Thursday, 17 August 2017


'Captain Frederick Tickell, whose son
was a passenger on the Waratah on her
last voyage, states that he saw the vessel 
leave Port Melbourne on July 1, 1909.
She was perfectly upright, and had no
sign of a list. He saw the Waratah proceeding 
astern of the Pilbarra, on which
he was a passenger from Port Adelaide,
down river to Largs Bay on July 6. He
watched her with a professional eye, and
at no time did she give him the impression 
of a tender ship. She remained perfectly 
upright oven when going round
the bends, and at a lime when the rudder
was over, and the tug which was assisting 
her was broad on the bow.'

This press extract, which I have repeated a number of times, is the most significant piece of historical evidence available to us that, by Waratah's last voyage, she was no longer top heavy!


MELBOURNE, December 12.

'Captain Tickell, the Victoria naval commandant, whose son is a passenger on the missing steamer Waratah, said yesterday that, in spite of the fact that the Sabine had returned from an unsuccessful trip, and that the Waratah was to be posted as missing on December 15 if no news was to hand, he still had hopes that she was afloat.'

'The Sabine's search only covered a little more than half of the ocean to Australia, and from Amsterdam Land (Kerguelen Islands) to Australia remained unsearched.'

Captain Tickell's only son was aboard Waratah and he would naturally have been hopeful that the flagship was still afloat, adrift on the southern ocean. This was despite a number of comprehensive searches to date and is a normal psychological reaction to a devastating tragedy.

Captain Tickell, who has his son on boardthe Waratah, and who has all along beenconspicuous for his hopefulness in regardto the missing steamer's safety, said-
"I don't know how any steamer could get where (off Marion Island) this one was sighted by legitimate  means, and it is certainly one which has broken down and is in distress. We have not  heard of any vessel being missing except the Waratah, so that I think the chances are that it  is she." 
The extract further reinforces Captain Tickell's unrealistic hopes that Waratah was still afloat. He did go so far as to state that it did not make sense that Waratah could have been sighted in the vicinity of Marion Island, but was not about to relinquish his yearning hope. Denial is a perfectly normal reaction to a devastating tragedy!!
Captain Tickell was alleged to have debunked the Harlow explosion theory. This is AGAIN a perfectly normal response from a grieving, desperate father. Who would have wanted a loved one destroyed by fire and explosion???
The following extract debunks the assumption that an exploding vessel would necessarily leave wreckage behind. 

The Canberra Times, Friday 3 January, 1930
A strange tale of an explosion heard at sea, off Yarmouth, England, on the night of Sunday, July 7, 1929, adds another grim skeleton to Davy Jones' cupboard.
The captain of the Swedish steamer "Anne Berg" was in the chart room working out his course to pass a lightship, when he was struck motionless. "I heard a tremendous explosion reverberate across the water," he said; "the helmsman shouted to me and Ijumped up to the wheelhouse. I was just in time to see a vessel, about four miles away across the port bow, disappear into the sea. She went down at an angle of about sixty degrees, and I saw only the head and foc'sle of the ship. The rest of her had already gone down. We steered at full speed to the spot, reaching it in twenty minutes. 
There was no sign of wreckage - not a piece of wood or oil or anything. I reckoned from what the helmsman told me, that she was a ship like our own, Swedish, and about 3,000 tons. We sent out an SOS and North Foreland wireless station told us a gunboat and a mine sweeper were rushing to the spot. We gave the exact position. About midnight, the British mine sweeper 'Selkirk' came alongside and hailed us, and we told her by Morse lamp that she was in the correct position. We said we had seen nothing, and asked if we might proceed, and the 'Selkirks' commander wirelessed: 'Yes, thank you very much.' "
The gunboat and the mine sweepersearched the sea for hours without result.

Personally I do not believe Waratah exploded astern of the Harlow, and that 'explosions' were used as an excuse for not going back to investigate and render assistance.

Captain Frederick Tickell - courtesy Shirley Joy

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Extracts from Inquiry (in black):

On the 27th October, 1908, a passenger certificate was issued entitling the "Waratah" to carry 128 first class, and 160 third class passengers, with a crew of 144, a total of 432 persons.

The certificate did not correlate with crew and passengers as follows:

On Thursday, the 5th November, 1908, the "Waratah" left London on her maiden voyage. She carried 67 cabin passengers, 689 emigrants, and a crew of 154.

