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 31 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.
The incident is reported on several websites, most of which seem to find it important that Captain Phillips was sitting in a quiet corner of the bridge smoking a cigar when first told of WARRIMOO’s proximity to the intersection of the Equator and the 1800 meridian!
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 assumed control of the Canadian – Australian Line, and purchased WARRIMOO on 16.08.1899. In 1901 NZSCo 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 Marseille 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.
Sources: Passenger Ships of Australia and New Zealand Volume 1 page 74.
Crossed Flags (World Ship Society) page 51
Photos from Flotilla-Australia.com