Saturday, 30 April 2016


The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, Thursday 23 September, 1909. 

There is much doubt as to whether
the Waratah (now 52 days overdue)
was ever spoken after she left Durban.
The statement was made by an officer
of the Union Castle liner Guelph that he
sighted the Waratah on the evening of July 27

If ever there was a shadow cast over the Guelph account it must be this. The very officer who reported the now famous 'TAH' signal exchange, refuted his own account with the words, 'much doubt'. One wonders why he presented the information to the public if he had 'much doubt'. Perhaps he was encouraged to share his 'doubt', creating a lasting impression - Waratah was still on course at 9.50 pm, 27 July. 

What could be the purpose of such a 'doubtful' account ?

Much-needed time was bought in futile search for the missing steamer ? Protection of the Blue Anchor Line's image (storms were known to overwhelm sound steamers) ? Escaping culpability at a very sticky Inquiry ? General confusion which left the whole affair hanging without any chance of resolution ?

Check mate.


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Friday 25 March, 1910.

- Melbourne, 
The Federal officials, who, on behalf of
the British Board of Trade, are conducting
enquiries into matters associated with the
missing steamer Waratah, state that the
board intends to make the enquiry very
thorough. The Federal Crown Solicitor,
Mr. Charles Powers, who is now conducting 
the necessary enquiries through the
most likely channels, states that the 
investigation embraces enquiries into, 
among other things the following matters:-

Description of cargo and weight, loaded and
unloaded at Melbourne, Adelaide, and
Sydney, to ascertain the total weight of
cargo on board the ship when she sailed;
weight of bunker coal loaded at Sydney,
Melbourne, and Adelaide; from the stevedores 
as to the cargo loaded and amount
in each hold, and how much and where
stored and secured, and as to bunker coal
and where, also as to weight and description, etc, 
of cargo or bunker coal if any on
deck, and how secured; the vessel's draught
in salt water and freeboard when
she left the different ports; whether the
vessel was upright on leaving each port;
the number, names, and ratings of the crew,
the passengers and other persons, if any
on board when she left the different ports;
report from the pilots who took the vessel
to sea; on the vessel generally, its condition, 
trim, state of sea, the behaviour of
the ship, etc. The evidence of Messrs.
Richardson and Saunders, who sailed to
Durban in the vessel, left there and returned 
to Australia as to deck cargo or
bunker coal, and the behaviour of the ship,
etc.; evidence from four seamen who left
the ship in Australia on the behaviour of
the ship, and generally evidence from any
persons available in Australia who travelled
by the ship to Australia; extracts from
letters received from passengers to Durban
if any reference is made to the behaviour
of the ship on the way, or to complaints
referred to in the report of the interview
with Mr. Saunders at Durban.
Mr. Powers will be glad to bear from
any persons who can give material evidence 
regarding tie vessel, her loading, and
her behavior during previous voyages.

The intentions in preparation for the Inquiry were thorough to say the least. Not all of it translated into meaningful evidence at the Inquiry.

Extracts from the Inquiry:

The captain's, or rather the chief officer's, stowage plan also was made before anything had happened to the ship. It was despatched to the owners from Durban. There is no reason to suppose that, so far as it goes, it is anything but accurate and trustworthy. The information it gives is, however, very general in character; in some cases only are sufficient details given to enable any particular parcel of cargo to be identified.

The stevedores' plan is a document which emanates from Sydney, appears to be completed at Adelaide, and thence returned to Sydney. There is some attempt upon it to discriminate between the various ports of loading and also between those of destination; but it seems to be a hurried production, gives no weights, or particulars, beyond the names of the various commodities, and is obviously inaccurate in places both in its colouring and in its disposition of commodities. 

The depositions were made after the event, and are confused and contradictory. The Melbourne deposition is misleading; the principal commodities are lumped together beyond hope of disentanglement, the smaller consignments are left out altogether, and yet a total is arrived at considerably in excess of the total manifest weights. The Adelaide depositions give no indication whatever of where the cargo was stowed. 

Those who still argue that cargo was was well detailed / defined in terms of items and weights are naive. The final stowage plan before departing Adelaide was equally coloured and misleading. What was to be achieved by this? I believe it all came down to duties paid. Such confusion smacks of paying less. I don't believe Waratah was unique in this respect. Cargo loading and load lines were a gray zone in 1909. 

Not one word was said in connection with the vast refrigerator house contents.


Clarence and Richmond Examiner, Tuesday 14 December, 1909.

Mr. Lund, of Messrs. W. Lund and
Sons, the owners of the missing liner,
stated that when sighted by Captain
Weir the Waratah was proceeding very
close to the shore at about 12 knots,
the Clan M'Intyre making about 10.
The Waratah was seen to be steering a
little more southerly than the other
vessel, or taking a course further out
from shore.

