Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Woodchoppers and the Solicitor: Lost at Sea 3

The day before the Waratah left Durban, Jack Calder wrote a poem which he sent to The Clipper, a Hobart Newspaper and he also wrote and posted a letter to a friend in Tasmania
You will be surprised to hear from me being this far away from Tasmania and still going to pull up, I hope, in the greatest city in the world, London. I have with me for a mate, Champion axeman Alf Clarke. We are under an engagement to give exhibitions of chopping. We are taking Australian logs with us. We sailed by the SS Waratah, Lund’s Blue Anchor Line. She is 10,000 tons. We left Melbourne on 1st July, had a few days in Adelaide and set out for Africa on the 7th. We had only really one rough day - that was coming through the Great Australian Bight and around Cape Leeuwin. But the Waratah being such a grand sea boat, we did not feel it much. I was never a bit seasick and feel better than I ever did in my life.
We have good concerts on board and good talents both instrumental and vocal.  Both Alf and I keep up our training such as it is, but the greatest time will be when we are showing in London and let Londoners see what Tasmanians are capable of with the axe. Our intention is to get among the Canadian axemen and see what they are like. With kind regards to self and all Tasmanian friends. Yours as B 4, Jack Calder. 
Another poignant letter written by a crew member on 26 July, from the SS Waratah in Durban, was received by his sister in London.  
Just a line to let you know we arrived here safely after a pretty rough voyage from Adelaide. For 13 days after leaving that place we had heavy seas and weather and a lot of the deck fittings were broken and carried away by heavy seas that swept over the vessel. The last five days however have been fine and we got here yesterday midday (Sunday) and we leave the Cape Saturday next, on 31st  July for London, where we will arrive on August 21st although we are not due until the 23rd. 
Those words still hang in the air more than a century later.

Where was the Waratah?
The Waratah was expected off Cape Town on the morning of Thursday, 29 July 1909, and when she didn’t arrive it was at first presumed that she had met with heavy weather. The Waratah had no radio communications so the Port Authorities sent the tug T. E. Fuller to try and locate the ship in case she was suffering from engine trouble.  It wasn’t until Monday, 2 August 1909, that the press carried reports that the Waratah was overdue. That was the beginning of an anxious time for relatives and friends.

World attention was now focused on the Waratah and H.M.S. Hermes joined other warships in their search. Another month had passed without sign of the Waratah.  Further desperate searches were made and on 19 October 1909, The Daily Commercial News and Shipping List placed the following insert, ‘Waratah, 9339, Ilbery, Sydney June 26 to South Africa and London via ports Melbourne July 1, Adelaide 7, Durban 26, missing.

The Lutine Bell being rung at Lloyd's of London
On 15 December 1909, the Waratah was officially posted as missing. Lloyd’s of London’s most famous symbol, the Lutine Bell, was rung heralding the announcement of the loss of the SS Waratah to underwriters and brokers. This action from Lloyd’s was profoundly final. 

With no witness surviving the disappearance of the Waratah, we can only contemplate the combined effects of stability, design, high promenade deck, cargo loading, hold security and righting moments of the ship all being complicit with the enormous seas along this notorious and treacherous stretch of South African coastline. Did fate concoct this unique and fatal formula that would commit the Waratah to a premature ocean grave? We are left to draw our own conclusions as to what happened to the SS Waratah, Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery, passengers and crew and where she rests today. Their story lies beneath the waves and the ocean guards her secrets well.  

Capt Josiah Edward Ilbery
Crew of the Waratah

A series of guest blogposts by SJL Patterson to commemorate the loss of SS Waratah, July 1909.

Photograph of John Ebsworth provided courtesy of Ebsworth family
Photograph of Mrs and Miss Hay provided courtesy of Hay and Tolcher family 
Photograph of Captain J E Ilbery provided courtesy of Dr Peter Ilbery and family
Photograph of Crew of Waratah provided courtesy of Marilyn Greaves and family

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