The passenger steamer SS Warrimoo was quietly knifing its way through the waters of the mid-Pacific on its way from Vancouver to Australia. The navigator had just finished working out a star fix and brought the master, Captain John Phillips, the result. The Warrimoo's position was latitude 0 degrees x 31 minutes north and longitude 179 degrees x 30 minutes west. The date was 30 December 1899. “Know what this means?”, First Mate Payton broke in, “we're only a few miles from the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line.”
Captain Phillips was prankish enough to take full advantage of the opportunity for achieving the navigational freak of a lifetime. He called his navigators to the bridge to check and double check the ships position. He changed course slightly so as to bear directly on his mark. Then he adjusted the engine speed. The calm weather and clear night worked in his favour. At midnight the Warrimoo lay on the Equator at exactly the point where it crossed the International Date Line! The consequences of this bizarre position were many. The forward part of the ship was in the Southern Hemisphere and the middle of summer. The stern was in the Northern Hemisphere and in the middle of winter. The date in the aft part of the ship was 30 December 1899. Forward it was 1 January 1900. This ship was therefore not only in two different days, two different months, two different seasons and two different years but in two different centuries-all at the same time. Captain J (John) D. S. Phillips was Master of 3326 tons R.M.S. Warrimoo of the Canadian – Australian Lines in at least 1899 and 1900; he is listed as Master when the (Sydney) Evening News of October 17 1900 reported RMS Warrimoo as arriving Sydney on October 16 1900 from Vancouver via Honolulu and Brisbane with 32 passengers on board (all named except 3 children, a maid and 3 steerage passengers). She was also reported at Brisbane on April 28 and July 23 1900, but the Master was not named on those occasions.
In 1895, Mark Twain was travelling to Australia aboard the S.S. Warrimoo. In dire financial difficulties, he was embarking on an around the world speaking tour during which he also wrote ‘Following the Equator,’ his account of the journey. In it, he notes the moment the ship crossed the equator:
A sailor explained to a young girl that the ship’s speed is poor because we are climbing up the bulge toward the center of the globe; but that when we should once get over, at the equator, and start down-hill, we should fly.
Afternoon. Crossed the equator. In the distance it looked like a blue ribbon stretched across the ocean. Several passengers kodak’d it.
Three days later, he describes crossing the international dateline:
While we were crossing the 180th meridian it was Sunday in the stern of the ship where my family were, and Tuesday in the bow where I was. They were there eating the half of a fresh apple on the 8th, and I was at the same time eating the other half of it on the 10th–and I could notice how stale it was, already. The family were the same age that they were when I had left them five minutes before, but I was a day older now than I was then. The day they were living in stretched behind them half way round the globe, across the Pacific Ocean and America and Europe; the day I was living in stretched in front of me around the other half to meet it.
Along about the moment that we were crossing the Great Meridian a child was born in the steerage, and now there is no way to tell which day it was born on. The nurse thinks it was Sunday, the surgeon thinks it was Tuesday. The child will never know its own birthday. It will always be choosing first one and then the other, and will never be able to make up its mind permanently. This will breed vacillation and uncertainty in its opinions about religion, and politics, and business, and sweethearts, and everything, and will undermine its principles, and rot them away, and make the poor thing characterless, and its success in life impossible.
Warrimoo was one of two ships built for James Huddart, of Huddart Parker Ltd., for an independent Trans-Tasman service in competition with Union Steamship Company. After a fierce rate cutting war James Huddart withdrew from the Trans-Tasman trade after only five months and started a service connecting Australia and Canada, subsidised by the Canadian and New South Wales governments. In 1897 the New Zealand government offered a subsidy if the ships would also call at a port in their country. To provide the same service frequency a third ship was required and the steamer Aorangi was purchased from the New Zealand Shipping Company. Unfortunately the service, despite the subsidies, couldn’t support three ships; the company defaulted on payments for the Aorangi and in February 1898 the New Zealand Shipping Company (NZSC) assumed control of the Canadian – Australian Line, and purchased Warrimoo in August 1899. In 1901 NZSC sold the service and ships to Union Steamship.
In late 1914 Warrimoo was taken up as a troopship. On 17 May 1918 when on a convoy from Bizerta to Marseilles she collided with the escorting French destroyer Catapulte. In the collision the destroyer’s depth-charges were dislodged; they exploded in the water blowing out the bottom plates of both ships, causing them both to sink with some loss of life.
Information from www.mastermariners.org.au and quadriv.wordpress.com from a suggestion by Peter C.
Confederation Marine Modellers