Thursday, 31 March 2016


Waratah was built with the much-acclaimed double hull, which together with watertight compartments was supposed to make her unsinkable. The depth of hull (outer) was quoted as being about 38.5 ft. and depth in hold from tonnage deck to ceiling midships, about 35 ft. which implies that the space between the two hulls was 3.5 ft. (minus hull plate thicknesses). This space no doubt contributed significantly to additional buoyancy. It was referred to as a cellular double bottom, due to the incorporation of 9 ballast tanks + 2 peak tanks. It immediately becomes apparent that if these ballast and peak tanks were full, Waratah would lose much needed additional buoyancy. The inner hull would be protected in low-energy collisions but not in high-energy collisions such as striking a rock; sand bar or wreckage at 13.5 knots. The Waratah was making 13.5 knots astern of the Harlow when the lights went out....

Single hull, Double bottom, and Double hull ship cross sections. Green lines are watertight; black structure is not watertight


The West Australian, Monday 21 March 1910.
- (By "Sancho Pania.")

His steamer was leaving Fremantle next
day and I had accepted the cordial invitation 
of Captain X. to spend the evening with him.

"Why, during my forty years' experience
at sea," continued the skipper, "there have
been scores of cases of vessels of one kind
or another setting out on a voyage and
mysteriously vanishing. It's usually only
when a passenger ship fails to reach her
destination that public interest is aroused;
where 'wind-jammers' or cargo-steamers are
concerned people hear little and care less.

Such a revealing and true statement.

Curiously enough I started to serve my
time in 1870,the very year in which the
Inman liner, City of Boston, left New York
for Liverpool with 220 passengers and a big
crew aboard and disappeared without leaving 
the smallest clue to indicate her fate."

Displacement:2,278 long tons (2,315 t)
Length:305 ft (93 m)
Beam:39 ft (12 m)
  • 2 × steam engines (600 hp total)
  • single screw
Sail plan:Three-masted (ship rigged)
Speed:12 kn (22 km/h; 14 mph)

The City of Boston sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia for Liverpool on 28 January 1870 commanded by Captain Halcrow. She had 191 people on board: 55 cabin passengers, 52 steerage passengers and a crew of 84. A number of the passengers were prominent businessmen and military officers from Halifax. She never reached her destination and no trace of her was ever found.
A violent gale and snowstorm took place two days after her departure which may have contributed to her loss. Collision with an iceberg was another explanation suggested at the time.[2]
City of Boston had been fitted with a two-blade propeller to replace her original three-blade propeller which had been broken during her previous voyage, and Captain Brooks of the SS City of Brooklyn expressed the opinion that the new propeller would not be strong enough to let her make headway against the adverse weather.

'Yes, and That was the same year H.M.S.
Captain turned turtle off Cape Finisterre and 
carried hundreds of lives to the bottom
with her," I observed.

  • As designed: 6,960 long tons (7,070 t)
  • As built: 7,767 long tons (7,892 t)
Length:320 ft (97.54 m) pp
Beam:53 ft 3 in (16.23 m)
Draught:24 ft 10 in (7.57 m)
Sail plan:Ship rig: 37,990 sq ft (3,529 m2) of sail (max)
Speed:15.25 kn (28.24 km/h; 17.55 mph) (steam power)
Complement:500 crewmen and officers
  • Belt: 4–8 in (100–200 mm)
  • Turrets: 9–10 in (230–250 mm)
  • 7 in (180 mm)

The design called for the ship to have a low freeboard, and Coles' figures estimated it at 8 feet (2.4 m). Both the Controller Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Spencer Robinson and the Chief Constructor Edward James Reed raised serious concerns. Robinson noted that the low freeboard could cause flooding issues on the gun deck, and Reed criticised the design in 1866 both for being too heavy and for having too high a centre of gravity. On the latter, Reed noted that it would cause issues "especially as it is proposed to spread a large surface of canvas upon the Captain".[10] As the design neared completion, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir John Pakington, wrote on 23 July 1866 to Coles approving the building of the ship, but noting that responsibility for failure would lie on Coles' and the builders' lap.[

