Friday, 1 July 2016


Advocate, Saturday 14 July, 1923.

Ranking next in importance to the
case of the Marie Celeste is the 
mystery of the Waratah. Who can forget
the thrill of horror that ran round the
world when the news came through
from Capetown that the Waratah was
On June 26, 1909, the Waratah sailed
out of Sydney on her second and last
voyage to London. Durban was reached 
on July 25. Bound for Capetown,
the Waratah left there the next day
with 207 (92) passengers. She was 
expected at Capetown on Friday, July 29.
Ten hours after leaving Durban, on
July 27, a signal from the Waratah was
picked up by the steamer Clan Macintyre, 
also bound for London, via Durban. 
Greetings were exchanged between 
the Clan Macintyre, which signalled: 
"Good-bye. A pleasant passage," 
and the Waratah sent back the
message "Same to you." That was
the last that was heard of the Waratah.
On July 28 there was a fierce gale,
and on the 30th great anxiety was felt
in Capetown for the Waratah, for no
news of any kind had been received.
The storm was still raging when, on
Sunday, the T. E. Fuller, equipped, for
salvage work, left the Capetown Docks
to search for the missing Waratah.
Hundreds of people, impelled either
by fear for the safety of those they
loved or through curiosity, came down
to wish the T. E. Fuller God-speed and
success in its mission.
"I shall never forget the sight,"
said an eye witness. "The tears of
the women mingled with the rain that
beat on their wan faces. Oilskin clad,
the men stood by, sombre-eyed and
with heavy hearts. Knowing the coast,
as they did, they could not hope; they
could only wait. ''
On Monday the tug returned, battered 
by the waves and weather. Its
mission had been fruitless. No news,
either good or bad, could it bring of
the Waratah to her friends in Capetown.
Theory of Floating Explosives:
While the Waratah was between
Durban and Capetown the Borkum, of
the Norddeutscher Lloyd Line, was in
difficulties in the same latitude. A fire
had broken out on board, and high
explosives were in the cargo. To save
his ship from being blown up, the 
captain decided to jettison the explosives.
So violent was the weather that there
was no chance of touching off the ex-
plosives in the water, so it had to be
It is contended by many whose opinion 
are worthy of note that the Waratah struck 
some of the floating explosive, and was so 
badly damaged as a result that she could 
not weather the storm. And yet, if this is the true
explanation, it is strange that no wreckage was 
found. The explosion would scatter timbers and 
spars, which would eventually be thrown up 
along the coast. Not even the search of warships
discovered any wreckage from the Waratah. 
It was as if the sea had opened and 
swallowed up the vessel, and her complement.

SS Borkum, built 1896, 5350 gross tons, 409 ft. length, 50 ft. beam.


The Nord-Deutscher Lloyd cargo steamer
Borkum, bound to Sydney, arrlved at 
Fremantle yesterday from Bremen, via Antwerp,
Durban, and Port Louis. Referring to the
sensational incident which occurred on board
the ship on the passage out from Bremen,
brief particulars of which wore cabled from
Mauritius about the middle of last month, the
officers said that the origin of the fire in No.
4 hold was a mystery (so often the case).
Immediately the fire was discovered attention 
was directed to the adjoining hold, in
which were stowed 4000 cases of dynamite and
20 cases of detonators. Captain Stollborg ordered 
the hatches from the No. 3 hold to be
taken off, and, by careful handling, the crew
jettisoned the whole of the explosives, and
on completion of this work those on board
were greatly relieved.

The Borkum was then headed for Port Louis,
where she arrived on July 16 
(well before Waratah departed Durban)
The cargo in No. 4 hold was still burning fiercely 
(again, so often the case), and the crew worked 
well together in fighting the fire.
In case there are thoughts that the burning Borkum was mistaken for the Waratah, the incident occurred well in advance of Waratah's fatal voyage down the Wild Coast.

Renamed SS Borkum when bought by Norddeutscher Lloyd Line.


Anonymous said...

Can you substantiate beyond any shadow of doubt that the Waratah turned back and was on fire.? There is no evidence to support your theory, either at the court of inquiry or in any erroneous newspaper
reports of which there were many regarding the Waratah. It would appear that most of your writings on the subject are a deliberate fabrications by you, can you prove otherwise.?

Signed a fed up and pissed off ship enthusiast.

andrew van rensburg said...

No, there are no substantiations for any of the theories. Don't let my opinion upset you so much.

Anonymous said...

Mr. van rensburg. On the 1st July, anonymous asked you to substantiate your theories on the s.s. Waratah. In reply you stated that there was no substantiation of the theories put forward, then went on to say "don't let my opinions upset you so much." Well Mr. van rensburg, as a student of maritime history I have to ask "Why bother to publish your opinions when you state that they cannot be substantiated." Do you not agree that your information is in fact misleading to myself and many of my like minded students who are endeavouring to obtain the best examination marks possible in this historical subject?

andrew van rensburg said...

Dear Anonymous. Substantiation = finding the wreck of the Waratah. There is more than enough circumstantial evidence to support the Harlow account. I 'bother' because I believe the Harlow account to be true. The information is not misleading as it is based on a plethora of published reports and being a student interested in 'the best examination marks possible', don't you think that you should be able to read posts; quoted reports and come to your own conclusions? I thought that was what being a student was all about...

Anonymous said...

Mr. van rensburg. Reference to your post dated 2 July and in answer to my post = it is true that I have read and studied many quoted reports and have come to my own conclusions thus my comments were made to ensure that other students are aware that your reports, based on newspapers of the day (and written by journalists) are to be questioned. Clearly you are not an expert on maritime history and any post you have or may make is not to be taken seriously....

Anonymous said...

I have read the "war of words" in previous posts and find the words on "Waratah explained" to be both comprehensive and well researched. In a post dated 13 October 2015 headed "The Harlow evidence debunked Why?" to be an example of proper research based on experience by the author of this post. The Harlow evidence that Mr. van rensburg has posted and seems to trust was also dismissed by the Commissioner of the Board of Trade at the subsequent inquiry.

andrew van rensburg said...

Stanley Robinson's level of knowledge on the Waratah and maritime expertise is superb. But his 'Harlow evidence debunked' reflects the status quo which has been eloquently reproduced in many publications. I have pursued the Harlow account because it is multi-layered and despite controversial aspects, holds a number of highly specific references. As time went by Captain Bruce became more adamant that he had witnessed the last moments of the Waratah. His coordinates were never dragged, as he suggested should be done, and the Inquiry, in many respects, was a whitewash. My intention is not to reinvent the wheel but rather to question and explore the status quo. This is my opinion and right. You have every right and reason to disagree until such time as the wreck is discovered - if ever. The beauty of the Waratah mystery is that it lends itself to passionate opinion and exploration - beyond marks in an exam.