Saturday, 10 June 2017


Other Matters of Comment. 

A good deal of conflicting evidence was given as to the condition of the boats. The Court does not accept as authentic the loose accounts given by some of the Colonial deponents of the boats' rotten and useless state, but it does appear that they were not in a satisfactory seaworthy condition on the first voyage, for in an account rendered by Messrs. Lund to Messrs. Barclay, Curle on the 5th May, 1909, appears an item, "Labour employed to make boats good and watertight on saloon boat deck (caused by unseasoned wood shrinking at butts and seams. The emigration officer, Captain Clarke, reports unfavourably of these boats)." 

The boats appear to have been put into good condition before the ship sailed on her second voyage, or they would not have been passed by Captain Clarke, as in fact they were. 

Let us not forget that this was the same Captain Clarke who allowed an excess of about 400 emigrants to depart British waters on the Waratah, destined for Australia, half way round the world. Why did he allow the boats on the maiden voyage if they were 'unfavourable'? This same Captain Clarke did not question the vast quantity of alcohol which would eventually find itself inside a great many of these emigrants. Alcohol consumption by emigrants on board ships was prohibited under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. One is forced to ask the question: did W. Lund (Board of Lloyd's Register and Chairman of the Classification Committee) have undue influence over the emigration officer? Would it then not have been the duty of Captain Ilbery to 'put his foot down' or was he obliged to take Waratah out under these circumstances because he was, at the end of the day, an employee subject to instructions from his boss??

Whether the boats had been repaired to standard, with or without the employment of green wood etc etc etc, or mobilisation from the chocks improved, I do not believe they would have been much use in the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Waratah - she went down very quickly. Launching lifeboats safely was a very difficult business under the best of circumstances and certainly not feasible if the steamer was listing significantly and/or the seas rough.

The fire gear on this ship was all new and presumably in good condition. But no fire drill ever seems to have been carried out. The Court is aware that fire drill is held on most large passenger ships, and strongly urges on the owners of others where it is not adopted the necessity of accustoming the crew to the use of fire gear. Fire drill not only serves the purpose of practising the men in the performance of their duties in emergency, but shows whether the hose and other appliances are in good working order, and reassures passengers by showing them that attention is paid to the matter. 

This is a very important closing passage. One's immediate reaction is that of indignation - negligence on the part of the crew of the Waratah. Undoubtedly fire and boat drills should routinely have been held during the Waratah's four major voyages. Today, it is enforced by laws governing ships at sea, but back in 1909, it was in reality, seldom practiced. I have found a great number of anecdotal cases where fire and boat drills on large passenger vessels were not routinely practiced, including the greatest of all sea tragedies, Titanic. Furthermore it was believed, both in the case of Waratah and Titanic, that the double bottom and water tight compartments made the liners virtually 'unsinkable'. Regular carrying out of boat and fire drills would have sent an ambiguous message to sensitive first class passengers that the captain did not have much faith in his vessel. Drills that were practiced also alarmed passengers who assumed that there must be something terribly wrong with the steamer, creating unnecessary panic. In the case of Titanic the crew, even though no drills had been practiced, conducted the safe launching of most of her lifeboats. When it came to the crunch, most crews under the strong leadership of their master could carry out these duties as reasonably as could be expected under dire circumstances. But the point is not lost, in the course of improving safety at sea drills needed to be enforced and this was certainly the case after the loss of the Titanic. 

Also remember that a bunker fire broke out on Waratah's maiden voyage, which was dealt with professionally and effectively by crew.

No comments: