Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Globe, Sydney, Wednesday 3 April, 1912.

This calls to mind the fact that someone on shore
was probably the last to hear or see the end of the
ill-fated Waratah, and the assumption is based on
the following letter, which appeared over the
signature of "Heather Gray" in a South African
paper about the time of the big ship's disappearance.
The writer said:

"I have just returned from a delightful holiday spent
with friends on the Transkei coast, about 120 miles
from East London. Whilst there I learnt that a few
months after the disappearance of the Waratah, the
frame of a deck chair and a basket with a border
of the colour known to have been in use on the ill-
fated vessel were washed up on the beach where
we bathed. I have negotiated for the basket.

A young Scotsman, who is still living in that part
of the country, was, at the time the Waratah
disappeared for some time watching a vessel
labouring in heavy seas, and  pitching and
rolling most terribly. He remarked:

"I should not like to be on board that vessel just

She suddenly disappeared.

Maria, the woman who acts as cook for my friends
when they visit their seaside home, also averred
to that time, that for a long time she watched a
ship struggling against a terrible sea. She was
frightened and kept a steady lookout, when the
ship suddenly disappeared from view. The testimony
of a native may not be considered very reliable,
but what about those tangible evidences - the chair
frame and the basket? The idea that they both
belong to the hapless vessel obtains general credence
among those living along that part of the coast. If
this hypothesis be correct, then it is to be supposed
that the ill-fortuned Waratah is lying fathoms below
the water of the Indian Ocean somewhere near this

I find this account both fascinating and chilling. In all the many posts on Waratah I have never come across this account. In fact, of all the supposed items originating from Waratah and presented to the press, the deck chair frame and basket received no mention, whatsoever. How many such cases were these, never reaching the public domain? 

I plotted the distance of 120 n miles from East London - see images below - and got a direct hit for Poenskop. Try this for yourselves. Maria may not have been considered a credible witness but her eye witness account matches that of the crew of the SS Harlow. Waratah simply has to be lying at or near the position marked on the image below. 

Or 120 miles, inland, could represent Hluleka Reserve as depicted on the image below


Mole said...


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. As the crow flys ?

andrew van rensburg said...

Access to Transkei 'resorts' / river mouth settlements, circa 1909, was a huge challenge to say the least. I believe the 120 n miles refers to the most practical way of getting from East London to Port St Johns (Poenskop) - coastal steamer. This is a distance, as the crow flies more or less, of 117 n miles + 3 n miles for Poenskop. I calculated distances by land routes for all the major Transkei river mouths (settlements) from Kei to Mpande in the north, and did not get one location remotely matching the quoted 120 miles.