At Midnight in Moonlight

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At Midnight in Moonlight

Reginald Darcy Battle is a fictional character in a novel by an Irish newspaper reporter who longed to be famous but could only manage notoriety. His first and only novel was published early in the twentieth century when the Irish potato famine was still fresh in his national psyche.

The novel had two basic characters, the Battle twins: Reginald Darcy and his twin sister, Nancy Fiona.

Reginald grew into manhood under protest. He disliked almost everything in life that he was forced to do and everybody he met and was forced to deal with. Nancy followed her brother’s lead, but refused to waste her energy on hate, distrust, and loathing everything and everybody.

Reginald managed to find a university-equivalent education in a small church run college staffed by priests and brothers. His favorite mentor was Brother Silas. They met in a pub just opposite the campus gate the week before the winter term opened. They were so different. The only common trait they shared was a liking of a pint of porter. Their differences were the attraction they enjoyed. They talked for hours that afternoon and when Reginald discovered that Silas was a language professor, he immediately registered for the three classes taught by his new friend.

The classroom times for Grammar Introduction, Structure of the Novel, and Conflicts in Literature occupied twelve hours each week. It was time well spent for Reginald. Silas, too, for he was wise in many ways and had the uncanny knack of recognizing a student’s abilities. He could see the light in Reginald’s eyes.

Without hesitation in any form, Silas encouraged Reginald to write. “Do it all,” he would say, “write from the heart, but use your brain to guide the pen.”

For the next three years, try as he did, Reginald wrote – fact, fiction, prose, poetry – he wrote as instructed but was satisfied with nothing. His penchant for self-affecting criticism was too formidable to defeat. Poverty was a salient factor in the twin’s lives; it was the only constant.

At age 27, he kicked over the dustbin of life, changed his identity to R. Darcy Battle, and became a newspaperman. He managed to transplant himself (taking his sister along for psychological security) into a Fleet Street position where he reported the events of each day to an editor whose interests were universal. The job earned him an unbelievable (at least to him) salary.

Darcy never married. He was the ever-present uncle in the life of Nancy’s children. He was the reporter who spent the holidays in the office since he had no place to go and no schedule to keep. And, for two decades he was content but never happy.

On New Year’s Eve, 1899, Darcy ventured to the last annual celebration of the century in Trafalgar Square. It was a night that would change him forever.

After the crowds dispersed, Darcy returned to his office and found the following story in the office teletype. At the time the new technology was primitive and often unreliable, but Darcy followed his instincts and was the first to report on this unique moment in history.


A Moment in Time in the Pacific Ocean*

Latitude: 0° Longitude: 180°                                Midnight, December 31, 1899

S. S. Warrimoo or “A Place of Eagles”

* Transcribed in part from a 1953 article meant to
reacquaint the public with this extraordinary event.

The S. S. 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 circuit she would be taken into service as a troop ship with the advent of the Great War.

The first Maori detachment destined for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign of 1915 left Wellington aboard the S. S. Warrimoo that February. It was the first of three identical voyages made between 1915 and 1918 by the troop ship.

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. S. S. 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. The century begun with the Napoleonic Wars and President Thomas Jefferson’s Lewis and Clark Expedition was drawing to a close on the tranquil, moonlit waters of the world’s largest and deepest ocean.

On that day in 1899, S. S. Warrimoo plied the waters of the central Pacific, in transit from Vancouver to Brisbane.

It was warm and clear and with the approach of midnight, the ship’s position was Latitude 0° 31′ North and Longitude 179° 30′ West.  Captain John Phillips quietly puffed on a cigar as he looked toward the horizon through a bright moonlight. First Mate Payton broke into Phillips’s reverie with his routine location declaration. “LAT zero, thirty-one North, LONG one-seventy-nine, thirty West.  Aye, Captain, 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.

By nature and in practice, Captain Phillips was too much of an imp, to miss out on what would be the most freakish event of his lifetime. After a minor course adjustment and a fine-tuning in speed, he brought the Warrimoo to just the right place at the exact time.

At precisely midnight on December 31, 1899, the steamer passed through that imaginary point where the International Date Line 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 S.S. Warrimoo was in two different days, two different months, two different years, two different seasons, and two different centuries.  All at the same time and at the same place.

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Very cool.

What an awesome story!

Terrific story!

There is an actual postcard celebrating this ship, this achievement, this captain and crew? Jill’ comment got it right.

Too bad Captain Phillips was unaware that he was a year early — the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century actually took place as 1900 gave way to 1901.

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