Sir John Forrest. Postcard. Author’s Collection

Sir John Forrest was a visitor aboard the SS Wimmera on Monday 12 December 1904. It was on the occasion of a ceremony and cruise on Port Phillip Bay prior to the Wimmera departing on her inaugural service to New Zealand. At the time Sir John Forrest was the federal member for the Division of Swan, Western Australia and during the period that the Federal Parliament formally sat in Melbourne. It was during the period of the Commonwealth’s Second Parliament then under Prime Minister George Reid.

Sir John Forrest, the pre-Federation Premier of Western Australia had, before December 1904, briefly held the office of Postmaster-General, Minister for Defence, and Minister for Home Affairs yet held no portfolio within the Reid Government. Nevertheless, he was one of a number of political figures, dignitaries and businessmen who, on the December day, before Parliament went into recess, availed themselves of the opportunity of a cruise on the bay on the newest and latest ship to enter the Australian trade.

A Bay Excursion

Before beginning her schedule of regular voyages to New Zealand, the Company invited a large number of businessmen, representatives of the legislature, commercial and shipping interests and public bodies aboard the Wimmera for a cruise around Port Phillip Bay. On the afternoon of Monday 12th December she was “bright with bunting” and presented a “gay appearance” generally and her saloons were decorated with bright flowers. It was a perfect day weatherwise, and she departed from the Port Melbourne Town Pier at 2.30pm to be taken on a run steaming at 17 knots to the West Channel pile light under the command of Captain Rainey.

On her return home the guests were invited to toast the success of the new ship and her owners. In proposing the toast “Success to the Wimmera” was Sir John Forrest, M.P. who “eulogised the enterprise of Messrs. Huddart, Parker and Co.”, congratulating “the firm on the enterprise shown, and trusted they would meet with even greater success than anticipated.”

In acknowledging the toast, Mr. W.T. Appleton returned the thanks of the owners, on behalf of the company’s chairman, John Traill. He “pointed to the ship as example of the progress of the company and of Australia in the last fifty years…,” that she “was a credit to her builders” and the firm “regarded her as a very fine sample of marine architecture.”

Further speeches, thanks and toasts ensued, including those by John Webb, Senator Fraser, Mr E.C. FitzGibbon, and Mr Walter Howard Smith.

Appleton further remarked that “he had predicted to the great ship builders in England that their greatest triumphs in marine architecture would be in the Pacific, and if the white man did not control that trade, the yellow man, whom some were disposed to despise, would gain it; but there was no prospect that the Britons would be deprived of their naval supremacy. At any rate the company would do its utmost to place our shipping on a higher level. In Australia we had the finest fleet of inter-coastal steamers in the world.”

Additional remarks supported the views of ship owners in that it was unfair they had not been consulted before legislators allowed certain clauses in the Sea Carriage of Goods Bill to become law. As a result it was considered that freight costs would increase and further insurances would need to be paid.

Over 600 guests took part in the cruise and partook of refreshments and the programme of music entertainment performed on board by Di Gillo’s Band before returning at 5.45pm that evening.