MacDonald of Staffa tartan
Captain Coll McDonald


Captain Coll McDonald, was born on the 9th September, 1863, at a place called Torrans, situated on the South West side of Loch Screeden, on the Island of Mull, Argyleshire, Scotland.

My mother descended from the MacLeans of Duart Castle, and my father from the MacDonalds of Staffa. They were at the time what was called "small farmers", and in consequence were poor as far as wealth by cash was concerned. My mother died when I was four years of age, and my father never married again. There were five children - three of them older than myself, and one two years younger, being only two years of age.

All of us had to start the hard battle of life as soon as we were able to do so. As there was no free education at the time, all of us children had little or none, except that our father used to teach us in Gaelic and generally from a Gaelic Bible. Apart from this, I myself, was never inside a schoolhouse during the whole of my life.

I started my own career by leaving my father's home at the age of nine years. I engaged for one year to a farmer whose farm was situated twenty miles distant from my father's home. The name of my employer was Hugh MacPhail. He afterwards sold out and came to New Zealand, and as far as I know, died at Waipahi and his wife died at Maheno. My wages were 1 per year and my food. After completing my year of service as what they call a herd boy, I left the MacPhail's and engaged myself herding cows to another farmer of the name of MacArthur, at a place called Loch Doon, twentyfive miles from my fathers house. My wages were 1 per year and my food. After completing my one year of service with MacArthur, I decided, being now eleven years of age, to emigrate across the Sound of Mull, twelve miles wide, to the small town of the mainland called Oban. The yearly Fair was on at the time, and a farmer by the name of MacCulloch engaged me as a herd boy for one year. His farm was on a small island two miles from Oban called Kerrara. My wagein this case was 1:10: per year and food. After completing my year of service with MacCulloch, I left and went into the town of Oban, being now twelve years of age. I considered myself a sort of man, and in consequence made up my mind to give up herding cows. I therefore took service with an engineer in Oban, by name, Carmichael, as a handy boy in his workshop. My wages were 5/- per week, finding my own food and lodging. After serving in this shop for six months, I lefty and took passage back to the Island of Mull again, and took service with a country blacksmith as an apprentice at a place called Lochdoon Head; in this case my wage was 5/- per week, also food and lodging. After serving as an understudy with the Lochdoon blacksmith for eighteen months, I came to the conclusion that I could not learn all that I wanted, and being now fourteen years of age, I left for the large city of Glasgow. Knowing the address of an uotside relation of my father, I appealed to him to get me work, and he got me a position as an apprentice with an Engineering firm called Clarke & Co. My wages with this firm were 5/- per week first year, and 7/6 second year, finding my own food and lodging. This was for twelve hours a day, out of which I had two hours for meals, but no half day on Saturday - 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for six days per week - besides I had to walk two miles two and from my work summer and winter. After serving for eighteen months and having neither friends nor money to back me up, I decided to give up the Engineering business and go to sea for a trial spin. I was now about sixteen years of age, and although long and lanky, I was strong and healthy. Through the good offices of another Highland lad, I got a position as an ordinary seaman on a coastal ship called the "Princess Alexander". This craft traded all round the ports of Europe.

I served for six months on this vessel, leaving her to join a new ship called the "Burnley" belonging to the Direct line trading to all West Indies ports, including ports on the coast of British Honduras. I got the position of able seaman on this ship. The name of the master was Whyborn, and the name suited him well, for he was a hard and cruel master. I could write a book on my connection with the way met in later years when he was down on his luck and I showed him kindness which his conduct towards me did not deserve. While at Balize in British Honduras, I took yellow fever and had a bad time.

We came back to the British Isles by way of Newport News, United States, and on arrival at London I left the Direct Line and joined the Anchor Line, signing up on a large ship called the "Olympia" trading to all ports in the Mediterranean Sea and Eastern ports of the United States of America. The "Olympia" was under the command of Captain Carter, a most capable officer, and after making a complete round voyage, I was transferred to the "Alexandria" also of the Anchor Line, and also trading to the East Indies and Mediterranean ports. This vessel was under the command of Captain Ransey, who afterwards made a good name for himself in the North Atlantic trade.

After serving on the Anchor Line of Glasgow for two years and being now nineteen years of age, I left and shipped on an immigrant ship called the "Jessie Readman" belonging to the well-known firm of Patric Henderson & Co. of Glasgow. We left they Clyde in August, 1882, with 386 passengers, all of whom were landed at Port Chalmers. Before the "Jessie Readman" sailed for Home I asked Captain Gibson to pay me off. After giving him my reason for wishing to stay in New Zealand this he did - my reason being that I wished to see all New Zealand, not one port only.

