Tuesday, 29 November 2016


Sometime ago I was contacted by a gentleman who claimed that he and his team had been searching for the wreck of the Waratah for the past five years, if I recall correctly. He was very interested in the Harlow theory because he had in his possession a tile and section of copper piping, which appeared to have sustained some form of explosive damage. More interestingly, he claimed that the tile had been sent to England for analysis the results of which allegedly confirmed that it originated from the SS Waratah. 

I was naturally intrigued and excited by this possibility and agreed to meet the gentleman's partner/financier (and wife) in Cape Town to view the tile. It turned out to be an informative and pleasant meeting, during which time I was presented with a tile (see image below) which exhibits marked encrustations/concretions on the reverse side, suggesting that it had spent a great deal of time on the seabed. 

The meeting proved fruitful in that there was every intention to continue exploring the Wild Coast above and below Cape Hermes. The team has used magnetometry and side-scan sonar analysis of sections of the Wild Coast but have been confronted with the limitations of separating iron in bedrock from that of wrecks. From what I understand the data was sent to the US for analysis but I have not been privy to results of these investigations. 

I contacted the team financier recently to ask how the search was progressing and if anything of note had emerged from data analysis. The response I received was saddening - other ventures and projects had relegated the search for Waratah to the bottom shelf. I, as am sure many readers, am disappointed. 

The team may or may not continue their search for the Waratah and the tantalisingly smooth texture of the beautifully intact outer surface of the tile may or may not originate from the Waratah, but if it does one thing is certain - she is accessible to discovery. The tile and pipe were not associated with a wreck lying nearby which highly suggests that the items were washed down the coast by the powerful Agulhas Current and periodic up-wellings which carry items closer to shore and chance of discovery (notably the one off the Xora). 

My hope is that those with the financial means do not give up on the quest to find the final resting place of SS Waratah. Those who believe that the wreck lies inaccessibly in the abyss off the Continental Shelf should take hope that she is not there and is probably cossetted in a blanket of silt. I am an optimist who believes in the veracity of the tile and the reality that one day, in the not too distant future, Waratah will regain centre stage and reveal her secrets to the world.  

Thursday, 3 November 2016



The Argus, Melbourne, Friday 31 March, 1911.

BRISBANE, Thursday - In view of the
widespread statements that the Yongala
"turned turtle," Mr. Wareham flatly 
contradicted the possibility, and pointed 
out that the steamer had been running 
on the coast in the interstate trade for 
eight years - five years running between 
Sydney and Fremantle. Consequently she 
crossed the Australian Bight every four weeks, 
often with less than 100 tons of cargo and not 
more than 200 or 300 tons of coal. She never 
gave owners, master, crew, or passengers any
cause for uneasiness on account of her 
behaviour. It was unreasonable to suppose
that the Yongala, which left Brisbane with
2,000 tons weight in her bottom and only 5
tons of cargo on deck, could turn turtle.

This initial reaction from a representative of the owners is interesting. The scene was set for the Inquiry to come; under no circumstances was Yongala to be presented as a tender steamer which could have turned turtle in a cyclone. But the rumours were there as soon as one week after the disaster. Yongala did indeed have a good track record, particularly across the Bight. However, Mr. Wareham failed to mention that she carried 164 tons of pig iron ballast to compensate for minimal cargo and coal during these runs. The distance between Fremantle and Adelaide is 1720 n miles. Yongala consumed, on average, 60 tons of coal per day. Cruising at a modest 12 knots she would have taken 6 days = 360 tons of coal. Mr. Wareham already as early as 31 March, was prone to exaggeration in favour of dispelling the rumours and exaggerating Yongala's capabilities. He protested far too much! It is known from the Inquiry that Yongala departed Brisbane with 11 tons on deck. Again, Mr. Wareham attempted to underplay the top heavy component by reducing this figure to 5 tons. It is interesting to note that Yongala had a jerky recovery when steaming in ballast with the 164 tons of pig iron (forward). The pig iron lowered the centre of gravity, raising GM, and with it the righting force recovering from a list. This jerky recovery was not as pronounced when Yongala carried cargo, including cargo on deck. The deck cargo would have reduced the GM and done away with the jerky recovery. This reminds me of the Waratah. Captain Ilbery, finally on the last voyage, had sorted out Waratah's inherently tender condition by adding 1300 tons of lead concentrates in a lower hold at 11 cubic feet to the ton, 8 ft. high. This produced a stable steamer with a GM of 1.9 ft., which was pretty good in those days. However, the increased righting forced, as in the case of Yongala, produced a jerky recovery which had passengers falling on the promenade deck during the voyage from Adelaide to Durban. Many observers believe that by stowing 300 tons of coal on Waratah's spar deck at Durban made her dangerously top heavy for her fatal leg of the run to Cape Town. What Captain Ilbery was in effect doing, similar to deck cargo on Yongala, was to reduce the GM to a more palatable 1.5 ft. and the reduced righting force cured the jerky recovery = no more potential passenger falls. Captain Ilbery was not a fool, nor was he reckless by subjecting a steamer with a reputation for tenderness to further 'destabilising' coal on the spar deck. It was done for good reason. Returning to Yongala, I believe that the absence of the pig iron had a significant impact on tenderness and being 36% full in terms of cargo dead weight, most of which was stowed in the 'tween deck, made Yongala tender and vulnerable to turning turtle in a gale. You could not win with these inherently top heavy steamers.

There is no smoke without fire!

SS Yongala

SS Waratah, loading at Port Adelaide.