Friday, 12 May 2017


The Advertiser, Adelaide, 10 December 1909.

To the Editor.
Sir - I was much interested and amused
at "An ex-Steward's Story," which appeared 
in your issue of November 26, and
I have been awaiting the appearance of
the opinions of old experienced salts
against the allegations set forth by Mr.
Merry, a mason, at Cowell, who worked
his passage out in the Waratah as steerage
steward. Seemingly, however they have
deemed Mr. Merry s statements too 
ridiculous. It seems strange that so long as a
ship keeps afloat she is considered a good
seaboat, but the moment an accident occurs, 
we hear numerous tales of her sluggish 
movements in heavy seas and of her
unseaworthiness generally, of course in-
variably from those who know next to 
nothing about sea life. One thing is certain, 
the Waratah would never have been
allowed to pass out of the dockyard
(Royal Albert) into the Thames with a
dangerous list either to port or starboard,
and at sea the commander would (in the
event of any heavy list) consult with the
chief engineer, who would then transmit
his orders to the second engineer, who
would certainly see personally (even after
giving his orders to the head stoker) that
the coal in the bunkers or bunker alley-
ways, was consumed and kept trimmed to
avoid such list. Take any steamer like
the Waratah and place say 3,000 to 4,000
tons of deadweight cargo in the orlop deck
and lower hold. Put her in a high, confused 
sea and if one were, to stand right aft and 
watch the movements of the vessel, one 
would be astonished at the "give and-take" 
motion, and would be further astonished at 
the corkscrew fashion in which she rights 
herself. I have witnessed this many times 
in the Indian Ocean during the monsoon, 
also in the Bay of Bengal and China Sea, 
not to forget the dreaded Bay of Biscay. It 
is a ridiculous statement that the purser 
called the chief fireman to his office to 
ascertain what bunker he was taking coal 
from. As the list was positively outside the 
purser's department I can only conclude 
that he was "pulling the chief fireman's leg." 
On the vessel's arrival at Port Adelaide on 
her maiden voyage I (knowing one of the 
officers, who was an old shipmate in my 
apprentice days) went aboard, and I had the
pleasure of meeting the purser, who did not
give me the impression of being a man to
commit any breach of dignity. The officers
whom I conversed with spoke very highly
of the vessel in every way and I thought
myself that I would risk any sea with her
beneath me. Mr. Merry states that he had
to swab up overflow water from a bath
every day. What on earth was the bath
doing half full of water all day long? If the
Waratah'was the highest vessel out of the
water in the Royal Albert dock, London,
it was because she was the only one there.
What about the Atlantic Transport line
and the Brit:sh India and New Zealand
Shipping Companies' lines? Surely they
have not, like the P. & O. Company, 
departed from the Royal Albert dock. 
Mr. Merry thought the weight in the ship
badly adjusted. This is all "bunkum" for
the stevedores in London are world-famed
in the stowage of all cargoes, and together
with the officers, they would, see that the
ship was stowed properly. I have sailed as
navigation officer, and owing to a defect in
eyesight put in a few years as purser; so I
am familiar with the game and can play it.
The Waratah incident is one to be deplored,
but if, as it is feared, she has found a resting
place at the bottom of the deep, my contention 
is (and always was) that she struck a derelict 
wreck - the sailor's greatest foe and went 
straight under, the current running down
the African coast carrying the wreckage out 
of the usual liners course. She may, of course, 
have had an accident with her boilers, but this 
theory is not readily accepted by seafaring men.
I am,

After all the hysteria and insistence that Waratah was looking for a disaster to happen, we have this example (of many) illustrating what the true experts (seafaring men) had to say about the disappearance of the Waratah. We know that Waratah was top heavy during her initial voyage, and the acclaimed Professor Bragg estimated that her GM was zero, causing the flagship to come to a position of equilibrium in a list. We know that her significant top hamper, three decks, towering navigation bridge and prominent funnel contributed to wind catchment and the low GM, but we also know that Waratah completed a voyage of some 9179 nautical miles from London to Sydney in good time and without mishap. Yes, Captain Ilbery and his officers were concerned about Waratah's top heaviness and adjustments needed to be made, finally improving the GM to 1.5 - 1.7 ft. by the final voyage. Mr. Shellback did not even consider the possibility that Waratah turned turtle in the storm of 'exceptional violence' 28 July, 1909. And yet present day commentators insist that Waratah was top heavy during her final passage down the South African coast and must have gone over in the storm. Mr. Shellback's contention was that the heavily laden Waratah must have struck an object (most likely half-submerged wreckage) and 'went straight under'. He, also, calmly explained that wreckage would be carried by the powerful Agulhas Current rather than ending up onshore - apart from a few items, documented in previous posts. Officer Phillips of the Clan MacIntyre was quite right in his observations that there was nothing outwardly wrong with Waratah. When all is said and done, we have to remember the words of the true experts from the era.

I think it is fitting to repeat a previous post, which reinforces the power of hysteria, AFTER THE FACT:


There are very few accounts of the Waratah 'experience' before the disaster of July 27, 1909. Looking back in time we are overwhelmed by the extent of dramatic accounts labeling Waratah unseaworthy. Waratah was flawed and I have devoted many posts to this subject, but she was not unique (circa 1909) in terms of limitations, particularly by modern standards. Exaggeration dominated newspaper reports and the Inquiry. Mrs. Agnes Grant Gosse Hay was a wealthy woman who voyaged frequently between Australia and England. She enjoyed first class comforts and could have selected any number of alternative steamers and shipping lines to make her voyages. But she chose the Blue Anchor Line. This is what Mrs. Hay had to say about the flagship:   

Maiden voyage: 

'Here we are steaming along in the large new
Blue Anchor liner, with a head wind, and
yet practically little or no motion is experienced. 
The reason of this steadiness is not only due 
to the 10,000 tons burthen of the Waratah, 
but also to her construction.'

Mrs. Hay was not a fool. She acknowledged the importance of dead weight to enhance steadiness in a steamer with three superstructure decks.

When I first saw the new steamer
at Tilbury, the idea was that she would
prove a great roller, owing to the height of
her many decks above the water-level. The
lowest of these, for first-class passengers,
is one deck higher than the spar deck on
the P. & 0. steamers, and the promenade
deck, which also has extensive cabin 
accommodation, is the same height as the
boat deck on most of the ocean steamers.

Mrs. Hay gives us an important insight into the comfort factor on steamers. She is in fact referring to a reduced GM which created a more comfortable rolling pattern, but importantly, with no reference to dangerous instability. 

The apparent top-heaviness of the Waratah 
appears to have no effect on the easy passage 
of the steamer through the water, as
it is counteracted by her breadth of beam.

A further reference to an essentially acceptable steamer and she was quite right about beam. Geelong's beam was 54.5 ft. (two decks) vs. Waratah's 59.45 ft. (three decks). 

Having travelled three times in the
Geelong one naturally compares the two
steamers, and the conclusion arrived at is
that the lofty build of the Waratah does
not cause any excess of motion, but that
this is if anything less in her than in the

Take a moment to digest these words from an unbiased source. Passengers desired the rolling pattern of steamers with reduced GM. While some passengers were reduced to hysterics and panic by the persistent list, Mrs. Hay remained unmoved and content.

Voyage from Australia to Durban, July, 1909.

"I am sitting on the deck of this finesteamer trying to write a few lines to youto post at Durban. We have had, onthe whole, a fine-weather passage, thoughthrough the Bight, or rather, I shouldsay, across the mouth of it, we had, as usual, some stiff blows, which came to a climax when rounding the Leeuwin. It is very seldom that portion of Australia does not give its final kick, and it gave us a pretty good specimen of what it can do. The captain said he was sure the mail boat would make much worse weather than we did." 
What an extraordinary insight into the mystery. Captain Ilbery referred to the mail boat 'making much worse weather' than Waratah. Despite arguments to the contrary, Captain Ilbery was satisfied with Waratah's overall stability on her final voyage. There were problems but Captain Ilbery had made the best out of a troubled steamer. "Nothing can exceed the comfort of this steamer, both as regards her cabin and build, and also the attention of the captain and all the attendants on board. I have only to hint at a want, and it is at once supplied.'
A reference for the much-maligned steamer does not come any better than this. Mrs. Hay made it clear why she chose to sail on Blue Anchor Line flagships - they provided exactly what first class passengers desired.
"The Waratah is certainly a splendid vessel. I don't want to sleep on shore tomorrow night, but they say the coaling may be very unpleasant.'
Mrs. Hay was so satisfied with Waratah she did not want to 'sleep on shore'. Do not (including myself) forget these words when looking for every small detail of Waratah's short-comings. It is all so very easy to find fault, 

courtesy Turners Shipping

No comments: