Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Port Adelaide, circa 1909

It has been quoted that John McDiarmid, pilot, Port Adelaide, confirmed that Waratah was top heavy when she departed Australian waters for the last time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A. 11. 

John McDiarmid.

Licensed Pilot

Holds a master's certificate, and has had 30 years' experience at sea.

I was pilot to the "Waratah" inwards and outwards on her last voyage inwards. Took charge of her 2 miles to the southward of the Port Adelaide Lighthouse and berthed her at the Ocean Steamers Wharf, Port Adelaide. She had the assistance of a tug which was placed right ahead all the way to assist at the bends in the river. Her draught, as recorded by me after berthing, was 25 feet 8 inches forward and 26 feet 4 inches aft. Pilotage is paid for on tonnage and not on draught. We steamed in slowly. Had no difficulty in steering the ship or otherwise.

The Waratah's draught at this point was significantly reduced, 26 ft., compared with her draught, departing Adelaide and Durban - more than 28 ft. Even in this condition with ballast tanks pumped out, Waratah was easy to manage. She was however tender at this stage.

She had a slight list to port when I boarded her, but it was very little. No remarks were made about it or anything else, except the business we had in hand. She was not down to her marks or anywhere near it when I boarded her (confirming that Waratah did have plimsoll line markings!). When going round the bends she had a tendency to list when the tug got a strain broad on the bows, caused by the action of the helm and tug combined. I would not expect this in a ship that was nearly loaded as this one was. It might be ascribed to several reasons, the principal one being that Port Adelaide being the last port and taking the heaviest cargo (flour, grain, &.),space would be left to take that cargo as low as possible. Another reason might be the starting of pumping out water prior to taking in that cargo, and a third reason might be that she was naturally a somewhat tender ship. I had had charge of the vessel before and remarked this later to the captain on the previous voyage (that would be the first voyage when stability issues were acknowledged). Do not remember what he said, but am under the impression that he agreed with me. What caused the remark was, when negotiating the turn in the cutting at Snapper Point coming up the river she rolled from side to side without any apparent cause.

Waratah was inherently tender and markedly so during her first three voyages. But changes were to come...

I boarded the vessel again as pilot to take her out of the port down to the outer harbour on the afternoon of 6th July, 1909. Had the tug "Wato" in attendance to help us off the wharf down the river and alongside the Outer Harbour Wharf. I turned the vessel on her inward trip so that she was heading down stream ready for departure. When starting the tug plucked her off from the bows to get away from the wharf and then went ahead. The ship was heavy in working and slow to answer the helm, but she had no sign of tenderness, neither did she on the way down the river or in going alongside the Outer Harbour Wharf (this is clearly a description of a heavy, deeply laden ship, rather than a top heavy, light one). The heaviness mentioned I attributed to her heavy draught going down the Port Adelaide River, which was 27 feet 9 inches on an even keel (the Waratah's heaviness was attributed to a draught less than that when she departed Durban, but was still regarded as heavy. The Waratah, when she departed the outer harbour and Durban was a VERY HEAVY ship). I put her as close as I could to the wharf and the tug then left the bow and went amidships on the starboard side and pushed her into the wharf. I left the vessel when she was made fast to the wharf. The next afternoon I returned to take her to sea. She was then drawing 28 feet 3 inches forward and 29 feet 5 inches aft (very similar to the Durban figures, which again makes sense and implies that further cargo loading made her even more GM stable). The same tug was again in attendance and plucked her off the wharf at the stern, the ship heaving off to her cable to get her bow off. She was not then down to her marks (marks, courtesy Board of Trade) . She was quite upright and stiff, and proceeded to sea as far as the Semaphore Anchorage without any difficulty or any sign that the ship was tender or that anything was wanting to make her a seaworthy vessel fit for the voyage (in this McDiarmid acknowledged that by this stage of loading, heaviest cargo lowest down, which would remain roughly unchanged through to Durban and beyond, Waratah was 'upright' and 'stiff'. This is not the description of a top heavy vessel.). I knew the master and officers only when on board the ship, and have not heard from anybody on board since I left her. I always looked upon her as a tender ship, but not to such an extent as to make her unseaworthy (illustrating the variability of tenderness - reduced and stabilised with heavy lading). Apart from my remarks to the captain about the ship rolling I never referred to the matter again, either to him or to the officers, and they never made any remarks to me as to that or the vessel's behaviour at sea. The circumstances being peculiar, i.e., the rolling, I mentioned it to some of the other pilots at the time, and they thought as I did.

It is a well-known fact that steamers loading on the Australian coast, especially in the wool season, are compelled, in order to complete their voyage with safety and stability, to keep their water ballast tanks full all the way home (Waratah had 1300 tons of lead concentrates for ballast and only about 360 tons ballast water - the balance of empty tanks were required to supply vital additional buoyancy). This, especially if a ship is inclined to be tender, renders it all the more necessary for care in loading at the ports previous to arrival at Port Adelaide in order to leave room to put the heavy cargo of this port as low down as possible. I do not know whether that was done in this case, in fact I know nothing about the loading of the "Waratah." (one can assume that this was done given Waratah's condition of 'quite upright and stiff'.)

Whether Waratah was 'inclined to be light' when she was partially loaded is irrelevant. In her fully and deeply loaded condition, she was NO LONGER tender.

It was raised at the Inquiry that Waratah's ballast tanks were empty on this leg of her voyage, contrary to the practice of 'keeping water ballast tanks full all the way home'. Full ballast tanks could never have applied to the deeply laden Waratah requiring additional buoyancy to counteract a draught that was excessive by the standards of the day for ships of this size.

The beauty of Mr. McDiarmid's professional account is that he acknowledged Waratah was inherently tender (top heavy) but that with heavy loading she was transformed into a 'quite upright, stiff' vessel. There need no more be said on the subject of Waratah being top heavy when she tackled the Wild Coast for the last time. SHE WAS NOT!!

Port Adelaide, circa 1909.

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