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.

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