THE SS WARATAH AND THE CURSE OF THE EMPIRE HOTEL

SS Waratah

The SS Waratah disappeared without trace  enroute to London from Australia in July 1909.  The full story can be read HERE.

Among the 211 passengers and crew  on board were six members of the  Bowden family, travelling third class.

 

Newspaper reports varyingly stated that Mr Bowden was involved in mining, or in the hotel business. No memorials appeared for the family when the vessel was given up as lost.

Over several years the story of the lost ship has been one of the most visited on my website. I have  continued to search for more information, using the wonderful on-line data base, TROVE. It is hosted by The National Library and new material  is continually added to the archive. Mind you, the  following information may always have  been there, hiding from my eagle eye!

A LUCKY ESCAPE

In 1937 a letter from someone only identified as ‘A Seaman’, appeared in Australian newspapers. He was English, and wrote  about his various lucky escapes from death at sea.  His story relating to the Waratah does sound credible, and answers some of the questions,

Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, Saturday 21 August (page 2)

They say a cat has nine lives. I am not a cat, but an ordinary individual who went to sea for a good many years and was blessed with as many lives as any cat…..In some cases of wrecks I had a presentiment warning me not to sail in these vessels, and in other cases it was just my changeable nature which made me leave a job. Had it not been for this I certainly would not be alive today.

The first steamer concerned was the ill-fated Waratah, which foundered off the South African coast with the loss of all hands. The mystery of her fate has never been solved.

I was working at the Empire Hotel in Sydney,  Australia  at the time, and was anxious to come home to England for a trip. The manager of the hotel, a Mr Bowden, and his wife and other members of his family were travelling as passengers. They secured me a job as an extra steward for the passage home, and I was very enthusiastic about it. But Sydney, with its sunny weather, lovely beaches and Sunday sports, and exceptional hospitality held me back. I somehow could not leave Sydney, although the manager and his wife offered me extra inducements. 

I went to the wharf and saw them off, but little did I think that I would never see them again.

With  the name of the hotel  revealed  it was relatively easy to identify Mr Bowden as Henry Isaac Bowden.

 

Empire Hotel

Empire Hotel, Sydney

 

Pitt Street Sydney, 1910

Pitt Street 1910, looking towards The Empire Hotel on the right. (Powerhouse Museum)

 

 

Saloon Bar at the Empire Hotel Sydney

Saloon bar at the Empire.

The Bowden family had only taken on the lease of The Empire in 1907, and had relinquished it early in1909.  We know this due to  a horrible incident at the hotel on February 27.  A barmaid was shot  and injured in the saloon bar  by a rejected lover, who then shot himself and died a few days later in hospital. Newspaper reports  of the case named Bowden’s successor William Lesur as licensee.


TWO LITTLE GIRLS

When the  extended Bowden family boarded the ill-fated SS Waratah in Sydney on May 29  1909 they had charge of two little girls, Leona and Dora Schauman. The sisters’  ages were reported as  eleven and  ten.  There has been an enduring puzzle about who these children were and how  (or if)  they were connected to the Bowdens.  Recently I had  a break-through…the name Schauman appeared in a published list  of insolvents.

In August 1908 Karl Schauman  of Dene Hollow, Mosman was declared bankrupt.  Dene Hollow was a landmark, waterfront mansion in Mosman Bay.   He also owned a 30ft motor launch, which was auctioned off to pay creditors.

 

 

Mr Schauman was described as ‘Agent, and Lessee of the  Empire Hotel, Pitt and Hunter Street Sydney.’  The Empire Hotel….that was the link!

During legal proceedings the following month it was revealed that he had continued to trade knowing himself to be insolvent. His bankruptcy was judged to have been caused by  rash and hazardous investments, a charge he  appeared to accept;

‘He said that he had not been bankrupt before and attributed his bankruptcy to going into an hotel business about which he knew nothing. He believed he would have been £5,000 to the good if he had realized this before he went into the hotel business’

 

Dene Hollow Mosman

Dene Hollow shortly after the Schaumans left. (Photo courtesy of Nick Hill)

 

 

Why the extended Bowden family decided to embark on the SS Waratah at the last minute remains unclear.

The Bowdens and Schaumans  were mutually  (and unsuccessfully) involved in  the Empire Hotel for about 2 years, 1907-1909.   At first I presumed they were merely  business acquaintances.  It occurred to me that the  bankrupt Karl Schauman had decided to send his two eldest children to relatives in the UK in the care of his friends the Bowdens

However, there is a final twist in the story.

In December 1906 the ship Manuka arrived in Sydney from Auckland. Among the passengers were Miss Bowden, Mrs Bowden, Mrs Schauman and three children. Further digging has revealed that Mrs Shauman’s maiden name was…… Lucy Marian Bowden, sister to Henry Isaac Bowden.  Lucy was Karl Schuman’s second wife (they married in 1901)  and the young sisters Leona and Dora were her stepdaughters. The women and  children  were on their way to join their menfolk, who had jointly entered the hotel business.

That bad investment  in The Empire had far reaching consequences.  It culminated in the death of eight members of one family, including four children. The mysterious loss of the SS Waratah  haunted many people, but the suffering experienced by Karl Schauman and his wife Lucy is unimaginable. From July until December they waited and hoped for news.  It was not until December 1909 that the Lutine  bell at Lloyds of London tolled  once, signally the loss of the ship. The couple returned to England and are listed in the 1911 English census. Karl established a brick manufacturing business in Staffordshire, where the Bowden family were originally from.

Lloyds Lutine Bell

The bell at Lloyds tolls for the loss of a ship.

 

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5 Comments
  1. You’ve missed your calling Pauline. You should have been a detective!
    What an intriguing mystery it was – and you have solved it. I’m sure members of the extended family would be impressed.

    • Pauline

      Haha, well my friends do call me Miss Marple, Christine. What a tragedy it all was.

  2. Well done. You’ve solved a mystery. Now you need to find the wreck of the Waratah!

    • Pauline

      I might have to start one of those crowd funding projects, Mike.

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