The SS Warrimoo

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Transcript

In the waning days of the 19th century, a passenger steamer crossing the Pacific Ocean en route from Canada to Australia did a particular thing, at a particular place, at a particular time. 

If it wasn’t for a last-second decision of the captain of the ship, we wouldn’t be talking about the ship today and it would have been forgotten in history. 

Learn more about the SS Warrimoo, and how it and its spontaneous captain made history on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

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Sometimes you just happen to be at the right place at the right time.

That is exactly what happened with the SS Warrimoo over 120 years ago. 

Launched in 1882 in England, it was a passenger steamer. After multiple changes in owners, it eventually found its way into the hands of the New Zealand and Australian Steamship Company, who used the ship on a regular run to move passengers between Sydney, Australia, and Vancouver, Canada. 

In 1899, the captain of the Warrimoo was Capt. John Phillip. On December 15, the ship left Vancouver on their last voyage of the year, heading across the Pacific towards Sydney.

The ship had on board 32 passengers. About half-way through the journey, on a clear night with good weather, the ship’s navigational officer performed a routine check of the location of the ship via the stars. 

The navigator reported their position as 0º 31′ North latitude and 179º 30′ W longitude.

The first mate casually noted that they were only a couple of miles away from where the International Dateline crossed the Equator. 

This gave the captain an idea. 

He sent his crew out on deck to double and triple-check their location. 

Once he had verification of their location, he set a new course and adjusted the speed of the ship. 

At midnight, he ordered the ship to stop and announced “we’re here”. 

Captain Phillip had achieved a navigational coup. 

The date when he set the course for the ship was December 30, 1899, just east of the International Date Line. 

When the ship stopped at midnight, it was positioned exactly where the international dateline and the equator met. The ship was pointed in a southwesterly direction. 

Here is what was so interesting about where the ship was. 

The bow of the ship was in the southern hemisphere, and the aft of the ship was in the northern hemisphere. 

The bow was in the summer, and the aft was in the winter. 

In the front half of the ship, it was January 1, 1900. In the back of the ship, it was December 31, 1899. 

The ship was simultaneously in different days, months, years, seasons, centuries, and of course hemispheres.  (and please, don’t be a party pooper and send me emails saying that the 20th century didn’t start until 1901.)


They were the first people to usher in the year 1900.

The feat that the ship pulled off was done spontaneously and it wasn’t really planned, they just happened to be at the right place at the right time and took advantage of the situation. 

After a bit, the ship set off again towards Sydney to complete its voyage. 

The entire affair didn’t take that long and it was mostly forgotten. There was only a small one-paragraph mention in the Sydney Morning Herald of the ship arriving and giving a vague mention of the ship crossing the equator on December 30, which technically it did, as on the stroke of midnight it became December 31 and January 1 first on the other side of the dateline when they reached the spot.

In fact, for 42 years the entire event was forgotten. 

Then, in 1942, a Canadian newspaper wrote an article titled “In Two Places, Two Centuries, At One Time”, which told the tale of the SS Warrimoo. 

The story gained further popularity in 1953 from author John Euller who wrote about it in Ships and the Sea Magazine

This began a host of controversy about the ship. In particular, did it really happen, and could it have really happened? 

The main objection was that the technology at the time just didn’t have that level of accuracy. 

Using stellar navigation, sextants, and ship clocks, they were able to get accuracy only to about 200 meters. 

Others contend that between the ship’s captain and navigator, they had 50 years of maritime experience between them, and such a thing wouldn’t have been that difficult, especially on a clear, calm night like they had. 

Sadly, no one has ever been able to find the ship’s log to verify what really happened. 

The ship itself was recruited into service in World War I and was sunk due to friendly fire in 1918. It now lies at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. 

100 years later, with much better navigational equipment, the USS Topeka, a Los Angeles class nuclear-powered submarine, did the same thing to usher in the year 2000. Technically, they were there to test the Navy’s software for Y2K.

There were several differences between what the Topeka and the Warrimoo did.. First, they were 400 meters or 1300 feet below the surface. Second, they were able to accurately confirm their position via GPS. 

Finally, not only were they in different days, months, years, seasons, and hemispheres, but they were also in different millennia. 

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Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is James Mackala. 

The associate producer is Thor Thomsen.

Today’s five-star reviews come from Podcast Republic. The first review is from listener Herrera who writes:

Professionally informative & entertaining. thanks a lot!

Listener Steve wrote:

Very good and informative

Thank you very much, Steve and Herrera, and thanks to all of you who have left reviews for the show.

Remember, if you leave a five-star review, you too can have your review read on the show. 

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