Showing posts with label Waratah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Waratah. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2014

Shipwrecks on the Wild Coast

If, like me, you love maps and are fascinated by the turbulent Wild Coast, its pioneer and trading families, and especially by the many shipwrecks which for five centuries have occurred along its shores, look no further than the wonderful map of this area available at

Among the wreck sites marked are:

Ivy 1878
Sao Joao 1552
Sao Bento 1554
Grosvenor 1782
Nossa Senhora de Belem 1635
Forres Bank 1958
Santo Alberto 1593
Africa and Agatha 1853
Hercules 1852
Oceanos 1991

There’s a strong but controversial possibility that in July 1909 the Blue Anchor Liner Waratah may have disappeared between Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall on this very coast. 

Read more about this intriguing mystery of the sea at and also right here on Mole’s blog pages via the search facility.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Waratah: Passengers from Australia

On Business and Pleasure Bent

We can look at these names and can pass over them…. or … linger on names that have been lying in the dusty past for over one hundred years, so let us take a step back in time.

Sense their excitement as they boarded the ship, all with similar future plans, business dealings and sporting ambitions. Some passengers were immigrating, or simply returning to their land of birth. Imagine their anticipation of reunions, private arrangements and romance. A poignant situation involving a brief account of regular people who would soon be thrown together in an unthinkable tragedy on 27th July 1909, off the Transkei Coast of Southern Africa, to become one of the greatest sea mysteries of all time.

After the loss of the Waratah, on Thursday 9 December 1909, the Sydney Morning Herald published this list of some of the passengers’ plans, hopes and dreams:

Bound for London

Mrs Allen, the wife of Captain A Allen, who held the position of Chief Officer of the Cargo Steamer Karori, belonging to the Union SS Company of New Zealand, employed in the produce trade between Devonport and other Tasmanian ports and Sydney. Mrs Allen, who resided at No 95 Campbell Street North Sydney, took an infant with her and was bound on a pleasure trip.
Miss Rose Allen, a little girl of 6 years of age, was the daughter of Captain A Allen of the Karori, by his first marriage and was accompanying her stepmother on the voyage.
Mr Niel Black, a well-known pastoralist of Noorat in the western district of Victoria, on his way to propose to a young lady in England and bring her back to his beautifully refurbished home.
Mr and Mrs Bowden and Mrs and the Misses Bowden and L D Schauman, all members of the same party, boarded the vessel at Sydney at the last moment; they had been engaged in Sydney in the hotel business.
Lieutenant Colonel Percival John Browne CB, who joined the Waratah at Adelaide, commanded the Dorset Yeomanry.   Born in the year 1862 he was the son of the late Mr W J Browne of Buckland Filleigh North Devon. In 1892 he married Bernarda Gracia, daughter of the late Mr T E Lees of Woodfield Oldham, Lancashire. Lieutenant Colonel Browne commanded the 7th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry during the South African campaign and was twice mentioned in despatches. For his services he was created a Companion of the Bath In 1900. Lieutenant Colonel Browne was the Master of the Blackmore Vale Foxhounds and his address was Fifehead Magdalen, Gillingham, Dorset, England.
Messrs Calder, Clark and Page, who were booked from Melbourne in the Third Class and well-known in connection with wood chopping contests, were proceeding to England with the intention of giving exhibitions of wood chopping. 
Mr Page, in whose hands were the arrangements for the tour, was confident when the steamer left Melbourne, of the success of the speculation, as both Calder and Clarke were champion axemen. Calder, a Tasmanian, presented a striking appearance when standing with his axe in his hand beside the block which he was to cut through. He was 6ft 5in of height and broad in proportion with a fine head and shoulders. He appeared on two occasions at Fitzgerald’s circus building when he took part in the wood chopping carnivals organised by Mr E Erskine Scott and won several prizes. 
Mr William Cumming booked through Cooks Travel at Sydney.
Mr John Ebsworth was a prominent solicitor practising in Melbourne and was the holder of a Master Mariner's Certificate. Prior to engaging in the practice of law, he occupied the positions of Second and Chief Officer of Steamers trading between London and Australia for seven or eight years, and on account of his seafaring experience, his services were greatly sought for in the Marine Court of Victoria. Mr Ebsworth was a prominent Mason and was the son of Mr John Ebsworth, solicitor of London.
Mrs Govett, a resident of the western district, Victoria, and for some time before sailing, had been residing with Mrs Orr at Maclay Street, Potts Point.
Miss Henderson, a maid in the service of Mrs Smart of the Hotel Australia.
Mr J M S Hunter of Glasgow, returning to London from a visit to his son, was interested in pastoral pursuits in this State. 
Miss Lascelles of Geelong, the daughter of Mr Lascelles of the firm of Dennys, Lascelles and Company and one of the Geelong Harbour Trust Commissioners.
Mrs Starke and Miss Starke were the mother and sister of Mr H E Starke, barrister of Melbourne, who had been admitted to the New South Wales Bar on November 2nd. Mr Starke for whom much sympathy was felt, appeared in Sydney shortly after the event in the patents case.
Mr G H Tlckell, whose name appeared in the list of Third Class passengers from Melbourne, was the son of Captain Tickell, Victorian State Naval Commandant. Young Tickell, an only son, was in reality attached to the engineering staff of the Waratah and making the trip for the purpose of gaining practical experience in marine engineering.  
Mr J T Wilson and Miss Wilson, who also joined at Melbourne, resided at Malvern Road, Malvern.
Mrs and Miss Wilson, saloon passengers from Melbourne, the wife and daughter of the manager of the Royal Bank Victoria.

