Saturday, 5 August 2017


The Canberra Times, 3 January, 1930

The strange tale of the liner "Waratah," 
a new ship carrying 300 (211) passengers 
and crew, which, in July, 1909, mysteriously 
vanished between Durban and Cape Town, 
South Africa, right in the track of ten other 
steamers all of which safely reached port, 
had light thrown on it in May, 1929, when 
an Englishman wrote to a well-known
London newspaper stating that, in 1913, he
met a white trader at the mouth of the river 
Xora, near the native reserve of the Transkei, 
near East London, South Africa, who told a
queer story. "One very wild night in July, 1909," 
he said, "I saw a large steamer close inshore 
off a dangerous coast with terrific surf running 
on razor-edge reefs. Wondering what on earth 
she was doing in so dangerous a spot right off 
the steamer track, I went to my hut to get my 
night glasses, but on returning to the shore, I 
found the steamer had vanished. Three months
later, I heard of the loss of the Waratah.
I am certain it was the same steamer.
I have a piece of wood with the letters 
'War' carved on it. A tremendous depth 
of water runs outside the reefs and it is 
quite conceivable that a ship could turn 
turtle and leave no trace. Sharks would kill
any human even if he or she could
keep afloat in such strong tides." 

This account is fascinating. It is conceivable that this could have been Waratah. Although the trader in question was stationed at Xora River mouth in 1913, he referred to a 'dangerous coast', implying that the sighting of the large steamer was not necessarily off the Xora. If it had been the Xora, it seems strange that one of Waratah's deckchairs would have drifted some 13 n miles upstream to Coffee Bay. We know that the depth of sea off the St Johns Reef, Bluff Point, (Poenskop), immediately drops to 18m, sharply falling off to 38 - 39m by 0.5 n miles offshore. This would be in keeping with a 'tremendous depth of water runs outside the reefs'. The sharks would have, according to the trader, have prevented survivors from making it onshore (perhaps with the exception of one lad, Staunton, who perished in the Great War).

However, if the Harlow account is true, the conditions were calm at the time of the large steamer disappearing astern. It was certainly not a 'wild night', yet.

Keeping an open mind???   


This is 18m or 60ft:

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