Saturday, 24 June 2017


The Advertiser (Adelaide) Wednesday 18 May, 1910

Mr. J. C. Neill, Port Adelaide manager
for Messrs. George Wills & Co. (agents for
the steamer), stated that while the Waratah 
was at Port Adelaide on her inward
passage in June she loaded 1,000 tons of
lead concentrates, which were put amid-
ships in No. 3 hold. It was not unusual
to take in dead weight at Port Adelaide.
When she returned from the eastern States
she loaded cargo at Ocean Steamers' wharf
and at the Outer Harbor, and in addition
took in 180 tons of bunker coal, which was
placed in the bunkers. She had no coal
on deck when she left the Outer Harbor.
He estimated the total dead weight of
cargo on board at 9,000 tons, and that her
draft was 28 ft. 3 in. forward and 29 ft.
5 in. aft. 

Why would Mr. Neill, a respected manager, exaggerate a dead weight of 9000 tons cargo on board Waratah, if it were not the case? Furthermore, her draught for 9000 tons was exactly the same when Waratah departed Durban for the last time. It is suggested that a further 300 - 500 tons of lead concentrates were added to hold 3, before departing for Durban. This was a very heavy, GM stable steamer setting out into the vast Indian Ocean.

Captain Ilbery always spoke
most highly and proudly of the Waratah,
and never suggested any defect or any-
thing remarkable about her behaviour at
sea. All the principal officers on
the last voyage were on the ship
on her maiden voyage, and Mr. Neill never
heard any statement or hint as to any defects. 
The cargo shipped for Durban consisted of 
89 tons of flour and dried fruits,
and for Cape Town 318 tons of wheat and

One has to take into consideration the human condition. Captain Ilbery and his officers were proud men, unlikely to share misgivings with all and sundry. They represented the Blue Anchor Line and their very jobs depended on the economic viability of the Lund enterprise. If they were to have verbalised reservations about the Waratah at every port, it would no doubt have adversely affected their careers. Even though Captain Ilbery was due to retire he was undoubtedly proud and loyal to his employers. Furthermore, by the last voyage, Captain Ilbery and his officers could not have had reservations about GM stability, but might well have had concerns about reduced freeboard (buoyancy) and the under-powered quadruple expansion engines - hoping for a voyage without a storm of 'exceptional violence'.

Mr. W. Fisher (manager of the South
Australian Stevedoring Company) stated
that the usual course was followed in regard 
to the supply of the loading plant by the agents 
of the Waratah. The Adelaide cargo of the steamer 
was thoroughly well and judiciously stowed.

He would say that, wouldn't he and a stiff, upright steamer departing the port was confirmation in itself.

The Waratah took the ground alongside the wharf at
Port Adelaide at low water, but as the
bottom was mud no harm resulted. When
the loading was completed the ship
was perfectly upright, and, as far
as he knew, in a thoroughly seaworthy 

With 9000 tons of dead weight cargo, the Waratah had to be stiff. Taking the ground, in my opinion, was a very serious matter. What hull plate damage sustained, we shall never know...

Captain J. G. Gibbon (surveyor to the
Underwriters' Association) said he had no
occasion to take exception to anything 
connected with the loading of the Waratah.

Well that confirms that.

Pilot Girling said that when piloting the
Waratah outwards to Melbourne in December, 
1908, with a draft of 26 ft. and 21 ft.
6 in. forward, she was "very tender, in-
deed," when rounding Schnapper Point.
There was a strong south-west wind at the

This paragraph sums up the Waratah dilemma - note that it was December 1908, not June / July, 1909. Waratah should have had a draught of 26.9 ft., similar to that of the Geelong but because of the additional deck was 'very tender' at this draught. It is completely logical that adjustments made to counteract tenderness involved functional overloading which increased the draught to beyond 28 ft. which created its own (much-repeated) problems.

.....Sometimes when going head to wind in
quite ordinary weather she would take
more water over her than one would expect 
in the circumstances. 

Not surprising when one considers excessive draught and limited freeboard (+ reduced sheer).

At Cape Town, when going alongside the 
wharf a boat on the port side was taken 
inboard, and it took 14 men to do it, 
because the davits were so stiff. 
The same thing occurred
when taking a starboard boat inboard
alongside the wharf at Port Adelaide.
These were the only two boats moved
while he was on board.

