Thursday, 7 April 2016


The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 16 August, 1909.

The Aberdeen liner Miltiades (6793 tons),
which left Melbourne on 21st. July for London
has arrived at Capetown, and has gone
to the Bashee River to search for any
trace of the missing steamer.
A tug has also been despatched from East
London to search particularly for and recover 
bodies reported to have been seen,
and the police, are patrolling the coast with
a like object in view.

CAPE TOWN, August 14, 1.50 p.m.
It is officially announced that the report
of the discovery of dead bodies in the Fish
River is entirely unfounded. 

It is rumored at Port Alfred that bodies
are being washed up the Great Fish River,
75 miles from East London.

Port Alfred is about 50 miles southwest of East London. The figure of 75 miles refers to the
distance between East London and the Bashee River. The Great Fish River is 45 n miles from East

The captain of a vessel which has just arrived at East
London reports having seen pieces of a
whale yesterday off the mouth of the
Bashee River. The carcass was being 
followed by a flock of birds.

An official report states that one of the
tugs sent from East London has returned
with a report that while off Mazeppa Bay
those on board observed birds hovering
over floating objects resembling human
bodies. Closer investigation revealed the 
objects to be nothing but portions of a dead
skate. Excepting this nothing was seen.

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.

The elegant SS Miltiades.

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