My thoughts constantly return to this claim, quoted in a number of period newspapers. Some schools of thought scoff at the suggestion that Waratah had slowed down and was out of the favourable Agulhas Current, close to the shore off Cape Hermes. But how can we ignore this often repeated claim? There is no logical reason for this under normal circumstances.  Whatever the reasons, Waratah altered heading, more southerly relative to the Clan MacIntyre, regaining the Agulhas Current and accelerating to about 14.5 knots, finally going out of sight some 12 n miles off the Bashee River. 

We can rule out mechanical trouble, because Waratah steadily gained and overhauled the Clan MacIntyre. The crew of the Clan MacIntyre observed her to be upright and showing no signs of problems, so we can rule out stability issues. In my opinion it can only come down to two possibilities: 

There was a fire on board and a decision had to be made whether to continue on course or return to Durban. Such a decision could have involved slowing down off Cape Hermes to assess the extent of the problem. 

Secondly, the crew were aware of the approach of a severe storm from the southwest and were confronted with a difficult choice. Waratah was under powered and very heavy in the water, with limited buoyancy. It is possible that they slowed down off Cape Hermes to make a decision whether to continue or turn back.


Friday, 29 April 2016


Bendigo Advertiser, Saturday 11 September, 1909.

The "Vital Mercury" gives the following
account of the first cruise by the
H.M.S. Pandora in search of the missing
steamer Waratah. The two cruisers
H.M.S. Forte and Pandora left Durban
on 2nd August. The Pandora returned
on 5th of August without being successful.
When the cruisers left an agreement was
come to as to the areas to be searched. The
H.M.S. Pandora was allocated the area between 
long. 28 and 32 E, roughly corresponding to that 
south of the coast between East London and Durban, 
whilst the Forte searched between long. 24 and 28 E.,
carrying on the search to the neighborhood
of Cape St. Francis, while the Capetown
tug, T. E. Fuller, was despatched to the
neighborhood of the Agulhas bank.
A member of the "'Mercury" staff went
aboard the Pandora, a few minutes after
she was moored at the buoys, when her
commander, Commander A. G. Davidson,
kindly gave an account of the nine days'
search of the vessel, and also supplied the
chart of her cruise.
In the course of conversation, Commander 
Davidson said that the Pandora, which
left Durban on the afternoon of Monday,
2nd August, steamed down to East London,
and then having ascertained that no news
of the vessel was to hand, stood off from
that port, at 6 p.m., on 3rd August, almost 
due south. It was of course useless searching 
within a hundred miles of the coast, as the 
numerous vessels which
had passed on the lookout for the
steamer, made it a certainty that she was
not on or near the usual steam line, and
this being the case she bore south till 8
o clock the following evening, when she had
run about 300 miles on the coast, and was
in lat. 28.3 S., long. 27.45 E. During
the afternoon of Wednesday she got in
touch, by wireless, with H.M.S. Forte,
which was searching to the westward, but
as the distance be!ween the vessels was the
extreme range of their installations, they
could do no more than exchange numbers.
At, 8 p.m. that evening she swung her
head to the north-east. At 10 o'clock
that night she sighted the s.s. Paparoa,
bound from Capetown to New Zealand,
which was also on the lookout for the 
missing vessel, but when communicated with
had no news to report. That night the
Pandora ran into a heavy gale—the first
of three which she experienced during the
three days—blowing up from the south-
On Sunday the Pandora ran into a
second gale, this time from northeast
and of a very severe nature, and this 
prevented Commander Davidson
from continuing the search further
south-east, as he had intended, exigencies
of coal supply making it necessary that he
shouId run to port, for, with such weather
it was necessary that a safety margin
should be allowed, when considering the
paucity of coal in her bunker. This decision 
proved decidedly wise, for Sunday's gale had 
not subsided with another arrived on Monday 
from the south-west. The weather, in fact, 
was altogether exceptional, and Commander 
Davidson said that it has been on few occasions 
that he has met with such confused seas which 
was running during these days. The Pandora, in fact, 
had a rough time of it, the waves broke at times 
right over the ship's boats and cabins, including 
the captain's were flooded out and the forecastle 
deck was strained, and some minor repairs will also
be required before she sails again.

If Captain Ilbery did make a decision to come about and head back to Durban due to the approaching gale, one can fully understand the reasoning from this account.

Commander Davidson said that the Pandora
as she proceeded on her search could
be reckoned to cover an area of from 20 to
50 miles in width. During the day a man
was continuously at the crow's nest; on the
foremast, whilst at. night the searchlight
was continuously at work, and could be seen
from a great distance, and which, if it had
been seen by the missing vessel would
doubtless have been answered by rockets.

