Friday, July 28, 2017
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
108 years ago
Monday, 26th July 1909, 8.00 pm
SS Waratah – departing from ‘C’ Shed, Durban, South Africa
Destination - Cape Town
Route - London via Las Palmas and Plymouth
Commander – J E Ilbery
Captain Ilbery and his crew knew a heavy southerly storm was blowing up from the Cape and they would soon be confronted by enormous seas. This stretch of the South African coastline is notorious and treacherous, taking merchant ships close to the very edge of the Continental Shelf, which generates gigantic swells, especially when very strong winds blowing from the south-west, oppose the 3 knot south-running coastal current.
During the passage from Adelaide, (Australia) to Durban, the Waratah had not been well-received by many passengers when moderate to rough seas had manifested in her top-heavy promenade deck being the cause of her insecure righting motion. Would Captain Ilbery and his senior officers have felt apprehensive in anticipation of this wild storm ahead of them?
Did that underlying unease amongst some of the crew and passengers start to increase now, as they recalled the recent Adelaide passage and the disagreeable way in which the Waratah had rolled, remaining on her sides for a long time before recovering? Little did any of them imagine that they were sailing directly to their deaths!
Where and when, exactly, did Waratah meet her demise?
Most haunting of all is how the passengers and crew would have faced their terrifying imminent doom. They would have been hurled about the ship as she hit the enormous waves and possibly rolled over completely. Perhaps she was engulfed by an enormous rogue wave as she drove down into a trough. We can only hope that their demise was quick, with perhaps no time to realise what was happening, before the thousands of tons of icy water poured over the ship to drag them helplessly into the depths of the Indian Ocean’s Continental Shelf.
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders of the deep.
SS Waratah: by Seth Wade
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
From Ocean Steamers Wharf for the Indian Ocean crossing to Durban, South Africa.
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 the impending doom that awaited them much further into their voyage.
Winter had come to the Southern Hemisphere, 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.
As the voyage continued, an underlying unease grew amongst some passengers regarding the Waratah’s design, with her high promenade deck, instability due to the design and slow righting movements of the ship.
However, none of the passengers would ever have imagined that this ship would vanish so completely without trace on that fateful night of 27 July 1909………
Acknowledgement to Susanne-Jo Leff Patterson
Sunday, July 2, 2017
108 years ago yesterday, 1 July at 4 pm Australian time, cargo loaded and passengers from Melbourne embarked, SS Waratah crosses Port Philip Bay, bound for Adelaide.
Saturday, July 1, 2017
Finley (or Finlay) Gibson, 1841 - 1924, was entitled to the Afghan Campaign Medal, seen above, as he served in that conflict. My great grandfather, he was in the 15th Hussars from attestation at the age of 18 years in 1859 to his discharge at the age of nearly 40 in 1880. His papers indicate that he intended residing at Stevenston in Ayrshire, though he was a Londoner by birth (birthplace St George's, Borough, East London, England).
The reason would become clear. I discovered that living in that Scottish village was his widowed sister, Margaret McIntyre, with her children. Finley and his brother, William, also a soldier, both made their home with Margaret for a while. Finley married Annie Bell in Stevenston in May 1881 and started his own family. By 1911 he was Foreman of the Dynamite Factory at Ardeer, known locally as the 'dinnamit'. Several of his children worked in the factory - a dangerous environment as explosions could, and did, occur.
Annie Bell married Finley Gibson in 1881
Thursday, June 29, 2017
The Annabella, 200 tons, was a British-built barque wrecked on Annabella Bank - named after the ship - on 21 January 1856 at Durban. No lives were lost.
Her story emphasises the difficulties encountered by ships entering the harbour and having to wait until conditions of wind and weather, and particularly the depth of water over the Bar, were suitable for a safe landing.
As Port Captain, William Bell was involved in assisting at many such wrecks and their aftermath, reporting on causes of the incidents and sitting at the inquiries held.
By the late 19th c tugs were used to help vessels in and out of the harbour. Also there were various attempts made by marine engineers to improve access to the Bay by dredging, building piers and other schemes, not all of them successful.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Is Your Ancestor listed here in 1878?
The Natal Almanac and Yearly Directory is a mine of information on the Port and Town of Durban in the late 19th c. This entry tell us that T (Thomas) Gadsden was Lighthouse Keeper with a salary of 125 pounds per annum. His brother-in-law Douglas William Bell was Assistant Keeper at 100 pounds. At the time, the Port Captain was Alexander Airth. (Captain William Bell had died in 1869.) Gadsden was married to Captain Bell's daughter Eliza Ann.
Customs and Excise staff are also listed, as well as those in the Engineer's Office.
Is your ancestor listed?
Durban Point and Bay in the 1870s, with the Berea dimly
outlined in the distance.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The schooner Conch was making regular sailings carrying colonial produce and passengers between Algoa Bay and Table Bay, and other ports, before William Bell took over her command. Here she is under another master, Cobern, variously given as 'J' and 'T' but probably the same person. Extract from SACA 31 Dec 1829.
Ships in Algoa Bay in the 1820s, by Thomas Baines
Saturday, June 17, 2017
Friday, June 16, 2017
From the South African Commercial Advertiser 27 April 1844: the death, on 23 April, of Ellen Selwyn Sophia Still, aged 1 year and 8 months, daughter of Captain William Douglas Bell 'of the schooner Conch'. It must have been a low point for Bell and his family. At this juncture, after his heroic part in the action at Port Natal in 1842, Bell had returned to the relatively quiet life of a coastal mariner, commanding the Conch, and based at Algoa Bay, making regular sailings to and from Table Bay and other ports.
That people had not forgotten his courageous act in taking British troops into land at Natal under enemy fire had been evidenced by one particular letter which appeared in the local press in November 1843. This and other efforts by the public on Bell's behalf eventually led to an offer by the colonial government of a post as 'Harbour Master' at Natal. But the course would not be plain-sailing.
This child, born shortly after Bell's return to Algoa Bay in July 1842, had been given the middle name of Selwyn - after Major Selwyn who had played an important part in events at Natal in June of that year. Sadly Ellen was to die very young. A Bell daughter born subsequently in May 1846 would be named Ellen Harriet. By that date the Bells had their eldest daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth Pamela, b 1839, and their first son, Douglas William, b 1841.
St George's Cathedral Cape Town Cape Colony 1800s:
watercolour by Thomas Bowler