News from 1900-1901: Troopship Britannic I visits Australia and New Zealand

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The West Australian, Perth, 14 December 1900
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,


The White Star liner Britannic, with the Imperial troops for the
Commonwealth celebrations on board, reached Fremantle last night, after a
record voyage of 30 days from Southampton. The transport was sighted from
Rottnest Island at half-past 9 p.m., and dropped anchor in Gage Roads at
midnight. A representative of the "West Australian" boarded the vessel
immediately on her arrival. Captain Hayes, R.N.R., reported that the voyage
was an uneventful one, and that the troops were all well. The Britannic will
berth at the South Quay at daylight this morning.

Lieut.-Colonel W.G. Crole-Wyndham, C.B., 21st Lancers, who is in command, is
anxious that the troops shall be paraded ashore to-day. The contingent
consists of 50 officers, 959 men, and four R.H.A. guns. There are a few
ladies on board accompanying their husbands on the voyage. Among the troops
are Lord Falconer, son of the Earl of Kintore, formerly Governor of South
Australia, and Lord Cole, son of the Earl of Inniskilling. The Adjutant,
Captain A. H. Wood, of the 2nd Battalion of Scottish Rifles, is the son of
General Sir Evelyn Wood.

Early this morning definite arrangements will be made with regard to the
question of landing will be made. [Sic.]

The troops were paraded at Malta, and reviewed by the Governor, Sir Francis
Grenfell, and Admiral Fisher, commanding the Mediterranean squadron, and by
Lord Charles Beresford, the second in command of the same squadron.

Among the troops on board is a detachment of the 21st Lancers, all the
members of which took part in the famous charge of the Omdurman during the
Soudan campaign.

The gunners of both branches of the service are very big men, whilst the
average chest measurement of the 2nd Battalion of "The Queens" is 38in.

There are four ministers of religion on board, representing the Church of
England, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Wesleyan Churches.

Among those on board is Lieutenant Holborrow, of the N.S.W. Mounted Rifles,
who was invalided home from South Africa.

The full list of officers in command of the troops is as follows:-


The Britannic is a very fine ship, and has been specially fitted up for this
occasion. She is one of the oldest vessels in the New York-Liverpool
service, and has made no less than 50 trips across the Atlantic. During the
past 12 months she has been in the service of the Imperial Government as a
troopship. The Britannic will take in 800 tons of coal at Fremantle, and
will sail some time to-night for Sydney direct, where she is due on the
morning of the 21st.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1900
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,

The name Britannic in shipping annals at once identifies the history of the
Ismay, Imrie line across the Atlantic---the White Star. What is known here
in connection with these ships recently is that the line is represented by
the Afric, Medic and others, and that that type of vessel now introduced to
the Australian trade carries but one class of passengers. The Britannic in
the seventies and eighties was regarded with such esteem in the Liverpool
and Sandy Hook trade that she commanded the highest rates for passengers.
She was known as the crack boat. On Saturday morning, as the steamer came up
the harbour, her shapely form was distinctive, but on board she has
undergone some changes---such, however, as were only necessary to fit her
for her present transport work. The whole of her fine 'tween decks was
specially altered for the transport service, in which she has proved one of
the most comfortable ships in the conveyance of large numbers of troops to
South Africa. Her voyage out with the visiting troops to the Commonwealth
festival was a successful one. She left home on the 12th of last month, and
was at Fremantle on the 15th instant. Upon the mail delivery system by the
regular liners the Britannic would thus have delivered English letters at
Fremantle within 26 days. Her run from Fremantle to Sydney in under seven
days also entitles her to be regarded as a fast vessel. In conversation with
the officers on board they mentioned that the trip had been made at an
ordinary speed. The Britannic is a 16-knot vessel, and rates about fifth as
to speed in the White Star fleet. The Oceanic, for example, is a 21-knot
boat, the Majestic and Teutonic 20-knot steamers, and the Germanic 17 knots.
The Coptic, Doric, Ionic, and others were well known in the New Zealand
service as reliable 15-knot steamers, and the Medic, Persic, Afric, Suevic,
and Runic are 13-knotters. After disembarking the troops the steamer moved
out into Neutral Bay.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 December 1900
Retrieved from the National Library of Australia web site,

The Troopship Britannic---Of the large steamers at present lying in the
stream which attracted the attention of thousands of holiday people afloat
yesterday it is certain that none had so many admirers as the White Star
steamer Britannic. Her really beautiful lines fully entitle her to the high
position she has held in the opinion of naval architects. The expression was
yesterday frequently heard on the passing crowded ferry boats: "What a
charming vessel!" and it might well be added that while the Britannic has
passed her twenty-fifth year of age, she compares in the beauty of her lines
and symmetry of her proportions with any of the ships in harbour. This was
the vessel selected by the Imperial Government to convey to Sydney the
British army contingent of a thousand men. At the time the idea of sending
out Imperial troops was adopted the Britannic was employed in transport duty
to South Africa, and it is now 14[?] months since she first received her
transport number, 62. Very few changes were made in her passenger
accommodation when she entered upon her trooping commission. The main and
'tween decks were pretty well cleared of the cabins and staterooms to meet
the Admiralty requirements, and before the Admiralty authorities would grant
her a certificate to carry 1800 troops, which number she repeatedly landed m
South Africa. Amongst the fleet of troopers the Britannic in the South
African campaign proved extremely popular, and it was to a large extent due
to that fact that the authorities selected her to make her present visit to
Australia. It might be mentioned in connection with the White Star line that
they supplied the Admiralty with a fleet of steamships aggregating 33,000
tons, and they received from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty a
letter acknowledging the valuable services rendered by the company.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Southland Times, Invercargill, New Zealand, 5 February 1901
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,

The Visit of the Imperial Troops

According to the arrangements which had been made the s.s. Britannic with
the Imperial troops on board should have reached the Bluff yesterday morning
early. Although the weather of the previous two or three day [sic] had
awakened grave doubts in the minds of many as to whether the steamer would
be able to approach the coast of New Zealand, preparations were made on a
large scale on the principle that it was safest to hope and to prepare for
the best. The first item on the programme occurred very early in the morning
when a special train carrying the Acting-Premier, the Hon. J. G. Ward,
passed through Invercargill en route to the Bluff. Mr Ward probably
established a record, for he was in Wellington at 5.30 on Saturday afternoon
and he stepped on to the Bluff platform 36 hours later, viz., at 5.15 a.m.
on Monday. In the train with Mr Ward were Colonel Pole Penton, Commandant of
the New Zealand forces, Major J. E. Hawkins, Capt. Keir, Capt Stronach,
Capt. Loasby, and Messrs J. F. M. Fraser, J. A. Park, and N. H. Bell,
members of the Dunedin Reception Committee. At the Bluff it was simply a day
of waiting, speculating and improvising ingenious methods of passing time
and curbing patience. The tug ran out into the straits to look for the
Britannic, but returned on each occasion with the some [sic] answer "Nothing
in sight." The signal station on the hill was shrouded in fog and the
straits themselves could not be seen from there except for a few brief
minutes at intervals when the bank of fog lifted. Thus the day passed;
expectancy changing to impatience and impatience to disappointment.