Calder the axeman

Bound for Cape Town

Mrs Harvey, Master Harvey and Silas Miller from Gisborne, New Zealand, who had joined the Waratah at Sydney for Cape Town.
Miss K Lees, a niece of Lieutenant Colonel Browne and was travelling with him. Miss Lees had been on a visit to Australia and was returning by the Waratah.
Miss L Cooke, Miss Lees lady’s maid returning to Cape Town with her.
Mr Charles Taylor and his wife and two small children returning to Kimberley, South Africa, from Australia. Mr Taylor lately worked in De Beers Mine at Kimberley and was an active member of the local North of England Association.

Let us also remember all those unmentioned passengers, the Captain and crew of the SS Waratah and the Durban passengers soon to board this ill-fated ship, which would vanish without trace on that fateful night of 27 July 1909.

Guest post by Suzanne-Jo Leff Patterson
July 2013

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Waratah: the Turner family

This model of the S.S. Waratah was commissioned by Turners Shipping, Durban, whose founder David Turner was lost with the vessel. His family were also on board - Mrs Turner and their five children aged between 14 and 3; their destination was London. The Turners were among the approximately 40 passengers who embarked at Durban. Including the passengers from Australia and the Waratah's crew, there were 211 souls on board. The ship sailed from Durban at 8 p.m. on Monday 26 July 1909..

The model stands in the boardroom of Turners Shipping and is just over a metre in length. The portrait shown behind the model is of David Turner. 

Photograph supplied by kind permission of the Turner Group.

Click on pic to zoom.

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 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Waratah: more theories

12 March 1910   

To the Editor of The Mercury

Many theories have been given expression to as to the cause of her loss. Here is one which I have not seen mentioned in the press. It was written from England on 5-10-09. His impression is that the Waratah struck either the Grosvenor shoal or else more likely an uncharted shoal some 12 miles or so off the Grosvenor. This shoal was referred to by a writer in the Daily Mail (an English paper). He (the writer) was wrecked on that uncharted shoal about 20 years ago, but evidently from what he said nothing has been done to verify its position since; but one or two other writers testified to a considerable break of water some 12 miles or so off the Grosvenor, and my impression is that she, giving the Grosvenor a wide berth, came over this reef in the hollow of a wave, and as she would draw 28 to 30 feet of water, she would break her back and be holed badly, that as the following wave would lift her clear of the reef she would then go down in deep water on the other side. As to the fact that no bodies have been seen, the disaster might have happened during the night, when only the few men of the watch were on deck. Then, no wreckage has been seen (which has been looked upon as a good omen that she is afloat), but that could easily be explained by the fact that the hurricane she went through, everything movable on deck had been previously securely lashed down.
There may be some probability in the above surmise as to the fate of the ill-starred Waratah, and if that reef could be located, and the seabed searched, doubtless the hull might be found.
Yours, etc.,

However, during the past century no remains of the Waratah have been located despite numerous searches. 