After a month of knocking about Dunedin, I shipped as a sort of Second Mate and Boatswain on a sailing brig called the "Wave" under Captain Christian. This craft was bound to Kaipara for Kari logs. We had as passengers a farmer from Southland with his wife, daughter and two sons. The brig was as broad as she was long. We sailed down on the east side of Dunedin Harbour with a strong breeze from South West. All the same it took us four hours to get outside the Heads and four weeks to get to Kaipara. On reaching Kaipara we moored in what was called MacLeod's creek, landed the passengers and commenced loading. It took about three weeks to load. While endeavouring to sail out over the Kaipara bar we got out of the channel striking on the bar. The old ship split fore and aft along the keel. After rolling about in the breakers for some time, we drifted back into the harbour and on to a safe beach where the vessel was condemned. All hands left for Auckland with the exception of a very ugly Russian whom we had among the crew. He went to the home of the farmer that we had as passenger. After he was working there for some time, he married the farmer's only daughter, who was as pretty as he was ugly.

On reaching Auckland, we found that conditions in New Zealand were very bad. I therefore could not get a ship to sail on, so I took up navvy work knocking down a hill to make a foundation for freezing works at the headof the present Railway pier. At this work I had 5/- per day and had to buy my pick and shovel, both costing me five shillings or a day's work, and anyone showing signs of loafing was paid off at once.

After putting in a few months at the navvy work, I got a position on one of Mr MacGregor's boats, now called the Northern Steamship Company. This craft was a wooden steamer trading around the Gulf.

After a couple of months on this craft, I was transferred to another small steamer as Second Mate trading on the West Coast between Onehunga and Waitara. Our cargo was chiefly cattle. At Waitara we used to go out on the bar at low tide and clear a channel with shovels so that we could get out loaded at high tide. After a couple of months on the "MacGregor" I was transferred to a new craft called the "Garloch".

After a year's service with MacGregor I left and shipped home to England on the sailing ship "Hurunui" belonging to the New Zealand Shipping Company with Captain Sinclair in charge.

After spending two months at home I shipped on a ship callet the "Janet Court" in charge of Captain Huar.

I left the "Janet Court" at Adelaide, came to Melbourne by rail and took passage to Dunedin on the old "Tarawera", (Captain Sinclair). On arrival at Dunedin, I was fortunate enough to get into the Union Company. This was at the beginning of 1885.

I joined the old "Waihora" as quarter-master. Captain MacGee was in charge.

Three years later, I was appointed Fourth Officer of the "Wairarapa" along with Captain Chatfield.

I served as an officer in the various grades from Fourth to Chief on ten of the best ships, and was appointed Master in 1897, twelve years from the date of joining. I was in command of the following steamers belonging to the U.S.S. Company :- "Poheura", "Corinna", "Kini", "Te Anau", "Moana", "Talune", "Mararoa", "Whangape", "Monowai", "Manuka", "Upolo", "Moura", "Waikare", "Whakatipu", "Wanaka", "Waihoura", "Ovolau", "Warrimoo", "Penguin", "Tarawera", "Aparima", "Navua", "Flora", and "Moeraki". I never had an accident of any kind with any ship placed under my care.

In 1907 I was taken on shore and appointed Assistant Marine Superintendent for the Company at Head Office. I remained in this position until 1910, when I was sent to the British Isles to look after the building of new ships. These vessels were the "Maunganui", "Niagara", "Wahine", "Katoa", "Kamo", Karamu", and the "Aotea Roa". The last named vessel was afterwards taken over by the Navy and was sunk in the North Sea by enemy action.

At the beginning of 1914, I was ordered back to Dunedin, Head Office. On arrival I was appointed Chief Marine Superintendent for the Company. This position I held until I retired in 1924 due to ill-health which was brought on by the amount of work I had to do during the war in connection with troopships and hospital ships and reconstructing them after the war was over. After I retired I got all my teeth out, and after one year's rest my health improved again and I took a seat on the Portobello Road Board and on the Harbour Board. I was only one term on the Portobello Road Board, but I have been eight years on the Harbour Board. In my time I had to pass twenty examinations for certificates and never failed in any of them.

I have often been asked to relate some of my observations during my humble career. To do this would fill a fairly large book, but their are some particulars which rivetted in my mind and the most important one is the fact that I, myself, got very little consideration until such time as I got myself - by training - into a position which carried with it some responsibility, and this is the reason why men living under civilised conditions strive to raise their standard in their method of living and also the reason why the sons of men who have worked their way to useful positions always talk about what their parents were and what their parents did, while they, themselves, as a general rule, fail to train themselves in the university of hard knocks.

For myself, I have already said that my parents were poor as far as wealth by cash was concerned, but they left me the greatest assets that parents could leave a boy, and that is they left me in the world with good health and a clean mind. With such assets I worked hard for sixty years - always loyal to my employer and to my fellow workers so long as he deserved it. I say that work is a necessity, and the man who does not work becomes a negative, while the hard working man becomes a positive, in the progress of life, for man - work cannot be for himself alone - for the law of the universe is that everything in it is cintinually at work and the human race must like all other species, take his place in the general order of the system ordained by the law of Creation.

Coll MacDonald

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