Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Sunday Times, Sydney, 26 February, 1911.

Judgment was given on Wednesday at the Board
of Trade Inquiry concerning the loss of the
steamer Waratah.

The Court found that the Waratah was properly 
equipped and manned, that the cargo was
properly stowed, and that she had sufficient
stability to be seaworthy. She was lost in a
storm and probably capsized, but the chain 
of circumstances remained undetermined.

What other conclusion could the Court come to? Note that the '300' tons of coal on the spar deck did not equate with improperly stowed. This red herring was to take on legendary proportions. Waratah did have sufficient stability when she departed Durban 26, July.
The Court was unable to understand the 
maintenance of silence concerning the 
vessel's stability and her behaviour at sea 
on her maiden voyage, a silence which 
almost compelled an inference unfavorable 
to the owners.

I think it is pretty obvious that Captain Ilbery reported concerns after the maiden voyage, after all correspondence between the owners and builders regarding Waratah's tenderness issues took place AFTER Waratah arrived in Australia, December, 1908. Captain Ilbery or one of his trusted officers must have sent message that Waratah inherently tender, with a significant top hamper wind-catchment factor. The owners denied any negative reports from Captain Ilbery, then or on his return, in a feeble attempt to give the false impression that Waratah was adequately stable from the get go. 

This ploy backfired spectacularly.

Only conflicting and indirect evidence was 
obtainable, but, owing to the absence of 
wreckage, the Court was of the opinion that 
the Waratah capsized in a gale of exceptional 
violence, the first great storm she encountered.

It does not correlate that for no wreckage to have been discovered (remember the remote inaccessibility of the Wild Coast) that Waratah necessarily went down in the storm:

The storm of 28 July was not the first significant storm Waratah encountered:

The Court dismissed the theory that the loss
was due to an explosion of bunker coal.

Perhaps instead of the word 'dismissed' should have read the words 'could not prove or disprove'. That the Harlow account was rejected comprehensively remains a sub-mystery. No attempt was made to discover if the wreck of the Waratah lay 0.5 miles offshore, north of Port St Johns or not. Considering the fortune spent on fruitless searches for Waratah adrift, it remains a puzzling mystery why Captain Bruce's recommendation to drag the sea in the vicinity was not followed up on. 20 fathoms would not have been beyond the scope of such a search.

The Waratah was properly supplied with boats
and life-saving appliances and her crew were 
considerably in excess of Board of Trade 

No mention was made of the lack of fire drills. If this point was listed it would have drawn negative attention to the possibility that the Harlow account could have been true. The Court and the public at large wanted nothing to do with the possibility that a fire on board ultimately raged out of control, despite evidence that Waratah had experienced a coal bunker fire for 4 solid days during December, 1908.  

The Court thought that an early opportunity
might be taken to consider whether the 
requirements were sufficient in the case of 
large passenger ships.

Despite the overall impression that the Court of Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah was a whitewash, it is heartening to read that lessons could be learned and that progress in the maritime world required constant re-evaluation of the status quo.

The Court also suggested that a committee of
experts might be appointed to decide the minimum 
stability requirements of different types of vessels, 
including stability curves.


Rules for the stowage of cargo should also be
framed by builders for the guidance of ship


The above, crucial statements, in effect acknowledged Waratah's inherent limitations but did not go so far as to question her overall seaworthiness. The Court was clear about responsibility shared by both owners and builders. It was not enough to leave stowage details solely to the discretion of the ship's master. 

Discussing Mr. F. Lund's assurance that Captain 
Ilbery had not reported upon the Waratah on her 
maiden voyage, the Court was unable to understand 
Captain Ilbery's silence concerning the stability of the 
vessel. It was contrary to the whole practice of 
shipowners and shipmasters to treat such a matter 
with the indifference with which Mr. Lund and Captain 
Ilbery treated it. The inference was unfavorable to 
the owners, and was greatly strengthened by the 
correspondence with the builders. Apparently a 
difficulty arose during the initial loading, and the 
presumption is that the Waratah was a 'tender' 
ship when she started on her maiden voyage.

