The Lund manager interfered with the witness account and suggested bush fires, which just happened
to 'occur' to and the chief officer and first engineer. How very convenient. Captain Bruce stuck to his
guns when clearly some form of pressure was being applied by the owners to discredit the account.
Bush fires also provided a much needed excuse for not going back to investigate the scene of the
explosions, which no doubt suited the chief officer and first engineer - released from responsibility.Note
on image below that Waratah would have been 0.5 nautical miles offshore with a background of cliffs -
elevation of bush fires which could not be attributed to a ship at sea level
In consequence of this difference of
opinion between himself and the chief
officer and the first engineer, and
the fact that investigations at Durban
failed to show that any ship was
overdue, the captain did not report the
occurrence until he heard at Manila of the
A natural action would have been to tell all and sundry what they had witnessed off the Wild Coast - a
most fascinating story if nothing else. No, they kept quiet because they had done nothing to investigate
The above statement coincides essentially
with the following report lately received
in Adelaide from Manila: — Captain Bruce
states that on July 27 at 7.30 p.m. he
noticed a large steamer with two mast
head lights and a red sidelight. As she
was on his quarter he could not see the
green light. From the way she gained on
him he would say she was travelling at the
rate of 13 to 14 knots an hour.
A witness account does not get more specific than this, transforming the bush fire theory into a sham.
A tremendous amount of smoke was issuing from
her and he called the chief engineer's attention to it.
They came to the conclusion that she was on fire
and was returning to Durban for assistance.
Note how Captain Bruce let slip that both he and the chief engineer came to the same conclusion that the Waratah was on fire and attempting to return to Durban. They both saw and interpreted the same thing! Bush fires are unlikely to create the same convincing image for two different observers.
While they were watching her a huge flash occurred,
throwing a flame about 300 ft. high into the
air. A few seconds later another and
much larger explosion took place, the flash
going fully 1,000 ft. high.
Socket signals can send up red coloured flashes as high as quoted. Chief engineer Alfred Harris
claimed that the dazzling red light persisted for up to two minutes = socket signal. Captain Bruce stated
at the Inquiry that the red light dazzled him in the chart room. This was not merely the aftermath of
explosions - intense, fleeting flashes.
When it had cleared all the lights of the steamer had
disappeared. As there were bush fires
along the coast the chief officer was of the
opinion that the flames were caused by
them, but they could not understand the
disappearance of the steamer's lights.
Bush fires could never explain or justify specific running lights and the side light of a large steamer.
When the lights 'had disappeared' the message was a clear as day, the Waratah had gone down.
The steamer had not signalled for help before
Events must have turned suddenly and catastrophically to explain the lights disappearing so quickly.
Before that, despite the smoke, there was probably no immediate danger and no need to signal for
though she was then right abreast of the
Cape Hermes signal station the captain cannot
understand how they did not see her, for her lights
were burning brightly, and above her was a dense
volume of smoke.
Another vivid and explicit description of the Waratah - 'lights burning brightly' and 'dense volume of
smoke above her'. What is revealing is that Captain Bruce could not 'understand how they did not see
her', implying that to him it was plain as day, there was a large steamer, on fire, tracking past Cape
Hermes. This validates the self-belief and authenticity of his account.
From the terrific explosions
they were of opinion that everyone
must have been killed instantly.
Terrific explosions, everyone killed = no need to return to the position of the tragedy.
The Harlow arrived at Durban on the following
day, and remained two days. As there
was no report from Cape Hermes and
nothing reported as missing Captain Bruce
forgot all about the explosions.
Captain Bruce was stretching the truth and he certainly did not 'forget about it'. He and his chief
engineer had already decided that it was the Waratah returning to Durban for assistance. If she were
still on course she would only have arrived in Cape Town two days later, so naturally there would have
been no reports of a missing steamer. It has been said that the Harlow direct from the UK would not
have known about Waratah. I disagree. Waratah was a big deal in shipping via the South African coast
and her movements loudly proclaimed. When Captain Bruce and his colleagues were discussing the
presence of a large steamer astern, they must have come to the conclusion by deduction - which other
steamer could she have been?
On the arrival of the last Australian mail in
Manila Captain Bruce heard of the loss of
the Waratah. and on comparing notes and
dates he felt sure that the steamer was the
Waratah. The explosions occurred, in
latitude 31 deg. 38 min. south and longitude 29
deg. 55 min. east. He says if two launches
were sent out and swept with a line for
a mile or two long they would surely
locate the vessel, which was in about 20
fathoms of water, right off St. John's
River (Nkadusweni River). A diver could, he states, easily
work there. The weather was very calm
all the way from Cape Town to Durban.
Given time to reflect on the incident and news of the missing Waratah, Captain Bruce appears to have
got his act together and could not have been more precise or convincing issuing specific coordinates to
locate the wreck. He wanted the Waratah found as much as anyone. But his window of credibility was
lost and those closely connected with the Waratah wanted nothing of explosions tearing apart all souls
The weather was very calm which emphatically disproves that the Waratah succumbed to a storm of 'exceptional violence'. Whatever her stability issues had been in the past, the set of circumstances leading up to the last sighting, pointed to a disaster escalating on board - FIRE.
Poenskop overlooking the mouth of the Nkadusweni River, not St Johns or Umzimvubu River.