Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Was your ancestor on the Waratah?

At 8 p.m. South African time on 26 July 1909, 102 years ago today, SS Waratah left Durban from C Shed carrying a total of 211 souls.

The pilot, Lindsey, went on board at C Shed and the tug Richard King shepherded the Waratah out of Durban Harbour. Early the following morning, near Port St. John's, the Waratah overtook the Clan MacIntyre which had also left Durban the previous day for England. Signals passed between the two ships, identifying each other's names and where they were bound. The Waratah remained in sight of the Clan Macintyre for about three hours and at about 9.30 a.m. about 12 miles off the Bashee River mouth, the Waratah was lost to view below the horizon.

She was never to be seen again. Her fate remains one of the greatest mysteries of the sea. 

Josiah Ilbery, the Waratah's Captain, was 69 when he was lost along with his ship. He had been with Lund's line for forty years. The son of Walter Ilbery and Eliza Vachel; he was christened at Saint Peter's, Church Street, Liverpool, Lancashire 13 Jul 1840. At the time of his application for his certificate his address was given as Egremont, Cheshire and his birth date as 22 June 1840.

Captain Ilbery was for many years on the England-Australia run and maintained his contact with members of the Ilbery family in New South Wales (where he owned land) and Victoria. During his long maritime career, he commanded most of Lund's new ships as they came onto the run.

The earliest of Lloyd's Ship's Captain's Registers shows his birth at Liverpool 1840 and that he obtained his certificate in 1865. His first command was Lund's clipper Mikado in 1868, voyaging to China, Japan and the Oriental Archipelago. While master of the Mikado, Ilbery was recognised by the US Government for the rescue of the Grace Clifton. He later commanded the Serapis 1878 and Ocean King in 1879, then in 1880 took command of the Delcomyn, first steamship of Lund's line, on the Cape Australia route. While with this vessel, Ilbery was instrumental in the rescue of the boat's crew of SS Koning der Nederlanden.

For the last thirty years of his life he commanded steamships plying between England and Australia. Before taking command of the Waratah, he was on the Geelong in 1904.

It's likely that Josiah Ilbery was related to William Ilbery, a famous watchmaker working in London who produced exquisitely enamelled and decorated watches for the Chinese market from ca 1780. There were other Ilberys in the watchmaking profession.

A list of passengers on the Waratah's final fateful voyage from Durban can be viewed on this blog at:

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