Wednesday, 4 January 2017



Consolidating Waratah's final voyage, an astute account was delivered by Mr. Richardson. This was an informed man who carefully reported his experience on Waratah. It is not I but he who dispelled the notion that Waratah was still dangerously top heavy during this final episode of a tragic chapter:

George Samuel Richardson 

Chief mechanical engineer of the Geelong Harbour Trust, Victoria. 

Had made other ocean passages. 

While off the Leeuwin we had some bad weather. There was a heavy sea running with a strong wind. The vessel did not roll to any great angle, but she rolled slowly. It was a slow majestic roll with a distinct pause at the extremity of the roll. 

This is an apt description of a steady and not top heavy, steamer. 

She was pitching, but I did not notice anything abnormal about the pitching. 

The sluggish character of the rolling of the vessel continued after we left the vicinity of the Leeuwin, but in the moderate seas the rolling was not so pronounced.

'Sluggish character of the rolling' describes a very heavy steamer. 

 I was in the habit of walking with Captain Ilbery on the boat deck. One morning I was there with him before breakfast, during the time the boat was rolling and pitching heavily, and I said to him, "I don't like the behaviour of this ship of yours any too well, Captain. She recovers too slowly for me." 

He replied, "Yes, she is a little that way, but you must remember there are many thousands of tons of dead weight to shift. When this once gets in motion, it takes some power to stop it, and, when stopped, it also takes a considerable force to start in the opposite direction."

From the mouth of the only true expert on the subject of the Waratah. There cannot be a better explanation at this juncture, confirming a very heavy, but stable flagship. The 'jerk' at the end of the roll preceding recovery, which was described by a number of passengers, refers to the increased righting force from a markedly improved GM - 1.9 ft. at this point.  

One morning during fine weather, while there was a heavy swell, I was on the boat deck. 
Once when the ship pitched heavily, she took a heavy sea over the port bow, and was an unusually long time in recovering. I felt a distinct trembling through the boat as she was coming up. This might have been caused by the racing of the engines as the propellers came near the surface.

Waratah was heavily laden, with a reduced freeboard and buoyancy factor. In addition, the 5400 ihp generated by her twin quadruple expansion engines, was relatively under powered for Waratah's size and weight. I believe these factors explain the phenomenon observed.  

Another day, I felt a distinct shock through the vessel. After a minute or two I went down on to the forward well deck to see what had happened. I saw the second and fourth engineers examining the vertical ladder which ran from the forward well deck to the boat deck on the port side. The ladder was broken about 3 feet above the deck. The engineers told me that it had been broken by the impact of a sea. 

This too makes sense in the context of an extremely heavy vessel which, in my opinion, was not constructed for this scale of dead weight. Waratah was classified '100 A1 spar-deck class, but she was a larger ship than was contemplated by those rules'. Having reduced buoyancy at this stage would have made the  'many thousands of tons of dead weight' a significant resistance in terms of momentum to forces exerted by seas. Under such circumstances a rigid structure such as the ladder was vulnerable to snapping. Something had to give. What further unseen elements of Waratah's structure cracked under these circumstances? Structural integrity of the upper decks was further compromised by its length of 175 ft., which in the context of Waratah's overall length, 465 ft., was less than 50%, a mere 38%. 

It is very interesting that Captain Ilbery chose not to report this incident in his submission to the Collector of Customs on arrival at Durban, claiming that Waratah had sustained no damage whatsoever on her passage across from Australia. Why? He had gone to the ends of the earth to steady his troublesome steamer and knew full well that a price had to be paid. There was no way around the conundrum and no point in revealing the extent to which Waratah was overladen relative to her structural strength. Some things are best left unsaid.  

I know of more than one instance when passengers fell owing to the peculiar rolling of the vessel, which I have described before. 

Once I was walking on the promenade deck with Mrs. Cawood, Miss Lascelles, and the ship's surgeon, when the surgeon and one of the ladies fell into the scuppers, and I with difficulty prevented the other lady from falling also. 

The angle to which the vessel rolled at that time was not in my opinion alarming, but it was the peculiar manner of the roll that caused the fall.

The 'jerk'. 

Mrs. Cawood some days afterwards fell and injured her back severely, and had to be carried ashore. 

I am certain that the vessel never reached anything like an angle of 45 degrees at any time I was on her. I don't think the angle was ever half that much.

Reinforcement of the improved GM status. 

There was no permanent list on the vessel. There would be a slight list varying from side to side with the direction of the wind and as the coal was used from the bunkers. 

This must surely be the smoking gun in terms of confirmation that by this stage Waratah was not top heavy and did not display the same pattern of hanging in a list (sometimes for days) as was previously reported during her first three voyages before dead weight cured the malady. In summary there was certainly no cause for alarm due to stability issues during Waratah's final voyage and despite being too heavy, with or without the possibility of latent structural damage, Waratah could not have turned turtle off the South African coast during the storm of 28 July, if she had ever got that far...

to be continued...

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