Friday, 30 June 2017


The Argus (Melbourne) Wednesday 11 August, 1909.

Mr O. C. Beale commented on the maiden voyage:

'Captain Ilbery', says Mr. Beale 'is a watchful, earnest and cool commander, who maintains excellent discipline without a display of authority. His Chief Officer, Mr. Owen, was considered by his colleagues to be an exceptionally accurate and careful navigator. Chief Engineer Hodder himself received the whole of the machinery when it was erected in the ship, and the entire mass was delivered in 36 hours, while she was under the sheer-legs. It is a magnificent installation throughout of the most modern type, and it worked with perfect smoothness throughout the voyage. Upon the trial of the Waratah a portion of the main steam-piping was considered by Mr Hodder to be inadequate, and it was removed on his advice, and replaced by more reliable work. During our voyage a fire broke out in one of the coal bunkers and it was subdued by the staff without flooding the bunkers, which probably have been the last resort had serious danger threatened. The Waratah carries much top hamper, because of her numerous decks far above the water, her enormous funnel, many boats, and rafts, water tanks and some few stores. Nevertheless she was very stable during the whole trip. 'Fiddles' were scarcely once required on the tables, and on my dressing-table pot plants stood the whole voyage.'

It is heartening to come across positive character references. There is a tendency in some quarters to point the finger of blame at the master and crew of Waratah. Thank you Mr. Beale for much-needed positive references.

In all the many posts on this Blog, little has been said about the copper used in the steam pipe system. Mr. Hodder recognised flaws as early as when the Waratah went on trials. It is common sense that flaws could have had catastrophic consequences. It is assumed that the problem was solved before the Waratah entered into service. But this was not the case: 

"The Waratah did have one small repair carried out here, but it was of so insignificant a character that the cost did not exceed 3 pounds 15 shillings.  Mr Booth (of R Booth and Son, engineers, Greyville), who effected the repair, as being the removal of a suction pipe from one of the auxiliary feed pipes, from what is known as the Weirs pump to the heater, which raises the temperature of the condensed water preparatory to its being fed again into the boilers."

"The job was quite a small one, and was needed owing to a fracture which having occurred in the pipe - a copper one - due to a flaw in the metal. This took place some time before the steamer's arrival in Durban, on the voyage from Australia."

The removal and replacement of the 'suction pipe' was carried out at Durban during Waratah's final voyage. The 'fracture' pointed to a flaw in the copper used in the pipe's construction. This indicates that the full extent of the problem noted by Mr. Hodder at trials, was not thoroughly attended to. It took three complete voyages for the problem to manifest. This shortcoming in construction points once again to inherent faults - relating to a limited budget? The construction of Waratah was won on tender rather than commission = cost-cutting It is not surprising to me that this issue was not raised at the Inquiry. Every effort was made to steer the Court's attention away from inherent defects in Waratah. 

Mr. Beale claimed the voyage was smooth and pot plants on the table remained in place. This statement certainly flies in the face of comments describing a list to outrageous degrees which would have had objects sliding off tables en masse. 

Returning to the Harlow account, can it be assumed that an explosion of a flawed copper pipe in the steam system was sufficient to destroy the Waratah? The following examples, of many, illustrate that although such explosions were destructive, damage was limited to crew injuries and not compromise of the steamers. I doubt whether such an event, should it have happened, would have caused what was observed astern of the Harlow.

The Advertiser, Adelaide, 29 August, 1902.

Sydney, August 28.
A shocking accident occurred this after-
noon on .Messrs. J. & A. Brown'*-,steam
collier Duckenfield, vat Hexham. A steam
pipe burst, and caused the death of two
youth»?, Frederick Lundy and John Ereund,
and injury more or less severe lo three
men, John Robinson (second engineer of
the steamer), Thomas Hore, and J. Ford.
Fix this text
Several other'men had narrow escapes.

Evening News, Sydney, 10 December, 1903

Dreadful Explosion.
A dreadful explosion, believed to have been the
bursting of a steam pipe, occurred shortly before 
10 o'clock this morning, on the Adelaide
Steamship Company's well-known steamer 
Innamincka, while that vessel was lying at the 
Colonial Sugar Refining Company's Wharf, at 
Pyrmont. One effect of the explosion was that one
Fix this text
fireman was scalded to death, and several others
were less seriously injured. It is supposed that the
explosion was the bursting of one of the steam 
pipes of the donkey boiler.


Stuart Flood said...

Itheresting. One other possiblity is that a boiler exploded. I understand that this is theretically possible for marine boilers due to thermal shock. (sudden contact of a hot boiler with freezing or very cold sea water) I dont know enough about the mechanics of ship boilers to say for other reasons such as over pressurisation, poor quality steel, stay failure or faulty safty valves which can affect fire tube boilers (locomotive boilers). In many steam railway engines there is a plug that is designed to melt and in theory stop an explosion if the top of the fire box becomes exposed I understand however that this in itself is a pretty voilent event.

andrew van rensburg said...

Thanks Stuart for your, always, constructive comment. Boiler explosions were a very real possibility when a steamer went down. It is interesting to note that some of the survivors from the Titanic heard what they thought must be explosions from boilers as the great liner went down - some believe they heard boilers and engines coming loose from their beds and crashing through the holds - and others, yet, believe the sounds came from Titanic breaking in two. I wonder if Waratah's boilers held when she went down??