Passengers embarking the Wimmera or other coastal passenger ships of the period would have encountered a world probably far different from life at home.
Life at sea for our Edwardian travelers would be dominated by two main subjects: the weather, and food. Comfort, and getting a good night’s sleep would also be important and this might depend on your choice and location of accommodation aboard the ship. If these were taken care of to some extent then a passenger’s time might be spent in conversation or activities with fellow travelers in the ship’s common areas, or in relaxation or idleness, alone or in company about the ship.
Depending on the traveler’s port of embarkation and destination, a one-way trip on the Wimmera could take less than 24 hours to about two weeks.
The shortest trips offered were those along the New Zealand coast, especially those legs between ports on the both the North and South Islands.
The longest voyages a traveler might elect to take were between Sydney and Melbourne via Hobart and New Zealand ports and which entailed crossing the Tasman Sea twice as well as Bass Strait. In fine weather this might be a relaxing cruise but more often such a lengthy trip would probably encounter some inclement weather.
Depending on their own means and accommodation availability, a passenger may have had a choice of travelling either Saloon (First Class) or Steerage (Second Class or Economy).The cabins of Saloon passengers were situated in several locations around the ship.
Three meals per day were provided.
For Saloon passengers breakfast was served at 8.30am (unless the ship had arrived in port early in which case it would be served half-an-hour earlier, at 8.00am). Lunch would be served at 1.00pm and Dinner at 6.30pm (unless the ship was in port in which case it would be served at 6.00pm).
For Steerage passengers breakfast would be served at 8.00am, Dinner at noon, and Tea at 5.00pm.
Examples of the fare provided to passengers aboard Huddart Parker’s vessels during the Edwardian period can be identified through surviving menu cards which were printed on board. These menus indicated the choices available for each meal on each day of the voyage.
Passengers would be notified of meal times by the sounding of a gong or bugle.
Saloon and Steerage passengers were served in their respective dining saloons.
In addition to whatever reading matter passengers may have brought on board to while away the hours spent at sea, the Wimmera and her sister ships would have each had a small library of books available for passengers’ use. It was not free and passengers were required to pay a ‘subscription’ to the ship’s Purser.
If the weather was fine, some outdoor activities on deck might be indulged in, including deck quoits and cricket, the equipment for which were available onboard.
The ship’s Music Room, [Men’s] Smoking Room and Ladies Drawing Room could be used as an escape from one’s cabin or berth, in which to relax and socialize with fellow passengers.
A friendly game of cards amid the swirling cigarette and pipe tobacco smoke might attract those escaping the fresh sea air. A bar was also available if a stronger drink was desired or could be stomached, depending on the weather.
In the evenings, the bar would be closed and lights in the Saloon, Music and Smoking Rooms would be extinguished at 11.00pm.
A ship’s concert would be held on at least one evening during one of those longer legs of her voyages such as between Sydney and Auckland or Wellington; or between Hobart and the Bluff. On such occasions funds were raised by the ship’s company generally in support of charities supporting seamen. Performers en route or returning from New Zealand were known to donate their time and talents for such events, eg:
CONCERT AT SEA
A concert was held on board the Huddart Parker steamer Wimmera, which arrived at Sydney yesterday from Auckland, New Zealand, on July 15. The proceeds totalled £6 4s 8d in aid of the funds of the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society. The chair was occupied by Captain Waller, and among those who contributed were Mme. Camille Cornwall, Mr T. Kalman, Herr H. Diedrichsen, Mr. H. Parkere, Mr. E. Walsh, Messrs Stewart and Lorraine, and Mrs Stewart. Chung Ling Soo, the Chinese magician, and the Maori footballers all contributed special items. According to the official programme, “airships and submarines” were to be ordered at 10.30 p.m.”
Evening News, Saturday 17 July 1909, page 7
In the Melbourne Punch of Thursday 11 February 1915 the musical talent of members of the Wimmera‘s crew was reported:
‘Many of the passenger steamers trading to Melbourne now carry professional and paid musicians (instrumentalists) on board, but this is not necessary on the s.s. Wimmera, now running between Melbourne and New Zealand, for in the 2nd engineer (Mr. Evans) and third officer (Mr. Cook) the ship possesses two high-class instrumentalists, who, at the piano and with the violin respectively, delight passengers at sea and visitors in port with sweet music, for they spend hour after hour when off duty playing first-class duets, which almost causes one to regret leaving the ship.’
Passengers could also exercise, pass the time walking the deck, watch the sea and sky whilst lounging on a deck chair or, if all chairs were taken, could lay atop or against one of the covered cargo hatches.
The experiences of the vast majority of passengers at sea aboard the Wimmera have gone unrecorded. Very few appear to have been written down and even less have been published. Nevertheless, I am grateful for those accounts, which have been discovered, and which are reproduced here.
© Ralph L. Sanderson 2004-2021