Even if there had been a remote chance of launching lifeboats in the final moments, this factor would have presented a significant obstacle to the operation.

Charles Augustus Johnson (wharf man-
ager at the Outer Harbor) said he knew
Captain Ilbery had a strong objection to his
ship touching the bottom alongside the
wharf at Port Adelaide, for he heard him
say to the agent just before sailing that he
did not think it right or fair for a vessel
of her size and weight to be on the bottom, 
as she was in Port Adelaide. 

This confirms my opinion about the weight of the Waratah. Captain Ilbery knew the implications of keel forces such as this and had good reason to be concerned. We shall never know if or the extent of hull plate and rivet damage when Waratah made her way down the Wild Coast, but my suspicions, remembering the case of the Koombana, are firmly in the camp of damaged plates, placed under further considerable strain.

Koombana, Broome, 1911 - one shudders to think of the huge, heavy Waratah doing the same.


The Mercury, Tuesday 19 April, 1910
Captain Frederick Tickell, whose sonwas a passenger on the Waratah on herlast voyage, states that he saw the vessel leave Port Melbourne on July 1, 1909.She was perfectly upright, and had nosign of a list. He saw the Waratah proceeding astern of the Pilbarra, on whichhe was a passenger from Port Adelaide,down river to Largs Bay on July 6. Hewatched her with a professional eye, andat no time did she give him the impression of a tender ship. She remained perfectly upright oven when going roundthe bends, and at a time when the rudderwas over, and the tug which was assistingher was broad on the bow.
Captain Tickell's account remains one of the most important eye witness testimonies from the time. This was a man who had lost his only son with the Waratah. If there was going to be a witness, experienced seaman, with a grudge against the flagship, surely it should have been he? 
Captain Tickell commented on a vessel, ready for sea, which was completely stable from a metacentric height point of view. If Captain Tickell resented the loss of his son on a ship which had acquired a reputation of top heaviness, he did not allow this to cloud his judgment and account.
Of all the myriad accounts, this one probably gives the clearest and most accurate account of the Waratah, which did not go to sea top heavy and 'light' during her final voyage.

Thursday, 22 June 2017


Lloyd's losses in 1910 were very heavy,
totalling no less than .£6,000,000. Chief
among the disasters were the foundering of
the Australian liners Pericles and Waratah.
The sinking of the former represented a
loss of £750,000, while the disappearance of
the Lund liner in 1909 meant a loss of

One has an impression that the loss of the Waratah was unique and the shortcomings of the steamer unacceptable by the standards of the time. This article casts a more realistic light on the subject, with Lloyd's losses amounting to a gargantuan 6 million pounds in 1910. Reaching one's destination was by no means guaranteed. It is interesting to note that the Pericles, similar size, was insured for far more - even taking into consideration her vast cargo of valuable butter. Does make one wonder....


Lyons, a steward, said:-"I heard theboatswain say, 'I would not like tobe on this ship in a storm. She wouldgo to the bottom.' I heard the sailorssay they had to fill tanks to get herstraight, as she rolled too much. On thesecond voyage I believe the ship struck asubmerged rock after leaving Adelaide and loosened the plates underneath.
This is a fascinating piece of 'rumour' or fact? It seems strange that this would be the only account of Waratah striking some object after departing Adelaide on her final voyage. Rather than a rock, if this be true, it would more likely to have been submerged wreckage. If Mr. Lyons only got half the story right, there might be another explanation for 'loosened the plates underneath'. We know that Waratah took the ground at the wharf, Adelaide, prior to departure, and that Captain Ilbery was extremely upset about the incident, claiming that Waratah was too large and heavy to be subjected to such forces on her hull. Although most steamers appeared to have coped with this phenomenon, Waratah was unique in respect of size and heavy loading / ballast. Captain Ilbery stated on arrival at Durban that Waratah had sustained NO damage since departing Adelaide, but the wording did NOT include, damage sustained AT Adelaide! In the case of the Koombana which ran aground Shark Bay, Western Australia, significant hull plate damage was sustained but not detected until much later when Koombana was put into dry dock, Sydney. Damage to Waratah's hull might, in the same fashion, have been drastically under-estimated. If the Harlow account be true, loosened plates, fire heat damage, hull stress due to heavy load and ballast, might have created the scenario for the steamer disappearing within minutes after striking the St John reef, Bluff Point. Watertight compartments were intended to keep the steamer afloat if one or perhaps two compartments were punctured. Waratah might very well have sustained a series of glancing blows much like the RMS Titanic rendering her doomed. There is another possibility that due to heavy loading, water tight doors were not able to be adequately closed in an emergency. Speculation runs rife :)

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


The following comparative steamers all had significant top hampers, but crucially, significantly lower maximum draughts compared with Waratah. Waratah should in reality have had a draught in the region of 27 ft.. But due to inherent top heaviness, this was not possible, resulting in functional overloading (including ballast). Furthermore Waratah was significantly under powered which, taking into consideration her functional overloading and reduced freeboard, was never going to be a recipe for a successful steamer:

SS Otranto:

Type:Passenger liner 
Length:535 ft 4 in (163.2 m)
Beam:64 ft (19.5 m)
Depth:38 ft 8 in (11.8 m)
Installed power:14,000 ihp (10,000 kW)
Speed:18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
  • Passengers:
  • 235 1st class
  • 186 2nd class
  • 696 3rd class

mean draught 25.75 ft. 

Note that although Otranto had a similar depth to Waratah (38 ft. 8 in. vs 38 ft. 6 in), she was registered for a max mean draught of 25.75 ft., not 30.375 ft.

SS Otranto

SS Falaba

tonnage4806  grt
dimensions116 x 14.45 x 7 m
engine1 x 3 cyl. triple expansion engine, single shaft, 1 screw, 4 boilers
power424  n.h.p.
speed14  knots
yard no.414
IMO/Off. no.124000

mean draught 22.9 ft.

SS Falaba

SS Dongala

SS DONGALA                                      SS WARATAH

Built:           1905                                                    1908
Builders:      Barclay, Curle, & Co                          same
Gross tons:   8038                                                   9339.07
Net tons:       4723                                                  6003.96
Length:         470 ft.                                                465 ft.
Beam:           56.25 ft.                                             59.45 ft.
Draught:       27.75 ft.                                             30.375 ft.
Engines:       twin quadruple                                   same
Power:          8000 ihp                                             5400 ihp

mean draught 27.75 ft.

Note 8000 ihp vs 5400 ihp.

SS Dongala

RMS Morea

  • Gross tonnage: 10,890 grt                                                   9339.07 grt   
  • Net tonnage: 5,960 nrt                                                        6003.96 nrt   
  • Deadweight: N/K
  • Length: 164.53m (540.0ft)                                                   465 ft.     
  • Breadth: 18.65m (61.2ft)                                                     59.45 ft.   
  • Depth: N/K
  • Draught:  7.53m (24.7ft) - corrected.                                  30.375 ft.  
  • Engines: Quadruple-expansion steam engines                     similar 
  • Engine builders: Barclay, Curle & Co Ltd                             same
  • Works: Glasgow
  • Country: UK
  • Power: 13,000 ihp                                                                 5400 ihp 

mean draught 24.7 ft.

Note 13 000 ihp vs 5400 ihp.

RMS Morea

SS Anchises

SS Anchises:                                                      SS Waratah:

10046 gross tons                                           9339.07 gross tons
6380 net tons                                                 6003.96 net tons
493 ft. length                                                  465 ft. length
60 ft. beam                                                     59.45 ft. beam
37 ft. depth                                                     38.5 ft. depth
29 ft. draught                                                  30.375 ft.
2 x triple expansion engines, twin screw      2 x quadruple expansion, twin screw
14 knots                                                          13.5 knots

mean draught 29 ft. 

This is the only comparative steamer with a draught approaching that of Waratah's, without reported problems.

SS Anchises

SS Assaye, built 1899, 7396 gross tons, 4484 net tons, length 450 ft. beam 54.25 ft., draught 26 ft. 2 in.

mean draught 26 ft. 2 in.

SS Assaye

SS Erinpura, 5128 gross tons, length 411 ft., beam 52.5 ft., draught 23 ft. 5 in

mean draught 23 ft. 5 in.

SS Erinpura

SS Devanha, built 1905, gross tons 8092, length 470 ft., beam 56 ft. 3 in., draught 27 ft. 8 in.

mean draught 27 ft. 8 in.

SS Sicilia, Barclay Curle & Co, built 1901, gross tonnage 6696, net tonnage 4174, length 450 ft., beam 52 ft. 4 in., draught 26 ft. 8 in.

mean draught 26 ft. 8 in.

SS Sicilia

HMHS Varela, gross tonnage 4645, net tonnage 1932, dead weight 5160 tons, length 390 ft., beam 53.3 ft., draught 22.9 ft.

mean draught 22.9 ft.

Let's revisit SS Indarra, a steamer which suffered similar problems to Waratah and had to be materially altered to reduce draught.

           SS INDARRA                                           SS WARATAH:

Engines:     twin quadruple                                     same

Launched:  1912                                                     1908

Gross tons: 9735                                                     9339.07

Length:       450 ft.                                                  465 ft.

Beam:         60 ft.                                                    59.45 ft.

Draught:      32 ft.                                                   30.375 ft.

mean draught 32 ft. takes the cake and prize. Her upper deck was removed during a major refit.

Waratah's twin quadruple expansion engines were under powered for her size. I have put together a few examples (from many) of twin engine (screw) steamers of the era:

SS Waratah, built 1908

gross tonnage      9339
length                  465 ft.
beam                   59.45 ft.
power                  5 400 ihp
speed                   13 to 13.5 knots

SS Omrah, built 1899

gross tonnage     8130 
length                 490.5 ft. 
beam                   57 ft.
power                  9 000 ihp
speed                   17 knots

SS Wiltshire, built 1912 

gross tonnage      10 390
length                   526.5 ft.
beam                    61.4 ft.
power                   13 000 ihp
speed                    14 knots

SS Hororata, built 1914

gross tonnage       9461
length                   511 ft.
beam                    64.3 ft.
power                   8 493 ihp
speed                    14 knots

RMS Morea, built 1908

gross tonnage       10890
length                    540 ft.
beam                     61.2 ft.
power                    13 000 ihp
speed                     16 knots

SS Indarra, built 1912

gross tonnage        9735
length                    450 ft.
beam                     60 ft.
power                    8 132 ihp
speed                     16 knots

SS Assaye, built 1899

gross tonnage        7396
length                    450 ft.
beam                     54.25 ft.
power                    6 500 ihp
speed                     16 knots

SS Devanha, built 1905

gross tonnage         8092
length                     470 ft.
beam                       56 ft.
power                     8 000 ihp
speed                      15.5 knots

To put this important issue into perspective, let's take a closer look at the famous RMS Baltic:

Tonnage:23,876 GT
Length:729 ft (222.7 m)
Beam:75.6 ft (23.1 m)
Propulsion:Two four-cylinder quadruple expansion engines powering two propellers.
Speed:16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph)
Capacity:2,875 people

At the time of launch Baltic was the largest steamer afloat (until 1905). On her maiden voyage, she completed the distance between Liverpool and New York (2871 n miles) in 7 days and 13 hours, which matched her registered speed of 16 knots. Despite the excellent crossing time, Baltic was proven to be under powered, her twin quadruple expansion engines being the same capacity as her smaller siblings, Celtic, Cedric and Adriatic. Power output was 14 000 ihp, but for her size, should have been 16 000 ihp. Modifications were made at a later stage to improve the output. It is important to note that being under powered did not affect speed under normal conditions. However, in heavy seas, an under powered steamer would have had difficulty maintaining speed / heading = unsafe. Manoeuvrability would also have been compromised, catastrophic if the vessel was caught broad side in a fierce gale. 

If one uses the Baltic as a frame of reference the Waratah should at the very least have had a power output of 6 226 ihp, not 5 400 ihp.

This casts an intriguing light on circumstances off the Wild Coast, 27 July. The falling barometer and physical signs presaging the approach of a cold front storm of 'exceptional violence' would have alerted Captain Ilbery to potential problems. Waratah was heavily laden and under powered. A decision might have been taken to come about irrespective of whether there was a fire on board or not. Captain Bruce remarked that Waratah was smoking fiercely, which might very well have been due to a fire, but also a sign (excessive, dark smoke from funnel) that the engines of the Waratah were being 'pressed' to outrun the approaching storm. It was mentioned at the Inquiry that 15 additional tons of coal were consumed daily on the final voyage, partly due to 'pressing' under powered engines. 

There might not have been a fire at all !

Mr Grigg summed up Waratah's limitations to perfection:

The Waratah, he said; lurched very badly, 
and in an unusual way, and would breast 
the waves in a wriggling, zigzag manner, 
giving the passengers some misgivings
concerning her.

SS Indarra