Monday, 9 January 2017


Mr. Hoehling gives a detailed account of the sighting of bodies by the crew of the Tottenham. 11 August, '25 n miles' southwest of East London, in the vicinity of the Great Fish River, seaman Curtis, at the wheel of the Tottenham, called officer John Noble Day to the bridge, reporting that he had seen“a little girl—ten or twelve— dressed in a red gown.” drifting past the steamer. Mr. Day summoned the master, Mr. Cox, and together they surveyed the surrounding sea noting that “all round the ship pieces of flesh floating on the water, one piece larger than the others with an albatross” sitting on it and which looked like “the trunk of a body.” E.F. Humphrey, third officer, noted “two human bodies face downward,” with seagulls perched on them. A number of Chinese sailors on board confirmed this by saying “Plenty dead bodies seaside!” No attempt was made to retrieve the bodies and allegedly Captain Cox rejoined his crew to silence about what they had seen.

The Mercury (Hobart) Saturday 26 February, 1910.

He says the 'Tottenham' left Durban about 
10 days after the Waratah, and steamed
over the same course, bound to Antwerp.
When off East London, at noon one day,
an apprentice at the wheel reported to
the third officer, who was in charge of
the bridge, that he saw float past the
ship the body of a little girl, clothed in
a red dressing gown. 

This is a very specific description, unlikely to be confused with sea creatures or offal. The fact that the little girl was clad in a red dressing gown suggests two things: 

- The disaster occurred at night and 
- The disaster occurred without warning, otherwise she would have been formally dressed waiting to board a lifeboat.

The third officer looked round, but did not see the body.

By this time (ship travelling at least 10 knots), the body was a distance astern of the ship.

He, however, went down to the chart-
room, where the captain and the second
officer were laying off the ship's position,
and reported that some bodies had just

More than one body.

floated past the vessel. The captain and
second officer rushed up onto the bridge,
and the second officer said that he saw
something white floating on the water.
The captain gave the order 'hard a starboard'
and the vessel steamed round
to the vicinity of the floating objects, but
did not catch sight of the bodies previously 
reported as being fully dressed.

This makes sense, taking into account the distance covered by the steamer and the swift Agulhas Current and drift of the body.

However, they saw a lot of other pieces
of flesh floating around, and one piece
in particular looked very much like the
trunk of a body mutilated by sharks.

This is a harrowing and very specific description.

The weather being so heavy, the steamer
was unable to pick up the floating objects
to make a thorough examination, so she 
proceeded on her voyage. 

Lost window of opportunity to confirm evidence.

On arrival at the Cape of Good Hope, the
sea being so fearfully high, the master
deemed it advisable to turn back and go
to Simon's Bay. Arriving there, a boat
put off from HMS Forte, with an officer
on board, to make inquiries whether the
Tottenham had seen anything of the
Waratah. A reply was given by the
chief officer that there was nothing to

'Nothing to report' is loaded. 


    Perhaps he did not want hope dashed - but such a cruel decision. 
   Although the sea was high, and a manoeuvre to retrieve bodies risky, the fact remains that the bodies were not retrieved which, given the publicity surrounding the overdue steamer, would have made the captain look very callous and irresponsible in the public eye.  

That evening the second officer
signalling with a Morse lamp, inquiring
of H.MS Forte if she had got any further
news of the Waratah, and was informed
that the s s Director and s s Insizwa, which 
had left Durban about the same time as the 
Tottenham, had reported seeing bodies floating 
about off East London,

We often forget that crew of the Director also sighted bodies, giving us a total of 3 separate ships reporting the same thing.

and that the man-o'-war
had orders to proceed to the vicinity
and ascertain what these bodies were.

By which time the bodies would have drifted to another location, been consumed, or sank out of sight.

It will be remembered that the Forte afterwards 
reported that she had seen some large 
fish floating about, and it was surmised that 
these were what the captain of the Director and 
Insizwa had seen.

Naive, and a blatant attempt to subdue public anxiety.

But the man now in Westport said emphatically 
that the chief and second officers of the Tottenham 
stated to him and others on board the ship that they 
saw the body of a little girl, reported by the
apprentice, and could stake their lives that it was 
that of a girl 11 or 12 years of age, and not a fish.

As convincing as it gets.

The second engineer also stated that he saw the 
body of a woman, clad in a nightdress, with
an albatross perched on top of it,

The fact that the body of the woman was clad in a nightdress further confirms that the disaster took place at night, without much warning.

also the trunk of another body, which floated
by so close to the ship as to receive on
it the water of the main discharge.

At such close proximity it would have been highly unlikely that the object was misidentified.

But the seas were running mountains high
when the Tottenham was proceeding on
her voyage.

This was actually good enough reason for not retrieving the bodies. In such heavy seas it would have been unlikely for bodies to remain in the general proximity for too long. 

The conclusions come to aboard the 
Tottenham were that the Waratah took 
a head sea, and before she had time to 
recover, took another, which stove in the 
fore hatch, and that she then and there 

There is no doubt that this is one of the most compelling possibilities for the sudden loss of the Waratah. Claude Sawyer's dream described heavy seas pressing down on the fore deck of Waratah. The problem is, where? For bodies to have been sighted off the Bashee and some '25 miles' southwest of East London, strongly suggests that the tragedy occurred at some position further northeast of the Bashee. The fact that two of the bodies were clad in nightdresses, suggests that the tragedy could not have occurred during the day, 27 July. It had to have occurred at 8 pm, as related by Captain Bruce, or later....

