WARATAH — a Mystery Within a Mystery

I was reminded today by Much Better Half diving into her Genealogy how important it is to record the interesting snippets passed on by one’s parents or other relatives before they are lost forever. I have already recounted some of my late mother’s experiences here 
and here.

In the latter, I mention that she was on the docks to watch the Titanic sail from Southampton and overheard a man declaring that the ship was unsafe.

She also had an indirect and totally baffling encounter with the Waratah.

On what must have been Wednesday, 28th July 1909, when she was nine years old, she was holidaying with members of the family at Port Alfred, between Port Elizabeth and East London on the South African East Coast, and it was decided to go out of town for a picnic. They travelled by donkey cart, driven by a local black youth of limited English vocabulary.
At some part of the day, their driver became very agitated. He insisted that they should return. They were not ready to leave, and asked him why. In response, he said repeatedly that a big ship had sunk with many people killed. He did not make it clear how he knew or how this affected him or why this meant he, or the family, should return, but so insistent was he that eventually they all packed up and left, with him driving as fast as the propulsion system would allow.

Late the following day, news filtered through from Cape Town that the Waratah was overdue, and in the days that followed there was confirmation that the ship was missing presumed sunk.

The wreckage has not been found to this day, despite a few premature announcements arising from mistaken identity. It has variously been conjectured that the ship was overwhelmed by freak wave conditions sometimes found on that section of coast, or (based on one observation) that there might have been a massive boiler explosion and fire.

Various isolated things identified as having come from the Waratah have been washed up from time to time — a deck chair and a lifeboat among them — but very few.

So, that driver had been right about a sinking ship. How he had known, and how or why it concerned him, was never discovered. The family couldn’t find him again. To date, none of us have been able to arrive at any reasonable explanation for that bizarre occurrence.

© March 2019 Colonialist

About colonialist

Active septic geranium who plays with words writing fantasy novels and professionally editing, with notes writing classical music, and with riding a mountain bike, horses and dinghies. Recently Indie Publishing has been added to this list.
This entry was posted in Africa, Ancestry, Genealogy, History, Personal Journal and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to WARATAH — a Mystery Within a Mystery

  1. My mother was a bit spooky,My D.O D thought that she was actually a witch.

    I can recall one night must have been in 1946 /47 she was making sure my brother and I was ticked in for the night, and she exclaimed something along the lines of “my god so and so” – a young girl who lived in the house at the back of ours in England) just died there goes her wraith”.

    This wasn’t the first time either, a couple of months earlier the same thing happened, with Mrs Freaks our next door neighbour. She died that night;.my mother went and laid her out,

    Neighbours did those things back then, no such thing as undertakers; and anyway my mother liked doing that for some reason.
    Perhaps my D. O D was right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Debra says:

    What a remarkable story! Fascinating…and I agree with the others, Twilight Zone material!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Better half is so correct about recording all the family stories you can – they will be appreciated (eventually). Not only for historical family value, but stories reinforce we are so much alike – and connected across them – (and insights to what those times/feelings were!)
    WOW What a mystery. Twilight Zone indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Arkenaten says:

    ”You are now entering the Twilight Zone.”
    Cue weewooo type music.
    Definitely an odd case..

    Liked by 2 people

    • colonialist says:

      Odd in the extreme. I can’t help thinking that if I had been there I would have pursued an explanation with far greater vigour than mother, granddad, grandma and aunts displayed.


  5. Yes, very weird indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A story to make the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck. Your driver must have had a sixth sense even if his English was limited.

    Liked by 1 person

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