We love it when we are able to make connections between past (as represented in our collection) and present Lyttelton. Long term friend and supporter of Te Ūaka, Carl Bonniface, has shared the story of his great great grandfather, Captain John William Clark.
The Clark family, many of whom were seamen, emigrated from Scotland to Tasmania in the early 1800s. John William was born in Hobart in July 1834; like many young men of that era he ran away to sea at a young age, first sailing between San Francisco and Australia, then onto steamers and service under Captain McMeekan.
In 1862, aged 28, Clark was issued a Special Pilots Licence by the New South Wales Government, appointing him Pilot of Sydney Harbour (then known as Port Jackson). In 1866 Captain Clark joined the company of McMeekan and Blackwood of Melbourne, who were inter-colonial traders. He spent thirteen years as master of various steamers including the Tararua, the Albion, the Ringarooma and the Claud Hamilton. When this firm was taken over by the Union Steamship Company in 1879, he came to Lyttelton as Master of the steam paddle tug ‘Lyttelton’. In 1885 Captain Clark became Harbour and Dock Master for the Lyttelton Harbour Board, taking over from the first Harbour Master, Captain Hugh McLellan, who had held that office since 1877.
Clark famously sued the Christchurch Press for libel for an anonymous letter which claimed that he “was grossly overpaid - annoying and disturbing the ships masters at port, discourteous and irritating”. Clark won the case and was awarded twenty-five pounds damages and the chance to clear his reputation.
At the time of Clark’s death in 1909, at the age of 75 years, flags on all the steamers in Port and at the Harbour Master’s office were flown at half mast. He was survived by his wife Ellen, who was the great age of 97 at the time of her death in 1944. Their house at 3 Exeter Street is still standing today.
With many thanks to Carl for sharing his family history. If you have a story to tell of a connection to Lyttelton’s early days, we would love to hear from you.