Mr Day, second officer of the steamer 
Tottenham, supplies further details of
the bodies seen floating about off East 
London shortly after the Waratah was 
reported missing. Mr Day is an Englishman, 
of an old North England family, 

Implying that he was a reliable witness.

and left the Tottenham at Westport receiving 
from Captain Cox a clean discharge, and 
credentials stating that he  had always 
found Mr Day to be a reliable officer, 
and strictly sober.
Mr Day says he was speaking from
memory as to the exact dates, as he
unfortunately left his notebook on the
Tottenham when she left Westport The
Tottenham arrived at Durban about mid
night on Saturday, August 7, and anchored 
in the roadstead, signalling her arrival to the 
lighthouse The steamer Insizwa also 
anchored in the roadstead, and about 1 am 
Mr Day, who was then on watch, received 
a signal from the lnsizwa asking if he 
knew anything about the missing liner 
Waratah. Mr Day replied in the negative 
stating that the Tottenham had just come 
from Port Pirie after 29 days' steaming. 

The Insizwa then supplied some details. 
At 8 am on the Sunday the Tottenham 
proceeded into port and took up the berth 
just vacated by the Director, the officers 
of the Tottenham then getting fuller news 
of the missing liner from the other ships 
and the people ashore. 

After taking in bunker coal the Tottenham was
to have proceeded to sea on the Monday
morning, but owing to the rough state
of the weather, she remained in port till
the next morning.  At 8 am on the Tuesday 
she left Durban, bound for Antwerp, 
receiving instructions on leaving
port to keep a diligent look-out for the
missing liner The sea at the time was
very high. When the vessel was off East
London the incidents previously described
took place at noon, an apprentice first
reporting that he had seen the body of a
little girl clothed in a red dress, with
her hair flowing in the water,

'Hair flowing in the water' further strengthens that validity of this account.

float past the vessel, and the chief and second engineer 
saying that they had seen pieces of bodies 
and the body of a woman clad in a 
nightdress floating about in the
water. When the captain and Mr Day
were summoned from the chart-room they
went on deck. Mr Day states that he
pointed out an albatross sitting on something, 
and the steamer was brought round to make an 
examination, with the result, Mr Day states, that he 
was fully convinced that the object on which 
the albatross was perched was the trunk of a
body, with the arms and legs missing.


They did not see any of the bodies previously reported, 
as observed by the apprentice and engineers, but Mr Day
states that pieces of a body were floating 3ft or 4ft deep 
in water over a big area of sea with a flock of birds 
hovering around. 

This is precisely what bodies would do after being in the water for 12 days.

For some reason or other, which Mr Day can merely surmise, 
this was not reported to the lieutenant of H M.S Forte 
when the Iatter put off in a boat in Simon Bay, 
into which the Tottenham had run for shelter, 
to make inquiries as to whether the Tottenham 
had seen any sign of the Waratah.
Mr Day says that strict instructions
were given on the Tottenham to say nothing 
of the affair and he overheard the
apprentice, by request, give an account of
what he had said to a gentleman whom
he believed was agent for the Tottenham
or who had something to do with the
ship's cargo, at Melbourne, and the apprentice 
was then advised to say nothing of the affair 
as it might cause friction.

'Friction' is an interesting choice of word. It implies that the account would be met with 'resistance', but more than that, it would upset or anger those connected with the Waratah. Clearly bodies implied one thing only - the Waratah had gone down - no one wanted to accept this brutal reality, least of all the owners of the steamer. 

"Let me here remark," added Mr Day, "lest 
people think that I bear prejudice against anyone
that such suggestions, if they are made are absolutely
incorrect. I deny any prejudice, and any statement I 
have made here I am willing to make on oath. My 
reason for making this statement now is that, while 
I was on the vessel, orders were given to keep
the thing quiet and now I am off the vessel I am 
free to speak my mind in  regard to what I saw 
and what others on the ship told me they saw. 
I have clean discharges and credentials from 
the ships on which I have served."

It does not come more convincing than this. An officer from a good family, with no history of excessive drinking, prepared to swear under oath.

"Three gentlemen in Westport claim
that they heard a story as to what was
seen from the second engineer, who is
reported as stating that he was positive
that he saw the body of a child float past
the ship and that the effect of what they
saw that day put them off their food for
several days."

Harrowing and heart breaking. It must have been an ordeal for the crew, made worse by an injunction of silence.

The Tottenham carried Chinese firemen,
one of whom is rreported as having remarked 
at the time, "Plenty of people
in the sea" _____________

Distressing to finish off on a note of 'plenty of people in the sea'. There is no doubt in my mind from where they originated....

   ....and the only theory which comprehensively explains the above is the Harlow account.

A further twist in the account:

In the summer of 1932 a Canadian seaman by the name of John Noble was admitted to the Oshawa County Hospital. He was in critical condition and summoned a nurse to witness a faded copy of Lloyd's list. He made the following statement:

". . . became a member of the crew of the steamship
Waratah" and that "shortly after leaving Durban the ship
developed a heavy list. Among my mates were some
ready to mutiny, but I refused to join them. Then, at
four o'clock on the morning of July 23, 1909, while I
was on watch, I discovered the ten-year-old daughter of
a well-known and wealthy English family; she was crying
in the shelter of a deck ventilator. Suddenly, as I approached
the child, the ship rolled heavily to starboard,
and we were both thrown into the sea. We managed to
struggle ashore and at last reached East London."

South African police records support the fact that a man and young girl were seen in East London during August of 1909. The strange pair disappeared before further inquiries into their identities could be established.

Could this man John Noble actually have been John Noble Day? Was he resentful that his account was not taken seriously and added one final, confusing element to the Waratah mystery before he passed on?

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