Tuesday, 4 July 2017


Cairns Post, 26 January, 1910.

The Lost Waratah
Mr. A. Meston, of the Queensland
Government Bureau in Sydney,
writes as follows to the "Daily
Telegraph" :—
The Waratah was probably involved 
in one or two fatal forms of marine 
catastrophe, and in either case her 
doom would be annihilation. She was 
caught in the awful vortex of a circular 
cyclone, or disappeared in a moment 
into the abyss beneath which, in the 
words of Shelley, the "Old Earthquake 
Demon nursed her young Ruin," just
as ships in the great Lisbon earthquake 
sunk beside the quays with all on board, 
leaving not the remotest trace to tell that 
they ever existed.
Well known to our east coast mariners is 
Breaksea Spit, on the north end of Fraser's 
Island. When Cook in 1770, and Flinders, 
in 1802, took soundings off that Spit the 
lead recorded from 7 to 13 fathoms. In
the same locality, in 1869, Lieutenants 
Bedwell, Bray and Connor found exactly 
the same soundings, but when Captain 
Sharp, of the steamer, Iris, was sent there 
to discover and repair a break in the
Noumea cable, in 1901, he was amazed 
to find the Admiralty chart hopelessly wrong, 
and on the area above the old marine surveys 
gave 7, 12, and 13 fathoms the broken cable 
hung over a tremendous submarine precipice 
up to 1890 feet in depth : and Captain Mackay, 
the Brisbane Harbourmaster, told me this 
astounding and mysterious, subsidence 
probably extends over 100 square miles. 

The fate of any vessel caught in the vortex 
of that subsidence would certainly have been
that of the vanished ships beside the Lisbon 
piers. How many of the world's lost ships have 
vanished in the whirlpools of these terrific 
submarine earthquakes ! A few years ago an 
area of the sea bottom on the coast off Japan 
sunk from a few fathoms to a depth of 3000 
feet. Was Plato's lost Atlantis engulfed in one 
of these dreadful chasms in the ocean-bed far 
back in the volcanic morning of the world ? We 
come now to the circular cyclones, an account 
of which is incredible to all who have not seen 
the traces of their devastating tracks. A few 
years ago one came down on to the Coral Sea 
from the Cape York Peninsula, caught the
pearling fleet at anchor at the Flinders Group, 
wrecked about 65 luggers, and drowned 300 
coloured men. For the first three months of
the year I was out on the coast of that 
peninsula. An old bechedemer fisherman 
told me that some of the luggers were lifted 
out of the sea, and thrown on top of the
mangroves. And there are other authentic 
records to show that the cyclone in which 
the Government pilot Vessel at Coo'town, 
with all on board was annihilated, lifted
acres out of the ocean on to the coast, 
and left sharks, rays, and turtles stranded 
on the rocks of Bedford and Cape Flattery. 
And in the pearl fleet cyclone the light-ship 
at Pipon Island, with two large anchors, and 
a three-ton stone anchor, disappeared with 
her four men, and no trace has ever been
found to the present day. Just south of Cape 
Direction, I saw where a cyclone off the land, 
about 100 yards in width, swept across Night 
Island, tore all the mangroves up by the roots, 
or snapped them off like dry reeds, and carried
them out to sea like so much tissue paper, and 
actually made a track across the loose coral
rocks as if a band of navvies had been clearing 
a road. 

Your 12,000 ton steamers, with their double
row of deck cabins, would get short shrift in 
the vortex of such a cyclone as that. The first 
three minutes would sweep cabins, boats, top
hamper, funnels and masts into the sea, and 
probably the next five minutes would see the 
steamer at the bottom. Such cyclones cover a
very small area, and probably do not go more 
than ten or fifteen miles from land. So far no 
steamer on the Queensland coast has been
caught in one, and the chance of being involved 
is so small as hardly to be worth considering;
while the whole extent of coastline to which 
they are confined, extends only from Cape 
Bedford to Cape Direction. 

If such a cyclone came off the African coast, and 
encircled the Waratah, it would be useless to
search even for wreckage, and it would be equally 
useless to scan the vast expanse of ocean if she 
had vanished in the chasm of a submarine earthquake.

This did not occur off the South African coast, circa July
In each case the friends and relatives of the loved 
and lost are only being delusively buoyed by that 
despairing hope which is but the bright to-morrow 
of the mind, which never comes;
The lifelong martyrdom—
The weariness, the endless pain
Of waiting for someone to come
Who never more will come again.

No comments: