The sighting of bodies was controversial and every attempt made to dispute the reports. The crews of the Insizwa and Tottenham sighted bodies at different positions, same date, 11 August, 1909, suggesting that bodies from the Waratah had drifted at different speeds with the prevailing current from a position at the Bashee River or higher up the coast. "Speaking from memory as to dates, having, unfortunately, left his notebook on the Tottenham, Mr. Day says the Tottenham arrived at Durban about midnight on Saturday, August 7, and anchored in the roadstead, signalling her arrival to the lighthouse."
"The Insizwa was also anchored in the roadstead, and at about 1 a.m. Mr. Day, who was then on watch, received a signal from her, asking if he knew anything about the missing Waratah. Mr. Day replied in the negative, stating that the Tottenham had just come from Port Pirie (Adelaide). Owing to the rough state of the weather the Tottenham remained in port till the Tuesday morning at 8 o'clock when she left for Antwerp, with instructions to keep a diligent look-out for the Waratah."
"The sea at the time was very high. When off East London the incidents already described took place. Mr. Day says he pointed out to the officers an albatross sitting on something, and the steamer was brought round to make an examination, which fully convinced him that the object on which the bird as perched was the trunk of a body, with the arms and legs missing."
The Tottenham captain was quoted as saying that the bodies sighted were 20 to 25 miles southwest of East London. In fact the sighting was more likely to have been off Hamburg, rather than the mouth of the Great Fish River, 45 miles from East London - 20 miles short ! 2. Certain officers of the steamship "Tottenham" state that when she was 20 or 25 miles south of East London on the same day, they saw some human bodies in the water.
The Captain of the Insizwa reported sighting bodies some 10 miles off the Bashee River, not the mouth of the Bashee River. The respective captains made their reports no earlier than 14 August, three days after the sightings. Once the reports received, vessels were dispatched taking a further significant period of time to arrive at the Bashee and Great Fish Rivers, by which time the bodies were more than likely to have either drifted to another location or been consumed by predators. 1. The master of the "Insizwa" said that when about 10 miles off the Bashee River on that date.
The report that pieces of whale were seen off the Bashee would have had no relevance to the original sighting, 10 miles distant. Pieces of a skate sighted off Mazeppa Bay is ridiculous. It would be difficult (even in a Masterchef kitchen) to divide up one little skate into four portions the sizes of human bodies, attired in different coloured cloth.
Of course the reports of bodies off the Great Fish River were unfounded. The Tottenham was at least 20 miles away at the time of the sighting!
One gets the impression that no one wanted bodies discovered or confirmed. Neither captains made any attempt to retrieve the bodies and the subsequent insistence on whales and skates confirm my suspicions.
Mr Day of the Tottenham was prepared to go under oath to confirm that what they had seen were bodies, not fish.
The captain of the Insizwa became quite insistent that he had witnessed bodies, even though one of his crew a man by the name of Mr. Bastard denied the sighting and his master's credibility - well, there's no surprise there...
He was, wasn't he? There is a further reason for not retrieving bodies. Conditions at sea were rough at the time and ship insurance did not cover going out of course to retrieve bodies. If either of the vessels had run into trouble during such manoeuvres, insurance cover would have been forfeited.