Monday, 3 July 2017

'MUCH DOUBT'.

The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, Thursday 23 September, 1909. 

There is much doubt as to whether
the Waratah (now 52 days overdue)
was ever spoken after she left Durban.
The statement was made by an officer
of the Union Castle liner Guelph that he
sighted the Waratah on the evening of July 27

If ever there was a shadow cast over the Guelph account it must be this. The very officer who reported the now infamous 'TAH' signal exchange, refuted his own account with the words, 'much doubt'. One wonders why he presented the information to the public if he had 'much doubt'. Perhaps he was encouraged to share his 'doubt', creating a lasting impression - implying Waratah was still on course at 9.50 pm, 27 July. 

Let's quickly review: Waratah was alleged to have been sighted some 5 miles out from the Guelph, off East London, roughly 8 hours behind schedule. It would have been extremely unlikely that Waratah, with mechanical problems (hence behind schedule), would have been so close to shore with a storm of 'exceptional violence' building from the southwest. Furthermore, the Clan MacIntyre would most certainly have overhauled her under these circumstances and more importantly sighted her for the second time. By deduction the account was deeply flawed.

However, if the account were true, or suggested to the public that it were true, it would have established that Waratah was on course, albeit behind time, and that she must either have foundered in the storm of 'exceptional violence' at a position further to the southwest or was adrift. Both scenarios would likely steer a future Inquiry into the realm of 'perils of the sea' - no aspersions cast on the steamer, crew and more importantly, owners. 

Without this account the public and all concerned with Waratah would have been forced to pay more attention to the controversial Harlow account. This had to be avoided at all costs:

- Another fire - what measures, if any, had been taken by the owners after the fire in December 1908 to prevent a recurrence? 
- Lights disappearing within minutes pointed to a heavily laden steamer, well beyond that which was lamely presented to the Inquiry. 
- Explosions, raising questions surrounding the exact details of cargo carried and the horror of what passengers and crew were subjected to.

And then there is the burning issue of widely hinted gold on board and salvage possibilities (36.6 m / 20 fathoms is diveable). How do we know for sure that the site off Poenskop was not visited in coming months (years) and valuable cargo salvaged - bypassing the tricky question of insurance and the embarrassment of transporting large quantities of Commonwealth gold on board a troubled steamer.

Having said this, it was very difficult for divers, circa 1909, to work at depths beyond 100 ft.  = 16.6 fathoms, although it was theoretically possible . Waratah, lying at 20 fathoms, was just beyond this limit. Perhaps, if the above be true, those in the know were waiting for technology to improve before tackling salvage at 20 fathoms - and then came the Great War......

The RMS Republic case has clearly shown that valuable gold could be and was transported in secret, circa 1909, utilizing commercial steamers.




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