At an early hour in Invercargill the lie streets were filled with a vast
crowd. The trains from the country arrived with every carriage full, the
volunteers in strong force mustered at the Garrison Hall, the town turned
out en masse, and at 9 o'clock, the time at which the troops were expected,
there was in evidence all the material for a magnificent reception. But,
alas! no troops came. Instead of that the news was disseminated that the
Britannic had not been sighted. With right brave cheerfulness the crowd
waited, waiting eagerly for the first intimation of the sighting of the
troopship. The tedious hours dragged on, the volunteers were dismissed till
the afternoon, and it was arranged that the whistles and bells should sound
the signal when the Imperial visitors reached Bluff. Hope still burned, and
in the afternoon the people gathered again to be ready for the expected
event. Again the hours passed, the volunteers were dismissed, and the people
were told the doleful news, "Britannic not yet in sight." As the day wore on
the feeble flame of hope expired, the country people, wearied and vexed,
betook themselves to their trains and waited the hour of departure
disconsolate. There was now no possibility of the troops reaching
Invercargill that day, and the crowd would have been utterly disheartened
had not the City Band come to the rescue, with generous thoughtfulness, and
played a capital programme of music from the rotunda. At 4 o'clock his
Worship the Mayor (Mr J. S. Goldie) announced that Mr Ward would address the
people in half an hour and the crowd waited to hear what the Acting-Premier
had to tell them. At 4.30 Mr Ward arrived in a hansom. It was apparent that
the injury which he received in the ankle in Wellington some time ago had
not been repaired. Using a crutch, and with the assistance of several
gentlemen, Mr Ward mounted the steps of the rotunda painfully and with
difficulty, but he wore a cheerful smile when he faced the people. The Mayor
having said that Mr Ward had come from the Bluff to speak to the people, Mr
Ward, who was received with prolonged cheering, said that the day had been
one of great expectancy to all and, he thought, one of great disappointment.
Unfortunately the elements could not be controlled by human powers- the wind
and the weather, which had done so much to dislocate the whole of the
arrangements which had been made from the Bluff to Christchurch in
connection with the reception of these brave and distinguished men who
formed the composite body of Imperial troops visiting New Zealand. (Cheers).
But if their disappointment had been great his had been greater, for he had
travelled all the way from Wellington to meet the troops and he knew how
many people would be waiting at Invercargill, Edendale, Gore, Milton and
Dunedin to give ringing cheers for these 950 men and 50 officers who were
coming to New Zealand to afford the visible link of connection between the
Homeland and the colonies in military affairs. (Cheers). Everything possible
in the way of prearrangement had been done. The master of the Britannic, and
the chief transport officer of Victoria, who controlled these movements, had
considered that the troopship would be at the Bluff that morning, but the
heavy south-easter which hail been blowing for two or three days, bringing
with it dense fog, had been responsible for the detention of the steamer.
But tomorrow the troops would be here. (Loud cheers). On Tuesday, all being
well, the people would have the honour and pleasure of welcoming
representatives of the greatest English, Irish and Scotch regiments, who
would land at the Bluff and spend some hours in Invercargill. (Cheers). The
train arrangements would be carried out on Tuesday on exactly the same
timetable as that day. The return tickets were available till the 19th, and
he was sure that th se [sic] who had to return to their homes that evening
would be quite willing to bear the expense of coming to Invercargill again.
After all what was a penny a mile when they were to have the honour of
extending a welcome to those who were travelling thousands of miles to come
here. (Cheers. ) He might mention that the stay of the troops in New Zealand
was limited to 11 days and when they considered the number of places which
had to be visited they would realise how trying and exhausting it would be
to the visitors. Let the people roll up then and give them a right royal
welcome and cheer them on their way. He might say that at one of the
stations 300 New Zealand women were going to meet the train to give
refreshment to the troops passing through. (Cheers.) He had come from
Wellington to assist in the reception of 1000 men, a task, they would admit,
that was not an easy one. He felt sure that the people would all be about
again on the following day and that the reception of the soldiers would not
be less hearty and enthusiastic because the steamer had been delayed a day.
(Cheers. ) He was sure the welcome would be such that the troops would carry
away with them most pleasant memories and reminiscences of Invercargill and
its people. (Applause.)

At the invitation of Mr Ward three ringing cheers were given for the
"Soldiers of the King," and after three equally hearty shouts for Mr Ward
and the Mayor the crowd broke up.