This is ludicrous. Of course Captain Ilbery would have discussed Waratah's shortcomings on his return from the maiden voyage, and perhaps the Court's admonishment extended beyond the obvious statement about 'contrary to the whole practice of shipowners and shipmasters', into the realm of deceiving the Court by not furnishing it with the truth.
The Court considered neither Mr. F. Lund's nor
the representative of the builders' account of the
interview on April 23 complete, and added : 'We
can only leave the matter there.'

Given that the issue related to Waratah's tenderness in light condition (not fully loaded as when she disappeared) and obtuse comparisons with Geelong, it would have served no practical purpose to pursue the issue.

The report sharply commented on Mr. Lund's
use of the word 'bluff', regarding his letters
to the builders, and proceeded : — 'There is 
evidence that the difficulty was not surmounted on
the outward and homeward journeys, but tenderness 
in the upright does not necessarily involve instability 
at large angles of heel'.

When all is said and done this point cannot be ignored. Even in her maiden top heavy state, Waratah was not necessarily unseaworthy or dangerous. Professor Bragg did acknowledge that he found her 'a remarkably steady and comfortable boat' - and this coming from the man who claimed that Waratah's GM was 'zero' during her maiden voyage.

The explanation of a large amount of adverse 
comment lay in the undoubted tenderness
during the first voyage and whilst loading. In
such a condition quite observable lists could be
produced by moderate wind-pressures, relatively
small alterations in the water-ballast, the consumption 
of fresh water, and the non-symmetrical working out 
of coal.'

A perfect explanation.

The Court regarded the contradictory statements 
concerning the rolling of the ship as fairly
accurate evidence by truthful people about 
phenomena which they did not understand.

This 'evidence' has become fact in the modern era. It's as though many with an interest in the Waratah want her to have been 'an accident waiting to happen'.

The Court discredited the story of human bodies
having been seen floating on the sea from the
steamer Tottenham.

Of course they did. If they had, taking into consideration statements made under oath confirming that bodies were seen, the Court would have been forced back to the Harlow story to account for bodies sighted at the two geographical positions. 

Not the Court, not those connected with the Waratah and not the public wished to look any deeper into the Harlow account. 

It does make one wonder?????

£14.600 PAYABLE.

Evening News, Sydney, 13 January, 1910

The Waratah's Crew.

LONDON, Wednesday Evening. — 

It is estimated that under the Workmen's 
Compensation Act £14.600 is payable 
to relatives of 116 of the crew of the lost 
steamer Waratah.

This implies that crew's families (excluding officers) received about £126.00 per person. Such was the compensation for sacrificing one's life for the Blue Anchor Line.


The Advertiser, Adelaide, 16 December, 1908

There was a large attendance at St.
John's Church lecture-hall, Halifax-street,
on Tuesday evening, at the farewell social
to Professor and Mrs. Bragg, who are
shortly leaving for England. Archdeacon
Hornabrook presided. A letter signed by
the priest-in-charge of the church (Arch-
deacon Hornabrook) and the wardens
(Messrs. C. R. Glover and E. E. Robilliard)
was read in connection with a presentation
of views of the church by the congregation.
It referred to the esteem in which the professor 
and his family were held by the congregation, 
and the work done as lector and president 
of the Sanctuary Guild by Professor Bragg. 
Mrs. Bragg, it was stated, was responsible 
for the artistic scheme of decoration of the 
sanctuary and organ pipes.

