Monday, 14 March 2016


The Mercury (Hobart) Thursday 7 October 1909

MELBOURNE, October 6.
A systematic though futile search tor
the missing Waratah was made by the
Aberdeen liner Pericles, which arrived
to-day from London via Capetown.
The Pericles went over an intermediate
course not traversed by vessels that
have previously searched.

Northern Times, Saturday 9 April, 1910

PERTH, April 2.
Interviewed by a " West Australian " 
representative, Captain Simpson said 
he had little to say regarding
the disaster. The vessel was on the
course which he had travelled many
times - as a matter of fact the present
voyage was the 81st journey along
the same route, and was steaming 
at about 14 knots. He and the
second mate were on the bridge
leisurely examining the chart, when,
without any note of warning, a
grinding sound, which seemed to
come from the very vitals of the ship,
was heard for a second or two. Then
the ship lurched from one side and
then another, and commenced to fill
by the bows. At the time she struck
their position was between seven and
eight miles south of Cape Leeuwin.
When he observed the plight of the
vessel he at once concluded that her
condition was hopeless, and orders
were given to man the boats without
delay and get the passengers ashore,
women and children first. That
order was obeyed with the utmost
coolness, and he thought that the
fact that inside 25 minutes the whole
of the passengers had left the ship
showed how well and orderly the
work was carried out.
The only cause that he could assign
for the disaster was that the vessel
struck a knob of uncharted rock,
which completely ripped the bottom
out of the forepart of the ship. The
time of the striking of the boat
was exactly 3.30 o clock, and he
had been on the bridge almost
continuously since noon. At the
latter hour the position of the
ship was 56 miles to the eastward
of Cape Leeuwin. When the passengers 
and crew, with the exception
of the chief engineer and one or two
other officers and himself, had left
the vessel they made a thorough
search of the cabins in order to see
if anyone bad been left behind, and
when they found that everyone had
gone they made ready the accident
boat. Not until the for'ard decks
were awash did they leave the ship,
and then, after seeing that all the
passengers' boats were making good
progress towards the land, they
returned and stood off until 6.30
o'clock, when she sank beneath the
waves. All the boats succeeded in
reaching the shore near the light
house safely, and were attended with
the greatest consideration by the
lighthouse attendants and the residents 
in the locality.
Asked whether he could give an
approximate estimate of the value of
the vessel and cargo, Captain Simpson 
said that so far as his memory
served him the Pericles cost about
£217,000. The value of the cargo
he would place roughly, at something
more than £500,000.
The second officer (Mr. Legge),
who was on the bridge with the
captain at the time of the disaster,
said that at no time was there the
slightest indication of danger observable 
from the bridge. The ship was well 
beyond the danger zone, and there 
appeared to be no other
reason assignable for the disaster than
that she struck a sunken rock, which
tore the fore part out of her. A
moment or two before the impact the
captain and himself were watching
the nearest known danger, the
south-west breakers, which were four
or five miles distant broad on the
vessel's bows.
April 4.
The shipwrecked passengers and
crew of the steamer Pericles arrived
at Fremantle on Saturday none the
worse physically for their experience,
though financially most of them are
losers. The vessel struck with such
force and the water poured in so
rapidly that there was no time to
think of saving anything but lives. It
looked as though the Pericles would
sink in five minutes, but the closing of
the bulkheads enabled her to float and
drift in shore.
According to statements by the
officers, the Pericles struck a pinnacle
rock and the bottom of the three for
ward holds was torn completely out.
Blindly and helplessly she forced her
way over the obstacle, carrying away
the cap of the rock, and then lurching,
rolling, and struggling in the eddies
and surf she drifted in towards the
land. With precision and orderliness
the boats were swung from the davits, 
and in the space of only a few minutes
some of them were laden almost to
the gunwale. Though finally aware of
their perilous predicament, the engineers 
and firemen remained steadfastly
at their posts. Twenty-five minutes
later Captain Simpson called down to
them " Come on, boys, the last boat is
leaving," and when they reached the
deck the forepart of the Pericles was
almost submerged. Some of the boats
proved difficult to manage, and on
several occasions an officer had to
plunge overboard and swim to their
Thinking that possibly the Pericles
would remain afloat, Capt. Simpson
after proceeding some distance decided
to return, but on nearing her she
commenced to sink rapidly, and with
no more than a slight ripple she put
her nose down and burrowed like a
mole through the green-grey slopes.
Her propellers and about eighty feet
of her keel were lifted clear out of the
The captain, in a further statement
to the press, said : He knew his position exactly. 
He made a course to Geographe Reef with a margin
of six miles to spare. That course
should hare taken us well clear of all
dangers and beyond the danger zone.
At two o'clock we drew her out
another six degrees seawards as an
extra precaution. At about 3.32 we
struck what I believe to have been a
submerged and uncharted rock, and
the vessel went right over it. It is
my belief that we struck the knob of
the rock with our forefoot, and it must
have torn off some plates and let the
water in at a terrible pace. At the
time we struck we were more than six
miles away from the Leeuwin.

