Friday, 30 September 2016


I have asserted that the 'jerk' described during Waratah's voyage across from Australia to Durban, July, 1909, was due to an over-correction of GM (increased righting force). By adding 1300 tons of lead concentrates at 11 cubic feet to the ton and 8 ft. high in the lower hold, improved GM to a figure of roughly 1.9 ft. which is stiff, not tender - tenderness being associated with top heaviness. Further to this I have asserted that Captain Ilbery needed to load about 250 to 300 tons of coal on the spar deck to reduce GM to a more palatable 1.5 ft. and thus remove the jerky recovery - passengers had fallen on deck due to this jerky recovery. There are many skeptics who dispute my assertions. The following is taken from my Yongala Revisited Blog. I believe the point is very well made:

Captain Mackay asked the witness about
the rumor that 400 tons of ballast had 
been taken out of the vessel, and the 
witness said he had replied to that. He 
pointed out that when the vessel was 
on the Western Australian trade she 
generally travelled from Fremantle to 
Adelaide with very little cargo, and often 
none at all. Her mean draught from 
Fremantle to Adelaide would be from 
16 ft. 8 in. to 17 ft. 6 in..

If the reporter documented the figure accurately 400 tons of pig iron were significantly more than the 164 tons of pig iron quoted in the Inquiry transcript:

'it was explained by the general manager that this ballast, amounting to 164 tons, became unnecessary, owing to cargo being obtainable both up and down the Queensland coast.'

It must be said at this juncture that the mere fact Yongala required between 164 and 400 tons of permanent pig iron ballast, over and above the water ballast component, indicates an inherently tender (top heavy) vessel. The point is well made that there might have been significantly less cargo between Fremantle and Adelaide, but the witness failed to mention that Yongala, as late as December 1910, periodically serviced the route between Adelaide and Fremantle, and not exclusively the east coast! If Yongala was an inherently stiff steamer there would not have been the need for additional permanent ballast.

The water ballast she then carried would
be 400 tonsIn May, 1904 it was decided
to put some stiffening in her for the run
across the Bight, and on May 17, at Sydney, 
184 tons of pig iron were stowed in the
after end of the No. 2 hold. In May, 1907,
when the vessel was put on the trade from
Melbourne to Cairns, this was discharged,
as the vessel could rely on having cargo
both ways.

It appears that the reporter confused the figure of 400 tons with ballast water, as he or she might have done referring to 184 tons rather than 164 tons. I am going to take 164 tons of pig iron ballast as given (Inquiry transcript). If Yongala had retained the 164 tons of pig iron, taking into consideration that she was 36% full in terms of cargo, 23 March, she might have survived the storm. After all, the pig iron was added with reference to storm conditions off the Australian Bight and reduced cargo component.

The witness read a letter from Captain
Knight, dated June 11. 1907, stating that
the vessel seemed much better since the
iron was removed. It had done away, he
said, with the jerking recovery which had
been so noticeable when the iron was on
board and the vessel was in ballast trim.

This is a significant passage. Improved GM stability did not equate with passenger comfort. Further to this I cannot help but draw a comparison with the Waratah. Captain Ilbery of that vessel significantly improved GM stability (reducing the top heaviness factor --> stiffening) for Waratah's final voyage by loading 1300 tons of lead concentrates at 11 cubic feet to the ton and 8 ft. high in a lower hold, creating a significant shift of Waratah's centre of gravity downwards - reducing top heaviness. However, during the voyage over from Australia to Durban (South Africa) there were reports of just such a 'jerking recovery' described above which caused passengers to fall on deck. It seems to me that in both cases, making corrections for relatively top heavy vessels, created its own set of problems. 

SS Yongala

SS Waratah

Saturday, 17 September 2016


Range of Visibility of Lights: The coloured sidelights are only required to be visible for 2 miles, but are usually visible for a greater distance depending materially on atmospheric conditions; the mast lights are 5 miles, but again will usually be seen further— especially in the exceptional conditions described in this book.

Padfield, Peter. The Titanic and the Californian (p. 334). Thistle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Controversy will always surround the details of that which was seen by Captain Bruce and his officers of the SS Harlow, 8 pm, 27 July, 1909. Captain Bruce, his chief officer and chief engineer, all had the impression of a large steamer astern, showing two masthead lights and a red sidelight. Conditions were relatively clear, the storm of 'exceptional violence' evolving far to the southwest. Captain Bruce remained steadfast about the details of that which they had all witnessed despite the fact that his two officers submitted to the suggestion that bush fires onshore could have mimicked a large steamer astern. The truly interesting thing about the above passage is that sidelights (i.e. the red sidelight) could not be seen beyond 5 miles, in general conditions. This confirms Alfred Harris' statement that he estimated that the large steamer was less than 4 miles astern. This makes sense and further to this a steamer the size of Waratah could not have been mistaken for anything other than what she was, less than 4 miles astern of the Harlow.

