents seawards, and the failure of
any of the ship's boats to reach land
by the extraordinary heavy sea running 
at the time. Anyway, one does not meet 
a person who expresses any
hope whatever as to her recovery."

One assumes that the prevailing opinion at the time regarding the Waratah's disappearance would have centred around issues of stability, top heaviness and the storm of exceptional violence. However, 'most' people thought that a 'hole in the hull' accounted for the Waratah foundering. Further to this there was a logical explanation for the absence of wreckage.

Why then did passengers and crew not have time to escape the sinking ship in lifeboats?

The Waratah was very heavily laden and a sudden breach in the dull hull would have caused her to founder quickly. The Wild Coast is aptly named, particularly in winter months. Currents and swells would have made the rapid launch of lifeboats a both treacherous and challenging operation. I doubt whether crew would have had enough time even if they could mobilise the lifeboats from the chocks (previous reports of difficulties requiring a number of seamen). The Waratah was prone to falling into a list and under such critical circumstances I doubt whether lifeboats could have been launched from a significantly listing Waratah.

What could have caused a significant 'hole in the hull'?

- striking an uncharted rock pinnacle (or a protrusion of the St John Reef)
- striking partially submerged wreckage
- striking dynamite
- hull failure due to dead weight, fire damage, prior damage (grounding at Adelaide) etc.  

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