On the afternoon of 6 September 1870 Captain was cruising with the Channel Squadron of 11 ships off Cape Finisterre. The ship made 9.5 knots under sail in a force six wind, which was increasing through the day. The commander in chief was on board to see her performance, and speed had risen to 11–13 knots before he departed. Not being accustomed to ships with such low freeboard, he was disturbed to note that at this speed with the strengthening sea, waves washed over the weather deck. The weather worsened with rain as the night progressed, and the number of sails was reduced. The wind was blowing from the port bow so that sails had to be angled to the wind, speed was much reduced, and there was considerable force pushing the ship sideways. As the wind rose to a gale, sail was reduced to only the fore staysail and fore and main topsails

Shortly after midnight when a new watch came on duty, the ship was heeling over eighteen degrees and was felt to lurch to starboard twice. Orders were given to drop the fore topsail and release sheets (ropes) holding both topsails angled into the wind.[18] Before the captain's order could be carried out, the roll increased, and she capsized and sank with the loss of around 480 lives, including Coles. The First Lord of the AdmiraltyHugh Childers, and Under-Secretary of State for WarThomas Baring, both lost sons in the disaster. Only 18 of the crew survived by making it to a boat which had broken free.

This account harks back to my concerns about the Waratah having a registered freeboard of 8.1 ft.
which in the case of the HMS Captain, combined with a high centre of gravity (i.e. top heavy), had
disastrous results. In fact some sources believe the Captain only had a freeboard of 6 ft. 6 in. when
she capsized. This adjustment pointed glaringly to the fact that her centre of gravity had to be lowered
in order to improve GM stability - at the cost of seas overwhelming over her main deck. By the time
Waratah departed Durban her centre of gravity had been sufficiently lowered but she only had a
freeboard of some 9 ft. - 2.6 ft. short of the estimated safety margin.

The Captain was also a larger ship than 'contemplated by the original design specifications and rules' and her beam of 53 ft. was too narrow for a vessel of this kind. This brings us back to the Waratah and her own classification, 100 A1 spar-deck class with freeboard, and the fact that she was larger than that contemplated by those rules. Breaking the rules beckoned disaster.

Given the Captain's high centre of gravity it is more than alarming that her draught was only 24 ft. 10 in.. No allowance was made for creating suitable counter-acting dead weight / ballast low down in her hull, as was the case with Waratah. The low draught probably facilitated speed (15.25 knots) but not stability. 

No wonder she rolled over...

The HMS Captain deployed sails, unlike Waratah, which contributed to a low GM, but there are some disturbing similarities which we cannot fail to ignore !


Emlyn Brown has made the single, significant contribution to the search for the Waratah. There are probably no words to describe the disappointment of not finding the Waratah, but the exclusion factor cannot be underestimated, narrowing down where the wreck is likely to be found. Based on Emlyn's achievement, some theories have been comprehensively dismissed. The discovery of the Nailsea Meadow was an achievement in itself.

The SS Nailsea Meadow was a British cargo transporter, built in 1937, 4962 gross tons, 420 ft. in length, beam 56 ft., and a draught of 25 ft.. She was powered by a compound engine with LP turbine. 11/05/1943 she was torpedoed by a German submarine (U-196) and foundered off Mpame, Eastern Cape. She was en route from Hampton Roads, New York to Karachi, via the South African coast. She carried 7104 tons of cargo, mail and munitions (tanks being the all important disappointment on discovery). 2 crew were lost out of 44. It is interesting that her gross tonnage was 4962 and her cargo, 7104 tons, suggesting that cargo was loaded about 40 cubic ft. per ton rather than the acceptable 100 cubic ft. per ton. She must have gone down very quickly, indeed!

The SS Khedive was a German cargo transporter built in 1906 by Brener Vulcan and owned by Deutche Ost-Afrika Linie. She comprised 5106 gross tons, length 409 ft., beam 52 ft.. She was powered by a single quadruple expansion engine (one screw) making 12 knots. She ran aground 16/08/1910, at Cape Morgan.

The Register (Adelaide) Thursday 18 August, 1910

Liner Khedive Wrecked.
LONDON. August 17.
The steel screw steamer Khedive (5,930
tons), owned by the German East African
line, has gone on the rocks at Cape Morgan 
and become a total wreck. An officer
was drowned.
The vessel was valued at £70,000 and
the cargo at £50,000. The Khedive was
built at Bremen in 1906, and her port of
registry was Hamburg. Her dimensions
were - Length, 409 ft. 9 in.; breadth, 52 ft.
7 in.; and depth, 28 ft.

Cape Morgan is between Morgan's Bay and the Kei River.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Friday 24 February, 1911.

An explanation of the large amount of adverse 
comment on the vessel's behaviour lay in her undoubted
"tenderness" on her first voyage, and while
loading it was quite observable. The lists
could have been produced by moderate
wind pressures, relatively small alterations
in the water ballast, the consumption of
fresh water, and the non-symmetrical working out of coal. 
The court regarded the contradictory statements 
concerning the steamer's rolling as the fairly 
accurate evidence of truthful people about  
phenomena which they did not understand.
These 'truthful people', who did not fully understand the mechanics of the Waratah, had enormous
influence on the understanding of the Waratah which has translated into fact in the modern era. A
tender vessel, such as the Waratah was on her first three voyages, would have responded to
'moderate wind pressures; alterations of water ballast; consumption of fresh water and non
symmetrical working out of coal'. One imagines that careful attention would have been given to water
ballast and the working down of coal on a tender ship - Captain Ilbery, after all, represented many
successful years of experience at sea as master. Fresh water was supplied by the desalination plant,
theoretically creating a constant factor rather than a fluctuating one. Yes a tender vessel with a
prominent top hamper would have been susceptible to wind pressure, further enhanced by the awning
(when it was used), but certainly not to a dangerous degree, as evidenced by many other steamers
with equivalent top hampers. 

I think the issue at hand was whether any of these factors pointed to imminent danger. Waratah successfully completed three voyages in relatively light condition which is proof enough that 'truthful people' did not hold the key to the loss of the flagship.

Awning prominent - tender condition.


The Argus (Melbourne) Saturday 1 April, 1893

A bottle has been washed ashore on
the coast of Virginia which contains an
important statement respecting the new
cargo steamer the Naronic, 6,000 tons,
owned by Ismay, Imrie, and Co. (the
White Star line). The Naronic is several
weeks overdue on the voyage from Liver-
pool to Now York, and two of her life
boats have been picked up in tho middle
of tho Atlantic. She had 70 persons on
According to the statement contained
in the bottle the Naronic struck against
an iceberg, and was so seriously damaged
that on February 10 she was sinking.
It is believed that the statement respecting 
the Naronic which was found in a bottle is a hoax.

Name:SS Naronic
Owner:White Star Line
Builder:Harland and WolffBelfast
Yard number:251
Launched:26 May 1892
Completed:11 July 1892
Maiden voyage:15 July 1892
Fate:Lost, March 1893
General characteristics
Tonnage:6594 gt
Length:470 ft (143.3 m)
Propulsion:Twin reciprocating engines, twin propellers
Speed:13 knots (24.1 km/h)

Beam:             53 ft.
Depth:             31.6 ft.

