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Blockade Runner and Engineer

John Scott, according to archival records in Scotland, was born around 1828 just outside Glasgow, Scotland, and took up a career as an engineer. Becoming expertise in his trade, for many years John served as the Chief Engineer of the official mail steamers running between Glasgow and Londonderry, Scotland; boats that as far back as 1858 could acquire speeds of sixteen and one-half knots per hour; or 20 miles an hour. He was later to become one of the diminishing bands of pioneering colonists of New Zealand.

With the outbreak of the American Civil War John’s employers for what ever reasons decided to assist the Confederacy, and sent a ship to America with John aboard to bring back cotton; which was so sought after in Europe. With each trip made the lives of John and his crewmates were placed in perilous jeopardy, as the ship had to make its way through the Union blockade of warships, which sought to cut off supplies to the southern states from Europe. If discovered he and the crew would have been taken prisoner and interned, or killed, and the ship and cargo would have been confiscated or destroyed. On return trips to the southern states, again having to slip through the Union blockade, his ship would transport medical supplies, munitions, weapons and other goods that were badly needed by the Confederacy in its war with the Union.

John served as second engineer aboard the wooden hulled, side wheeled steamer Margaret and Jessie, which was used to run the Union blockade and trade with the Confederacy. Formerly known as the Douglas, it was constructed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1858, and was originally used as a mail packet steamer running between Liverpool and the Isle of Man. It was 211 feet long, with a 26 foot beam and a draft of 10 feet. When first built she was lauded as the fastest steamer in the world.

In November 1858 the Douglas, was purchased by the firm of Fraser, Trenholm and Company, acting as agents for the Confederate States Government in the acquisition of vessels, to be used as a blockade-runner through the Union line of warships standing off the American coast. The Douglass made its way through the Union blockade and into Charleston Harbor, South Carolina in late January 1863. Once there the Douglass was renamed the Margaret and Jessie and made a total of 18 voyages between the Confederate seaboard and Nassau; five from Charleston and three from Wilmington, South Carolina.

On the night of May 27, 1863 it left Charleston 1864 carrying 730 bales of cotton and 16 passengers, including officers of the Confederate States Navy in-route for Nassau, in the Bahamas Islands. The Margaret and Jessie evaded vessels of the Union Navy that encircled Charleston Harbour, but on the morning of May 30, 1863, within twenty-five miles of the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas Islands, the USS Rhode Island observed the Margaret and Jessie on the horizon and gave chase. After the distance between the two vessels shortened the USS Rhode Island fired a warning shot that was disregarded. The USS Rhode Island again fired at the Margaret and Jessie as it continued to flee, this time placing shot ahead of the fleeing ship; which was also ignored. More shots were fired at the blockade runner, and when land was finally sighted, the Margaret and Jessie made for the shoreline and British territorial waters. The USS Rhode Island, however, continued to fire with some of her shots hitting the shoreline; but one hit the Margaret and Jessie below the waterline, rupturing her boiler and causing a massive escape of steam which severely injured one of the engineers. Being only some 300 yards from the beach, east of James Point on the island of Eleuthera, the Margaret and Jessie was run aground, to prevent her from sinking. The USS Rhode Island anchored a distance away from the beached ship, and sent armed personnel in two boats to investigate her damage, at which point the crew and passengers of the Margaret and Jessie abandoned the vessel, and made their way ashore to safety.

At a later stage, after they had made their way to Nassau, an account of the entire episode was written out, and signed by the officers and crew of the Margaret and Jessie, and then handed in to the Confederate agent at Nassau, and which account, together with a protest against the actions of the United States vessel, within British territorial waters, was to be sent to the Confederate States Secretary of State, for further action. One of the statements made out by the crew had indicated that the gunboat had fired upon the blockade runner with the specified intention “to kill and murder.” Amongst the signatories of the written account was John Scott, listed as second engineer of the blockade runner, and who had attended at the office of a lawfully appointed notary public at Nassau, together with the rest of the crew, on Friday, June 5, 1863. A protest was eventually passed on, through the British Foreign Office, to the United States government, and a court of inquiry conducted, nearly a year later, at Boston, but of which the outcome was that the commander of the USS Rhode Island was cleared of any wrongdoing, and that “no violation of the territorial jurisdiction of Great Britain was committed.”

John’s running of Union blockades and assisting the south continued for some time, often narrowly being captured, until his restless Scottish disposition finally forced him to make a life changing decision. It was thought the episode, flight from the USS Rhode Island and their narrow escape had a discouraging effect on Scott, because against the wishes of his employers, he decided to seek his fortune in New Zealand; which was often fondly spoken of at home. It was a good move for John, because the Margaret and Jessie was captured on her twentieth return voyage on November 5, 1863, barely a month after John and his family left for New Zealand, by the USS Nansermond while trying to slip into Wilmington again.

On October 17, 1863, John along with his wife and children, boarded the ship Aboukir at Glasgow, Scotland and left the old country behind, arriving after a three months cruise at Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, New Zealand on January 17, 1864; part of the 174 passengers on board, 30 of whom were assisted. Being desirous of leaving the sea behind him, John opened up an engineering shop at Milton, New Zealand, which was at that time a busy center of the goldfields traffic. Money, however, was scarce and hard to collect, so in 1865 he began a sawmill business cutting timber a few miles outside the community of New Plymouth. That was short lived, however, and after only a few months he had to abandon it due to a recrudescence of the Maori Wars following the withdrawal of British troops.

Not to be deterred, John moved on and found employment fitting up and assembling the Auckland Gasworks, in Auckland, New Zealand.   Upon the completion of the gasworks, he again turned to what he knew best; the sea. There he served under the New Zealand Government aboard the ‘Stuart’ and later became one of the pioneer engineers of the West Coast Trade. Among his many anecdotes of early days on the New Zealand Coast, John often talked about his first visit to Hokitika, before it was even there, when the steamer was moored to trees on the bank of the river and they shot pigeons where the city of Hokitika now stands. One individual once asked John while sitting at a table, what the difference was between a ‘Scott’ and a ‘sot’; to which John answered, “Just the breadth of the table”.

For a long time he had been a successful part-owner in the steamer ‘Murray’, but John like many others saw in prospective a huge fortune in quartz-reefing. Primary gold typically occurs in quartz veins and the extraction of gold ore from the hard quartz veins was historically referred to as quartz-reefing, or quartz reef mining. Christopher Ballerstedt was known as the ‘father of quartz-reefing’ in the Bendigo, Australia area. You had to sink very deep shafts into the ground to get quartz, from the buried reefs deep underground, and horizontal tunnels called drives were dug out from the shaft at different levels to find the gold-bearing quartz rock. All of the rock dug out had to be hoisted to the surface, along with lots of water, and even the workers at the end of the day had to be hauled up by ropes.

Selling his interest in the ‘Murray’ that he co-owned, John invested his capital and labour in the Reefton Mines, which were just opening up. John was a partner with Adam Smith, Thomas Watson, R.E. Guilleane, James Stephenson and John Temperly in the ‘Wealth of Nations’ mine, located between Murray Creek and the Inangahaua; which had a water race some one and one-half miles long. It had a wooden crushing machine, machine house, water wheel and a ‘smithy’; all built within four months time. The three stamping crusher machine was built by Thomas Watson and John Scott and was superior to other stampers in the area for crushing stone. They were said to have had a good mine, as gold could be seen in any part of the face rock.

Unfortunately, like many others, John found there was more glitter than there was gold and he soon got out of the business. The year 1875 found John again aboard ship, the old ‘Sampson’, that some say was a 124 ton schooner. But there was no schooner by the name of “Samson”in that area in 1875; it was the “SAMSON”, a paddle steamer built by Laurie of Glasgow in 1863 which was used by the Harbour Steam company in the service from Port Chalmers to Oamaru from 1874-1878. It was though, well known in the Dunedin – Oamaru trade and which along with the Maori and Golden Age formed the nucleus of the Union Steam Ship Companies fleet. It was sold to Waitara owners in 1878 and lost on July 27, 1881 near Waitara.

