Monday, 12 June 2017


The Argus (Melbourne) Saturday 30 May, 1903.

SYDNEY, Friday.
The steamer Oakland, a well-known
coastal trader, belonging to the North
Coast Steam Navigation Company, 
foundered off Cabbage Tree Island, a little to
the north of Port Stephens at half-past 4
on Wednesday morning and 11 members
of her crew were drowned. 
The Oakland left Newcastle early on
Wednesday morning with a general cargo
for the northern rivers She had a crew
of 17 and one passenger aboard. Soon
after she got outside the wind began to
blow very hard from the south, raising a
heavy sea. The Port Stephens light was
abeam at a quarter past 3 o clock and the
steamer appears to have been struck by a
heavy sea which caused her to list to
port which gradually increased (cargo shifting ?)
It is thought that the captain was making an
effort to reach Port Stephens for shelter.
The vessel however became unmanageable
and the side of the steamer was nearly
buried in seething waters.  When the crew
tried to launch the starboard lifeboat it was
stove in, but the 18 persons who were on
board it succeeded in clinging to it.

One assumes that lifeboats = safe evacuation. In reality this was seldom the case in circumstances outlined above.
The vessel foundered in a minute or two

This could have been the scenario describing the last moments of Waratah.

She suddenly plunged and disappeared 
head foremost in a terrifying manner. Flames 
from her engineroom belched from her funnel 
and as her stern reared for the final plunge the 
screw shrieked and raced madly in midair.

Apart from distress signals and explosions this remains a feasible explanation for the two distinct flashes of light seen by the crew of the Harlow.
Owing to the numbers clinging to the
boat she capsized. Several of the crew
disappeared, and others were washed off
the overturned boat by the seas which
swept clean over her. Those who were
more fortunate were successful in righting
the boat but some went mad and others
died silently from exhaustion.

Tragically, so often the outcome of crises such as this.
The Oakland was built at Dunbarton in
1890. She was a steel screw steamer of
70 horse power with a gross tonnage of 398
tons. She was 154ft long 24ft broad and
10ft in depth. Her rating at Lloyds
was 100 A1.
A previous misfortune to the Oakland
occurred in August 1901, when in bad
weather she went ashore on the breakwater
north of the Richmond River,  receiving
serious damage.  A large hole was knocked
in her bottom and six weeks elapsed before
she could be floated. A considerable sum
had to be spent in repairs before the Oakland 
could again be put in commission.

One wonders if latent residual damage contributed to the catastrophe.


John Howes, the second mate said the
captain had asked him to go below and
get some sleep. He turned in and was
wakened by a bag falling on his face. He
found that the vessel had taken a tremendous 
list. Rushing up the companian way
half dressed, he heard the captain calling 
all hands on deck. The water was then flush
with the deck. He assisted to get the life
boat out. Owing to the angle of the
steamer's deck nothing could be done with
the port lifeboat (reality). A tremendous sea was
running and as they launched the boat a
belaying pin was stove through the bottom,
and the ropes had lo be cut in order to free
her. The boat at once filled but the 18
souls who were on board the doomed
steamer succeeded in clinging to the gunwal
of the boat. Four, however, were quickly washed 
off and just as the steamer sank he thought that 
not more than 14 were holding on to her. 
The Oakland had such a terrible list that as the 
boat was shoved off the Iower portion of the 
funnel was submerged. A few moments later 
the steamer took a plunge head foremost. 
It was a terrifying spectacle as the flames burst
from the funnel and the screw raced violently in 
the air just before the hull suddenly disappeared.

Could similar final images as these have been witnessed by those from the Waratah who were doomed to perish ?

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