Naronic was designed predominantly for cargo (and up to 1000 head of cattle), with 150 first class passenger accommodation. Although only 6594 gross tons, she was 5 ft. longer than Waratah. Under the command of Captain William Roberts she disappeared without a trace February 11, 1893. She was carrying 74 souls, including 24 cattlemen taking care of Naronic's primary cargo, livestock. Cargo amounted to 3572 tons plus 1017 tons of coal; total 4589 tons. She cost 121 000 pounds to build - just 18 900 pounds short of the 139 900 pounds to build Waratah, 16 years prior. This further confirms my suspicions that Waratah was built on the cheap. The Marconi wireless was only made available five years later, so there was no way of Captain Roberts communicating position and problem/s.

The steamer SS Coventry reported sighting two empty lifeboats. The first was alleged to be 90 miles from the position Titanic went down. Bottle messages were the only other tangible clue as to Naronic's fate, one of which is quoted in the newspaper clipping above and reported as a hoax. One bottle message was discovered at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the third, June 1893, was found in the Irish Channel and the last, September 1893, the River Mersey, Liverpool. These were speedy bottle messages. 

The second bottle message, Brooklyn, contained the following message:

3:10 AM Feb.19. SS Naronic at sea. To who picks this up: report when you find this to our agents if not heard of before, that our ship is sinking fast beneath the waves. It's such a storm that we can never live in the small boats. One boat has already gone with her human cargo below. God let all of us live through this. We were struck by an iceberg in a blinding snowstorm and floated two hours. Now it 3:20 AM by my watch and the great ship is dead level with the sea. Report to the agents at Broadway, New New York, M. Kersey & Company. Goodby all. 
It was signed "John Olsen, Cattleman"; however, there was no one with this name listed on the ship's manifest, the closest being John O'Hara and John Watson. 

The Inquiry did not accept the bottle messages into evidence and had no choice but to come to a perils of the seas conclusion as it was in the Waratah Inquiry. It does however make sense that striking an object such as an iceberg would lead to a catastrophe and heavy seas prevent souls surviving on lifeboats. If the Naronic had been carrying a number of high profile passengers her mystery might have ventured into Waratah territory. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016


This excerpt from a period newspaper refers to comments made by an experienced mariner, circa 1910.

"Well, now you have got me tied up in
a bit of a knot. All I can say is simply
this: It is possible, of course, that she (Waratah)
may still be afloat and adrift, but for my
own part I doubt it. As to the absence of
wreckage on which so many seem to rely as 
a proof that she is still above water, I place
little value on it, and I think that view will be 
endorsed by everyone who has any real 
acquaintance with the history and tragedies
of the sea."

The Harlow account fell short due to lack of wreckage discovered on the coast surrounding Cape Hermes. I am pleased to read that the good mariner 'placed little value on it'. Furthermore wreckage from a position 0.5 miles offshore (image) would initially be carried northeastward, finally retroflecting into the powerful Agulhas Current sweeping southwestward. 

 "I need only say that out of the 144 steamships 
lost in the trans Atlantic trade alone, between 
1838 and 1879 no less than 24 not only failed 
to complete their passages, but left no evidence
as to the cause."

Waratah was by no means unique. 

But circumstances surrounding the loss of the Waratah and conflicting accounts ensured that her mystery survives today, as vivid as it was in 1909.


Townsville Daily Bulletin, Saturday 12 October, 1933.


New Light on Mystery.

The mystery of the Waratah, which
disappeared 24 years ago on the South
African coast, may be solved at last
by discoveries made this year. A sunken 
wreck has been found that corresponds to her site.

On July 26, 1909, the Blue Anchor
liner Waratah, homeward bound to
England from Australia, left Durban.
A day later she was sighted by the
Union Castle liner Guelph to the east-
ward of East London. She was then
running eight hours late. Communication 
between the two vessels was
attempted, but the signals were indistinct. 
However, all appeared well with
her. Generally, the weather was reported clear, 
but later reports from other vessels indicated 
that there had been local gales. 