Mr Ward's address restored the people to heartiness again but,
unfortunately, the majority of those who had come in from the country had
made their way to the railway station. The address was intended specially
for them and it is to be hoped that by rumour and report the gist of it
reached them before their trains left. Necessarily the circumstances would
not permit of Mr Ward's naming any hours, but he seemed to expect, and there
was reason to hope, that the visiting troops would reach the Bluff early
this morning. With this consolation, somewhat vague and shadowy as it is,
the people dispersed to their homes, a little weary of the day but buoyed up
with hope of the morrow.

The volunteers having assembled in the afternoon it was decided that the
time should not be wasted. The men had been released from work and it was
thought that that concession should be taken advantage of. Consequently from
1 to 3 p.m. the battalion was put through movements by Adjutant Henderson,
and the drill should be of great benefit.

Public anxiety was most markedly indicated by the incessant stream of
enquirers that poured into this office throughout the twelve hours yesterday
from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. All had the same question to ask, "Where are the
troops?" It was, unfortunately, beyond the power even of newspaper men to
answer that question. One thing was certain- that she was not at the Bluff.
Some of the more pertinacious were not satisfied with that, but continued a
string of queries: "How far away is she?", "When will she arrive?", "What
has detained her?", "When are the troops to be in Invercargill?", &c., &c.
Never was journalistic patience more severely taxed. It was, however, a very
natural anxiety, and one under which public rationalism might be expected to
suffer a lapse. It was in one sense pleasing to hear the same long series of
questions from person after person. It showed how thoroughly popular
interest had been aroused aud how keenly excited all people were over the
coming visit. There will probably be a repetition of the experience to-day,
and it is to be hoped that the answers will be more encouraging, and that
the people will not be kept on tenterhooks so long.

A telephone message to this office at dusk gave the information that the
Britannic was not then in sight. As nothing further was heard it may be
assumed that the troopship was still beyond the horizon at a late hour. The
weather was still thick in the Straits.

Our Wyndham correspondent reports that a large number of people came into
that township yesterday, with a view o f proceeding to meet the Imperial
troops at Edendale, where it was said the soldiers were to take part in the
ceremony of unfurling the flag at the school as they passed through, For
several hours the telephone between there and Bluff was plying at short
intervals to ascertain if the Britannic had put in an appearauce, and when
it became evident that the troops could not arrive that day the general
disappointment expressed was second only to that felt by the besieged of
Ladysmith at the non-arrival of the relieving force.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Southland Times, Invercargill, New Zealand, 6 February 1901
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,

