Tuesday, 30 August 2016


The following comment on Pauline Conolly's Blog is a fascinating insight into the background of Charles Owen, Chief Officer, Waratah.

Courtesy: Pauline Conolly's SS Waratah - Australia's 'Titanic'.
Hi Pauline,
My name is Peter Somerset Marks! My Great Aunt, Lillian Owen nee Somerset,b 1882 in Brisbane d 1926 in Southport, was the widow of Charles Owen, Chief Officer on the SS Waratah. She was the younger sister of my grandmother, Dora Marks nee Somerset.
Lillian had emigrated from Australia to South Africa in 1904 with her parents and three of her eight siblings. Her mother had died in January 1905 in Johannesburg, and she had departed Capetown bound for England in late December 1906 on board the ‘Miltiades.’ Lillie must have been many years Charles’ junior. They married almost immediately she arrived in England. They married sometime in January 1907 at the Church of St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, Essex, England.
Lillie and Charles had a daughter, Lillian Audrey Enid Owen, who was born on 6 April, 1908 in Leytonstone, Essex, England. On 3 March 1910, Judge Roberts of the Swansea County Court compensated both Lillie and Audrey for the loss of their husband and father (182 pounds for Lillian and 90 pounds for Audrey). On 6 April, 1910 Lillie and Audrey sailed for Australia. They settled just outside Rockhampton with Lillie’s widowed father, Henry St John Somerset. In about 1915 they moved to Southport, QLD. Lillie died an untimely death in 1926 and Audrey married Herbert Lloyd Salisbury Baxendale in October 1926. They spent many years in Canada and also in the UK. Audrey died in 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Christopher Guy Beaufort Salisbury Griffin, Audrey’s grandson still lives in British Columbia.
If you have any further details about Charles Owen and his early life and career I should be grateful. I especially would appreciate knowing how Lillian met Charles.
Yes, the story of the loss of the SS Waratah is exceptionally tragic.
Thanking you,
Peter Somerset Marks
Perhaps a reader is able to supply Mr Marks with the information he seeks.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


Steamer Delcomyn, launched 1880 for the Blue Anchor Line - 1817 tons.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 12 October, 1891.

The Delcomyn will be remembered as having traded to
this port, and was one of the wool fleet from australia a
couple of years ago. She had an exciting experience
lately off Finisterre. The story, as narrated by the crow, is -

"We first discovered the outbreak 100 miles or so off
Finisterre, and it had then assumed alarming proportions'
Captain Giles at once gave orders for the inflammable 
portion of the cargo to be heaved overboard. We had tons 
and tons of explosives in the forehold, and were in a 
terrible state of anxiety that the flames, which were issuing 
from that quarter, had already got up to it. We lowered the 
boats, and while playing on to that part with the hose,
were ready at a moment's notice to put off and leave 
the ship - returning to her after the expected explosion. 
Fortunately we managed to subdue the flames in the 
forecastle, and all immediate danger was at an end. 
We next threw over case after case of wines and
spirits, we had no drinking water left, and the captain
strictly forbade us to touch a drop of liquor. We steamed
on to Vigo as fast as we possibly could, but all the time
were working like horses to subdue the fire, and for two
nights and days we had neither sleep food, nor drink. We
were bound for Rangoon from Cardiff with a mixed cargo,
principally of wines, gunpowder and cartridges, and 
provisions". In reply to a question as to tho cause of the fire,
the stoker and outers said that Captain Gyles and the
officers would assign no reason, but that the crew were
firmly convinced that it had started before they left Cardiff.

A fascinating account and YET AGAIN, no cause found. It is possible that if a fire had broken out on Waratah this might have started before Waratah departed Durban port. Fires on board steamers were a common occurrence - a few significant cases ending in tragedy.


The Mercury (Hobart) Friday 7 August, 1891.

Intelligence has been received by cable
that the steamer Wallarah, which left London
for Sydney on July 9, has been totally
wrecked on Dassen Island, Cape Colony.
The steamship Wallarah was a new vessel,
and on her first voyage. She was one of three
new steamships built for Mr. W. Lund, of
London, for his well-known Blue Anchor
line. These were to be of larger tonnage, and
have more steampower than any of the others
in the same fleet, and were to be superior
vessels in every way. The Wallarah was the
first to be completed, and she was under
the command of Captain F. H. Ekins.
The Wallarah was a steel screw steamship of
nearly 4,000 tons, and was intended to carry
a large cargo. She was launched on April 23
from the yard of the Sunderland Shipbuilding 
Company. Her dimensions were as follows:-
Length, 360ft. between perpendiculars; 
beam, 43ft 45in.; and depth of hold, 26ft. 1 in., 
or 29ft. moulded. The bridge deck
amidships was 98ft. in length, and in the
alleyways underneath were the officers'
quarters, lockers, etc. The Wallarah was
furnished with triple expansion engines,
built and set up in her by Messrs. Wigham,
Richardson, and Co., of Newcastle-on-Tyne.
The-high-pressed cylinder was 28in. in diameter, 
the medium-pressed 45in.,and the low
pressed 73in., the piston stroke being 54in.
Steam was generated in two same double
ended steel boilers, working at a pressure of
1601b. The engines were 500 h.p. nominal, or
over 3,000 h.p. effective (ihp). They were said to
be of first-class workmanship, and equal to
driving the Wallarah at 12-knot speed on a
very moderate consumption of coal. All the
steamships of this line are kept quite up to
the mark with regard to appearance, and the
Wallarah had special attention given to her
equipment. She was registered on the
highest class at Lloyd's 100 A1. The Wallarah
was consigned to Messrs. John Sanderson
and Co., and carried a very valuable cargo
Fix this textfor Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Thursday 20 August, 1891.