THE GREAT STORM. CYCLONIC IN CHARACTER. It was on the following day (after her disappearance), July 28,  that the great cyclonic tempest, which will probably be known in history as the Waratah storm, swept the coast of South Africa. During the whole day the wind blew from W.S.W. to W. with squalls of hurricane force. A tremendous sea was running, rising in a wall-like formation, owing to the current being against the wind. Mariners who experienced the storm unite in describing it as one of exceptional violence. It was not perhaps spoken of as the most severe on record, but it was regarded as the most violent tempest for some years.  The hurricane raged with unabated fury for about 15 hours, and right along the coast of South Africa the conditions were dangerous. Of course, the wind was behind the Waratah, but, nevertheless, she must have had a very rough time. The gale, which was evidently of a cyclonic character, moderated on the following day, and was succeeded by a fresh south-westerly gale, with a high cross sea.

New Zealand Herald, Volume XLVI, Issue 14244, 15 December 1909, Page 9

If, however, as some people believe, the Waratah had turned to head back to Durban, the wind would not have been behind her. 

A blog reader writes: The vessel Harlow apparently encountered no difficulties and went on her way unscathed. The crew of the Harlow reported seeing two flashes of light, but equated this phenomenon with possible veld fires on shore. This immediately excludes dramatic forms of flashes, like explosions, either due to coal or the steam engines.  Also sound travels very well over the sea, and should there have been a dramatic demise to Waratah in the form of catastrophic explosions, surely this would have been heard 10 miles distant?  No, the flashes of light were of a more subtle nature, hence not raising alarm on the Harlow. The Waratah was actually gaining on the Harlow (probably full steam); she was running against the forces of diminishing buoyancy.  The Harlow crew did not report freak waves or swell that could tear the bow off a tanker. It is possible that Waratah had latent problems with rivets and leakage into water tight compartments, eventually overwhelming her ability to stay afloat. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What happened to the Waratah?

Everyone has their pet theory as to the disappearance of the Waratah. While we will probably never know exactly what happened on that fateful voyage after the ship left Durban, theories continue to be offered, adding to the aura of Waratah’s mystery. 

1909:  S.S.Waratah, flagship of the Blue Anchor Line, leaves Durban harbour on 26 July for Cape Town, where she is expected to arrive on 29 July. On the next day she signals the ship Clan Macintyre in passing but then, in what becomes one of the enduring mysteries of the sea, she vanishes together with 92 passengers, 119 crew and 6500 tons of cargo. Among the passengers are prominent Durban businessman David Turner, his wife and their five children. (The whole Turner family was lost which led to Turner's partner John Cochrane-Murray taking over Turners Shipping which is still owned today as part of the Turner Group by his grandson. My grandmother Florence went to school with a girl who was lost with her mother on the Waratah while her father and sister were motoring to Cape Town to meet them.)
[Jackson Allan Facts about Durban (2nd ed. 2004) pg 26 ]

Following the disappearance of a 10 000- ton passenger liner the Waratah, off the South African coast in 1909, an earlier incident involving the Norham Castle was related in a letter to the press by a Mr. Hermann Flugge :

In January 1888, we left Cape Town [on board the Norham Castle] with only 12 Passengers, and, after being a sea for a day and a half, we had the misfortune to break our propeller, and the worst was that the screw smashed our rudder, so that we were helpless.
Our gallant Captain rigged up a yard and sails, and we were drifting for weeks, and the Norham Castle was given up for lost here and at Home [Britain]

Not one but half a dozen ships came in sight, but as soon as we signalled our distress, the vessels turned out of our course .... I remember when our Captain assembled every soul on board in the saloon. 'Our vessel is safe from sinking,' he said. 'With the rigged-up sails I hope to reach St. Helena. Should this fail, we are drifting into a current which, after three or four months, will bring us to the coast of Brazil. From the day that we miss St Helena, only half rations will be served.' 

Fortunately, one of the sailing vessels we sighted, which passed St. Helena, and was questioned there as to the lost Norham Castle, reported having sighted a steamer in distress, and gave as far as possible our whereabouts. A whaler, lying at that time in Jamestown, was despatched to our rescue. 

Three weeks we had drifted, and if not rescued, would perhaps have drifted as many months without our fate becoming known to any living being.
Could not a similar mishap have happened to the Waratah? No wreckage has been found up to date, and I advise all those who have friends on the vessel not to give up hope till it is definitely proved that the Waratah has gone to the bottom.  

[Harris C J & Ingpen Brian D Mailships of the Union-Castle Line (1994) pg 53]

Thanks to Terence Hugh Paterson for the above references.

Rogue wave

Freak Waves that swallow ships whole

From the early days of navigation, the sea off the Wild Coast of South Africa earned a fearsome reputation for its merciless storms and monstrous waves. In one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the sea, the luxury liner Waratah, with ships both ahead and behind it, vanished in broad daylight off the Wild Coast in 1909.

The explanation generally accepted for the ship's disappearance is that it fell victim to one of the unpredictable freak waves that are the scourge of this stretch of ocean. This belief is supported by the fact that between 1964 and 1973 six ships suffered encounters with these abnormal waves. In addition, in 1968 the tanker World Glory broke its back and sank after ploughing headlong into a freak wave off the Natal Coast.

Freak waves vary from about 5 to 20m in height, an awesome force, but are exacerbated by being preceded by a deep trough. If a ship encounters such a wave head-on, it will first dip into the trough, and before it has time to raise its bow, a 20m wall of water comes crashing down on its deck - enough to smash the sturdiest vessel afloat. With large ships such as tankers, the superstructure may be buckled as the vessel bucks through the steep trough and wave; smaller ships may simply disappear.

Although impossible to predict the exact occurrence of these waves, there are some warning signs. Immediately off the 10 km-wide Transkei continental shelf the Agulhas Current flows strongly south-westwards, creating a 100 km-wide belt up to 2 000m-deep. When a cold front (low-pressure system) moves across Southern Africa, the associated galeforce south-westerly winds generate waves that, on encountering the current flowing in the opposite direction, becomes higher and steeper. If any of these steep waves become superimposed on the long wavelength swells that reach our shores from the Southern Ocean, then a massive abnormal wave can develop.

[Reynierse Cecile (ed) Illustrated Guide to the Southern African Coast (1988) pg 204]

David Willers’ book In Search of the Waratah, published in 2005, reminds us that after the disappearance several ships spent months searching for her in the southern Atlantic and southern Indian oceans, and suggests that Waratah broke down and drifted south – an option that was underplayed at the Inquiry. Willers explores what might have happened if Waratah had not foundered on the eastern seaboard but had drifted into the wastes of the southern oceans. The second half of the book resorts to fiction.

A volume by P J Smith has since appeared, The Lost Ship Waratah. Both this and Willers’ book refer to the Waratah as The Titanic of the South, a term which in my opinion is inaccurate: we know precisely what happened to the Titanic. Smith’s book is based on the diaries and other documents of Walter Smith (P J Smith’s great-uncle), who was on board during both search attempts for the Waratah. No conclusions are drawn. Author Clive Cussler instigated a million-dollar search mission which seems to have faded from view.

The deep has yet to give up her secrets.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Waratah: Descendants and Memories


The souls on board Waratah on her final voyage in July 1909 were never seen again, but their memory lives on for their descendants and for those who take an intense interest in
what really happened on that voyage between Durban and Cape Town. Memorial inscriptions placed in commemoration of individual passengers and crew members are to be found in many parts of the world, and ceremonies continue to be held on the annual anniversary of the Waratah's disappearance.

The photos below were taken at the event held in Victoria, Australia
on Monday 27 July 2009 
 to mark the Centenary of the loss of the Waratah.

An inscribed plaque was unveiled by Winton McColl, great grandson of John Ebsworth:

The Blue Anchor Line steamship Waratah en route to England from Australia
was lost off the South African coast in extremely heavy seas
between Durban and Cape Town on 27 July 1909.

Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery, 118 crew and 113 passengers, including 75 from Australia
perished without a trace.

100 years later, descendants cast wreaths on the waters of Port Phillip Bay
and unveiled this plaque to remember them.

Queenscliffe Maritime Museum July 2009

Display done by Staff of Queenscliffe Maritime Museum
Click on pic to zoom

Ted Ebsworth was chosen to cast the memorial wreath into the sea. With him is the youngest of Mr John Ebsworth’s descendants, David Harrison and Museum Staff.

As the ferry crossed the anticipated path the Waratah would have travelled as she departed from Port Melbourne on 1 June 1909, Ted Ebsworth, grandson of passenger Mr. John Ebsworth, cast the Protea memorial wreath onto the waters of Port Phillip, followed by fresh flowers from descendants and friends.

Courtesy of
Queenscliffe Maritime Museum
Weeroona Parade

Thanks to Sue Patterson.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Waratah Scrapbook 2

Daily News 26.6.89


A Fresh look at the Legend of the Bloody Swordsman

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Waratah Scrapbook 1


All the above from Daily News 19.9.87

Click on the pics to zoom

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Waratah Warning: Anniversary

Waratah with signatures of her Officers

Today, 7 July in 1909, Waratah put to sea from Ocean Steamers Wharf, Port Adelaide, for her Indian Ocean Crossing to Durban which she reached 19 days later on Sunday 25 July 1909. 

For a reminder of the start of her story see:

In Remembrance

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Woodchoppers and the Solicitor: Lost at Sea 2

SS Waratah at Adelaide, July 1909

Winter had come to the Southern Hemisphere and when the Waratah put to sea on 7 July from Ocean Steamers Wharf for the Indian Ocean crossing to Durban, storms at sea were now commonplace for shipping in these lower latitudes and much heavy weather was expected. It had already been noted by some passengers that soon after leaving Adelaide the weather had become rough, as forecast, and it seemed that the Waratah rolled in a very disagreeable way, remaining for a long time on her side before recovering. While she was recovering and the deck became horizontal, she often gave a decided jerk. 

Claude Sawyer
Good time was made and the Waratah reached Durban nineteen days later on Sunday, 25 July 1909, disembarking approximately 29 passengers, one of which was Mr Claude Sawyer, an engineer and experienced sea traveller who had embarked in Sydney. Sawyer felt unease about the ship and convinced that she was top heavy and would not reach her London destination. During the Indian Ocean passage, he had been plagued by disturbing dreams and foreboding premonition and so strongly did he feel about these omens that he decided he would forfeit his onward passage money to London and wait for a berth on another vessel. 

During the voyage from Adelaide, Sawyer had tried to convince John Ebsworth, Agnes Gosse Hay, Miss Lascelles and several other passengers, to leave the ship with him. Mrs. Hay haughtily disregarded Sawyer’s concerns and despite the fact that she was travelling with all her jewels, retorted that no ship would dare sink with her on board. Mrs. Hay was no stranger to the Waratah, having sailed with Captain Ilbery previously and had made several return voyages to England with him when he commanded the Geelong, sister ship to Waratah. Mrs. Hay was unconvinced and was determined to continue her journey.  

Edward Harewood Lascelles, father of Miss Laura Lascelles, the widely-known and highly-respected business partner of the largest wool and produce business in the Western District of Victoria, would have wished desperately that his daughter had taken Claude Sawyer’s advice and disembarked in Durban.

Waratah offloaded some of her Australian cargo, replenished her coal bunkers, took on additional cargo and embarked her new passengers ready to depart for Cape Town and then onwards to London. Amongst her 40 passengers embarked from Durban was David Turner travelling with his wife and five children aged between 3 and 14 years old. Turner was the founder of the well-known and still-thriving South African business, Turner’s Shipping. The loss of this entire family underlines the heartbreak visited upon so many people after the loss of the Waratah.

On Monday, 26 July 1909, at 8pm from ‘C’ Shed, SS Waratah put to sea for the last time. As the ship turned south past Durban Bluff heading for Cape Town none on board would have believed that they would be sailing to their deaths.

