"Back in the 1800s, ships had to be warned about the presence of 3 shallow reefs to the north-east of the lighthouse location. These undersea outcrops have taken a number of victims, including an iron schooner called the Waterloo (1848), the steamer SS Kilbrennan (1907) and the SS Caribou in 1928."
BOT Wreck Report for 'Kilbrennan', 1907
Board of Trade
Out of copyright
IN the matter of a formal investigation held at Port Elizabeth on the 15th and 16th days of April, 1907, before C. G. H. BELL, Esquire, Resident Magistrate, assisted by Captain A. WILLIAMSON and Captain P. F. BLAKE, into the circumstances attending the wreck of the British steamship "KILBRENNAN" on the 28th March, 1907, at a spot named Riet Point between seven and eight miles east of Port Alfred, Cape Colony.
Report of Court.
The "Kilbrennan" was an iron steamship 2331 tons register; built in Glasgow during 1903.
She carried a crew of thirty men, all told, James King Wilson being master, with an ordinary certificate No. 023039. She left the Port of Barry, Wales, on the 26th February, 1907, laden with coal, for Diego Suarez, Madagascar. The vessel was well found in all respects and properly manned. All went well with her until 3.45 a.m. on the 28th March, 1907, when Bird Island was abeam, distance four miles. The course at this time was altered by the master's orders to E. 1/4 S., which, according to the chart, was perfectly safe. The first officer, who relieved the watch at 4 a.m., kept this course until 5 a.m., when by cross bearing he found the ship to be four miles off the land. He then steered E. 1/2 N. on his own initiative to bring her on to the course laid down by the master. The compass error at this period was ascertained to be 23 degrees W.
He continued on the course until 8 a.m., when the land was three miles distant, and then came on to the bridge and judged the land to be three miles off, and this estimate is supported by all the witnesses from the ship. At 8.5 the vessel struck, her head at that time being E. 1/4 S., the course the master had set. No broken water was visible near the ship, nor any indication of danger. She immediately began to fill. She was headed for the shore, and twenty-five minutes after she struck, sank in ten and a-half fathoms of water. The crew took the boats and were all saved but four; these men went back to the forecastle for their clothes and were unable to return when the bows sank.
The Court is of opinion that E. 1/4 S., three miles from the Coast, was a safe and proper course so far as shown by the chart. The use of the lead is deemed not to have been necessary, seeing that the morning was clear and the vessel was a safe distance from the land. Proper precautions were taken to verify the ship's position and compass errors, and the ship was navigated in a skilful and in a seamanlike manner. After hearing the evidence of local experts on the dangerous nature of the locality and the history of shipping disasters in this locality, the Court is of opinion that the loss of the ship is due to her having struck an uncharted danger, and on these grounds exonerate the master and officers of blame, and return the master's certificate to him.
The loss of life the Court attributes to the four men having ventured to the forecastle to get their clothes, contrary to the orders of their officers, and they went down in the forecastle when the bows of the ship went under.
CHARLES G. H. BELL,
Master s.s. "Clan Cumming,"
PERCY F. BLAKE,
Master s.s. "Illovo,"
16th April, 1907.
The Court wishes to place on record that the evidence in this case has conclusively proved that the Admiralty chart does not show existing dangers in the vicinity of Riet Point, and recommends that a survey should be held of this part of the coast as soon as possible.
There are some schools of thought postulating that Waratah came to the same grief off this reef or even further down, off the reef at Cape St. Francis. IF Waratah had still been on track this far down the coast she would have been some 20 miles offshore with a storm approaching from the southwest. Such hypotheses hold no water when it comes to explaining the bodies off the Bashee and Great Fish rivers.
There is one interesting point to glean from the account involving the Cariboo. The report states that she struck the reef, but did NOT ground, but floated off, ultimately sinking in 25 fathoms. If the Harlow account is true there is a possibility that due to confusion caused by carbon monoxide poisoning (fire and smoke) the Waratah struck the St John Reef (Bluff Point) in much the same way, foundering at a point some 0.5 miles out in 20 fathoms (approximately 38 m), as witnessed by Captain Bruce.