Heavy Losses.
[By Telegraph.]
Sydney, August 19.
It has been ascertained that the
steamer Wallarah, wrecked in the early
part of the month near Cape Town, had
on board between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of
cargo for Sydney. The insurances on
this are stated on good authority to
amount to between £40,000 and £60,000.
Fix this textall the local offices being interested.
As a result of this incident - no loss of life - a lighthouse was erected on Dassen Island.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 12 October, 1891.

As two large steamers, bound to Sydney - the Ashleigh
Brook and the Wallarah- have come to grief on Dassen
Island, the Government notice published at Capetown, as
follows, is of interest to underwriters -"It is hereby
notified that a light tower is about to be erected on the
Southern end of Dassen Island to be hereafter called Dassen
Island Lighthouse. The tower will be a cylindrical iron
structure 80ft high, with quarters detached about
60 yards eastwards. It will be situated in lat 33.2
south, and longitude 16 degrees 6 minutes 20 seconds 
east of Greenwich. It is intended to dtsplay a first order 
white group flash light (to be hereafter described), with focal
plane 150ft above the level of low water The light will be
visible in clear weather about 20 miles but the flashes will
be seen at a much greater distance. The nearest existing
light is that on Robben Island about 26 miles magnetic
south. This will be the first loading light vĂ­sible to vessels
making Table Bay from the north-west. The tower will
probably be ready for the reception of tho lenticular about
July, 1892 and the light may be exhibited about September,
1892, of which due and precise notice will be given.

sister ship Yarrawonga (1891 - 4000 tons) - similar to Wallarah.

Dassen Island, 1908

survivors made their way to Malmesbury by cart.

For a complete overview of Blue Anchor Line vessels, see:


Tuesday, 23 August 2016


(From Our Special Correspondent.)
London, January 13, 1911.
The Board of Trade enquiry into the loss
of the Waratah was resumed last Monday.
Originally it was calculated that five days
would be sufficient for the purposes of the
enquiry, but already the court has sat
nine days, and there are still more
witnesses to be examined.
As far as the investigation has gone, the
chief result achieved is mental confusion
for all who read the reports of the proceedings 
with unbiased minds. The conflict of testimony 
as to the Waratah's behaviour at sea has been 
absolutely amazing. A dozen witnesses have 
declared that she was a fine seaboat; another batch,
equally numerous, have sworn that she was
the very reverse. Some witnesses have
stated that her bad behaviour was practically 
the "topic of the day" on board:
others have sworn that they never heard
a word in her disparagement. Ex-members 
of the Waratah's crew have stood up
in court,or testified by affidavit that they
left the ship because they were afraid of
her; others with exactly the same experience 
of the boat have sworn that there
was nothing in her behaviour to give them
the faintest qualms as to her stability and
seaworthiness. Some officers of other ships
that signalled the Waratah during her last
voyage have declared that she had a
tremendous list; others who saw her at or
about the same time declared that she was
quite upright.
A similar conflict of testimony has been
discovered in relation to the state of the
Waratah at the completion of her maiden
voyage, as regards the condition of her 
boats; indeed, it may fairly be said
that there has been no point raised in
connection with the enquiry that has not
produced a mass of conflicting testimony.

The extent of conflicting testimony beset the Inquiry making the Court's task of reaching a reasonable conclusion impossible.
...the court heard the evidence of Mr. P. A. 
Marshall, formerly in the employ of Messrs. 
Lund, who produced an estimate of the weight 
and allocation of the cargo and coal on board 
the Waratah when she left Durban, his 
calculations being based on the builders' plans,
the dispositions of agents and stevedores at
the various ports of loading, on the manifests, 
and on Captain Ibery's storage plans. Mr. Marshall 
said that he arrived at the conclusion that when 
the Waratah left Durban she was only about 
one-third full as Captain Ilbery's storage plan sent
home showed that the permanent bunker
space was filled with coal, and that there
was also reserve coal on the upper and
lower 'tween decks, he arrived at the 
conclusion that the lower 'tween deck would
be full, and that the balance only would
be on the upper 'tween deck. According
to his calculation there were on board the
vessel at Durban 2,378 tons' of coal, which
was within 20 or 30 tons of the engineers'
estimate derived from the vouchers.
The total deadweight for the Waratah's
draught of 28 ft. 8 in. was 9,204 tons, of 
which 6.425 tons was cargo. To the best 
of his belief the information that there were 
250 tons of coal on the spar deck was
communicated by cable advice from Durban. 
"The quantity of coal on the upper
and lower 'tween decks was not communicated 
by cable. It was not asked for."

