Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Did history, to some extent, repeat itself in 1928?

                               SS Vestris:                            SS Waratah:

gross tonnage:        10,494                                      9,339
net tonnage:            6,622                                       6,004
length:                    496 ft.                                     465 ft.
beam:                     60 ft. 6 in.                                59.2 ft.
draught:                  26 ft. 9 1/4 in. (summer)         30 ft. 4 1/2 in.
power:                    8.000 ihp                                 5,400 ihp
propulsion:             twin quadruple expansion engines
speed:                     15 knots                                  13.5 knots

The Waratah and Vestris were similarly sized cargo / passenger steamers, with prominent top hampers. Vestris did not have the elevated navigation deck, but both funnels look similar in dimension (see images below). 

Of particular interest is the data concerning Vestris' draught - 26 ft. 9 1/4 in. for summer. Compare this maximum draught with that for Waratah, 30 ft. 4 1/2 in.. Again we have another, of many examples, illustrating that Waratah's maximum draught should have been in the region of 27 ft. . Also note Vestris' power output of 8000 ihp compared with Waratah's underwhelming 5400 ihp - both deploying quadruple expansion engines.

Vestris was built by Workman, Clark & Co, Belfast, 1912. She was intended for the New York to River Plate route and completed her maiden voyage, September, 1912.

September, 1919, Vestris experienced a coal bunker fire lasting 4 days. Waratah experienced a coal bunker fire of similar duration, December, 1908, maiden voyage. Vestris was escorted to Saint Lucia, West Indies, where it took several more days to extinguish the fire.

En-route from New York to the River Plate, 11 November, 1928, with 325 passengers, the Vestris ran into a severe gale. During this time she developed a severe list to starboard alleged to be, in part, due to numerous leaks and a coaling hatch, which could not be adequately closed and sealed (4 ft. above waterline). Cargo and coal shifted, exacerbating the crisis. After giving an incorrect position (by 37 miles) via Marconi transmissions, Captain William Carey, gave the order to start putting women and children into boats and abandon the sinking Vestris. He went down with his ship.

127 died, including all 13 children and 25 out of 33 women on board, as a direct result of unsuccessful lifeboat launching - probably in large part due to the severe list of the steamer. One of the lifeboats was alleged to have leaked to the extent ---> swamped. Sound familiar?

There was a huge public outcry relating to the loss of life (particularly children) and circumstances surrounding the loss of the Vestris. 

Issues arising at Inquiry:

- overloading vessel
- conduct of Master, officers and crew 
- delays in issuing SOS - giving inaccurate coordinates
- poor decisions surrounding deployment of lifeboats.
- outdated life preservers

'Lawsuits were brought after the sinking on behalf of 600 claimants totaling $5,000,000.'

It is interesting to note that Vestris was officially overloaded - a mere 2.25 in. over her registered limit. It is estimated that she carried about 7665 tons of coal, stores, water, baggage, mail, permanent ballast, water ballast and cargo - which consisted of 4612 vehicle parts (mostly truck bodies), heavy machinery, 1097 sacks mail, 2000 bags of cement (which can shift). fresh fruit, cotton and sundry items. In terms of a net tonnage of 6622, 7665 does not appear, on the surface, to be that extreme - compare this with Waratah carrying more than 12 000 tons (including lead concentrates and coal) and a net tonnage of 6004 tons!

With regard to claims totaling $5,000,000 one does wonder if the Lunds' throwing in the towel with the Blue Anchor Line was in some respects the best course of action to avoid similar claims??      

The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 October, 1937

S.O.S. Too Late.
By Captain H. D. Matthews.
On Saturday, October 10, 1928, the
Vestrls, 10,000-ton passenger liner, 
crack ship owned by Messrs. Lamport 
and Holt, of Liverpool, left Hoboken, 
New Jersey, bound for Barbados and 
South American ports with 129 passengers 
on board.
She developed a slight list for some
unknown reason as she ploughed her
way southwards towards the West
Indies and summer skies.
The commander, Captain Carey, was called
in the middle watch that night by the second
officer and Informed that the wind was blowing 
stronger from the north-east. The ship held her 
course and speed, and Sunday dawned to find 
many of the passengers haggard and seasick.
By noon it was blowing a whole gale, and
the liner was labouring and straining heavily
and shipping big seas fore and aft. Down
in the stokehold the sweating coloured firemen,
slithering about the slanting plates in front
of the boilers, muttered as the water mounted
above the stokehold plates until it was ankle
deep, and steadily increased. The swirling
black flood almost carried them off their feet.
The bilges were full, and the ash-ejector,
damaged by the storm, became a death-trap
and shot huge columns of water through the
pipe each time she rolled. Things looked
black. But the firemen held their peace, and
not a word of alarm reached the passengers
from their domain.
Yet, as the storm raged and the list in-
creased, fear gripped the passengers. The
officers put on a bold face and tried to re-
assure them that, everything was all right,
as the ship listed crazily to starboard and
hung there, seeming too wearied, too heavily
laden to right herself.
A Mountainous Wave.
The party in the gaily-lighted dining saloon,
resplendent with spotless linen and sparkling
silver, spoke in subdued tones. A few tried
to crack jokes to ease the situation. The
shrill peals of laughter were silenced as the
diners gripped their swaying chairs and felt
the ship slope at, a dangerous angle for a
few seconds and fall back with a sickening
Suddenly, a heavy impact catapulted the
passengers from their seats into a struggling
heap, swept the tables clean, and smashed
hundreds of pounds worth of crockery. This
wave caused pandemonium - a veritable green
mountain that came over the port bow like
a thunderclap, flooding the decks, tearing away
many feet of the starboard rail, smashing two
lifeboats and sweeping everything in its path.
It tore three motor cars from their lashing
in the shelter-deck and hurtled them through
the bulkhead Into the seamen's quarters.
Officers moved about endeavouring to calm
the passengers' fears. Many of them, con-
vinced that the ship, now lying practically
over on her beam-ends, was about to turn
turtle and sink, went to their cabins and
dressed themselves in warm clothes against
the worst, and awaited the order to "Abandon
But no orders came - not until it was almost
too late. For some unknown reason the
S.O.S. message was not sent out until many
more anxious hours had passed, and death
was hovering over them with every lurch of
the doomed vessel.
All night she rolled at alarming angles and
hung over on her side like a wounded, breathless
thing. She took longer now to right herself.
The gale shrieked loudly, and many tons of
loose water in the bilges and tanks lurched
with sickening force from side to side at
every roll. The finger of the tell-tale
clinometer moved to and fro . . . 10 degrees,
14 degrees - 20, 30, and still more-to 40 degrees.
And still no S.O.S. was sent out. A few
degrees more of list and nothing under the
heavens could prevent her from rolling right
over and foundering with her precious freight.
Captain Carey, evidently still pinning the
greatest faith in tho seaworthiness of his
staunch vessel, refrained from sending out a
message for assistance.
The Rising Flood.
But he admitted to his first officer. Mr.
Johnson, that they were in a very serious
plight indeed. None of the crew and few
of the passengers slept that night. Stewards
and firemen combined to form a bailing party
with buckets, and tried to assist the pumps
in combating the rising flood in the holds.
George Prestwick, the fourth engineer,
laboured for several hours neck-deep in water
repairing a damaged pump. At times his
head had to be held above the water by the
donkeyman grasping him by the hair.
Still the water gained quickly. Over and
over the Vestrls leaned with her decks awash.
The coloured stokers, penned in the flooded
stokehold and In danger of being trapped like
rats if the ship turned turtle, downed shovels,
slices, and rakes, and rushed on deck, where
at least they had a sporting chance.
"Don't desert your post, boys, for God's sake
- play the man - we need every hand to see us
through. Please go below again."
Reluctantly they went back, but not for
long. Soon the engineers sweated at the fur-
naces in their stead. Five of these brave men
perished at their posts.
Meanwhile the passengers, huddled together
in the smoking-room, wondered whether an
S.O.S. had been sent out and if anyone was
coming to their aid. Monday morning came,
and it was evident that the gale had won.
The captain had managed to receive a radio
bearing from Tuckerton coastal station appris-
ing him of his whereabouts; and now, worn
out with anxiety and with defeat staring him
in the face, he ordered the senior wireless
operator to send out a message asking all
ships to stand by for further calls.
At 10 o'clock the message was sent out.
S.O.S. . . . S.O.S. . . . S.O.S. . . .
S.S. Vestris . . . sinking.
More than fifty .ships received the call. The
nearest was 60 miles away. A. high sea was
running, and the list ever increasing, until
the Vestrls seemed to float miraculously on her
S.O.S. . . . S.O.S. . . . urgent. Decks
all under tooter-lying on. team ends
. . . please come at once.
There Were Sharks.
The passengers slithered down on the steeply
inclined decks, trying to maintain a footing
as they advanced towards the boats. The
first lifeboats to be lowered had the plank-
ing stove-in by the rivet-heads of the ship's
hull plating, and bailing had to be resorted
to. The age-old traditions of the sea were
observed, and "women and children first" was
the order of the day. Children were lowered
in blanket-slings. Seamen slid down the side
with passengers in their arms. The operator
still sat calmly at his instruments.
S.O.S. . . . Going to abandon ship in
a few moments. . . .
A lifeboat was launched, but a wave smashed
it inboard. Another was lowered, and turned
a wild somersault. It floated bottom up, with
a tangle of spars and cordage alongside, and
half-drowned people clinging to the keel.
People fought in the water, called out, and
sank. Bodies floated limply on the wave
One lifeboat fouled the falls, and a member
of the crew cut the restraining ropes with
his knife to let the boat fall into the sea.
As it took the water, an iron boat davit broke
adrift and crashed down on the passengers,
sinking the boat and killing several of them.
The captain became almost demented at the
terrible scenes all around, and, lifting his
weatherbeaten face, deathly with agony, to
heaven, he cried out in a wild protest, "My
God, I am not to blame for this !" People
were perishing about him, but he was power-
less to help. He refused the lifebelt proffered
by one of the crew. "No, no!" he cried, "give
it to someone who needs it, not me."
From the sea below him came wild shrieks
as the sharks seized their prey and dragged
it under. Still the operator worked away,
faithful to the last:
Dot-dash-dot- So long Tuckerton.
S.K. Farewell.
He dashed out on the canting decks and
endeavoured, with some of the engineers, to
launch a lifeboat. While they were In the
very act of so doing tho dying Vestris reared
up for a brief second and rolled on top of
them as it turned and plunged under, with
Captain Corey still at his post, exclaiming,
"My God, they can't blame me for this !"
From all directions, battling against the ele-
ments, came the rescuing ships - the U.S.
battleship Wyoming; the San Juan; the Ameri-
can Shipper; the Berlin, and others. They
saved many lives. No children were rescued,
and only six or eight women out of the thirty
seven on board were picked up. In all, some
115 persons perished.
By the irony of fate, the American freighter
Montoso docked at Boston a few days later.
Only then her skipper learned of the tragedy.
The Montoso had been within a few miles
of the Vestris when the S.O.S. appeals first
went out. But she knew nothing of the
occurrence as she rode out the storm. She
had no wireless. She could not hear the frantic
calls for aid. So far as the Montoso was con-
cerned, the sinking Vestris might have been
10,000 miles away.

    listing Vestris, captured in this extraordinary photo

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