A comprehensive search hindered by great distances and treacherous weather. No doubt such weather affected searches on land as well. All to no avail. Waratah had taken her secrets with her to the bottom.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Clause 5 .... "and to be designed, if possible, to go to sea with permanent coal and water ballast only."



hold cross bunker                            382 tons
lower deck (port and starboard)      137.5 tons x 2 = 275 tons
main deck (below spar)                   583 tons
coal trunk                                         81 tons
coal chute                                         59 tons
spar deck                                          614 tons
pocket bunker                                   10 tons
pocket bunker                                    6 tons

total                                                    2010 tons


No 3 hold                                           859 tons
lower 'tween decks                            491 tons
upper 'tween decks                            382 tons

total                                                     1819 tons

grand total                                           3829 tons


number 1                                             129 tons
number 2                                             219 tons
number 3                                             168 tons           divided into 2
number 4                                             118 tons           divided into 4        fresh water*
number 5                                             179 tons
number 6                                             78 tons                                           fresh water*    * 279 tons
number 7                                             83 tons             divided into 2        fresh water*
number 8                                             222 tons           (builders advised filling this tank)
number 9                                             42 tons
forepeak                                              53 tons
afterpeak                                             47 tons

total                                                     1338 tons

Numbers 1; 2; 5; 6; 8; 9; forepeak and afterpeak tanks were pierced with holes.

If Waratah held permanent coal and ballast tanks were full = 3348 tons.

There would have been problems relating to coal distributed as follows at 42 cubic feet to the ton:

- spar deck                                            614 tons                  (coal trunk / coal chute / pocket bunkers
- main deck                                           583 tons                                       156 tons. - 7.7%)

total                                                       1197 tons.             

According to the design plans of Waratah, bearing in mind the third deck, it is astounding that the majority (60%) of permanent coal stowage was intended for higher up in the vessel. Clearly stowing coal in this fashion would significantly raise the centre of gravity and reduce GM and the builders had not taken heed of the owners' request.

But we know from various reports that coal and cargo were stowed interchangeably in either holds or bunkers. With this flexibility, the distribution of weight and all important centre of gravity, could be manipulated and in so doing the Waratah would have been able to go to sea safely with permanent coal supply and ballast tanks full, preferably with the coal stowed on the lower deck.

It could be done, but not by following the builders' bunker layout. The builders, naturally, had to design the ship with the priority given to cargo stowage, not coal, and I doubt whether in practice there was much planned need for Waratah to go to see with just ballast water and permanent coal. I suspect the owners were playing with this conundrum at the Inquiry to show the builders up in a poor light.

Manipulation upon manipulation.


The most confusing aspect of the Inquiry had to be the conflicting opinions of a significant number of passengers on Waratah. To make matters worse a roughly equal number of these witnesses either claimed Waratah was not seaworthy or a fine 'sea boat'. We know from the evidence that Waratah was relatively top heavy during the first three voyages, and it took 1000 - 1300 tons of lead, lowest down (final voyage) to reduce her centre of gravity and improve GM, significantly. Some of the negative witness accounts were difficult to distinguish between top heaviness and under power. Be this as it may, I have looked back at witness accounts with particular reference to the voyage from Adelaide to Sydney, second voyage. I have done this with reference to the statement made that on arrival at Adelaide, the main hold where coal had been stowed was cleared out for cargo and coal stowed in 'tween decks. Theoretically this should have had a significant impact on the top heaviness factor. The following extracts give us some clues:

Herbert Duncan Mason. 

Passenger. An engineer holding a first class certificate, 33 years at sea. 

Nothing to prove the ship seaworthy or not coming out because smooth all the time. The only time there was a bit of a breeze, coming out of Melbourne, she heeled over very heavily. She did not recover herself properly, was not quick enough. In my opinion, if she got in a heavy seaway and did not recover herself which I do not think she would, she would get another one on top of her and I believe she went over. 

Thomas John Burrin. 

Between Gabo and Sydney was awakened by the list which had become very pronounced. She righted herself and the list only lasted a few minutes. 

Behaviour of ship gave no cause to fear for her safety. 

Harold Skarratt Thomas 

Seaman on "Waratah" 

....I noticed the behaviour of the vessel was one evening soon after we had cleared the Port Phillip Heads on route to Sydney. The wind was blowing hard, and the sea appeared rough. 

I had retired early that evening, and had been asleep. I cannot say how long I had been asleep, when I was awakened by being rolled forcibly against the side of my bunk. and I had to grip the railing hard in order to avoid being thrown completely out of bed.

Frank Edward Thomas. 

Shipping clerk to agents 

Passenger, Adelaide to Sydney. 

