Sunday, 28 February 2016


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Tuesday 21 September, 1909.

Optimistic views as to the possibility of
the Waratah being yet safely towed to port
are held by Mr. R. H. Shepherd, a pilot
from Durban, who is now on a visit to
Adelaide. Interviewed by a representative
of "The Advertiser," he said:
"I know the Durban coast and the currents well, 
and have had a long acquaintance with Captain Ilbery, 
of the Waratah. It has been taken for granted by some
people that the Waratah has capsized.
Many remarks have been passed to the
effect that the vessel was unstable and
unseaworthy. I do not know how her
cargo was stowed on her last voyage, but
I heard there was a lot of silver concentrates 
in the hold. 

Lead concentrates are widely quoted, so how could silver enter the picture? 

'Silver-bearing ores are mined by open-pit or underground methods and then are crushed and ground. Since virtually all the ores are sulfides, they are amenable to flotation separation, by which a 30- to 40-fold concentration of mineral values is usually achieved. Of the three major types of mineralization, lead concentrates contain the most silver'.

Interesting! Recover lead, get silver.

However, she went out of Durban on her last trip 
drawing 28 ft. 9 in., and, speaking as a practical seaman, I
say that no question of her instability entered 
anyone's head there. 

Of course. She was heavily laden - note that Mr. Shepherd was careful not to refer to functional overloading in any shape or form.

I boarded the vessel five minutes before she sailed out
of the harbor to say good-bye to the captain. 
There was no coal above the deck.
The coaling foreman at Durban was loud
in his complaints because he was obliged to
load his coal all down one hatchway. This
points to the fact that all the coal bunkers
were full, which would make the vessel
more stable. 

If the 'tween deck coal bunkers were full this would be an accurate statement. The Waratah was peculiar in that 'tween deck coal decreased stability, and were not used for that purpose on the final voyage. Captain Ilbery had overcome the stability problem by not using those bunkers for coal, but rather cargo at a reduced weight per square foot. must look at the position from the point  of view that 
would be adopted by a prudent seaman like Captain Ilbery. 
What would he do under the circumstances? He was off East London, 
the barometer was low, presaging a storm of unusual violence. 
There were two alternatives, one to make his way back to Durban 
for repairs, and the other to continue his voyage. If he did the latter, naturally his 
instincts, developed by long experience on sailing vessels, would be to put as much blue water 
between him and the coast as possible. Thus, when he was due at Port Elizabeth it
was possible for him to be 60 miles from the coast.  At this time the gale was exceptionally 
severe, and it raged for upwards of three days.

There is no doubt that Captain Ilbery was aware of the approach of a storm of exceptional violence. With a fire on board rather than mechanical trouble, it is logical that he would have brought the Waratah about and attempted to return to Durban. 
It has been stated by a visitor that there
is a possibility that the Waratah may have
had the misfortune to strike some floating
dynamite. Mr. Shepherd stated that a few
weeks ago half a hundredweight of dynamite 
was jettisoned from a vessel, and was
subsequently observed floating in the ocean
along the Durban coast. ''I had an experience once," 
he said, "with floating dynamite, when a few pounds 
of it was caught in the propeller of a vessel, and exploded, 
tearing a hole in the hull and doing
damage to the extent of £1,500. If the
Waratah struck the jettisoned dynamite,
which floats for weeks before sinking, with
her propeller, it might account for her being posted as missing."

Striking dynamite off Cape Hermes would certainly have caused major damage and probably flashes of light. There has to be a reason for the large steamer foundering rapidly. This one is as plausible as any.

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