Emigrants fell into a 'gray' category, but according to the Merchant Shipping Act (1894), were classified third class passengers. It is both extraordinary and alarming that 689 emigrants were on board when the number should not have exceeded 160 (300 according to the Act calculation). Note that the crew for this voyage was in excess of the 144 figure - no doubt to cope with the huge numbers.

The "Waratah left London on her second (and last) voyage on the 27th April, 1909. She carried 193 steerage passengers, 22 cabin passengers and a crew of 119.

By the second outbound voyage, the steerage or third class component had dropped dramatically from 689 to 193. The number was still in excess of 160, but compensated for by 22 cabin passengers. The numbers were within the Law.

5 437 emigrants arrived at Australia by ship during 1908, compared with 21 783 during 1909, a staggering increase of 400%. If anything there should have been a greater demand for emigrant passage on Waratah's second outbound voyage. 

Why was this not the case?

I can only speculate that by the second voyage Waratah was not allowed, by Law, to transport more than 288 passengers, thus 193 was well within limits. Secondly Waratah had experienced stability issues during the maiden voyage and it was possibly acknowledged that the number of emigrants and their baggage on the spar and upper 'tween decks had an adverse effect. Thirdly, there is the possibility that complaints by emigrants, maiden voyage, drew undesired attention to the passenger overcrowding factor, hence more stringent application of the Law by the second voyage. 

From a financial point of view, in light of the increasing demand, 193 steerage passengers does not make sense, but in terms of the Law, it does. 

The figure of 144 crew, according to the certificate, draws my attention back to Mr. Summerbell's comments in the House of Commons, suggesting that the crew on board Waratah (119) during her final voyage was 'inadequate'. 25 crewmen short is significant, but in the context of 92 instead of 288 passengers on board, makes sense. 

The Inquiry did not draw attention to the numbers discrepancies and implication the Law had been broken. The reason seems logical, the Board of Trade would also have been on the chopping block. How very awkward for all involved. I scratch your back, you scratch mine.


Clarence and Richmond Examiner, Tuesday 14 December, 1909.

Mr. Lund, of Messrs. W. Lund and
Sons, the owners of the missing liner,
stated that when sighted by Captain
Weir the Waratah was proceeding very
close to the shore at about 12 knots,
the Clan M'Intyre making about 10.
The Waratah was seen to be steering a
little more southerly than the other
vessel, or taking a course further out
from shore.

My thoughts constantly return to this claim, quoted in a number of period newspapers. Some schools of thought scoff at the suggestion that Waratah had slowed down and was out of the favourable Agulhas Current, close to the shore off Cape Hermes. But how can we ignore this often repeated claim? There is no logical reason for this under normal circumstances.  The heart of the favourable Agulhas Current is at least 11 miles offshore in this region. Whatever the reasons, Waratah altered heading, more southerly relative to the Clan MacIntyre, regaining the full force of the Agulhas Current and accelerating to about 14.5 knots, finally going out of sight some 12 n miles off the Bashee River (or Xora).

We can rule out mechanical trouble, because Waratah steadily gained and overhauled the Clan MacIntyre. The crew of the Clan MacIntyre observed her to be upright and showing no signs of problems, so we can rule out stability issues. In my opinion it can only come down to two possibilities: 

There was a fire on board and a decision had to be made whether to continue on to Cape Town or return to Durban. Such a decision could have involved slowing down, closer to shore, to assess the extent of the problem, with potential for hoving to if necessary.

Secondly, the crew were aware of the approach of a severe storm from the southwest and were confronted with a difficult choice. Waratah was under powered and very heavy in the water - limited reserve buoyancy. It is possible that they slowed down off Cape Hermes to make a decision whether to continue or turn back.

Or maybe Captain Ilbery was looking for his glasses again...


Tuesday, 15 August 2017


'… Alexander Inglis, Harbour Master and shipwright surveyor of Port Adelaide, said Captain Ilbery was a very experienced and capable shipmaster and most attentive to duty. He understood the Waratah’s bilge had caught the ground off Kangaroo Island, but did not think that that would have hurt her.'

Willers, David. In search of the Waratah (Kindle Location 583).  Kindle Edition.


