Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Waratah: The Captain's Table


SS Waratah
The Captain's Table
Dinner - 7 July 1909


The weather report issued for South Australia had been overcast skies with rain, squally winds between NW and SW, but strong along the coast and rough seas.

That Wednesday, in a ghostly drizzle as the tug guided the SS Waratah from the wharf, no-one on board would have had the slightest notion of their impending doom that awaited them further into their voyage. But for now, this night, under the glow of low lighting whilst passengers enjoyed the orchestra and elegant flow of ballroom dancing, would be a time for gaiety, private conversations in hushed tones and romantic interludes.

The SS Waratah had a lavishly decorated and handsomely appointed dining room and being invited to the Captain’s Table involved a high degree of formality.  Sure-footed stewards passed between the tables, serving deliciously-prepared meals with the finest wines, brandies and ports which were welcomed by the guests.

As was the tradition and standard practice for the senior officers on the ship, each would host a table of their own in the ship’s main dining room.  Tonight, Chief Officer Owen and Ship’s Surgeon, Dr Howard Fulford, would entertain selected guests, whilst Chief Engineer George William Hodder would join the distinguished guests at the Captain’s Table.

Comfortably seated at the table this evening with Captain Ilbery were,

     Mrs Agnes Grant (Gosse) Hay and her daughter Helen (Dolly) Gosse Hay
     Lieutenant Colonel Percival John Browne and his niece Miss K Lees
   Solicitor John Ebsworth
  Mr Claude Sawyer
 George Richardson, Superintendent of the Geelong Harbour Trust and Miss Lascelles whose father was a Geelong Harbour Trust Commissioner
Niel Walter Black

For these passengers to have been included in this exclusive coterie was an honour and conversation would centre on the most recent passengers boarding that day and their homes left behind to travel to England for both business and pleasure.  All very normal and entertaining for the occasion, but there was the underlying unease amongst other passengers of the Waratah’s design with her high promenade deck, instability due to the design and slow righting movements of the ship. 

20 days to disaster and no-one was any the wiser…


Captain J E Ilbery



Mrs Agnes Grant (Gosse) Hay















Helen (Dolly) Gosse Hay

John Ebsworth, Solicitor















Claude Sawyer



Chief Engineer George William Hodder












Guest post by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson
July 2013


Acknowledgements to Peter Ilbery and Family
Hay Family
Ebsworth Family 
Jean Gaisford for the photograph of Chief Engineer Hodder and given by kind permission of Roberta Baker nee Barnes, daughter of Roberta Hodder and granddaughter of George William Hodder; Jean Gaisford for the photograph of Helen Gosse Hay 

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