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
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.