Saturday, 10 September 2016


Examiner (Launceston) Friday 10 February, 1911.
Depositions were read to-day, fromwhich the following are extracts:
Mr. Harris, chief engineer of thesteamer Harlow:-
"On July 27, 1909, when off the African coast, I saw two lights, one a red light, apparently thoseof a steamer. I afterwards noticed largevolumes of smoke and a glare, afterwhich the lights disappeared. Therewere bush fires on shore. I expressed anopinion at the time that if that werea steamer, she was on fire. "The smokemight be attributable to bush fires."
Much has been said about Captain Bruce's account of the 'large steamer astern of the Harlow'. But Chief Engineer Alfred Harris' account was succinct and highly convincing. Not only this it mirrored Bruce's description of events - despite the simple fact that bush fire mirages are in the eye of the beholder and unlikely to present the same images to multiple eye witnesses. The reference to a 'glare' is interesting in itself and could have related to a fire on board. However, witnesses on the Californian, the tramp steamer within visual distance of the sinking Titanic, commented that they could see the masthead light of Titanic with a 'glare' aft. This confirms that if a large steamer with many deck lights was viewed from a distance at night head on, i.e. bow pointing towards the vantage point of observers,  these decks lights would be seen as a 'glare'. This would have applied to the Waratah astern of the Harlow. The large volumes of smoke could have been attributed by a fire on board but the glare might not have been similarly associated with flames on deck. It is also interesting to note how much confusion existed on the Californian as officers on watch witnessed numerous distress flares. Interpretations varied and ultimately the Californian did not go to the aid of the Titanic - such a similar situation to the Harlow account.
Food for thought....
SS Californian.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


The following comment on Pauline Conolly's Blog is a fascinating insight into the background of Charles Owen, Chief Officer, Waratah.

Courtesy: Pauline Conolly's SS Waratah - Australia's 'Titanic'.
Hi Pauline,
My name is Peter Somerset Marks! My Great Aunt, Lillian Owen nee Somerset,b 1882 in Brisbane d 1926 in Southport, was the widow of Charles Owen, Chief Officer on the SS Waratah. She was the younger sister of my grandmother, Dora Marks nee Somerset.
Lillian had emigrated from Australia to South Africa in 1904 with her parents and three of her eight siblings. Her mother had died in January 1905 in Johannesburg, and she had departed Capetown bound for England in late December 1906 on board the ‘Miltiades.’ Lillie must have been many years Charles’ junior. They married almost immediately she arrived in England. They married sometime in January 1907 at the Church of St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, Essex, England.
Lillie and Charles had a daughter, Lillian Audrey Enid Owen, who was born on 6 April, 1908 in Leytonstone, Essex, England. On 3 March 1910, Judge Roberts of the Swansea County Court compensated both Lillie and Audrey for the loss of their husband and father (182 pounds for Lillian and 90 pounds for Audrey). On 6 April, 1910 Lillie and Audrey sailed for Australia. They settled just outside Rockhampton with Lillie’s widowed father, Henry St John Somerset. In about 1915 they moved to Southport, QLD. Lillie died an untimely death in 1926 and Audrey married Herbert Lloyd Salisbury Baxendale in October 1926. They spent many years in Canada and also in the UK. Audrey died in 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Christopher Guy Beaufort Salisbury Griffin, Audrey’s grandson still lives in British Columbia.
If you have any further details about Charles Owen and his early life and career I should be grateful. I especially would appreciate knowing how Lillian met Charles.
Yes, the story of the loss of the SS Waratah is exceptionally tragic.
Thanking you,
Peter Somerset Marks
Perhaps a reader is able to supply Mr Marks with the information he seeks.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


Steamer Delcomyn, launched 1880 for the Blue Anchor Line - 1817 tons.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 12 October, 1891.

