“Warrimoo.” The word seems to come from the Aboriginal Ladjiladji people along the border land of New South Wales and Victoria in South Australia, and translating as ‘Eagle’, or ‘Place of Eagles’.
The SS Warrimoo was a passenger steamer, launched in 1892 to serve the Trans-Tasman route between Australia and New Zealand. Later assigned to a Canada-to-Australia passenger route, she would be taken into service as a troop ship with the advent of the Great War, in 1914.
The first Maori detachment destined for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915 departed Wellington aboard the SS Warrimoo that February, its motto ‘Te Hokowhitu a Tū’ (the seventy twice-told warriors of the war god).
A list of WW1 troop ship departures from New Zealand shows 113 such passages, on which the Warrimoo appears, three times.
The troop ship met its end on May 17, 1918 on a convoy from Tunisia to Marseille. Warrimoo collided with the escorting French warship Catapulte, dislodging the destroyer’s depth charges and blowing out the bottom plates of both vessels. SS Warrimoo and Catapulte went down together with loss of life, yet this is not why the troop ship is remembered.
Nineteen years earlier, the “War to End all Wars” was part of some unknown and unknowable future. A century begun with the Napoleonic Wars and President Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery, (better known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition), was drawing to a close on the tranquil, moonlit waters of the world’s largest and deepest Ocean.
On this day in 1899, SS Warrimoo plied the waters of the central Pacific, in transit from Vancouver to Brisbane.
It was warm and clear with the approach of midnight, the Warrimoo’s position LAT 00 31′ N and LON 179 30′ W. Captain John Phillips quietly puffed on a cigar as 1st Mate Payton, broke into his reverie. “Know what this means? We’re only a few miles from the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line“.
Captain Phillips called his navigators to check the position, and then check it again. It was true.
Captain Phillips was too much of an imp, to miss out on the navigational freak of a lifetime. Course was adjusted and speed fine-tuned, bringing the Warrimoo to just the right place and time.
At precisely midnight on December 31, 1899, the steamer passed through that imaginary point where the international dateline, meets the equator.
The bow of the ship was in the Southern Hemisphere, where it was the middle of summer. The stern was still in the Northern Hemisphere, where it was the middle of winter. The date on the starboard side of the ship was January 1, 1900. On the port side, it was still December 31, 1899.
For that one moment in time, the SS Warrimoo was in two different days, two different months, two different years, two different seasons, and two different centuries. All at the same time.
All the best from the Long family to yours, for a healthy and prosperous New Year. May this be the first of many more.