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?????

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