Crossing The Line (Equator)

The Following text is to be found in the old and now discarded, Official Royal Navy Sports and Recreation Manual (BR4006) also used by the RAN until the 1980's. Originating in 1919 the substance of this text has been used as the template for Equator Crossing Ceremonies and Initiations by RAN Warships for over 9 decades. It is produced here in it's entirerity.......

The origins of the present form of traditional ceremony of paying homage to King Neptune on occasions when warships cross the equator are obscure; but there appears to be little doubt that it originated from some form of pagan religious rites.

The ceremony is today regarded as being essentially the affair of the ship’s company; being of course assisted and advised by the officers as necessary.

It appears desirable that some basic principles should be recorded, and for this purpose relevant extracts from "the cruise of HMS New Zealand" on the occasion of the visit of a naval mission to India and the Dominions, headed by the late Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Jellicoe in 1919 are reproduced word for word, by kind permission of Admiral Sir Frederick Dreyer who was Lord Jellicoe’s Chief of Staff on that occasion.

Left: Admiral Jellicoe.

It is known that considerable attention was given to the revival of the ceremony by the officers and ship’s company of HMS New Zealand), and it is hoped that it may prove helpful to future generations "of those who occupy their business in great waters."

The court was held on the port side of the midship deck, and a large well-filled bath and ducking stool were provided by the shipwright staff. Unfortunately, owing to the rolling of the ship, the water could not be retained in the bath to a sufficient depth to allow the stool to be used, as the commander found to his cost, striking the deck with his head on falling.




Two courts were held, one at 9:00 a.m., Closing at noon, and one at 4p.m., And every novice was initiated, except lady Jellicoe, who was excused, although she made close acquaintance with the court and its rites. The admiral of the fleet, on seeing the certificates to be awarded to all those who were duly initiated, decided to earn one himself, although this was by no means the first time he had been welcomed in King Neptune’s southern realm.

The following is an extract from the record of the great ceremony which was enacted in the court of His Majesty King Neptune on the eighth day of may, Anno Domini MCMXIX.


On Tuesday, the sixth day of may, the outlying scouts sent information to the secretary of state that HMS New Zealand, had left Colombo au hour short of noon the previous day, having put into berc for 1,780 tons of coal, and was steering a south-easterly course towards the Cocos Islands. Thereupon the secretary of state, in the customary manner, issued instructions to the Bears to intercept the ship soon after sunset on the evening of Wednesday, to board her, and, in a courteous and nautical manner, to issue the proclamations and the summonses, and to bear back to him such communications as the ship might wish to make. The Bears bowed low in assent, grasped the proclamations, and passed from the watery apartment.

The sun had sunk some time behind fine masses of cloud to be succeeded by a rarely beautiful sky, such as one sees only in the tropics, pale golds and mauves and greens and roses; and now there was only the soft blackness of the tropic night all around, except when the lightning lit the whole scene for half a second or played here and there or everywhere round the horizon.

The ship swung sleepily to a long swell from the south-east, and a warm, humid temperature made the night oppressive. The Bears had approached close to the ship and were about to hail her when they noticed that all was not well. A Scout was sent on board, returned shortly and reported that the Medical Staff had succeeded that afternoon in mislaying the "Appendix" of a Mr. Farrell, Gunner, R.N., who was in such a state about it, that any noise might irritate him to a dangerous extent. The Bears, therefore, boarded the ship quietly. Their brown hairy coats exuded a strong smell of Stockholm tar as they made their way, declining all offers of assistance, towards the Admiral’s cabin. There they presented to the Admiral of the Fleet an illuminated letter from His Majesty King Neptune.

Having performed this office, they presented to Lady Jellicoe, the most distinguished novice, a Greeting from Her Majesty Queen Amphitrite


Fair Lady from that Land of Showers
Whose Empire’s half as big as Ours
How sweet the thought of meeting!
How doubly sweet to hear you’ll stay
A year where Neptune holds his sway.
With Him We send you greeting!
Though every ship I know by name,
And never two are quite the same
In spite of all their sameness,
Yet when I board each one I find
So much of just the same old kind,
Such visits tend to tameness.But now to find
We are to meet a British Admiral of the Fleet
We’re all anticipation!
Excitement then grows doubly rife—
We hear We’ll meet his charming wife,
And live in expectation!
The best of friends, the best of news!
Our wishes for a perfect cruise,
If happier they’ll make you.
May Joy and Charm and Beauty roam
Beside you .till you reach your home
And never then forsake you.

(Signed) Amphitrite

Another letter, announcing their Majesties’ wishes, in regard to the procedure at the morrow’s court, was then handed to the Captain.

The Equator, May 7th, 1919.

To Our Right Trusty and Loyal Subject,
Captain 0. E. Leggett, Of His Britannic Majesty’s Royal Navy.


We, NEPTUNE, of the Seven Seas
By grace of Myth, Imperial Lord,
Here greet you and announce ‘twould please
Our Queen and Us to come on board
Your noble ship now on Our Line
Tomorrow some time after nine.
We’re pleased to see that in command
Is one who erstwhile steered the Fleet.
Our watery ways you understand,
‘Twill please us once again to meet
The Captain of this famous ship,
First in the fight or social trip.
Our Royal wishes for success -
Whére’er you show the British FIag
Your ship-and mission here We bless
New Zealand well has cause to brag
Of ship supreme at work or play
And blessed by us upon her way.
There are among your hearty crew
Some who’ve not seen us face to face;
Tomorrow then for time will do,
Your midship-deck will do for place,
And then and there presented they
Shall be in right historic way.
A Levee then We’ll hold on board
To welcome every man no less,
So summon all with one accord
To meet us in the prescribed dress;
But boys, and novices and such
We’d counsel not to wear too much.
We hope these simple wishes may
Not interfere with your routine,
And you’ll reserve the Eighth Day of May
Of nineteen hundred and nineteen.
To this we wish a prompt reply.

Farewell Yours, Neptune, R. and I.

Crossing The Line........... Continued page 2 click here

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