The Delcomyn will be remembered as having traded to
this port, and was one of the wool fleet from australia a
couple of years ago. She had an exciting experience
lately off Finisterre. The story, as narrated by the crow, is -

"We first discovered the outbreak 100 miles or so off
Finisterre, and it had then assumed alarming proportions'
Captain Giles at once gave orders for the inflammable 
portion of the cargo to be heaved overboard. We had tons 
and tons of explosives in the forehold, and were in a 
terrible state of anxiety that the flames, which were issuing 
from that quarter, had already got up to it. We lowered the 
boats, and while playing on to that part with the hose,
were ready at a moment's notice to put off and leave 
the ship - returning to her after the expected explosion. 
Fortunately we managed to subdue the flames in the 
forecastle, and all immediate danger was at an end. 
We next threw over case after case of wines and
spirits, we had no drinking water left, and the captain
strictly forbade us to touch a drop of liquor. We steamed
on to Vigo as fast as we possibly could, but all the time
were working like horses to subdue the fire, and for two
nights and days we had neither sleep food, nor drink. We
were bound for Rangoon from Cardiff with a mixed cargo,
principally of wines, gunpowder and cartridges, and 
provisions". In reply to a question as to tho cause of the fire,
the stoker and outers said that Captain Gyles and the
officers would assign no reason, but that the crew were
firmly convinced that it had started before they left Cardiff.

A fascinating account and YET AGAIN, no cause found. It is possible that if a fire had broken out on Waratah this might have started before Waratah departed Durban port. Fires on board steamers were a common occurrence - a few significant cases ending in tragedy.


The Mercury (Hobart) Friday 7 August, 1891.

Intelligence has been received by cable
that the steamer Wallarah, which left London
for Sydney on July 9, has been totally
wrecked on Dassen Island, Cape Colony.
The steamship Wallarah was a new vessel,
and on her first voyage. She was one of three
new steamships built for Mr. W. Lund, of
London, for his well-known Blue Anchor
line. These were to be of larger tonnage, and
have more steampower than any of the others
in the same fleet, and were to be superior
vessels in every way. The Wallarah was the
first to be completed, and she was under
the command of Captain F. H. Ekins.
The Wallarah was a steel screw steamship of
nearly 4,000 tons, and was intended to carry
a large cargo. She was launched on April 23
from the yard of the Sunderland Shipbuilding 
Company. Her dimensions were as follows:-
Length, 360ft. between perpendiculars; 
beam, 43ft 45in.; and depth of hold, 26ft. 1 in., 
or 29ft. moulded. The bridge deck
amidships was 98ft. in length, and in the
alleyways underneath were the officers'
quarters, lockers, etc. The Wallarah was
furnished with triple expansion engines,
built and set up in her by Messrs. Wigham,
Richardson, and Co., of Newcastle-on-Tyne.
The-high-pressed cylinder was 28in. in diameter, 
the medium-pressed 45in.,and the low
pressed 73in., the piston stroke being 54in.
Steam was generated in two same double
ended steel boilers, working at a pressure of
1601b. The engines were 500 h.p. nominal, or
over 3,000 h.p. effective (ihp). They were said to
be of first-class workmanship, and equal to
driving the Wallarah at 12-knot speed on a
very moderate consumption of coal. All the
steamships of this line are kept quite up to
the mark with regard to appearance, and the
Wallarah had special attention given to her
equipment. She was registered on the
highest class at Lloyd's 100 A1. The Wallarah
was consigned to Messrs. John Sanderson
and Co., and carried a very valuable cargo
Fix this textfor Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) Thursday 20 August, 1891.

Heavy Losses.
[By Telegraph.]
Sydney, August 19.
It has been ascertained that the
steamer Wallarah, wrecked in the early
part of the month near Cape Town, had
on board between 1,000 and 2,000 tons of
cargo for Sydney. The insurances on
this are stated on good authority to
amount to between £40,000 and £60,000.
Fix this textall the local offices being interested.
As a result of this incident - no loss of life - a lighthouse was erected on Dassen Island.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 12 October, 1891.

As two large steamers, bound to Sydney - the Ashleigh
Brook and the Wallarah- have come to grief on Dassen
Island, the Government notice published at Capetown, as
follows, is of interest to underwriters -"It is hereby
notified that a light tower is about to be erected on the
Southern end of Dassen Island to be hereafter called Dassen
Island Lighthouse. The tower will be a cylindrical iron
structure 80ft high, with quarters detached about
60 yards eastwards. It will be situated in lat 33.2
south, and longitude 16 degrees 6 minutes 20 seconds 
east of Greenwich. It is intended to dtsplay a first order 
white group flash light (to be hereafter described), with focal
plane 150ft above the level of low water The light will be
visible in clear weather about 20 miles but the flashes will
be seen at a much greater distance. The nearest existing
light is that on Robben Island about 26 miles magnetic
south. This will be the first loading light vĂ­sible to vessels
making Table Bay from the north-west. The tower will
probably be ready for the reception of tho lenticular about
July, 1892 and the light may be exhibited about September,
1892, of which due and precise notice will be given.

sister ship Yarrawonga (1891 - 4000 tons) - similar to Wallarah.

Dassen Island, 1908

survivors made their way to Malmesbury by cart.

For a complete overview of Blue Anchor Line vessels, see: