Monday, 9 January 2017


At the same time as the master of the Tottenham was deliberating what was to be done about the sighting of bodies afloat, Captain W.A. Moore, of the Insizwa (off the Bashee River) was confronting a similar dilemma. Instead of acknowledging four fully clothed bodies afloat he was inclined to refer to them at a later date as “the refuse from whales.” (A. Hoehling). However, before Mr. Moore settled on whale offal as the most likely explanation, he gave a revealing account to the press shortly after arrival at port:

The Register (Adelaide) Monday 16 August, 1909.

The captain of the British steamer Insizwa, 
which followed the course of the
Waratah from Durban to the Cape, in a
press interview, declared he was satisfied
beyond all doubt the objects he had seen
were human bodies. Two of them, he
said, were dressed in white, and the other
two had dark clothing. There was no
wreckage visible in their vicinity, but flocks
of birds were hovering about in the 
neighbourhood of the corpses. He did not 
consider it advisable to stop and pick up the
bodies, on account of the effect it would
produce on the lady passengers on board.


1. The master of the "Insizwa" said that when about 10 miles off the Bashee River on that date, he sighted four objects in the water floating beneath the surface, and that they looked suspiciously like human bodies. The sea was too heavy for a boat to be lowered to investigate. Two of his officers also saw the objects; one of the officers was inclined to agree with the master, the other declined to express an opinion.

By the time the Inquiry convened the words 'satisfied beyond all doubt' had morphed into a far more cautious 'suspiciously like human bodies'. The Inquiry summed up the Tottenham and Insizwa alleged sightings of bodies as follows:

She (Waratah) must consequently have passed East London before she met the heavy storm to which she probably succumbed, and, if she did so succumb, her loss must have taken place some distance south of the most southerly point where the presence of dead bodies was reported. The whole set of the current in that part of the sea is southward and westward, and, on the above-mentioned supposition, any bodies from the "Waratah" would have drifted with it in a direction away from the Bashee River. Even if it be suggested that they had at the time of observation not long risen from the submerged ship, the facts that the latter, if she had foundered would have been lying much further south, and that the set of the current is southward and westward, are still against the possibility of the bodies being where they were said to have been.

Extraordinary deduction. The Court had made up its mind, despite complete absence of physical evidence, that Waratah had to have foundered southwest of East London. There was not the slightest attempt to justify two, separate incidents, of multiple body sightings. There were no other recent ship wrecks to account for the bodies. The Court had made its position quite clear by this stage of proceedings; Waratah was destined for perils of the sea in the great storm of 28 July, 1909, and with that exoneration of builders, owners and crew. 

Captain Bruce in one of his press interviews implored the authorities to drag the section of coast approximating his estimated coordinates to establish the presence of the wreck of the Waratah. In the scheme of vast expense directed at fruitless searches, this would have been a relatively cheap way to bring to an end the mystery and misery.


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