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History > Archive/Research > German Mail Ship SS Roon August 1914

History > Archive/Research

submitted by Peter Makarthis on 02.05.2011

German Mail Ship SS Roon August 1914

The Roon, Houtman and Tasman

August 1914.

The voyage from Port Said to Australia on the German Mail Steamer Roon by Greek immigrants at the outbreak of World War1, August 1914 is one of the most dramatic voyages in pre WW1 immigration to Australia.

Passengers on the Nordeutscher- Lloyd ships were unaware these modern steamers were included in the German overall strategic plans for at least a decade before the declaration of war on 8 August 1914. Plans were in place to blockade Australian ports to avail German naval vessels of the steaming coal resources at Gladstone QLD, Newcastle and Wollongong NSW. Most steamers, cargo and passenger, were prepared to take an immediate active role as armed raiders and support vessels for naval ships of the German Fleet. German naval intelligence officers were deployed in the agencies of German shipping lines in Australian ports.

The GMS Roon of the Norddeutscher- Lloyd shipping line Bremen, Germany made ten scheduled runs from Europe to Australia carrying Greek immigrants from Port Said, to the Australian ports of Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane from 1908 to August 1914. The tenth run to Australia departing from European ports July 1914 was dramatic for immigrants and passengers returning to Australia and New Zealand. Built at Joh.C. Tecklenborg’s ship yards, Geestemunde (Bremmerhaven), the Roon was launched 1st November 1902.The Roon , a first class passenger and cargo steamer of the “General” class, 137 metres long, 17 metres wide, 12 metres deep with the capacity to accommodate 90 first class passengers, 70 second class and up to 2000 steerage passengers. This steamer with speed of 14 knots could out run most of the ships of the Australian naval fleet of the period. Her sister ships on the Australian run, Zietin, Seydlitz, Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were built on the same design. These ships were fitted throughout with electric light and later equipped with radio communications. Unbeknown to passengers these steamers carried armament to be readied for action.

The GMS Roon departed from Bremmerhaven July, 1914 for Australia via the ports of Antwerp, Southampton, Algiers, Genoa, Messina, Port Said, Suez Canal, Aden, arrived in Colombo 30 July. A number of Greeks boarded at Port Said, including Nicholas Anthony Aroney(14years), Demetrius Fardoulys(14yrs) and Christos Demetrios Careedy (20 yrs) bound for Sydney Australia. The Roon was known to have taken on board as cargo, tea to the value of £50,000 at Colombo, for delivery to Australian and New Zealand merchants.

Elements of the British fleet were at anchor nearby the Roon in Colombo Harbour, including the cruiser HMS Swiftsure . Passengers noted a frenzy of activity on the British ships getting up steam as crews hurried on board from shore and made preparation for sea. Passengers taking time ashore, observed a general disquiet in Colombo and murmurings of impending war in Europe.

Departing Colombo 31 July the captain of the Roon set course for Fremantle, Western Australia. Two days later the captain received orders by radio to alter course and make for the neutral port of Tjilatjap on the southern coast of Java at full speed. Undoutbedly this was to avoid pursuit by HMS Swiftsure, a fast cruiser of the British East Indies Station at Colombo with a view to capture the Roon. Passengers were not informed of the change however astute observers soon noted the change of angle of the sun as the ship altered course toward Java and also little change of temperature that was anticipated to lower on a course to Fremantle.

The news of the change to the course was finally announced to the first class passengers and in due course spread to the third class passengers in steerage as the ship neared Java. The atmosphere in steerage became intense as tensions arose between British (including Australian and New Zealanders) and German passengers. The situation deteriorated into crisis on board as paper money became useless and the uncertainty of forward passage from Java to Australia materialised Norddeutscher-Lloyd may not be responsible for their passage.

When the Roon docked at Tjilatjap August 8, Dutch Marines came on board to maintain order in steerage as some passengers were engaging in physical violence as the Roon approached the coast of Java. Passengers worst fears on arrival, were confirmed as their financial situation became desperate when the agents of Norddeutscher –Lloyd in Batavia refused further assistance or refund of the balance of fares, to continue to Australia.

A desperate appeal to the British Consul and subsequent communication with the Australian Government, brought some relief to British passport holders. Hasty arrangements were made by the British Consul in Batavia to carry to these stranded passengers by rail from Tjiatjap to Samarang, to board the Royal Packet Navigation Company’s ship S.S.Houtman for Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

The S.S.Houtman departed Samarang, Java, 17 August with the British passengers on board bound for Sourabaya, Brisbane and Sydney. On arriving at Sourabaya fifteen of the other nationalities who were able to arrange their own passage boarded the Houtman. The Houtman arrived 2 September at Brisbane before proceeding to Sydney and Melbourne.

The remainder of non- British passengers were left in a sorry plight, however they were able to remain on board the GMS Roon until Dutch authorities determined their status and forward passage to Australia. Mostly steerage passengers including 42 German nationals and 39 other nationalities bound for Australia were left stranded, most without consular support.

The other nationalities stranded on Java arrived on another Royal Packet Navigation Company ship Tasman, at Sydney 1st October 1914.

Greek immigrants regularly departed Port Said for Australian ports on the GMS Roon,
however, the total number of Greeks on this voyage remain unclear. Christos Demetrius Careedy, Demetrius Nicholas Fardoulys and Nicholas Anthony Aroney(Anastasopoulos) are recorded as being stranded on Java until their arrival in Sydney on the S.S. Tasman 1st October 1914.

Demetrius Fardoulys, in later years reflected on his experience in Java –

“I was on a German ship in Colombo when the war broke out. We finished up in Batavia. My mother borrowed money to send me out. The Dutch and Indonesians treated us like dogs. We were sent to barracks in a quarantine station where there was no fresh water. We had no consulate to help us. They put us on the Tasman, a luxury liner, and we had the run of the ship. I finished up in Queensland.”
James Fardoulys died in Brisbane in 1975,(Tsicalas)

James (Demetrius) Fardoulys
b. 10 Jan 1900 Potamos, Kythera, Greece.
Arrived Sydney 1 October 1914.
Sydney, Warwick, Stanthorpe, Tamworth, Boggabri, Goondiwindi.
Naturalized at Goondiwindi QLD, June 1922
Café Proprietor, Artist
Resident at Woolongabba Qld 1964
James Fardoulys died in Brisbane in 1975
Buried Mt Gravatt Cemetery

Christos Demetrius Careedy
b. 1894 Constantinople, Turkey
Arrived Sydney, 1 October 1914
Warwick, Goondiwindi, Tweed Heads, Brisbane
Café Proprietor.
Naturalized Brisbane, 7 December 1923

Nicholas Anthony Aroney Anastasopoulos
b. 14 February,1900 Aroniathika, Cerigo, Greece
Arrived Sydney, 1 October 1914
Fruiterer, Restraunteur, Philanthropist ( Nicholas AnthonyAroney Trust)
Wingham, Kempsey, Warren , Nowra.
Naturalized Nowra10 June 1925,
Wollongong, Sydney
Nicholas Aroney died in Sydney 12 July 1986

GMS Roon

The Roon remained quarantined in Batavia, Dutch Indies, surrendered to Britain in 1919, she went to Greek owners in 1920 and was renamed Constantinoupolis. Scrapped in Bremmerhaven, Germany in May 1925.

Researched Peter McCarthy
© S.Peter & Co May 2011

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