(Wikipedia) SS Volturno was an ocean liner that burned and sank in the North Atlantic in October 1913. She was a Royal Line ship under charter to the Uranium Line at the time of the fire. After the ship issued SOS signals, eleven ships came to her aid and, in heavy seas and gale winds, rescued 520 passengers and crewmen. About 130 people—most of them women and children in lifeboats launched unsuccessfully prior to the arrival of the rescue ships—died in the incident. Volturno had been built by Fairfield in Govan and was completed in November 1906.
into the No. 2 hold, but the fire continued to gain.
Captain Inch proceeds:-"The Carmania arrived
at this time. The life rafts drifted past us, as they
were out of reach. By dusk the other steamers
arrived, and futilely attempted to reach
us. The saloon and chart house were
now in flames, and all parts of the vessel
before the funnel were blazing fiercely.
Just before midnight the explosion
occurred, and wrecked the wireless
aerial plant. The fire worked through
the women's steerage to the after end
of the ship, but this was kept from the
knowledge of the passengers who were
quiet throughout the night. The chief
engineer, the Marconi operators, the
sailors, and myself, spent the night in
making small rafts in case the fire burned
through the deck before daylight.
At 5 o'clock in the morning the boats
from the liners were alongside, and the
passengers loaded in an orderly manner
and without panic. The women wept
when they found help alongside. I then
searched the ship, but found no one on
board, and then decided to abandon her,
as the No. 3 hatch was alight.
Captain Inch states that the chief
officer discovered the fire in the No. I
hold.- The fire burnt through the
hatches, set the forecastle mid deck
fittings in flames, and gained rapidly,
reaching the height of the foremast.
The night watch below was imprisoned,
and burnt to death, while the explosions
wrecked the saloon and the hospital
amidships, and damaged the steering
For someone like myself who believes Waratah was on fire and Captain Ilbery attempting to return to Durban, this account is shocking and almost unbelievable in a number of respects, but it supports the Harlow theory. If it was indeed a cigarette which caused the fire it flies in the face of searching for explosive materials on board Waratah as a source of catastrophic fire.
Procedure was followed, the hold was closed off and water poured into the compartment. The words 'but the fire continued to gain' send a chill down my spine. Note that the fore section of the Volturno was ablaze by dusk, engulfing the saloon and chart house. One would imagine that all should have been lost by this stage, but instead the fire raged on and at midnight (at least 6 hours later!) an explosion (flashes of light) destroyed the wireless aerial plant. One would think that this had to be the end, but no, the fire worked its way aft, through the women's steerage. As if by some miracle passengers were still alive by dawn the next day and readied for boarding life boats. The captain then inspected the steamer and found hatch number 3 on fire. During this appalling exercise in survival, flames reached the height of the foremast.
I have struggled with the notion that if Captain Bruce did indeed see Waratah afire, astern, at a significant distance, and over the course of at least 2 hours, how was it possible that all on board had not suffocated or been incinerated by this stage? The ghastly account of the Volturno and the image below affirm that an inferno could continue for many hours, the steamer remaining functional, afloat and souls unscathed. It explains why Captain Ilbery did not simply gave up the fight and make every effort to beach and land his passengers. From the Volturno account, if a similar situation was playing out on Waratah, there was enough time to get back to Durban, all things considered, including the catastrophe which could have ensued trying to beach Waratah along the Wild Coast.
The image below almost seems like a miracle. The Volturno is both intact, recognizable and afloat, the next day !!