April 5.
Generally speaking there is nothing
fresh regarding the wreck of the
Pericles. The principal topic discussed 
is the allegations of a third
class passenger named Ryan, that
the passengers in his class were badly
treated. He said, inter alia, that the
third class passengers were left
wholely and solely to themselves to
manage their own affairs, and that
they acquitted themselves creditably
was proved by the fact that they had
their boats lowered and filled and
ready for rowing long before the
crew had the others. He also under
stood the crew had never gone through
any boat drill.
In some instances Ryan's allegations 
have been backed up, but they
are generally condemned.
An official inquiry will be opened
to-day, and this will be followed by
proceedings before a marine court inquiry. 
At the latter inquiry the public will, 
it is stated, be admitted.
The question of salvaging the Pericles 
is still a matter of negotiation
by the underwriters, and nothing
definite in that regard has yet been
arrived at. If the underwriters ultimately 
make the vessel available for
salvaging one or two local people will
attempt to salvage the vessel.
The work of providing for the
wants of the passengers is being 
continued systematically, and contributions 
are being freely received for
that purpose.
A number of the crew were paid
off yesterday, and several secured
berths on the s.s. Ashburton and other
April 6.
More of the Pericles' crew have
been paid off, and have secured berths
on other vessels yesterday.
The passengers generally are now
well provided for, as the funds amount
to over £500, besides the contributions of clothes.
The passengers generally are very
indignant with Ryan, who complained
of the treatment of the third class
On Monday and yesterday the
cargo of the wrecked liner, particularly butter, 
was coining ashore at Flinders Bay.
The preliminary inquiry into the
loss of the vessel was held at Fremantle 
yesterday. The evidence will
be submitted to the marine court inquiry 
on Thursday.
The owners of the Pericles have
cabled that they have ordered a duplicate 
steamer to replace the Pericles.
The new liner will be ready next March.
April 7.
Advices received from Flinders
Bay and Cape Leeuwin state that the
beach is thickly strewn with apples
and cases of butter from the Pericles.
A few bags of flour and a barrel or
two of tallow have been seen. A
steamer, apparently a coaster, hove
to, and for some time appeared to be
engaged in salvage operations.
During the past few days rumours
have been circulated to the effect that
the reason the Pericles laid up well
towards the coast was because she
wanted to signal the Leeuwin light
house that she required to bunker
coal at Fremantle. One of the officers
confirmed this rumour, and said that
in the natural course of events had
they not required to signal for coal
they would have kept slightly more
to the seaward.
An official inquiry by a properly
constituted court will be held to-day.

April 8.
Nothing fresh was elicited yesterday 
at the enquiry into the wreck of
the steamer Pericles. The captain,
officers, and lighthouse-keeper were
examined. The captain and officers
reaffirmed that the vessel kept a safe
course, and the only explanation they
could give was that the Pericles struck
an uncharted rock. The most interest 
was attached in the statement
of the lighthouse-keeper, who said
that the Pericles was first noticed to
be in trouble eight or nine miles off
the Leeuwin. He knew the dangerous 
waters surrounding the Leeuwin.
The ship was outside the dangerous
ground. To the Bench : The Pericles
was about three miles outside the
dangerous zone. In rough weather
they could see where the reefs were
located, but in fine weather the water
| did not break so far as he knew on the
outer-most fringe of the reef. If the
Pericles was six miles south of the
Leeuwin she would be in safe waters,
but the ship was, in his opinion, further 
south than that distance. The 
captain stated the Pericles drifted
about a mile or two after she struck.
The inquiry was adjourned until Monday. 
In the meantime at the request
of the board the exact position of the
wreck will be ascertained.
Cargo from the Pericles is rapidly
leaving the vessel. The s.s. Monaro
while passing the Leeuwin stopped
and recovered a hundred pounds
worth of butter.

SS Pericles, built by Harland and Wolff, Belfast, was launched in 1907, a year ahead of Waratah. 

                    PERICLES                                                       WARATAH
gross tons      10 925                                                              9 339.07
length             500 ft. 5 in.                                                       465 ft.
beam              62 ft. 3 in.                                                         59.45 ft.
depth              31 ft. i in.                                                          38.5 ft.
power          twin quadruple                                                     same
speed              14 knots                                                           13.5 knots
cost              217 000 pounds                                                 139 900 pounds
insurance     717 000 pounds                                                 375 000 pounds 

Pericles was roughly 17% larger than Waratah, although costing significantly more a year before Waratah was launched. Interesting to note the difference in insurance values quoted. See:

Pericles struck an uncharted rock, or was marginally too close to shore. It goes to show that uncharted
rocks did exist during this era and it was never going to be a good idea to steam too close to shores
and reefs. Note how quickly the situation deteriorated, and in the case of Pericles time was bought by
closing of bulkheads. If excessive cargo had been stowed such that it was not possible to close
bulkheads, perhaps a number of lives would have been lost. One does wonder if it was possible to
close bulkheads on Waratah in her final moments taking into consideration an extensive cargo

The Pericles took off the cap of the rock and continued for some distance. This makes me think of the
possibility that Waratah struck the edge of the St John Reef. It would certainly account for her
continuing with the prevailing current to a position - see:

Finally significant cargo washed up on shore, which was never the case with Waratah. It all came down
to prevailing currents, and any loose items from the Waratah must have been carried by the prevailing
current initially northeastward and finally southwestward with the Agulhas Current.

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