Monday, 11 April 2016


Barrier Miner, Friday 27 January, 1911.

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, and
gave evidence at the inquiry held at
Sydney last April, made some 
interesting statements to a reporter.
"They say," he began, "that the
vessel was not top-heavy if the cargo
was properly stowed, but it has not
been stated how the coal was worked
coming out from England. I signed
on with seven other men as A.B. in
London. As soon as the Waratah left
the Thames we eight men were sent
to trim coal, leaving eight A.B.'s short
on deck. If anything happened there
would have been a watch short. The
A.B.'s down in the hold were trimmers
until we got to Sydney.

At the Inquiry it was clearly stated:

(b) she was manned considerably in excess of Board of Trade requirements, which for foreign going steamships over 5,500 tons gross or over 420 feet in length only demanded one master, two mates, and not less than ten efficient deck hands, whereas she had a master, four mates, 15 able seamen, each of whom produced satisfactory proof of his qualification to be so rated, one ordinary seaman, one carpenter's mate, two apprentices, and three petty officers, a total of 27. 

The "Waratah left London on her second (and last) voyage on the 27th April, 1909. She carried 193 steerage passengers, 22 cabin passengers and a crew of 119,

....which was exactly the same number of crew for her final voyage.
"In the Bay of Biscay the Waratah
started to roll for two or three days
in the only bad weather we experienced
on the voyage. But she had a list to
port or starboard all the time. I
reckoned that she was a bit top-heavy.

There is no secret that Waratah was tender on her second outbound voyage to Australia.
We worked the coal  in the 'tween
decks, and the main hold was also full.
After using some coal out of the bunkers 
and some of that in the 'tween decks, 
we worked the main hold, clearing it out 
by the time Adelaide was reached, so as 
to take on cargo, and leaving the coal in 
the 'tween decks.

This was not a good recipe for stability. It makes sense from a practical point of view - clearing out the
main hold and leaving coal in the 'tween decks reduced the GM significantly. Matters were to start
improving once 1000 tons of lead concentrates were loaded at Adelaide. 
At Melbourne we took three or four
hours to tie up, breaking nearly all the
lines.The steamer was lying away from 
the wharf. 

What does this mean? In one respect it confirms a tender vessel with ballast water discharged, difficult
to manouevre and manage in a port setting. It also suggests a very heavy and unwieldy steamer. No
reference is made to the weather conditions at the time, particularly wind.
"At Sydney the Waratah lay right
over the wharf. 

Further confirming the above pattern of tenderness in a port setting.

It has been said that
she was 'tender.' I heard that there
had been trouble with the stevedores,
but I left the boat at Sydney and two
or three days later went inland, so 
cannot say anything about the loading

I can well imagine that it would have been difficult loading a steamer with tenderness tendencies,
carefully attending to trimming during the process. Sydney stevedores were known as the
best in the business. This leaves little doubt as to the challenges presented by the inherently tender

Coming out from England no
proper boat drill was held, and there
were no fire drills. 

This is not acceptable but was common on steamers of the time. Very few practised these drills and in
the case of Waratah with her cellular double bottom and watertight compartments, she was believed to
be 'unsinkable'. Fire drills also upset delicate first class passengers - not something to add to concerns
about top heaviness.

The boats were in a leaky condition.
I saw a man laying the paint on thick 
on one occasion.
'They want it,' he remarked to me.
The paint was running through the

Impressions were given that the boats were sorted out in the interval between the first and second
voyages. It is well-documented that the initial boats were made of 'green' wood which opened up in the
tropics. If this comment was true it further discredited the owners for sending out their flagship in this
condition, even after apparent shortcomings of the boats materialized on the maiden voyage. What
beyond boats fell into this same category? This would be a further factor preventing Captain Ilbery
attempting to land passengers on the Wild Coast.

Putting the cargo in the main
hold, as I have described, and filling
the 'tween decks with coal, had the effect 
of making the vessel top-heavy, the cargo 
in the hold being much lighter than coal.

Mr. Baker certainly had a handle on the Waratah dilemma. Cargo was generally stowed 100 cubic feet
to the ton and coal at 42 cubic feet to the ton.

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

This is both illuminating and confusing. It implies that the entire coal component was accommodated in
the main hold, which to some extent makes sense due to the fact that cargo outbound to Australia was
limited and Waratah needed dead weight low down. In addition to 859 tons of coal in hold No 3, the
balance must have been in cargo holds, if this account is to be believed.

"Why did I leave the Waratah? I
was paid off at Sydney, but I would
have left the ship in any case. I did
not like her. When she rolled, instead
of behaving like an ordinary vessel,
she seemed to 'hang', at the angle. It
seemed difficult for her to recover herself 
after a roll. I reckon that, after leaving Durban, 
she got into heavy weather and turned 
clean over, being unable to recover after 
being struck by a big sea."

The statement makes sense except for one very important key factor. By the time Waratah departed
Australia the top heaviness factor had been corrected at the expense of dead weight and cargo
replaced coal in the 'tween decks reserve bunkers. The Waratah controversy is confounded by the
simple, irrefutable fact that the Waratah was a very different steamer in terms of GM stability after her
first three voyages. Whatever went wrong off the Wild Coast had nothing to do with the problems
outlined in the preceding voyages.

Also see:


Anonymous said...

Cargo lighter than coal?????consider 40 cubic feet of pure lead against 40 cubic feet of coal, which would be heavier? you do not make sense.

andrew van rensburg said...

The lead concentrates were a component of ballast, for the very reason you quote, loaded lowest down in the hold 1. Cargo, revenue-earning products such as oats, tallow, rabbits, etc... were loaded 100 cubic foot to the ton, which is considerably less heavy than the equivalent coal. Lead concentrates were never intended for the 'tween decks. I hope this makes sense.