The congregation wished the guest God-
speed in all his undertakings.
The Rev. R. P. Hewgill, who has been
selected to fill the pulpit at St. John's
Church, and will enter upon his new duties
next year, also spoke in terms of high 
appreciation of Professor Bragg. He said he
was glad of the opportunity of being present 
at the gathering. Professor Bragg's
work in connection with church matters
had been greatly appreciated. It was 
seldom that a man so distinguished as their
guest in science was found also to be a 
devoted son of the church. Many of the 
congregation of St. John's Church were 
beginning to feel a sense of loss because they
were losing one who had been to many of
them a personal and large-hearted friend.
Professor Bragg and his family were going
to a place where he (Mr. Hewgill) had recently 
come from, and he would find people
there with kindly and warm hearts. He
would find that if they were inclined lo
look into the theory of things and like to
know "where the brass goes" they also
liked to turn their minds to research.
Yorkshire people might be slow to trust
and slow to love, but once a place was found
in their hearts it would never be lost. He
felt confident that his friends would never
forget Professor Bragg.
Mrs. Bragg was presented with a silver
smelling salts bottle on behalf of the 
Professor Bragg, in reply, said he and
Mrs. Bragg were happy to receive such over-
whelming kindness. Memories of that fare-
well social would remain with him through-
out his life. He paid a tribute to the worth
of the late Canon Hopcraft. He hoped to
return to South Australia if only on a visit,
and he would certainly pay a call at St.
John's Church. Mrs. Bragg also responded.
An excellent programme of vocal and in-
strumental items was contributed by
Misses F. and L. Young, Spartier, Kaese-
hagen, Pank, Holland, V. Thrush, A.
Beeton, and Messrs. Pank (2), Whittle, and
E. R. George.

Professor Bragg and his wife made a safe voyage to London on the Waratah. Professor Bragg attributed Waratah's persistence in a list to a virtually zero GM factor - significantly top heavy. He also pursued the subject with Captain Ilbery and discovered (confirmed) that there were no stability curves on board for the vessel. His testimony at the Court of Inquiry held sway leading many to believe that Waratah must have been top heavy when she disappeared off the Wild Coast. Of course this was not the case.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


The Northern Miner, 11 May, 1932.

The loss of the liner Waratah is one
of the youngest of ocean mysteries. It 
is only 22 years since the gallant ship
vanished with officers, passengers,
cargo, crew complete, and yet already
she has passed into the realm of legend.
For in her passing she raised such a
problem as is perhaps unequalled in
the history of the sea (writes Pierre
Quiroule In the "Daily Mail").
Consider the features of this un-
paralleled disaster. Here was this ship,
a great ocean liner, the pride and
latest addition of the famous company,
her owners, the most finished product
of the shipbuilders' yards, complete
with wireless installation (incorrect) and 
all the other safety devices which have 
confirmed man's mastery of the sea and
robbed the ocean of its terrors-here
was the ship, this floating mansion
under the command of an experienced
and skilful seaman, disappearing with
out leaving a trace on one of the most
frequented ocean routes in the world.
Not a boat, not a spar, not a body was
found. She had been spoken by one
vessel where she ought to have passed
a score. And from that day to this no
explanation has been forthcoming. It
was a very complete and very mysterious 
The Waratah belonged to the famous 
Blue Anchor line, and was employed 
in the carrying of passengers between 
England and Australia. Her displacement 
was 16,800 tons (incorrect). She was,
classed 100 A1 at Lloyd's, and, in 
addition, had four other inspection 
certificates to prove her seaworthiness.
Her commander was one of the most 
trusted officers in his service. Captain
Ilbery. who man and boy had been in 
the service of the Blue Anchor Company 
for 41 years. Her maiden trip was entirely 
successful, though, on her return to England, 
Captain Ilbery reported that she did not 
seem so stable as her sister ship, the Geelong. 
The matter was reported by the company, to 
the builders, but considered by them a matter 
of trivial importance.

I think it is speculative to assume that the owners and builders considered Waratah's top heaviness tendency during the maiden voyage, to be 'of trivial importance'. This important issue was played down at the Inquiry for obvious reasons but there must have been significant discussions and correspondence (some of which was presented at the Inquiry) relating to Waratah's inherent top heaviness and the builders recommended filling ballast tank 8, to help stabilise Waratah. There might also, very possibly, have been discussions about materially altering Waratah to bring her stability more into line with sister ship Geelong's. This was not done, but Captain Ilbery managed, by manipulating ballast weights, to stabilise Waratah during her last voyage, .
On April 27, 1909, the Waratah left
London end duly arrived at Adelaide
after a most satisfactory journey (not 
according to some on board). On
July 7 she left for England and made
Durban by the 27th (25th). Thence she 
set sail with a crew of 119 officers and
men and 92 passengers. On the 29th
(26th) she was sighted and signalled by 
the Clan Macintyre. No more has been
heard or her from that day to this.
No clue has been discovered of the
fate which overtook her. Of recent
years aerial reconnaissance has been
employed to find her hulk. In vain, it is 
as if the liner Waratah never existed and 
never sailed the sea with her crew of 119 
and her 92 passengers.
Not a rocket was seen, not an SOS
message received (no wireless). Her 
fate which befell her must have been 
very sudden.
Now on July 28 a severe storm raged
on the coast, but it is agreed on all hands 
that a ship of the size of the Waratah ought 
easily to have outridden it. The Clan Macintyre, 
a very much smaller ship, which we have seen
was the last to speak to her, came through 
unscathed. And a ship wrecked by storm would
surely have time to send out a message on 
the ether. Moreover, during the 27th and 28th 
the Clan Macintyre sighted no fewer than 10
vessels, not one of which saw the Waratah.