The issue of cargo has been a persistent source of confusion and contention. Mr. Marshall was formerly in the employ of the Lunds, who originally claimed that in terms of cargo Waratah was one third full, being the off-season. Mr. Marshall was loyal to this statement but contradicted himself in terms of logic. Waratah, carrying 6425 tons of cargo equivalent to 'one third full', implies that she had a total cargo carrying capacity of 19 000 tons, which is ludicrous, even if the 1300 tons of lead concentrates are factored in.

Why would such a blatant error have been presented to the Court and why were the Lunds afraid of revealing Waratah's true cargo component?

My belief is that the Lunds did not want the issue of functional overloading, reduced freeboard and buoyancy, to be explored by the Court. In so doing it would have revealed that Waratah was flawed in terms of cargo-carrying capacity and its link with GM stability which would have had culpability attached.

We need to return to the maiden voyage where it was quoted that Waratah departed Adelaide for Melbourne with an average draught of 23.75 ft.. which is 6.6 ft. short of max. draught - 30.375 ft.. Let's say for argument's sake that all cargo was discharged at Adelaide (only 900 tons general cargo in fact) - coal and ballast component unchanged. Adding 6425 tons of cargo allegedly took the draught to 28.9 ft.. This would give us an increase of 5 ft.. If 6425 tons is one third full, total capacity would give us 15 ft. and a total draught of 38.75 ft.. which is more than the depth of the Waratah.


If, however, the true cargo component was 9000 tons + 1300 tons lead concentrates, we would get 10300 tons accounting for 5 ft. which if we take this to maximum cargo and lead of 12000 tons, we would get a draught of 29.7 ft.. which is far more plausible and a max. draught of 30.375 ft. would thus theoretically equate with a cargo and lead tonnage of 13647.5 tons - never achievable in the case of Waratah which was NEVER more than 2/3 full - 9000 tons.


Monday, 22 August 2016


"In support of his statement,
he quoted the case of the wrecked
steamer Maori, which went ashore
near Duiker Point some time ago,
breaking her back on the rocks."

"The latter part of the vessel completely
disappeared, and no trace of its wreckage
was ever found. Nor did any portion
come ashore of the boat in which
the captain and some of the crew
sought to reach safety."

Wreck discovered in recent time.

"The stability of the Waratah, and
how far it was affected by the oats
and cargo she had on board when she
left Durban, are questions which have
continuously been raised."

There was alleged to have been as much as 600 tons of oats on board Waratah. This was a significant component of cargo which was not loaded in the lower most holds, contributing to GM lowering (see image below). Presumably the oats were contained in bags which did not have the same shifting potential as oats loaded directly into holds of steamers primarily designated for the transport of grains. It is interesting, however, that this component of cargo received specific mention.

courtesy David Willers' 'In Search of the Waratah'.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


Without trying to over simplify the arduous task of establishing the sites of wrecks using side scan sonar, once an unidentified and distinctive iron hull mass (having excluded iron in seabed rock) is established, it could theoretically be possible to identify other metal components by means of unique sound transmission properties. Let's say for argument's sake there are the remains of a steamer off the Wild Coast, buried in silt. It might take a long time to establish the identity of such a steamer requiring painstaking archaeological-based techniques to clear overlying sediment and identify unique features without damaging the overall integrity of the wreck. Surely one could use more specific sub-bottom sonar profiling to establish the presence of:

1) Lead - transmits sound at 1960 - 2160 m/s    
2) Copper - transmits sound at 4600 m/s
3) Gold - transmits sound at 3240 m/s
4) Silver - transmits sound at 3650 m/s
5) Iron - transmits sound at 5130 m/s 

These are probably the musings of a very naive Blogger, but theoretically it could help to establish if an unidentified wreck, at the very least, was carrying 75 tons of copper.

Monday, 1 August 2016


There are a number of anecdotal reports describing excessive volumes of sea washing over Waratah's foredeck, even in calm weather. I have put this down to Waratah's reduced freeboard and buoyancy factors. If the flow of water onto the foredeck exceeds the rate at which it can drain off, this body of water can cause what is known as a surge effect, shifting the centre of gravity to the respective side and in the case of a list to the same side, increasing that list - which might explain why Waratah sometimes listed even further when hit by a cross sea - surge effect in addition to the force of the waves.