Tuesday, 20 December 2016


The Advertiser, Adelaide, Friday 20 August, 1909.

Perth, August 19.
The Steamer Bannockburn, bound from
New York to the eastern States, put into
Albany unexpectedly for coal yesterday.
The vessel coaled at Cape Town and left that
port on July 24, two days before the Waratah 
sailed from Durban. On July 26 the Bannockburn 
ran into a gale from the east north-east of such 
violence as the captain states he never before 
experienced. Some coal taken on board at Cape 
Town had been placed on deck, and the gale 
threw the steamer on her beam ends, in which
position, she remained for a considerable
period, until all the deck coal was washed
overboard. Had that not happened Captain 
Willett questions whether the Bannockburn 
would have righted herself, and after his 
experience he has no doubt as to the fate 
of the Waratah. It was because of the coal 
the Bannockburn lost in the gale she was
obliged to put in at Albany.

If one makes a rough calculation of where the Bannockburn making 9.5 knots could have been 26 July when the gale struck, one gets a mean position roughly off Cape St Francis (Storms River or Algoa Bay as outside possibilities) - see image below. The gale from East Northeast is descriptive of the area directly ahead of the cold front. Worse was still to come for the Bannockburn. By this account we may deduce that during 26 July the leading edge of the frontal system had not yet reached Algoa Bay.

If we go back to the account of the Clan MacIntyre, as per Inquiry transcript:

"During the 27th July the wind was first S.S.W. fresh, then about noon S. by E. strong, after that S.W. strong gale, moderating between 4 and 8 p.m. and being N.W. by N., going round to W. towards midnight. The sea was at first moderate, then from 8 a.m. to noon rather rough, then from noon to about 5 p.m. a high head sea, ship pitching and shipping heavy seas over the forecastle head, and then from 5 p.m. to midnight it was rather less rough. The weather was fine and clear throughout the day. 

"On 28th July we experienced a great storm. I never met with anything of such violence on this coast during the 13 years I have been sailing in this trade."

What does this tell us? Just prior to the arrival of a cold front system moving up the South African coast (southern hemisphere) one would expect winds to predominate from the northwest and northeast, NOT the southeast, so the rough conditions from noon to 4 pm were not as a direct result of the cold front storm, as yet. However, between 4 pm and 8 pm the wind shifted to the Northwest by North which was an indicator that the cold front system was approaching from the southwest and imminent. This phase can be accompanied by light patchy rain and haze. According to the extract it was generally fine and clear throughout the day which makes sense. In fact it was 'rather less rough' between 5 pm and midnight. At midnight things started to change dramatically with winds shifting to the west = leading edge of the cold front storm arriving = roughly the vicinity of the Bushman's River (CM making about 11.5 knots with the favour of the Agulhas Current). 

Where would this have placed the Waratah, IF she had still been on course, when the brunt of the storm struck her? My calculations are rough but I estimate that Waratah would have been approximately abeam of Bird Island, Algoa Bay, some 23 n miles out, close to the edge of the Continental Shelf. If she had gone down at this position or some position not very much further southwest, she would have disappeared into the abyss taking all evidence with her. If this is the case I very much doubt whether the wreck of the Waratah will ever be found. 

Fortunately I do not believe this scenario to be true and stand firmly by my assertion that the wreck of the Waratah lies a mere 0.5 n miles off the coast just short of Poenskop.

One thing, however, is very clear; Waratah could not have been abeam of East London at 9.50 pm 27 July when the Guelph was alleged to have sighted her. She was at least 100 n miles further down the coast by this time or having come about due to a fire on board, long gone to the bottom.

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