One other small incident should be dealt with at this point. A witness named Trott (a cook) said, that going into Adelaide, the ship ran on to Kangaroo Island, and was not got off for six hours; and his evidence received some vague corroboration from one of the Sydney deponents (a steward named Shore). The Court has carefully examined the logbooks, and is quite satisfied the ship did not take the ground. She did stop for several hours on the early morning of December the 15th, 1908. She took a pilot aboard and anchored; and the anchor fouled. It was no doubt this small incident which led to the exaggerated report of the running ashore.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 8 February, 1911
Trott, a cook on the maiden voyage, saidthe vessel grounded on Kangaroo Island,and took six hours to refloat.
Mr Stephens, representing Lunds, contradicted this statement, and said the Waratah'slog showed she was never less than 10 milesdistant of Kangaroo Island on the way out.On the return voyage she passed three miles distant.

These extracts are intriguing to say the least. It seems strange that both Trott and Shore confused fouling of the anchor with being grounded for 6 hours. But there again, these two individuals were not able seamen and might very well have confused the issue. That Alexander Inglis, of Adelaide, also made mention of 'catching the ground' suggests the 'story' gained momentum and illustrates that hearsay can be a dangerous thing. Waratah's Logbooks proved otherwise. 

Another blogger relates an interesting tale about Waratah almost running into Kangaroo Island on her 'return voyage' when the Log, again, referred to 'passing three miles distant'. It is alleged that the third officer, Bennett, saved the day (or night as it so happened) by heeding warnings from the Willoughby Lighthouse keeper and assuming command when Captain Ilbery, again allegedly temporarily relieved of his senses, ignored the blatant and repeated warning signals. Captain Ilbery must have navigated this section countless times before and known it 'like the back of his hand'. Bennett mentioned none of this at the Inquiry (under oath) and only had fair and realistic comments to make about Waratah during her maiden voyage:

Harry McKay Bennett, third mate of the Waratah - 

'there was nothing extraordinary in her behaviour'; 

'She had no abnormal list, never more than 4 or 5 degrees due to wind pressure or working bunkers'; 

'very easy in rolling'; 

'an even roll throughout'; 

'would call her a tender ship' 

It is argued that Bennett was promoted to the Narrung and must therefore have been 'influenced' to keep quiet and give a 'doctored' statement at the Inquiry, conveniently omitting the Kangaroo Island incident. By the time the Inquiry convened, the Blue Anchor Line was a thing of the past and such a promotion to the Narrung, inconsequential. It does not follow that this would have held undue sway over Bennett. 

There is another dimension to this fellow Bennett who, according to the following press extract, gave the parents of a crewman, Gibbs, a 'false' impression that Waratah would be 'laid up for alterations'. He vehemently denied this in Court. It must have taken great courage and indignation for Mrs. Gibbs to have made her claim in open Court. All things considered it suggests that Bennett was prone to 'exaggeration'. 

'The voice which contradicted Mr.Bennett, when the latter was givingevidence yesterday belonged to Mrs.Gibbs, mother of a passenger (actually apprentice / crew) on the Waratah. Her husband afterwards said that he understood Mr. Bennett to say 'that the Waratah was going to be laid up for two months for alterations.' Mr. Bennett repeated that Mr. Gibbs was mistaken.'

The Log of a ship is sacred legal document. To tamper with the Log implies gross negligence and moral insufficiency on the part of master and officers, completely out of step with the culture of the British mercantile trade, circa 1909. We have no choice but to accept Waratah's Log details and rule out hearsay with regard to taking the ground at Kangaroo Island and the dramatic near miss in the vicinity of Willoughby Lighthouse. Anything less is scandalous and immeasurably damaging to the fine reputations of Captain Ilbery and his immediate officers.      

Monday, 14 August 2017


We know that Waratah's bullion hold held 300 tons (see image below).

Referring to the previous post:
LEAD INGOTS                                         7660 (27 tons)
GOLD BARS                                             7600 (105 tons)
SILVER BARS                                          7350 (2.9 tons - 12.5 ounce bars)
COPPER INGOTS                                   10710 (95.6 - 107 tons)

According to the loading plan: Central Wharf Stevedoring Company:

courtesy: David Willers' In Search of the Waratah.

