Monday, 19 June 2017

HOAX.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Saturday 5 February, 1910.

THE WARATAH.
MESSAGE FROM THE SEA.
IS IT A HOAX?
Melbourne, February 4.
While walking along the beach two miles
from Prospect Reserve, Sale, this after-
noon Mr. J. W. MacLachlan. M.L.A.,
picked up a bottle containing the following 
message, which is undated:-

''Thrown overboard while the steamer Waratah is
sinking fast. Latitude 48 east (the "eight" is not very clear), 
longitude L 30 south.- J. Milburn."

(Harlow coordinates: 31 deg. 38 min. south and longitude
29 deg. 55 min. east.)
The bottle was a large-sized beer bottle,
and the message is written on thin white
writing paper. It was folded once, and
the edges were torn and discolored. The
message was written in lead pencil, and the
writing is fine and clear. The locality indicated 
by this message would place the
missing ship about 600 miles south-west of
Victoria. The lists of those on board
which have been published from time to
time do not disclose the name J. Milburn.
There was a W. Milburn on board, but
he landed at Durban.


Most of the hoax bottle messages were signed names with no connection to the Waratah. In this case a Mr. William Milburn was on board and landed at Durban, as reported:


The passengers on the Waratah included Messrs. HaroldGrigg and William Milburn, who till recently resided at Long Gully. They are both young men, and left for South Africa. Milburn played with the California football team early in the present season, and Grigg acted as one of the trainers.


The message was not dated and if one plots the coordinates on Google Earth we get:






The coordinates are interesting in that the marker roughly indicates a position en-route from Adelaide to Durban. If one is suspicious of the comment that the number 'eight' was difficult to make out, what would the lowest figure 'zero' give us?






Closer still to Durban and the final moments.

Perhaps someone on board during the passage across to Durban used Milburn's name and wrote the message? Whoever wrote the message might have thought it a lark at the time, but ironically might have remained on board beyond Durban. There was nothing amusing about the fate of the Waratah and her 211 souls, exacerbated by a complete absence of concrete facts as to why, where and when. Bottle messages such as this had a particularly cruel barb and there appears to have been a craze throwing bottle messages into the sea during the early 1900's. Tragedies at sea were sometimes regarded in the press as 'thrilling'. Present day commentators are careful to report tragedies with delicately selected words of sensitivity, but the graphic visual details played out over and over on TV are not very different and remind us of the dark side of humankind's fascination with tragedy - as long as it is someone else's misfortune. 


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