Friday, 26 May 2017


Kalgoorie Western Argus, 14 December, 1909.

Melbourne, Dec. 10.

The question of the stability of
missing steamer Waratah was
again before the Marine Board 
today. The secretary read a 
report from acting Shipping 
Inspector Goodham who stated 
that he was on the vessel on 
June 30 and that his visit was 
not intended to be in his capacity 
as acting Inspector of Shipping; 
it not having been intimated to 
him that the vessel required 

This was not a good start! As with all steamers which had gone to watery grave, the level of paranoia regarding potential liability was high, no doubt inducing Mr. Goodham to make this blatant excuse from the outset of the investigation. The fact, if it be true, that Waratah did not require 'attention', implies that she was viewed as a normal steamer requiring only a cursory, routine inspection, which is in itself a positive sign. 

At the time of his visit the vessel 
was lying perfectly upright, and 
there was nothing to lead him to 
believe that there was at that time 
any want of stability, no suspicion 
of any such want intimated to him 
by anyone on board. 

This statement seems perfectly plausible and goes against allegations that officers on Waratah were in a state of panic and desperation, hastily taking out insurance policies and claiming that Waratah would be a 'coffin for somebody'.  

Mr. A. Agnew said an inspector 
should see that every ship left 
port in perfectly seaworthy 
condition. It ought not to be 
necessary for anything to be 
referred to him before he saw
it. It seemed from his report
that, unless his attention was
drawn to something, he need 
not bother to look for it.

I agree, very damning indeed. 

Mr. H. Belfrage (seamen's 
representative) said that there 
should be no doubt about the 
seaworthiness of the ship
when she left this port; 
otherwise she would never 
have traveled a distance that 
took her 21 or 22 days. She 
was alright when she arrived
in Durban.

Fair enough point as long as the ship was not confronted with extreme conditions at sea. Waratah survived a significant storm whilst departing Australian waters, which further strengthens this point.

Mr. J. M. Corby (engineer): She
was no lame duck when she left

Well that's a pretty expressive way of giving Waratah the all-clear.

Mr. D. Y. Syme (shipowner): We
recognise the certificate of the
Board of Trade and other marine
boards in the British possessions.
Waratah held a Board of Trade
certificate. She was passed by the
Board of Trade officers, as well as
Lloyd's. Everything connected with
her stability or strength or suitability
for the work for which she was 
intended was done when she was 
being dealt with.

Fair enough except for the possibility that Mr. William Lund held undue influence over the Board of Trade and reminding ourselves that Waratah departed (cleared) London on her maiden voyage with far too many emigrants on board, in excess of the stipulations set out by the Act. She was also a larger vessel than specified by her registered classification. How valid this certificate was at the end of the day remains in the realm of speculation.

Our Inspector could not make any
report than what he had. He does
not wait for instructions from here
to examine any vessel. To go into
the 'whole question' of stability
connected with the ship we have 
not the appliances here."

So, if there had been complaints that Waratah, at this late stage, was unstable, there were no means available to confirm or reject the allegations. An overall indictment on the quality of steamer inspections at Australian ports during 1909. This certainly did not help the case in favour of a seaworthy steamer.

After further discussion the 
president said that the board had 
no complaint against the ship while 
she was here. There was a provision 
in the Act by which, if any two or 
more members of a crew complained
of anything, the board should inquire
into it. 

This is a very important point and confirms that NONE of the officers on Waratah complained about her stability - or perhaps they were loyal to their master and the Blue Anchor Line, keeping mum. If complaints had been made Waratah would most certainly have been detained in port with far-reaching ramifications.

The inspector had seen the
ship in first-class order. There was
nothing unusual in her appearance.
He had done all that was expected
of him. If any complaints had been 
made against the ship directly or 
indirectly, the board would have
taken action. and the inspector 
would have been specially
instructed to look into it.

I tend to agree with this overall statement and can quite believe that by this stage there was NOTHING adverse to report about Waratah.

Agnew said that notwithstanding
what had been said, it was un-
satisfactory to him as a member 
of the board. A vessel might be 
safe at one port and not at another. 
Had the inspector the right to inspect 
a vessel unless his attention was 
called to a faulty condition? They
ought to be perfectly satisfied that
the inspector's duties were properly
carried out.

Good point, born out by Waratah's GM variability between ports and voyages. One may assume that during her worst moments of stability issues she was given the all-clear by just such an inspector. But there again, as many experts testified at the Inquiry, although Waratah was top heavy during her maiden voyage, this was not necessarily dangerously so. Professor Bragg referred to her as comfortable and steady.

Mr. Currie: We have given you too
much latitude, and I think I should
rule you out of order. If you are so
emphatic about extra surveillance
and care, the wisest course of action
would be for you to bring the matter
forward by a motion so that it might
be discussed. I think it is out of place
to reflect on the inspector now.


Finally it was decided "That a reply
be sent to the request of the
Commonwealth Government stating
that the Waratah held a Board of
Trade passengers' certificate, which
was undoubted evidence that she was
fit in every way for the safe carriage
of passengers and crew, and the
surveyor had no reason to question
this or anything he saw."

On the surface this was indeed a valid point. End of discussion (for now).

It might serve us well to be reminded of expert opinions when Waratah departed Australia for the last time, bound for Durban:

Fix this tex

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