Wednesday, 5 July 2017


"Charles Augustus Johnson (wharf manager 
at the Outer Harbour) said he knew

Captain Ilbery had a strong objection to his

ship touching the bottom alongside the
wharf at Port Adelaide, for he heard him
say to the agent just before sailing that he
did not think it right or fair for a vessel
of her size and weight to be on the bot-
tom, as she was in Port Adelaide. "

"He estimated the total dead weight of
cargo on board at 9,000 tons, and that her
draft was 28 ft. 3 in. forward and 29 ft.
5 in. aft."

This period report makes it abundantly clear that Captain Ilbery was more than concerned that Waratah had taken the ground at Port Adelaide, final voyage. Even though it might have been a gentle, tidal depositing into soft mud, Waratah was not designed for this (by the well-respected Barclay, Curle and Co) which is captured in 'did not think it right or fair for a vessel of her size and weight to be on the bottom'. Whether other steamers coped with this or not is utterly irrelevant to Waratah. Captain Ilbery made the following declaration on arrival at Durban as regards damage sustained by his vessel: 

''Port Natal, July 26, 1909

To the Collector of Customs.  Port Natal

Dear Sir,

"I hereby declare to the best of my knowledge and belief that my vessel, the SS Waratah, has sustained no damage from any cause whatever since leaving the last port, Adelaide, and I have nothing special to report."

Yours faithfully,

(signed) J.E. Ilbery,

Master, SS Waratah"

As regards being truthful, Captain Ilbery, in good faith, reported that no damage 'from any cause whatever' had been sustained since leaving Port Adelaide, which did not include 'at Port Adelaide'. Of course it would not have been feasible to fully survey Waratah's hull prior to departure for South Africa, but hull plate and rivet damage was possible under such circumstances born out by the case of the Koombana (irrespective of how durable hull plates and rivets were of the era):

Koombana's damaged hull plates went undetected for months after running ground on a sand bank at Shark's Bay, no water being admitted into the hull of the vessel until much later. It was only during dry-docking that the extent of the damage was discovered. 70 ft. gouge in the bottom of the hull; a split a few along the hull; 13 hull plates requiring replacement!!!There is a possibility, not a fact, that Waratah sustained some form of hull plate and rivet damage as a direct result of her taking the ground at Port Adelaide. This comment is speculative - I have never used the words 'proven'.

Unfortunately, Captain Ilbery was not being entirely truthful about no damage sustained whatsoever since departing Port Adelaide as is confirmed by the following two examples:

1. A copper pipe integral to the steam-transfer system fractured. This copper was found to be flawed, and although a seemingly small, insignificant occurrence, easy to repair, it was damage sustained with implications for a potentially serious explosion.

2. Another day, I felt a distinct shock through the vessel. After a minute or two I went down on to the forward well deck to see what had happened. I saw the second and fourth engineers examining the vertical ladder which ran from the forward well deck to the boat deck on the port side. The ladder was broken about 3 feet above the deck. The engineers told me that it had been broken by the impact of a sea. The steel ladder had broken clean through due to the 'impact of the sea'. This was damage, whether it be small or large.

I believe Captain Ilbery submitted his statement in good faith as an employee of the Lunds under pressure to complete the return voyage as scheduled. Any suspicions about hull plate damage would have to have remained in the realm of 'suspicions' until proven otherwise. We shall never know....

The following extract makes a very important point about the newly stabilised Waratah, final voyage:

Mr Sawyer, Inquiry:

'Mr Ebsworth had been a sailor for about nine years and had some experience with sea going vessels. Together they (he and Sawyer) went to the forward end of the promenade deck to witness the Waratah's pitching. They witnessed large 'rollers' approaching the ship. She allegedly 'took the first one' and after that went down into the following trough, where 'she remained and seemed to keep her nose into the next wave and simply plough through it'They apparently stood there for a long time observing the Waratah's performance and when one particularly large wave struck the liner, Mr Ebsworth had to grab the railing for support claiming that 'he had in the whole of his experience had never seen a ship do that before'

These intelligent, sea-experienced observers' comments have been the very cornerstone of my conclusion that by the last voyage Waratah was functionally overloaded - an enormous dead weight factor. This may not have been in terms of the extremely generous maximum draught (30 ft. 4 1/2 inches) issued by the Board of Trade, but it most definitely was in practice. A functionally overloaded vessel, circa 1909, would have 'kept her nose into the next wave and simply ploughed through it', because she was too heavy, with reduced buoyancy factor! This behaviour, which Mr. Ebsworth had never seen before, implying that this was not routine or normal, is confirmation of this fact. What else could this unique performance have been due to?

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