Early the next morning whilst off the Transkei Coast at Cape Hermes at about 6.30am on 27 July, Waratah overtook a cargo ship and her last communication by signal lamp was with the Master of the Clan Macintyre at Latitude 31.36 degrees South, Longitude 29.58 degrees East. With a very heavy storm blowing up from the south, the crew of the Clan MacIntyre could see the Waratah making her way ahead, until she was opposite the estuary of the Bashee River. The weather had been deteriorating quickly and the south westerly gale was now gusting to 50 knots.  

The platform was set for one of the greatest sea mysteries of all time …the passenger and crew lists give us a glimpse of a heart-wrenching human story. An account of regular people proceeding with their everyday lives with plans of business, sport, courtship and private arrangements that would never eventuate. 

John Ebsworth was primarily on business connected with his law office in London and also planned to visit his ageing mother, ironically, for the last time, as he had decided that he would not return to England henceforth. John would become a figure of fascination to his descendants – a man who had spent many years at sea and a successful solicitor in Maritime Law. As a specialist in these matters, he had written and published a handbook titled, ‘Law Relating to Master and Seaman and Claims for Salvage’, and now, years later, he was to be lost at sea as a passenger.

A month after the ship’s disappearance, his wife Sarah Jane received a letter from her husband, which he had written en route from Adelaide and entrusted in Durban to the Master of a Collier, the Bannockburn, bound for New South Wales, Australia, for delivery to his wife.  In his letter he had stated that, ‘The Waratah was a fine sea boat and as comfortable as one could wish for, while the cabins are splendid ... the passengers are well now, having recovered from their sea sickness and apart from a very rough night at sea experienced on 12 July, the Waratah had behaved admirably.’  The letter stated that on the day before the Waratah’s arrival in Durban, the vessel had logged 333 miles, a record for the passage.

Not wishing to worry his wife, John had neglected to mention however, that not all passengers shared his good opinion of the ship and that Claude Sawyer had sought her husband’s advice being concerned that his bathwater remained at an extreme angle for too long when the ship was on a roll. Sawyer also said the ship was top-heavy and unstable. Together they had gone to look at the way the vessel was pitching from the forward end of the promenade deck. As big rollers came towards the ship, the Waratah took the first one and when she went down into the trough of the next wave, she remained there and seemed to keep her nose into the wave and simply plough through it. John Ebsworth could not have been concerned, or surely he too would have disembarked at Durban. 

Ebsworth M.I. at Bridgnorth, Shropshire: 'Also of John, eldest Son of the above, who was lost
on the Waratah July 1909 Aged 52 Years.
Until the Day Break and The Shadows Flee Away'
[Photo courtesy of Denise Roberts.]

A series of guest blogposts by S J L Patterson in commemoration of the SS Waratah July 1909.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Woodchoppers and the Solicitor: Lost at Sea 1

A series of guest blogposts by S J L Patterson in commemoration of the SS Waratah July 1909.

Jack Calder
In Tasmania, a light drizzle had been falling as the two men prepared their equipment to spend another day in the ancient and magnificent forests of Tasmania.  As strong, young men, several years of wielding the axe had honed their craft and strengthened their bodies to become champion woodchoppers in Australia. Shortly, they would be sailing to London and their ship, the SS Waratah, was already in Australian waters and working her way around the coast.

Alf Clarke
Early Australia was a land of hardship and manual labour, with any gains being hard-won from relentless hours of physical effort - building a homestead, erecting fencing, raising cattle or clearing the densely-forested land to plant crops. This daily physical effort raised strong men and competitions were to centre on their skills such as horsemanship and woodchopping. The latter had fast become an entertaining sport and after the first championships had taken place at Latrobe in north-west Tasmania, in November 1891,Tasmania had led with world champion axemen. Top placing in the Australian Championships were critical to Alf Clarke and Jack Calder and, both men being highly skilled, they had been successful with Alf Clarke acquiring the 1905 Australian Championship title, whilst Jack Calder was the Tasmanian State Champion. This success had led to both men being invited under Royal engagement to an exhibition for British Royalty in London, to compete against Canadian woodchoppers. Their preparations were being made to take Australian logs with them for embarkation in Melbourne and Alf Clarke, a big man, had ordered a new pair of size 14 boots especially for the occasion.

Meanwhile, the Waratah slipped away from Sydney’s Central Wharf at Millers Point, at noon on Saturday 26 June 1909, after loading her cargo and embarking 38 passengers. Captain Josiah Edward Ilbery would have felt a twinge of sadness on that cloudy day with showers as he had his last view of the Macquarie and Hornsby Lighthouses, constructed from local sandstone, hewn from the area today known as ‘The Rocks’ on Sydney Harbour. This was his final command as Commodore of the Blue Anchor Line and he was due to retire when this voyage ended in London. The ship would soon pass through The Heads and into the open ocean, visiting Melbourne and Adelaide, followed by her Indian Ocean crossing to Durban, South Africa

SS Waratah
The Waratah was an imposing vessel and her extra promenade deck gave her a somewhat top-heavy appearance, which distinguished her from the rest of the ships of the Blue Anchor Line. On a number of occasions, because she was so high, there had been berthing problems due to the area exposed to strong winds, which had caused her hawsers holding her to the wharf to snap like cotton strands.

One year before, on 5 November 1908, she had set off on her maiden voyage from London, England, to Australia, boasting 100 first class cabins, 8 staterooms, a luxurious 'music lounge' complete with a minstrel's gallery and a saloon with panels depicting her namesake flower. As well as these luxurious quarters, the Waratah had room for 300 Third Class passengers to serve the strong emigrant trade from Europe to Australia.

Having completed her maiden voyage without mishap, her return to England did raise some discussions between the owners and the builders about her stowage and the possibility of it being responsible for some instability on that voyage. Little did they know that these discussions would hold important ramifications in the future, when the inquiry into her loss would again raise the issue of stowage and reports of her instability. The disappearance of the SS Waratah remains as inexplicable and mysterious today, as it did 103 years ago. People all over the world have deliberated and written about this ship. How was it possible for a modern liner of her time, travelling close to shore on a well-used coast, to disappear without trace? Yet she did just that, posing an intriguing mystery, as well as the tragedy of a ship vanishing with all hands. 

Port Melbourne Railway Pier was off in the distance at 4.00pm on Thursday 1 July as the Waratah crossed Port Philip Bay bound for Adelaide. Passengers Alf Clarke and Jack Calder were settled into their Third Class berths and mixed feelings had confronted them as Alf had said goodbye to his wife Eva and four year old daughter Rosina and Jack Calder bid farewell to his family. Yet, for these two young men, this was their first adventure outside Australia. The thrill of the unknown and the new world they were about to explore, was exhilarating. Alf and Jack keep their fitness by training daily on the deck, boxing and skipping and keeping passengers well entertained.

As the Waratah steamed on her uneventful passage to Port Adelaide, Mr. John Ebsworth, a Melbourne Solicitor, Freemason and father of six, had bade farewell to his wife, Sarah Jane on 6th July 1909 and taken the Adelaide Railway Express to Port Adelaide to board the Waratah that was anchored at Ocean Steamers Wharf. He had been delayed by legal matters when the Waratah took on her passengers in Melbourne but he was now on his way to London via South Africa.  
Agnes Grant Gosse Hay
At the same time Agnes Grant Gosse Hay, widow of the highly respected businessman and Member of Parliament, Alexander Hay, originally from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, would be boarding the Waratah after having travelled up to Adelaide from Victor Harbour. Accompanying Agnes was her daughter Helen (Dolly) Gosse and companion Miss M Hesketh-Jones

'Dolly' Gosse

The weather report issued for South Australia at 9pm on 6 July 1909 was, ‘Cloudy, generally with rain and squally winds between NW and SW, strong on the coast and rough sea.’ Captain Ilbery had taken on 6 new crew members in Adelaide and as the 14 new passengers embarked, including John Ebsworth and Agnes Gosse Hay’s party, destiny was closing in on them.  

SS Waratah 1909

To be continued ...