Wednesday, 14 June 2017


Let's say for argument's sake that every item of flotsam discovered and claimed to originate from the Waratah, did so. Such a supposition takes us on an interesting journey. Before we start, there is the highly sensitive subject of bodies sighted adrift off East London two weeks after the Waratah failed to arrive at Cape Town. Mr. Day an officer on the Tottenham, was prepared to make a statement under oath that there were distinct bodies:

"The chief and second officers of the Tottenham stated to me and others on board the ship that they saw the body, of a little girl, and could stake their lives that it was that of a girl 10 of 12 years of age, and not fish."

"Mr. Day adds that the second engineer also stated that he saw the body of a woman and the trunk of another body close to the ship. The seas were running mountains high when the Tottenham was proceeding on her voyage."

"The sea at the time was very high. When off East London the incidents already described took place. Mr. Day says he pointed out to the officers an albatross sitting on something, and the steamer was brought round to make an examination, which fully convinced him that the object on which the bird as perched was the trunk of a body, with the arms and legs missing."

"Mr. Day says that strict injunctions were given on the Tottenham to say nothing of the affair, and that he overheard the apprentice, by request, give an account of what he had seen to a gentleman whom he believed to be the agent of the Tottenham."

"Let me remark," added Mr. Day, "lest people think I might bear prejudice against anyone, that such suggestions, if they are made, are absolutely incorrect. I deny any prejudice, and any statement I have made here I am prepared to make on oath. My reason for making this statement now is that, while I was on the vessel, orders were given to keep the thing quiet, and now I am off the vessel I am free to speak my mind as regard to what I saw and what others on the ship told me they saw. I have clean discharges from and credentials from all ships on which I have served."

Let us proceed with the alleged items relating to the Waratah:

1. Local 'natives' attempted to sell a lifebuoy from the Waratah to a 'white' trader, claiming that it was found at the mouth of the Bashee River. Date unknown (probably August / September, 1909 

2. 15 September, 1909, a fisherman at Swartvlei, near George, discovered a portion of a steam pipe covering. It was free of barnacles and weeds, suggesting that it had not been in the water for too long. 

3. November, 1909, charred wreckage was discovered at Port Alfred. There were no reports of missing steamers, during that time frame, apart from the Waratah. 

4. January, 1910 - a lifebuoy discovered near Fremantle, Western Australia. The letters 'W'; 'A'; 'H' made out. ( A lifebuoy, by virtue of its function, has the advantage of speed with prevailing currents. 

5. A large, white lifeboat, partially submerged and covered in marine growth, sighted on January 2, 1910, by the ship Tomoana, and again by the Thistleroy, January 23, 1910, further out, roughly off the Agulhas Bank, heading in southerly direction.

6. 3 March, 1910 - a cushion marked with the letter 'W' and a hatchway, discovered at Mossel Bay.

7. 25 March, 1910 - a twin-screw steamer's notice board discovered between Flinder's Bay jetty and Cape Leeuwin LIghthouse.

8. "A deck chair bearing a passenger's name, and 'SS Waratah' was picked up on the foreshore at Coffee Bay on Thursday, November 3, 1910."

9. 19 December, 1911 - section of a lifeboat discovered on the shores of Kangaroo Island - it consisted of a top streak of a boat, of teak, with portions attached of two lower streaks of Baltic pine. The boat was copper-fastened, painted white, with a moulding under the top streak. Portion of name visible; 'S.S. W.' and an 'A'. The wreckage was covered with barnacles. 

10. 28 December, 1911 - a barnacle-encrusted lifebuoy from the Waratah discovered on the west coast of New-Zealand.  

11. Scantling seen, but not investigated by the crew of the Sabine, during a 3 month search of the Indian Ocean, late, 1909. Could this have been yet a further object from the lost Waratah? 

12. July, 1939, baulks of sea-worm timber were discovered at the Kei Mouth, claimed by experts to be wreckage of the Waratah. 

This list illustrates a significant number of objects from a ship which allegedly disappeared without a trace. The sequence of events roughly traces the various items of flotsam which started a journey at a location northeast of Coffee Bay. The prevailing Agulhas Current carried the items of variable weight and buoyancy southwest, tracking a course along the South African coast until the current retroflected off the Agulhas Bank, heading south until merging with the general Antarctic Circumpolar Current heading east, back to Australia and New Zealand. 

1 comment:

Mole said...

Intriguing to think that bits of the Waratah might have been carried by the ocean back to the Antipodes.