Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Mr. Hoehling referred in detail to Waratah's departure, June 26, from Sydney on her final voyage. Without skipping a beat Mr. Hoehling quoted that by the time Waratah left Australian waters she was fully laden to a draught of 35 ft.; 6500 tons of cargo, including 7800 bars of lead, 400 bales of wool, skins, 1000 boxes of butter, frozen carcasses, leather strips, tallow, timber etc...   

Although 35 ft. is probably an exaggeration in the context of draughts offered at the Inquiry, I am with Mr. Hoehling all the way confirmating that Waratah was a very heavy steamer indeed when she embarked on her final voyage. Some period articles suggested that cargo and lead concentrates amounted to about 9000 tons, which cannot be refuted in the light of disturbingly poor documentation and record keeping of Waratah's final cargo manifest. Captain Ilbery was not messing around. He knew what had to be done to steady his steamer and wasted no further time achieving his goal:

L. A. B. Wade -

"In June, 1909, just before the "Waratah" left Sydney for London on her last voyage, the master (Captain Ilbery) dined with me at my house. He said, referring to the vessel, "You should be on her now.  We know how to stow her; she's as steady as a rock."

"He went on to explain that the steadiness of the vessel largely depended on the stowage, and that they now had the necessary experience of her peculiarities"

7800 lead bars equated with about 27.5 tons. I have set out the results of my findings:  

The tone of witness accounts during this last voyage altered dramatically (with a few exceptions of course). I think it is fitting to remind ourselves of these documented accounts in order to allay all doubt - Waratah was not top heavy from this time forth...

Jonathan Owen.  Manager of Central Wharf Stevedoring Co., Ltd., Sydney. Holds master mariner's certificate -

"Seaworthy as far as I could judge in still water. I had no doubt of her stability. No list except when tipped with coal or filling up boilers."

Wm. Dow. Pilot under Marine Board of Victoria. Holds a master's certificate -

"I piloted the ship from the Railway Pier at Melbourne to the pilot station outside Port Phillip Heads."

"She appeared to be staunch and in every way fit for the voyage. I saw nothing while on board to make me alter that opinion, and I had the same opinion when I left her."

"I saw no sign of a list on her while at the pier or going down the Bay, neither did she appear to be tender."

"As I had not piloted her before, and the captain was an old acquaintance, I took particular notice of the vessel, and her condition and behaviour."

"The sea conditions in the Bay, so far as I remember them, were exceptionally good, and the vessel behaved well. There was no rolling or pitching, but she went along as steadily as could be wished."

"The captain and officers spoke very cheerfully to me about the passage home, and made no complaint of any kind about the vessel or any remarks about the seagoing qualities of the ship."

Fredrik. Chas Saunders. Passenger, Adelaide to Durban -

"Had made numerous trips in mail ships and coasting vessels."

"We ran into dirty weather soon after leaving Adelaide, and then for a few days until well past Breaksea we had heavy seas and wind squalls from the south-west."

"The vessel rolled a lot during that time, but to my mind, it was nothing unusual having regard to the weather, practically midwinter in Australia."

"The rolling was not sufficient to interfere with my sleep, or cause me to put out my elbows to steady myself in my bunk as I have had to do in other vessels."

"The only matters which occurred to cause comment at the time were when the vessel (on two occasions) gave a bit of an extra roll and seemed to shake before she started to return, and one day when it was fairly calm when the vessel took two or three waves over her bows without any apparent reason."

"Both Mr. Ebsworth and myself were so confident of the safety of the vessel that we made arrangements to go back by her to Australia on her return voyage. I arranged to join the vessel at Cape Town."

Mr. Saunders captured the essence of the new Waratah. She did not roll 'unusually' in bad weather. Waratah exhibited a somewhat jerky recovery, to be expected from a vastly improved GM, mostly due to a dense concentration of lead concentrates, lowest down, amidships (see previous posts and comparison with Yongala). But perhaps the most important comment made was that Waratah 'took two or three waves over her bows without any apparent reason'. What this, in my opinion, describes is a very heavy (somewhat under powered) steamer with low freeboard and a reduced buoyancy factor due to vast dead weight and minimal sheer in hull design.

But it could not have been of that much concern because both Mr. Saunders and Mr. Ebsworth decided to book passage on Waratah for their return trip to Australia!!!

On arrival at Durban Captain Ilbery submitted the following affidavit:  

'Port Natal, July 26, 1909

To the Collector of Customs.  Port

Dear Sir,

"I hereby declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that my vessel, the SS Waratah, has sustained no damage from any cause whatever since leaving the last port, Adelaide, and I have nothing special to report."

Yours faithfully,

(signed) J.E. Ilbery,

Master, SS Waratah.'

The following extract from Mole's Genealogy Blog, Anniversary Reminder (courtesy S. Leff-Patterson), gives us a vital insight into the new Waratah's capabilities. 

A poignant letter written by a crew member on 26 July, from the SS Waratah in Durban, was received by his sister in London

'Just a line to let you know we arrived
here safely after a pretty rough voyage
from Adelaide. For 13 days after leaving
that place we had heavy seas and weather
and a lot of the deck fittings were broken
and carried away by heavy seas that
swept over the vessel. The last five days
however have been fine and we got here
yesterday midday (Sunday) and we leave
the Cape Saturday next, on 31st July for
London, where we will arrive on August
21st although we are not due until the 23rd.' 

The writer describes Waratah admirably surviving a protracted storm crossing the Bight, which in winter is notorious for challenging sea conditions. Seas sweeping over the vessel describes a heavily laden flagship with reduced freeboard. It is interesting that none of these deck fittings washed up on shore and were added to the list of questionable remnants of the steamer that was. Perhaps they were not identified as originating from Waratah or sank out of sight. But that aside, Waratah proved herself in challenging conditions which flew in the face of allegations made by the Court that the storm of 28 July was the first major storm encountered by Waratah.

to be continued...

No comments: