The Advertiser, Adelaide, Tuesday 14 February, 1911
BOARD OF TRADE ENQUIRY.
STARTLING CONFLICT OF
(From Our Special Correspondent.)
London, January 13, 1911.
The Board of Trade enquiry into the loss
of the Waratah was resumed last Monday.
Originally it was calculated that five days
would be sufficient for the purposes of the
enquiry, but already the court has sat
nine days, and there are still more wit-
nesses to be examined.
As far as the investigation has gone, the
chief result achieved is mental confusion
for all who read the reports of the
proceedings with unbiased minds. The
conflict of testimony as to the Waratah's
behaviour at sea has been absolutely
amazing. A dozen witnesses have declared
that she was a fine seaboat; another batch,
equally numerous, have sworn that she was
the very reverse. Some witnesses have
stated that her bad behaviour was practically
the "topic of the day" on board: others have
sworn that they never heard a word in her
disparagement. Ex-members of the Waratah's
crew have stood up in court,or testified by
affidavit that they left the ship because they
were afraid of her; others with exactly the
same experience of the boat have sworn that
there was nothing in her behaviour to give them
the faintest qualms as to her stability and
seaworthiness. Some officers of other ships
that signalled the Waratah during her last
voyage have declared that she had a
tremendous list; others who saw her at or
about the same time declared that she was
Waratah was inherently top heavy, of that I have no doubt. But the top heaviness could be manipulated into relative stability by means of heavy ballasting, which was achieved by the final voyage. Witnesses during Waratah's maiden voyage would have had a different experience from those who were on board during the final crossing from Australia to South Africa. This shift of opinion was born out in accounts, both lay and expert. It is interesting to note that crew members, under oath, claimed polar opposites regarding Waratah's seaworthiness. Such a split in opinion was an excellent ploy to create enough confusion and doubt as to Waratah's seaworthiness, making the Court's task impossible. Score 10 for the Lunds.
Despite conflicting opinion it does seem from all sources available that Waratah's boats were in poor condition due to the use of 'green' wood.
Deck Load Dangers.
"On Monday the principal witness was Sir
William White, formerly chief constructor
of the Navy, who was called to give expert
evidence as to the stability and sea-worthiness
of the Waratah. Prior to his being called, however,
the court heard the evidence of Mr. P. A. Marshall,
formerly in the employ of Messrs. Lund, who
produced an estimate of the weight and allocation
of the cargo and coal on board the Waratah when
she left Durban, his calculations being based on
the builders' plans, the dispositions of agents and
stevedores at the various ports of loading, on the
manifests, and on Captain Ilbery's storage plans.
Mr. Marshall said that he arrived at the conclusion
that when the Waratah left Durban she was only
about one-third full. As Captain Ilbery's storage
plan sent home showed that the permanent bunker
space was filled with coal, and that there was also
reserve coal on the upper and lower 'tween decks,
he arrived at the conclusion that the lower 'tween
deck would be full, and that the balance only would
be on the upper 'tween deck. According to his
calculation there were on board the vessel at Durban
2,378 tons' of coal, which was within 20 or 30 tons
of the engineers' estimate derived from the vouchers.
The total deadweight for the Waratah's draught of
28 ft. 8 in. was 9,204 tons, of which 6.425 tons was
cargo. To the best of his belief the information that
there were 250 tons of coal on the spar deck was
communicated by cable advice from Durban.
The issue of accurate cargo weight on board Waratah will remain controversial for the simple fact that records of such were incomplete and haphazard. If Waratah was one third full with 6425 tons of cargo, this implies that she had the potential to carry almost 20 000 tons of cargo. This is not supported by her specifications: gross tonnage 9339.07 and registered tonnage, 6003.96. The Lloyd's Surveyor at Adelaide referred to Waratah being two thirds full outbound on her final voyage to Durban, which is more plausible.
Rightly so. The highly experienced Captain Ilbery would surely have stowed this component judiciously.
Mr. Leslie Scott (for the owners) - The telegram
sent on August 14, 1909, was "Had Waratah coal
on exposed deck? Reply immediately." And the answer
was "Nothing exposed deck; about 250 tons
This one paragraph confirms without doubt, that Leslie Scott representing the owners, was aware of Waratah's inherent top heaviness. 'Panic' is captured to perfection in his telegram. The root of this immediate concern must have lain in reports after Waratah returned to London from her maiden voyage. Whatever witnesses said to the contrary was quashed by this one pivotal paragraph.