John’s failure to extract a fortune in gold from the earth by means of quartz-reefing, however, did not deter him. John turned his attention to dredging and in 1881 he was building the dredge ‘Eureka’; racing to get ahead of Messrs Kincaid and M’Queen who were then building the ‘Dunedin” dredge. Scott won the race and was proud to be acknowledged as the man to turn the first bucket by steam on the Molyneux River. The project did not prove successful for John, though, leaving it to others at a later date to reap the rewards of his and Messrs Kincaid and M’Queen’s genius and enterprise.

John returned to Dunedin, New Zealand and with his son John D. Scott who was also a well known engineer, became engaged in the New Zealand Refridgerating Company. They were responsible for fitting up and installing the very first freezing machinery in New Zealand; at the Burnside Refridgerating Works. A tribute to the early New Zealand colonists. Jom remaind in the employment of the company for fifteen years as an engineer, then serving as a supervisor of loading operations.

On December 17, 1902, Scott and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, attended by 41 descendants, including 28 grandchildren and received congratulations from all over New Zealand. They had been residents of New Zealand for some forty years.

On June 9, 1905, John Scott died at 77 years of age in Dunedin, New Zealand; leaving a wife and six surviving children. He was buried on June 11, 1905 in the Northern Cemetery, in Dunedin, attended by his wife Ann, five sons, and one daughter; among them being Thomas Scott the eldest son and a Counciller and sons W. and R. Scott who were both tailors on Princes Street in Dunedin. John Scott’s grave can be located in Block 40, Plot 2. It is a double plot encased in concrete with a headstone, raised at the top end, lying on top.


John Scott’s inscription reads:

In Memory of

John Scott


Who died 9th June 1905

aged 77 years.

Also his wife

Ann Hamilton

died 25th Aug 1909

In her 76th year.

Also daughters of the above,

Annie Hamilton

died 6th Aug 1875

aged 1 year 7 months.

Alice Annie

died 23rd August 1881

aged 14 months.

Also Alexandrina

beloved Wife of

Thomas Scott.

died 15th Oct 1936 aged 80 years.

Also the above

Thomas Scott

died 27th Dec 1938 aged 85 years 


A Chronology of Gold Dredging in Otago and Southland from 1863 to 1898, John Caygill

A History of the New Zealand Refrigerating Company, Cyril Loach

British Library Archive, London

Confederate Blockade Runner 1861-1865, Angus Konstam, 2004

Grey River Argus, Volume IX, Issue 730, 22 September 1870, Page 2

Grey River Argus, Volume X, Issue 868, 9 May 1871, Page 2

Grey River Argus, Volume XI, Issue 879, 22 May 1871, Page 2

Grey River Argus, Volume XIV, Issue 1745, 9 March 1874, Page 2

Historical Dictionary of New Zealand, Scarecrow Press Inc.

Ian Farquhar, Dunedin, New Zealand

John Scott’s Death Records, Dunedin, New Zealand

John Scott Obituary, Dunedin, New Zealand

Juliette Stoddart, Sextons Cottage, Northern Cemetery, Dunedin.

Malcolm Deans, McNab Heritage Collections, Dunedin, New Zealand

Michael Pryce, Dubnedin, New Zealand

National Archives of Scotland

Otago Witness, Issue 2547, 7 January 1903, Page 13

Otago Witness, Issue 2553, 18 Fe. 1903, page 38

Otago Witness, Issue 2674, 14 June 1905

Taranaki Herald, Volume XIV, Issue 715, 14 April 1866, Page 2

Union Steamship Co. Archives

1861 Scotland Census


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