The Visit of the Imperial Troops

As it drew towards darkness at the port on Monday many anxious enquiries
were made from anyone at all likely to know as to whether there was yet any
sign of the Britannic, but the reply was still "No." The big troopship,
however, had evidently determined to be no party to another disappointment
such as Monday's, and she arrived off the point in the very early morning
and came to an anchor. About 3.30 a.m., also, the Government steamer
Tutanekai, which had been ordered to Bluff from Dunedin the previous
afternoon, moored at the wharf. At 5.30 a.m. the Theresa Ward tendered the
Britannic, and at 6.30 a.m. the Tutanekai, with the Hon. J. G. Ward,
Acting-Premier, Colonel Pole Ponton, representatives of the Mayor of
Dunedin, and several others on board, proceeded to the troopship. The
curiosity of the shore folks was by this time highly excited, and it was,
perhaps, accentuated by Monday's misfortune, and the Bluffites began to roll
up on the wharf en masse. At 7 a.m. the freezer whistle blew, a signal
prearranged by the Mayor to afford the citizens an hour's notice of the
arrival of the troops. Keen disappointment was felt at the non-entering of
the harbour by the Britannic. From the wharf she was seen to be a handsome
white painted four-masted, double-funnel steamer, and one which would
evidently have repaid closer inspection. However, after all is said and
done, the "Tommies" were the real centre of attention, and when the tug was
seen approaching the wharf about 8.15 a. m. speculation was rife as to what
news she would bring. It had previously been very evident to those on shore
that time-table arrangements could not possibly be adhered to. The Theresa
Ward brought word that it would probably be 10 o'clock before the troops
landed, and this surmise was not very far out. The work of transhipment from
the Britannic to Tutanekai went on briskly, and about 10.20 a.m. the latter
vessel with the Tommies packed like bees on her decks came alongside the
wharf. The whole population turned out to see the troops and gave them three
ringing cheers as the vessel moored, the men responding heartily. An amusing
incident occurred as the steamer was making "fast." A well known Maori
resident executed with appropriate gesture a Maori welcome which appealed so
strongly to one of the Tommies looking on that he inquired of his pal in a
voice audible to those close by, "I say, what's that 'ere bloke a-doing of?"
When the gangway was "shored" the mayor and councillors of Bluff were
waiting to receive the lauding guests, but no formal reception took place,
the Acting-Premier being desirous of getting the men to Invercargill without
a moment's delay. The troops were quickly marshalled on the wharf, and here
an excellent view of them was obtained by the town people. Company after
company entrained and at 11.35 a.m. the long train of carriages drawn by two
of the most powerful engines moved from the station. The local Council had
decorated Gore street with ferns and flags, and the town with other bunting
looked quite gay The local band also rendered valuable assistance during the


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Star, Christchurch, 8 February 1901
Retrieved from the National Library of New Zealand web site,


At the Lyttelton Magistrate's Court today, before Captain Willis, J.P., and
Captain Marciel, J.P., G. Heraty; H. Gates, W. Billinghurst and F. Early,
firemen on the s.s. Britannic, were charged with wilfully damaging three
ports on the vessel. They pleaded not guilty.

Mr Beswick appeared for the prosecution, and stated that the case was laid
under the Shipping and Seamen's Act, 1894.

John Alexander, chief engineer on the s.s. Britannic, produced the articles,
showing that the accused were bound thereon. Early on Thursday morning,
before one o'clock, a number of firemen came on board the worse for liquor.
The accused were the ring-leaders, and were using very bad language. They
broke four ports and the glass in a lavatory, besides upsetting things in
the galley and engine-room. He estimated the damage at about £4 15s.

The second engineer gave corroborative evidence, and stated that Heraty and
Billinghurst were the worst.

Leopold Turnbull, fifth engineer, deposed that on going on board at the time
of the disturbance, he was struck by a piece of coal. Afterwards a shower of
potatoes came through the ports of his cabin. The accused were the
ring-leaders of the disturbance.

Sergeant Swarbrick, 21st Lancers, deposed that he received orders to turn
the guard out to deal with the disturbance. The four accused took part in
it, and offered some resistance.

Chisholm, boiler-maker on the Britannic, stated that the accused were
amongst those who did the breaking.

Captain Willis said that there was no evidence that the accused had actually
done the damage.

Mr Beswick replied that the damage had been done by a number of persons,
including the accused, who were therefore responsible.

Captain Willis said that the Bench were unanimously of opinion that there
was not sufficient evidence to convict, and the case would be dismissed.

The accused were then charged with using obscene language on board the
vessel at the time of the disturbance.

Mr Riddock, first officer, stated that the accused refused to go below when
ordered, and behaved so riotously that he had to order the guard out.

Quartermaster-Sergeant Lock, 21st Lancers, Captain Scott, of the s.s.
Wanaka, and the witnesses in the former case, also gave evidence.

The accused called three witnesses, whose evidence, however, showed that
they knew nothing about the affair.

The Bench sentenced Heraty and Billinghurst to three months' imprisonment,
and Gates and Early to two months' imprisonment, and ordered the costs of
the prosecution to be divided among them all.


Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
The Register, Adelaide, 26 February 1901
brit 1 register 02261901.JPG