Mr.Laing (Board of Trade) - Then apparently "bridge deck"
is used in error for "spar deck."
Bridge space = spare deck.
Sir William White's Views.
Sir William White stated that he had
given long and careful consideration to the
facts of the case. On the question of
stability the important data were the results
of the machinery and leverage experiments
made by the builders and the weight and
distribution of the cargo when the Waratah
left Durban. As regards the curve of stability
and the proportions. of beam and depth, judging
from the builders' plan the Waratah compared
favorably with average vessels of her class, and
she had an ample margin of freeboard, with a
draught of 28 ft. 8 in. He did not agree
with the suggestion that with her decks
so high out of the water she would be
dangerously exposed to wind pressure - in
fact, be was of opinion that in a heavy beam
sea, when the vessel was rolling heavily,
the closed-in spaces between the decks
would afford a valuable accession of re-
serve buoyancy. On the facts laid down
before him be was firmly of opinion that
want of stability could not have been the
cause of the loss of the vessel. He saw
nothing to indicate lack of stability in the
statements that had been made as to her
rolling sometimes on one side and some-
times on the other. A vessel which was
not stable when upright might reach a position
of stability at a small angle of inclination, and
then resist increasingly any further inclination.
If a vessel rolled heavily and recovered slowly,
or if she listed first on one side and then on the
other, such behaviour would not afford any
indication that she was dangerously top-heavy.
It would not have been dangerous of necessity
for the Waratah to carry 300 tons of coal on her
spar deck, even without compensating weight
One has to acknowledge Sir William White's credentials and expert opinion. However, having said this, I am left with a residual impression that he might have overdone his defence of Waratah's inherent stability and that he might have been favouring the Lunds' cause - caught between a rock and a hard place. He blatantly contradicted the builders' recommendation that the spar deck WAS NOT to carry coal when Waratah DID NOT have compensating weight below.
When the Waratah was Last Seen.
On Tuesday there was a startling conflict
of testimony between two officers of the
Clan Mcintyre - the last vessel to sight the
Waratah - as to her condition when they
Mr. G. P. Phillips, chief officer of the
Clan Macintyre, said that on the morning
of July 27. 1909, when they sighted the
Waratah, it was reported to him that an
apprentice had said that the vessel had
then "a strong list to starboard, and was
sailing like a yacht," but when he saw the
Waratah she had no list whatever.
This statement as reported is bizarre! Why would officer Phillips have been called to witness a fellow steamer 'listing and sailing like a yacht' in the first place, circa 1909? Why then, when officer Phillips witnessed for himself, did she have 'no list whatever'. Was the apprentice mad? Had Phillip's story been modified to suit the Lunds?
moderate. The apprentice made one mistake. He referred to Waratah having a strong list to starboard while the prevailing wind blew from the north. This was highly unlikely in a steamer with a prominent top hamper - wind pressure effect. The wind died down about sunset,
and then a strong wind came up from the
westward, and by midnight the wind was of
hurricane force, and the seas were tremendous.
It was the worst storm he had ever experienced
on the South African coast. Mr. Phillips was
examined at length with a view of eliciting
from him some opinion as to the probabilities
of the Waratah having capsized by reason of
her steering-gear being suddenly thrown out
of order, and thus allowing her to be
thrown suddenly into the trough of the sea,
but the witness would not venture any
opinion, though he admitted that if the
vessel was thrown into the trough of the
sea in such circumstances she would be in
very great danger, no matter how good and
stable a ship she might be.
If Waratah did in fact founder due to being 'thrown into the trough of the sea', this would have occurred towards midnight of 27 July, a full 14 1/2 hours after Waratah disappeared from site of the Clan MacIntyre. This would have placed Waratah abeam of Port Elizabeth, well beyond both the Mbashe and Great Fish rivers, the significance of which follows later in the article....
Impressions of a Midshipman.
Mr. Sidney Lamont, who was a midshipman
on board the Clan Macintyre, said that in July,
1909, he was on his first voyage on that vessel,
and at 8 o'clock on July 27 he went on the watch
with the third officer; who relieved Mr. Phillips.
The Waratah was then four or five ships'
lengths away, crossing their bows from
port to starboard, and he noticed that she
had a list to starboard. She was heeling over
like a yacht and pitching, so that, her
propellers were frequently out of the water.
He recognised the Waratah from having been
on board her at Durban, and he was especially
interested in her, as he had two friends on board.
He continued to watch her from 8 o'clock until
half-past 9 o'clock. As the Waratah got further
ahead of them he continued to watch her, and
the list to starboard continued the whole time.
He had not sufficient experience to enable him
to say whether it was an extraordinary or
dangerous list. He could not say whether
the propeller of the Clan Macintyre was
racing when he saw the screws of the
Waratah out of the water.
Sidney Lamont's testimony is the spanner in the works of an 'improved, more stable' Waratah. It is important to note that this midshipman was not on good terms with officers and crew of the Clan MacIntyre, which might have influenced his statement - i.e. questioning Phillip's credibility. It was thus one man's word against the other's. Lamont covered himself by stating that he had not the experience to determine whether the list was dangerous or not. Let's not forget that officer Phillips referred to a 'moderate sea' and the 'wind fresh to moderate' between 4 am and 8 am. It would have been unlikely that Waratah, even in her initially top heavy condition, would have been sailing like a yacht under such circumstances. I believe Lamont was a fibber and officer Phillip's account was the one to be believed.
out of their lives, Mr. Shanks declared that there
was no truth in it whatever. On that occasion she
proved herself what he should call an ideal ship.
Off Dungeness they experienced a gale and she
Mr. Shanks was hardly going to verify claims that Waratah 'took a very bad list' which would have reflected badly on his judgment and recommendation that Waratah was fit for her maiden voyage to Australia. He did, however, make the important comment that this was the first time a Lund liner was fitted out with coal bunkers as high up as the spar deck. Given Waratah's additional boat deck and towering navigation deck, this was uncharted waters for the Blue Anchor Line.
After her maiden voyage Captain Ilbery
told him that he had had a splendid voyage,
and that she behaved so well that be had
hardly ever had the fiddles on the tables.
He described her as a perfectly easy-going
vessel. At the end of the first voyage he
heard no complaints whatever about the
Waratah, and no repairs were needed beyond
the caulking which has to be done in the case
of practically every ship after her first voyage.
From beginning to end he had never heard
anything but praise of the Waratah from her
captain, officers, and everyone connected with
I doubt very much whether Mr. Shanks was being entirely truthful. In fact I believe he was 'over-killing' favour which lends itself to suspicion. My personal feeling is that he could have been more truthful and listed what was done to deal with the issues raised after Waratah's first voyage. I doubt whether any new steamer of the era required caulking alone after a lengthy maiden voyage between the UK and Australia. This approach was not a good ploy.
When the ship came round from Glasgow
to London on her trial trip with all her ballast
tanks full and 3,000 tons of coal in her he
assumed that the order to abstain from
putting coal on the spar deck was given
by the builders because it would interfere
with the stability of the ship, and therefore
would have been unsafe. So far as his
knowledge went it was not the case that
the decks of the Waratah were leaking when
she came home, after her first voyage. He was
quite sure that the Waratah was safely moved in
dock in Glasgow when perfectly empty before
her maiden voyage.
The above statement flew in the face of Sir William White's claim that Waratah was designed to carry as much as 600 tons of coal on her spar deck without the necessity for compensatory deadweight below. In unloaded condition (which is very different from the loaded condition when Waratah departed Durban for the last time) Waratah WAS top heavy and the builders advised that loading the spar deck would be 'unsafe'. It does not get any clearer than this despite the claims made by Sir William!!
"Not a Tender Ship."
The next evidence taken was that of Captain
Bidwell formerly marine superintendent
of the Blue Anchor line, who stated that
though he was on very friendly terms with
Captain Ilbery and many officers of the
Waratah none of them ever wrote to him
privately concerning the vessel. He was
present at the docks when she was loaded
before her first voyage, and for all practical
purposes she was upright at that time. He
was present when the Waratah arrived in
London after her maiden voyage and saw
all the officers. Captain Ilbery described her
as a first-class ship in all respects, and
expressed himself as being very well
satisfied with her. He said further that she
was a good ship for passengers, as she
did not roll heavily or quickly. The chief officer
and the engineers also expressed themselves
as being satisfied with her behaviour at sea,
and he heard no adverse criticism from any
member of the crew. No damage was reported
to him after her maiden trip. The decks required
caulking, and it was his impression that the
timber used in the boat's deck was not
properly seasoned. No bolts were broken
so far as he was aware. He did not find
anything wrong other than ordinary wear
and tear beyond what he had mentioned,
and all the boats were in good condition.
Again, overkill in defence of Waratah. Captain Bidwell did let one fact slip which had been denied by Mr. Shanks; the 'timber used in the boat's deck was not properly seasoned'. The deck in such case would have leaked and required attention over and above caulking.
He had no recollection of having made any
report as to the stability of the Waratah
compared with that of the Geelong, but he
had beard through the clerks in Messrs.
Lund's office that some doubt had been
raised as to whether the Waratah was as
stable as the Geelong. Personally he
believed she was, but he had no recollection
of having ever expressed that opinion to
Waratah was never going to be as stable as the Geelong which had a markedly reduced (comparative) superstructure component. What possessed them to pursue such claims?
The reason why the Waratah remained
in port for six weeks at the end of her
first voyage was that the arrival and
departure of the various ships might be
arranged so as to suit the best condition
for cargo and passengers. Since the loss
of the ship Mr. Lund had asked him
whether he could give any reasons why
the ship should have been lost, and
whether he was doubtful of her in any
way, and he replied in the negative, and
that be had Captain Ilbery's private
opinion as to how the ship acted. He
had also understood from Mr. Owen, the
chief officer, that the Waratah was a
thoroughly good, steady, sea-going ship,
and he had never heard that the crew
were dissatisfied with the Waratah, nor
that a number of them had said they
would not sail in her again. Captain Ilbery
had never spoken to witness about the
Waratah as being a tender ship, and
personally he adhered to the opinion
that she was not a tender ship.
This denial of Waratah's inherent top heaviness was never going to serve the Blue Anchor Line's case well.
"Mum's the Word."
Mr. Humphreys, who was third mate on
the steamer Tottenham. gave some evidence
in startling conflict with that tendered by
the captain and chief engineer of that
vessel prior to the adjournment. He said
that in August of 1909, when in the neighbor-
hood of the place where the Wuratah was
last heard of he saw in the water what
appeared to him to he two bodies, face
downward, at a distance of about 20
yards, and farther on two other bodies
also face downward, with gulls perched on
the back of the heads. Then he saw what
he took to be a bed and also a sheep floating
just below the surface. Owing to stress of weather
the Tottenham put in at Simon's Bay,
where an officer belonging to one of the
warships there asked whether they had
seen any bodies or wreckage. Acting under
the orders of the captain, be was told to
say that they had passed nothing. He had
never said that the objects which he saw
in the water were sunfish or skate.When
the officer came on the bridge, in conse-
quence of what witness reported, the vessel
was puf about, but it was not suggested
that they should lower a boat and examine
the objects more closely.,
When they turned round they saw the
objects again, and he was convinced that
they were the bodies of two men. He
could see the bodies, arms, legs, feet, and
heads, distinctly. The only things he could
not see were the hands. The captain of the
Tottenham did not know what they were,
and in witness' opinion the captain did
not want to know.
Mr. Humphreys flatly contradicted the
chief engineer's statement that the sea was
rough at the time, or that there was a stiff
wind blowing, or any condition present
that would have rendered it difficult or
dangerous to lower a boat. The matter
had been discussed later, and the captain
had given instructions to witness and
others that they were to say they had not
seen anything, if asked the Question, be-
cause "it might cause friction."
Mr. Curtis, who was an apprentice on the
Tottenham at the same time, said he saw
what appeared to be a human body clothed
in red float by. The captain said it was a
serious matter, and must be investigated,
and the ship was put back, but nothing was
seen. He never heard the master say any-
thing to the effect that they must "keep
their mouths shut" regarding what they
had seen, but when pressed Mr. Curtis ad-
mitted \that when his ship reached Mel-
bourne on the next voyage the captain told
him not to say anything of what he had
seen, "as it might cause friction in the
town." He also told him on the evening
the objects\were seen not to say too much
about it, as it might cause a lot of trouble
in the papers.
Even Mr. Curtis acknowledged that the crew were instructed to 'keep their mouths shut', confirming the significance of the sightings. The bodies sighted off the Great Fish river by the crew of the Tottenham and off the Mbashe river by the crew of the Insizwa (and Director), confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that Waratah had to have gone down at some position northeast of the Mbashe river - due to the southwestward direction of the prevailing Agulhas current.