Sunday, 10 April 2016


Chronicle (Adelaide) Saturday 6 November, 1909.



LONDON, October 29.
The Lund Line cannot co-ordinate the
story of the captain of the Harrison liner
Harlow concerning the blowing up of the
Waratah on July 27 with the known position
of the latter vessel on that date. They
believe that what the Harlow's captain
saw was bushfires on the African coast.

Important to note that the Lunds suggested bush fires from the start. They did not want this account to
be true under any circumstances. A normal response from owners would be one of, this needs to be
investigated and the position in question dragged to establish whether the wreck of the Waratah lies
there or not.

October 30.

The search for the missing steamer
Waratah is still being vigorously prosecuted. 
The South African Government tug Fuller has 
searched the Agulhas Bank.

Nothing likely to be there.

Field cornets have examined the whole
coast from Cape Town to Port Natal for

Yeah, right. Have any of you visited the coast off Cape Hermes. Inaccessible would be a fair
description. Can you imagine the logistics of scouring the entire coast from Durban to Cape Town. I
doubt whether there would ever have been enough field cornets to investigate even 10% of the coastal

All vessels leaving Cape Town eastwards and 
proceeding to Cape Town have varied their 
courses somewhat for search purposes, but 
the efforts have proved resultless.

Naturally, the Waratah had gone down.

November 1.

— The 'Times' makes an important 
statement regarding the detailed account 
received by Lloyds from Captain Bruce, of
the British steamer Harlow, with reference
to his report from Manila that on July 27,
when 180 miles from Durban, he saw a
large steamer afire, and that the vessel was
afterwards destroyed by an explosion.

And how this figure of 180 miles confused the issue. Coffee Bay is 180 miles from Durban. Cape
Hermes is about 150 miles from Durban. This is where the confusion and rot set in.

The explosion took place in latitude 31.8 south,
longitude 29.55 east.

31 36 30.29 S

29 36 18.51 E

In his detailed report Captain Bruce 
stated that the vessel, which
he supposed to be Lund's Blue Anchor
liner Waratah, bound from Durban to
Cape Town, was sighted six miles off.

The Chief Engineer, Alfred Harris stated that the Waratah was less than 4 miles astern, which would
place the Harlow some 7 miles northeast of Cape Hermes. Anything between 7 and 9 miles would be a
fair estimate. 4 to 6 miles would be close enough to differentiate features (lights) of the Waratah.

She was smoking fiercely, and two explosions 
occurred, with only a few seconds between each, 
before the vessel disappeared.
Captain Bruce stated that it was only a
few days before he arrived at Manila that
he heard that the Waratah was missing.
He presumed that the vessel which he believed 
to have been the Waratah was returning to Durban 
when the disaster occurred. He estimated that she now lay
in 20 fathoms of water at a point off the
coast between Cape Hermes and the St.
John River.

See previous post. He confused the Nkadusweni River mouth with that of the St John River
(Umzimvubu River), creating a second element of confusion to his story. 20 fathoms is 36.5 m,
accessible to divers and more importantly the depth at the coordinates position offered by Bruce! 

Smoking fiercely is descriptive and convincing.

According to the ''Times" Lloyd's was
at first determined not to publish Captain
Bruce's fuller report owing to lack of evidence 
in substantiation thereof. 

As if there was other evidence, convincing or otherwise.

Private perusals of the report, however, aroused
conjectures which justified its publication.
A critical examination shows that if all
was well with the Waratah the vessel was 
190 miles from Cape Hermes when the 
captain of the Harlow saw two explosions, the
first throwing up a flash to a height of 300
ft. and the second a flash of 1,000 ft. 

Socket signals produced red flashes of light rising to 1000 ft., a consideration aside from explosions. If detonators were not added to the socket signals there would have been NO explosions.
Yes the Waratah should have been approaching Port Elizabeth by this time if all were well. But sadly...

But if a fire had broken out on the Waratah
during the day the missing vessel would 
undoubtedly have retraced her course, 
hugging the coast, in order to enable the 
captain to beach the steamer and land the 

At last some logic. As we know, East London was not an option if the Waratah was on fire - the port not
accessible to a vessel the size of the Waratah and with a storm approaching, anchoring in the
roadstead, not really an option. Circumstances did not allow Captain Ilbery to beach the Waratah at the
mouth of the St Johns River (Umzimvubu) and land his passengers safely. I doubt whether it could be
safely achieved under the best of circumstances. It had taken more than 10 seamen to mobilize a
lifeboat due to stiff davits - can you imagine the logistics of safely launching lifeboats under such
circumstances to land passengers on the Wild Coast? 

This would explain the fact of the Clan Macintyre 
and the Harlow sighting the Waratah, though not the Guelph.

The bizarre Guelph signal exchange was an undiluted attempt at dramatic diversion tactics. So cleverly
executed and with no responsibility attached to an incomplete signal received from the mystery ship.

Those who disbelieve the narrative of the
Harlow's master argue that if the Waratah
had caught fire and retraced her course
she should have been sighted burning by
the Clan Macintyre, which had been passed
bound for Durban earlier in the day. 

Not at all the case. Given the bearings of the Waratah when she overhauled the Clan MacIntyre and by
9.30 am, 27 July, off the Bashee River, Waratah was at least  7.4  miles further out to sea relative to the
Clan MacIntyre. If Captain Ilbery had elected to come about in an arc further out at sea, then crossing
the shipping lanes at one juncture, rejoining the inner track up to and including Cape Hermes /
Poenskop, the chance of the Clan MacIntyre sighting the 'burning' Waratah again, was remote

If the explosions witnessed by Captain Bruce,
the ''Times" continues, occurred only three
miles from Cape Hermes it is strange that
nothing was heard at the lighthouse, or
that no wreckage was found along the

This is true and a crucial component of the account and mystery. It is indeed strange that the keepers
at the Cape Hermes lighthouse witnessed nothing, given the coordinates position 3.247 nautical miles
northeast of Cape Hermes. Between 7.30 and 8 pm on a cold winter's night might one assume that the
keepers were enjoying a warming evening meal, rather than gazing out to sea? The light was
operational, so what was the need or urgency for both keepers to be monitoring the sea lanes? The
crew of the Harlow heard no sounds of an explosion so there were no sounds to alert the keepers.

In connection with the suggestion by the
manager of the Lund line that the Harlow 's 
captain saw bush fires, it appears
that this very explanation occurred to the
Harlow's chief officer and first engineer.

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
Waratah's loss.

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
or assist.

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
the explosion,

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
on board.

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.

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