...75 tons of copper were not stowed in the bullion hold, which held a confirmed 300 tons. Copper fell into the category of bullion and should have been stowed in this hold. It suggests that the bullion hold was full and could not contain a further 75 tons. If my calculations are correct, that would leave about 20 tons of copper in the bullion hold + 27 tons lead ingots + 2.9 tons silver bars + 105 tons gold bars = 155 tons. This figure is 145 tons short of the total 300 tons illustrated in the image. David Willers, 'In Search of the Waratah' expresses a conviction that Waratah also carried South African gold, which could, theoretically, have made up the balance of 145 tons. 

In 1907, gold-rich colonies such as South Africa and Australia had no choice but to contribute gold to the Bank of England, caught up in heavy American borrowing. This trend continued through to and including 1909.

It is interesting to note, in the context of Waratah's inherent tenderness, that 75 tons of copper was loaded as high up in the hull as illustrated in the image above. This, in my opinion, proved the effectiveness of the 1300-1500 tons of lead concentrates, hold 3, lowest down, at 10-11 cubic feet to the ton, 8 ft. high. This component, together with other dead weight materials such as timber, lowest down, created a formidable centre of gravity lowering and stabilising effect.  

There must have been a significant amount of gold and silver bars on board Waratah when she was lost. I can see no other reason for the 300 tons. As in the case of the RMS Republic the details were not necessarily publicized and documented on the stowage plan, for obvious reasons. 

Sunday, 13 August 2017


The following table compares the cargo items and amounts allegedly on board the Waratah when she departed Durban. I have drawn from 7 different newspapers of the time to illustrate how the items and weights, as reported, varied. The Lunds wanted the public to believe that there were 6128 tons of cargo on the Waratah; the Inquiry came to a figure of 6400 tons, and as the following table shows, under estimation was the order of the day. For the purposes of the analysis the different newspapers are represented as A,B,C etc.

pcs = pieces
css = cases
pks = packages
crts = crates
cs = case
css = cases

                             A               B               C               D               E               F               G

WOOL                168 tons      486 tons    259 tons   168 tons    486 tons        -                -
OATS                 600 tons        50 tons      60 tons   600 tons      50 tons        -                -
FLOUR              100 tons      862 tons     500 tons    100 tons   862 tons    964 tons   59 tons
TIMBER             227 tons                       1050 pcs
FUR SKINS           31 tons      132 tons     198 tons     31 tons
LEATHER            12 tons          9 tons     3.6 tons     12 tons       9 tons
TALLOW           500 tons        95 tons     1290 css    500 tons     95 tons     183 css   183 css
MEATS              1520 css                        1510 css
CUTTINGS         150 tons                                         36 tons
GLUEPIECES       10 tons                          4 tons       10 tons
RAGS                   7 tons                                            7 tons
SHEEPSKIN           8 tons                                            8 tons
BUTTER            1050 boxes (30 tons)     1000 boxes  1050 boxes
RABBITS            3000 crts     3512 crts      2337 crts   3000 crts  3512 crts  500 crts  500 crts
CARCASSES        1000 (68 tons)                1000             1000
WHEAT                               100 tons       660 tons                      100 tons  429 tons  507 tns
WINE                 21 pks         21 pks                             21 pks       23 pks     23 pks
HIDES               15 tons          1 tons                           15 tons      33 tons    33 tons
BARLEY                                                                                       9 tons     9 tons
MOULDBOARD                                                                             1 cs           1 cs
APPLES                                100 css
GLYCERINE                        21 drums
WHISKY                                 21 css
HORNS                                0.47 tons
FURNITURE       30 tons         30 tons                           30 tons
BARK                 57 tons                            52 tons                                                   55 tons
RABBIT SKINS                                          132 tons
DRIED FRUIT                                           1200 css                       1001 css             1001 css
CRAYFISH                                                   20 css                           20 css                 20 css
EUCALYPTUS OIL                                                                           40 pks                40 pks
ORANGES                                                1238 css                        1238 css            1236 css
BRANDY                                                                                           5 css                  5 css
CHINAWARE                                                                                      1 pk                  1 pk
LEAD                 300 tons
METALS                             112 css
RAILS                                                         114
LEAD INGOTS                                         7660 (27 tons)
GOLD BARS                                             7600 (105 tons)
SILVER BARS                                          7350 (2.9 tons - 12.5 ounce bars)
COPPER INGOTS                                   10710 (95.6 - 107 tons)              10710                10710
MACHINERY      51 css       112 css
SUNDRIES         92 pks                                                                 15 pks               15 pks

Before I go into the details it must be said that there are difficulties establishing standardized weight measurements for some 'packages' and 'cases'. This has forced me to guesstimate.