By 1932 commentators were NOT speculating that the Waratah MUST have turned turtle in the storm of 28 July. The important point is made that far humbler vessels, such as the Clan MacIntyre, survived the storm. There were as many as 10 other steamers during this time frame which also survived and more significantly (apart from the alleged Guelph and Harlow sightings) DID NOT sight Waratah. Why?? In order for the Guelph account to have been true, Waratah must have been sighted by other steamers, including the Clan MacIntyre, for the second time; unless Waratah came about in a wide arc far out at sea beyond the shipping lane, ending up back in the vicinity of Cape Hermes.
The Guelph, indeed, of the Union Castle
line, reports seeing a passenger
liner the the night of the 27th. The cus
tomary signals were exchanged, but
the Guelph's officer could not make
out anything more than the letters
'TAH' at the end of the other's name.
The spot at which the Guelph reported
having sighted the stranger was not
more than 70 miles ahead of the posi
tion at which the Clan Maclntyre
had signalled her in the morning. Now,
the Clan Maclntyre was proceeding
on the same course, but had been
passed by the Waratah which was a
much faster ship. She had spoken the
Guelph earlier in the afternoon. (huh?)
Guelph, Clan Macintyre, Waratah and
the mysterious stranger were all on the
same route, yet the Clan Macintyre
had not passed the Waratah again and
had seen no other vessel which might
have answered to her description.

This misinformation illustrates the importance of cross-referencing reports in newspapers. The Guelph was en-route to Durban from Cape Town. The crew of the Clan MacIntyre could not have spoken the Guelph late afternoon, 27 July!!
When the Blue Anchor liner was
several days overdue at Capetown the
authorities became anxious. News was
solicited from every ship In the neigh-
bourhood but none was forthcoming.
And in spite of a subsequent search,
lasting many months and carried out
by two specially commissioned vessels, 
no clues were ever found.

No mention of the Harlow account. No one wanted any business with a ship's crew who had allegedly witnessed the Waratah blowing up into smithereens.
The third officer of the steamer Tot
tenham reported that he had seen
bodies floating In the water off East
London on August 11. He went so far
as to describe one in detail - a girl in
a red cloak and black stockings. Captain 
Cox commanding the Tottenham
denied the story. He stated that the
alleged bodies were really sunflsh, 
and that the corpse of the girl was in
reality a roll of paper with red binding.

'A roll of paper with red binding' must surely be the epitome of clutching at straws!!
Curious was the story of Mr. Sawyer who 
sailed in the Waratah from Sydney to Durban. 
When he was three days out from the latter 
port, Mr Sawyer was confronted with a terrifying 
vision. In his bed an apparition appeared to him 
of a man clad in a flowing robe, and carrying in 
his right hand a sword which he slowly moved
between himself and the terrified Mr. Sawyer. 
Three times in the space of three hours did the 
grisly spectre appear. It was altogether too much
for Mr. Sawyer. At Durban he left the ship, though 
his passage was booked to Capetown. Mr. Sawyer 
had noticed a heavy list when the vessel left Sydney, 
and had been greatly worried over this and much 
other evidence did the commissioners listen to 
who sat at the Court of inquiry in December,
1910. But they broke up without coming to
any satisfactory conclusion; and as for the 
Waratah, no more has been heard of her to
this day.

An interesting take on the Waratah mystery, with misinformation that morphed into fact as the decades passed.