Friday, 12 February 2016


I return to a letter written by an experienced mariner who summed up much of the Waratah controversy to perfection. He also put forward an important theory and explanation for the Waratah disappearing astern of the Harlow.
The Advertiser (Adelaide) Friday 10 December, 1909.
To the Editor.
Sir- I was much interested and amusedat "An ex-Steward's Story," which appeared in your issue of November 26, and I have been awaiting the appearance of the opinions of old experienced salts against the allegations set forth by Mr. Merry, a mason, at Cowell, who worked his passage out in the Waratah as steerage steward. Seemingly, however they have deemed Mr. Merry s statements too ridiculous. It seems strange that so long as ship keeps afloat she is considered good seaboat, but the moment an accident occurs, we hear numerous tales of her sluggish movements in heavy seas and of her unseaworthiness generally, of course invariably from those who know next to nothing about sea life. One thing is certain, the Waratah would never have beenallowed to pass out of the dockyard(Royal Albert) into the Thames with adangerous list either to port or starboard,and at sea the commander would (in theevent of any heavy list) consult with thechief engineer, who would then transmithis orders to the second engineer, whowould certainly see personally (even aftergiving his orders to the head stoker) thatthe coal in the bunkers or bunker alley-ways, was consumed and kept trimmed toavoid such list. Take any steamer likethe Waratah and place say 3,000 to 4,000tons of deadweight cargo in the orlop (lowest) deck and lower hold. Put her in a high, confused sea and if one were to stand right aft and watch the movements of the vessel, one would be astonished at the "give and-take"  motion, and would be further astonished at the corkscrew fashion in which she rights herself. I have witnessed this many times in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon, also in the Bay of Bengal and China Sea, not to forget the dreaded Bay of Biscay. It is a ridiculousstatement that the purser called the chieffireman to his office to ascertain what bunker he was taking coal from. As the list was positively outside the purser's department I can only conclude that he was "pulling the chief fireman's leg." On the vessel's arrival at Port Adelaide on her maiden voyage I (knowing one of the officers, who was an old shipmate in my apprentice days) went aboard, and I had the pleasure of meeting the purser, who did not give me the impression of being a man to commit any breach of dignity. The officers whom I conversed with spoke very highly of the vessel in every way, and I thought myself that I would risk any sea with her beneath me. Mr. Merry states that he had to swab up overflow water from a bath every day. What on eirth was the bathdoing half full of water all day long? If theWaratah was the highest vessel out of thewater in the Royal Albert dock, London,it was because she was the only one there.
What about the Atlantic Transport lineand the British India and New ZealandShipping Companies' lines? Surely theyhave not, like the P. & O. Company, departed from the Royal Albert dock. Mr. Merry thought the weight in the ship badly adjusted. This is all "bunkum." for the stevedores in London are world-famed in the stowage of all cargoes, and together with the officers, they would see that the ship was stowed properly. I have sailed asnavigation officer, and owing to a defect ineyesight put in a few years as purser; so Iam familiar with the game and can play it.The Waratah incident is one to be deplored,but if, as it is feared, she has found a resting-place at the bottom of the deep, my contention is (and always was) that she struck a derelict wreck - the sailor's greatest foe, and went straight under, the current running down the African coast carrying the wreckage out of the usual liners course. She may, of course, have had an accident with her boilers, but this theory is not readily accepted by seafaring men.
- I am,


Stuart Flood said...

There is also was some debate in New Zealand around this about derelict wreck being responsible for the loss of a ship. The ship in question was the S.S Penguin which was lost in cook strait near the south coast of Wellington in February 1909. The enquiry held after the wreck found that the ship struck Thom's Rock. The sinking did occur at night in bad weather. the Captain came to the conclusion that the Penguin had struck the wreck of the Rio Lodge which had gone missing somewhere between Littleton and Cook Strait also there was a fair amount of timber sawn washed up which probably did not come from the Penguin. There was a sighting of an upturned hull around the same time or just before the Penguin sinking. Interestingly in the intervening 107 Years the wreck has never been found indicating that the Penguin did sink in deep water. Factors against the Penguin striking an up derelict wreck are that the description of the noise made as the ship struck are more consistent with a ships hull hitting a rock and that she was turning out to sea to avoid running aground and there was a strong current running at the time which could have carried her further into Cook Strait.

andrew van rensburg said...

Hi Stuart. You outline a very interesting case. Much food for thought. Thank you. Andrew