The following extracts have helped to establish the weights of meat crates and boxes of butter:

 'packages of meat of various sizes ranging from crates measuring 5 feet 8 inches by 5 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 4 inches, and weighing over one ton each (wreck report for the 'Yarmouth', 1909)'

'56 pounds of butter per box (Sydney Morning Herald, 1909)'

The weight of mutton carcasses is based on the average weight of a mutton carcass, circa 1909 - 136 pounds.

I have taken the liberty of converting cargo items in bags and bales into the standardized ton weight equivalents for 1909.

At a glance, it is immediately clear that details regarding the Waratah's cargo varied extensively. But there is a common thread uniting most of the newspaper reports and establishing via 7 different reports, a broader understanding of what constituted the cargo on the Waratah when she departed Durban.

Let's start by totaling the maximum ton weights presented in the above chart:

a) 9683.37 tons  

This figure is sobering and does not include the items requiring estimation.

If we total up the lowest values for each ton weight item we get:

b) 3713.97 tons

This figure is well short of quoted figures, but if we average a) and b), it gives us the following figure:

c) 6698.67 tons

Bearing in mind that we are yet to take into account a considerable portion of items, the figure of 6698.67 tons is already in excess of the figure quoted at the Inquiry - 6400 tons - by a considerable margin.

For the purposes of a reasonable guesstimate for the balance of quoted cargo I have used the following guidelines:

case = 0.39 tons (based on the tallow figures)
drum = 0.21 tons
package = case
rails = 80 pounds each
case machinery / metals = 1 ton

Highest values:

wine - 8.9 tons
mouldboard - 0.39 tons
apples - 39 tons
glycerine - 4.41 tons
whisky - 8.2 tons
dried fruit - 468 tons
crayfish - 7.8 tons
eucalyptus oil - 15.6 tons
oranges - 483 tons
brandy - 2 tons
chinaware - .39 tons
metals - 112 tons
rails - 4.56 tons
machinery - 112 tons
sundries - 35.88 tons

total = 3300.13 tons, which brings the larger figure a)  to a total:

d) 12 983.50 tons (wow)

If we repeat the exercise using the lowest values, we get:

wine - 8.2 tons
mouldboard - 0.39 tons
apples - 39 tons
glycerine - 4.41 tons
whisky - 8.2 tons
dried fruit - 390.4 tons
eucalyptus oil - 15.6 tons
oranges - 482 tons
brandy - 2 tons
chinaware - .39 tons
metals - 112 tons
rails - 4.56 tons
machinery - 51 tons
sundries - 5.85 tons

total = 1124 tons

If we add this to the lowest total b) above we get:

e) 4837.97 tons.

The average, taking all these figures into account is:

f) 8910.74 tons!

It is extraordinary that this figure is almost the 9000 ton figure quoted in many period newspapers. It excludes the lead concentrate component. If we are to believe these figures (accepting the limitations) we get a very different picture of the cargo component of the Waratah when she departed Durban. There is no doubt in my mind that she carried far more cargo than generally accepted. This component of cargo would have created, with judicious stowing, a suitably stable steamer in terms of metacentric height (top heaviness), but created the vessel that both Mr Sawyer and Mr Ebsworth remarked as 'dead' with a tendency to plow through oncoming swells - i.e. a very heavily loaded and somewhat under powered steamer (for the 'off season')!

But surely the most interesting component of the above cargo lists, must be the 105 tons of gold, shipped at Sydney. It is obvious that the Court's Mr. Larcombe was reluctant to report on the 'fuller' cargo picture and reverted back to the most conservative line of action. Because of difficulties associated with establishing an exact cargo manifest for the Waratah, it 'excused' conservative figures in favour of a more realistic presentation of the facts at the Inquiry.

I do not think we shall ever learn how much gold, if any at all, was loaded onto the Waratah in Durban, but 105 tons loaded at Sydney is significant. Interesting to note that 2.9 tons of silver bars were also recorded, confirming:

'The principal part of the Waratah'scargo consisted of a large consignmentof lead and silver from the Broken HillProprietary Mines.'
'It is believed that the Waratah also had a considerable amount of gold aboard.'

loading a steamer, Port Pirie, 1909