I saw nothing while I was on board to correspond with the reported statement of Mr. Sawyer at Durban. The only thing I noticed was that on leaving Melbourne for Sydney she had a slight list to starboard, and on the next day on looking over the side I noticed she was discharging rusty-looking water. The chief engineer came along, and I asked him the cause. and he said they were pumping out a tank to rectify the list. The list, however, continued. 

The morning after I noticed this we arrived in Sydney and the list was still on. it was only slight, and probably a casual observer would not have noticed it. . . . 

The drawback of all witness accounts is that a meaningful outcome, from a scientific point of view, cannot be achieved. However, there is more than enough inference to a tender ship, before stability was improved. It seems loading coal in the 'tween decks with less 'dense' cargo in main hold did have an impact on subjective impressions of tenderness.

Although 1000 tons of lead concentrates were loaded at Adelaide the cargo dead weight component was lacking.

Monday, 25 April 2016


In a previous post I explored the issue of 3456 tons of coal on board Waratah when she departed London on her second voyage. It appeared to me both confusing and irrational. After the maiden voyage it was clear that Waratah was tender - low GM. It was an issue that was discussed and presented to the builders who suggested filling ballast tank 8 - 222 tons - to improve dead weight lowest down, thus reducing the centre of gravity and improving GM. They also suggested avoiding loading coal in the 'tween decks reserve bunkers - a very significant 873 tons at 42 cubic feet to the ton. After all of this I was astounded that Waratah departed London with 3456 tons of coal, when total coal capacity, permanent and reserve, was 3829 tons, implying that at least 241 tons had to go into spar deck bunkers, 'tween decks and in my opinion creating a disaster for GM. It seemed to me to be so extreme that I could only imagine that coal shortages or coal prices forced the Lunds to expect Waratah to depart London in such a condition. But then I came across an illuminating comment:

 Mr. William. H. P. Baker, of Dover
street, Richmond, who (says the Melbourne 
Herald) was an able seaman
on board the missing steamer Waratah,
on her last voyage to Australia,

....."We had about 4000 tons of coal in the main 
hold when we left London."

The penny dropped. 

The incorrect assumption made was that coal had to be loaded into coal bunkers. But according to Mr. Baker, 4000 tons (roughly the 3456 tons referred to) in its entirety were loaded into the main hold, assuming this refers to the predominant lower deck hold/s and not the main deck hold/s. If this be true, it makes sense in view of the fact that coal in both bunkers and cargo holds low down would have had a stabilising effect. Coal displaced cargo on the outbound voyage, which also makes sense given that the principal cargo volume was inbound from Australia. Coal was therefore not necessarily loaded into 'tween decks or the spar deck for that matter. There were no coal shortages or price issues. 

Alfred Pinel commented on this voyage that Waratah rolled very heavily crossing the Bight, which makes sense considering that the bulk of the coal in the lower hold was burned out reducing GM.


The forward well was 73 feet in length, and had at its forward end a refrigerator house 28 feet long and 34 feet wide; the after well was 30 feet long. Both wells had bulwarks 4 feet 2 inches in height above the plated deck, with three wash ports on each side in the forward well, and two on each side in the after well. The size of each washport was 3 feet 6 inches by 18 inches. The hatch in the forward well measured 30 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 6 inches, and that in the after well 19 feet 6 inches by 26 feet. Both were fitted with hatch covers of 3-inch pine supported by transverse beams formed of 1-inch plate and four angles. The hatch coamings were 3 feet high. 

Claude Sawyer had a final vision of Waratah labouring in heavy seas, taking a large volume of water over her bow, and before being able to recover, another deluge, some 500 tons of water trapped in the forward well. She then rolled over to starboard and went down like a stone.

Given all we know about Waratah this vision was both haunting and highly plausible. The forward well was 73 ft. x 59 ft. =  4307 sq ft.. Bulwarks were 4 ft. 2 in. from the deck, which gives us 
17 228 cubic feet. equivalent to 480 tons of water. Sawyer was not far off quoting 500 tons of water. The forward hatch was 30 ft. 4 in. x 19 ft. 6 in., 589.87 sq ft.. The coamings were 3 ft. high, which gives us a total volume of 1769.625 cubic ft.. This would be equivalent to 49 tons of water. The maximum shear strength of pine (long leaf) is 1510 psi, which translates into a maximum weight of 120 tons for the hatch. 49 tons alone should not be a problem, and 65 tons (up to bulwarks), would not be a problem either - theoretically. However, 480 tons of water suddenly collected in the forward well would have a significantly destabilising effect on Waratah, particularly if the flow of force was to one side, port or starboard, and overwhelmed drainage.

It is interesting to note that a significant force would be required to overwhelm the 3 in. pine covers. A maximum volume of water in the forward well would not be enough to breach the hatch.