'Local gales' sounds like a gross underestimation of the storm which struck, 28 July, 1909. There are
however some sources claiming that this storm was exaggerated at the Inquiry, and weather reports for
28 July did not match the severity of the account. The log of the Clan MacIntyre was convincing, but
given the level of misdirection at the Inquiry, I would not be surprised if this storm was blown out of
proportion. After all, apart from Waratah, no other vessels large or small were reported missing.

There was nothing to occasion alarm at the time, 
however, and it was not until the Waratah was 
a week overdue at Cape Town
that reports began to appear in the
Australian newspapers. There was no
immediate anxiety. The newspapers
were occupied mainly with quite a
number of consoling theories. It was
believed that she was temporarily disabled, 
and drifting. The weather was calm. 

'Calm weather' is taking it too far.

Nothing could happen to so
good a ship. Correspondents recalled
the story of how the Boveric had
drifted for weeks in the Indian Ocean,
with a broken tail shaft in 1902, and
had turned up safe and sound.
Then more alarming reports came.
Two warships had searched the coast
in vain. Underneath a new series of
consoling theories the newspapers
printed the names of the 92 passengers 
and of the crew of 119, and particulars 
of her cargo of Australian produce, 
valued at £200,000. Reports
that bodies had been washed up were
printed, and denied. More remarkable
stories were recounted by correspondents 
as ground for hope. Rumours that she had 
been seen from the coast
became current and were found to be
false. Weeks passed. Nothing was
found. At last 15 steamers had passed
on her track, and seen nothing. Two
warships and several other craft had
searched systematically in vain. Not
a trace of wreckage reached the coast.
The owners were reported to be still
hopeful ; but the warships were instructed 
to give up the search, and
by the middle of September the Waratah 
had declined from the top of news
paper columns to obscure paragraphs
which told nothing new. The vanished
ship became one of the strangest mysteries of the seas.
In June last however, after 24
years, something turned up. Writing
on the 23rd. a South African correspondent 
to the "San Francisco Chronicle" stated:— 
"It is believed that the mystery of the Waratah has at
last been solved. .... A few days
ago the tanker Rigmor, steering round
the coast of Natal from Durban to
Cape Town, struck a submerged obstruction 
that appeared on none of the
maps issued by the British Admiralty
for the benefit of mariners."

This mishap took place at a distance
of one mile from the mouth of the
Umgababa River (Aliwal Shoal). When the vessel returned to port, 
and her damaged hull was examined, it was found that the
cut had been made, not by a rock, but
by a piece of jagged steel. Records
proved that only two vessels had ever
been lost along that coast— a small
whaler, the Norman, which disappear-
ed in 1903, and the Waratah. Under
Commander H. G. Hean, marine surveyor, 
of Durban, an aeroplane was
sent out to examine the locality.
Photographs and a cinema film were
taken over the spot described by the
captain of the Rigmor, and a large
submerged hull was clearly distinguished 
from the air.

"'Whether this belonged to the Waratah 
cannot yet be stated with certainty, but the 
facts at hand agree with the description surviving from
1909," the report continues. "The size
of the visible wreckage is too large
for the Norman. The mass estimated
to be 165 feet in length, and 45 feet
in width. Much of the remainder is
buried in the sandy bottom, which can
be seen clearly through sixty feet of
water at low tide. Divers will be sent
down to make an investigation."

It was never likely the Waratah made it this far attempting to return to Durban, and the most probable
candidate for the wreck described:

The Nebo sank in 1884 and lies inshore from the Produce. She was a 2000 ton British iron steamer carrying 4500 tons of railway materials. On her maiden voyage from Sunderland to Durban she struck the shoal and was holed. She quickly sank and lies hull-up on the sand in 25m (82 ft.)

The Nebo was thought to be top heavy and overloaded at the time - let's not go there... She was carrying materials for the construction of the Amanzimtoti railway bridge. Her wreck is still recognisable, 132 years later - giving us hope for the wreck of the Waratah.  

Nebo wreck