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Captain John Campbell (1833 – 1920) was a Scottish Master Mariner and farmer.


Childhood to adolescence

Campbell was born in Kilfinan, Scotland (in the now defunct Argyle County) December 22, 1833, to his parents, Archibald Campbell and Jean McGibbon, and was baptised in the Kilfinan church on January 19, 1834. At the age of 14, Campbell left the town of Rothesay to travel the world. The first ship that he worked on was the Lady Cornwall.

Adulthood and travels

Campbell married Margaret McKirdy (b. Glasgow, Scotland March 21, 1837, d. in Wellington, New Zealand, March 21, 1868).

John, as did his elder brother James, spent some years travelling the seas. He left Rothesay at the age of 14 in 1847 on the ship Lady Cornwall. He went to Australia five years later with other Rothesay lads attracted to the goldfields. They sailed from the Clyde in the Monarch, a long narrow river steamer, which had been bought for Melbourne. The boat had to be strengthened by beams lashed to her side before she put to sea.

After a long and trying voyage, young John Campbell and his companions reached Australia in 1852 and hastened to the diggings. He had no luck at Bendigo, and eighteen months later, returned to Melbourne and went to sea again.

During their sojourn in Australia, John and his brother James met on one of the goldfields. John, down on his luck, visited a town. On the way in, he noticed some drain pipes where he determined to spend the night, as he had very little by way of money. John happened to meet James at the town and he had apparently done better than John. James asked his brother how he was getting on and John replied that he was doing all right. James asked John if he wanted a loan but John said that he didn’t. Eventually, John accepted a loan and James gave him a five pound note.

Upon his arrival in New Zealand, at about 1855, John spent 12 months prospecting near Collingwood. He entered the shipping trade when he went to Napier about 1858. where he became owner and master of the small cutter, Hero. On June 8, 1858, in Napier, John Campbell attended the initial meeting of Scottish settlers to discuss the building of a Presbyterian Church. The meeting was held in the Royal Hotel, situated at the junction of Carlyle Street and the steps leading down from Havelock Road.

At the time he became involved with the establishment of the Scots church, John Campbell was engaged in lightering work. It was said of Campbell that, "familiarly known as Jock, he was a worthy old seaman of about five feet three inches in height, but what he lacked in this dimension, he made up in width of shoulders of a very sturdy build."

The schooner, Hero, which was purchased in 1859, was used in lightering work and in trading to Wairoa, Mohaka, and other landings in Hawke Bay. The Hero was stranded north of Wairoa on 19 June 1869 and was subsequently refloated.

John Campbell's business had so developed by 1872 that he decided to venture into steam. The decision resulted in the building of the Fairy, to John Campbell's instructions, by Kincaid, McQueen and Company, of Dunedin. Captain Campbell took delivery of the steamer in 1873.

It was the purchase of this vessel which led to the partnership between Captain Campbell and Mr G E G Richardson. Richardson offered Captain Campbell a loan which was accepted. From then on, the partnership was known as Richardson and Company.

Richardson and Company prospered, with Richardson attending to the management side of the business, and Captain Campbell the seagoing. Within three years, the firm found the Fairy unable to keep pace with the trade, and it placed an order for a large steamer, the Jane Douglas.

Captain John Campbell was the man who established the unique feature of using surfboats as a coastal ferry service.

In 1887, John Campbell retired from the sea faring life, sold his share in the business, and took up farming at Taonui, near Feilding, Manawatu, New Zealand. The land that John Campbell bought at Taonui was formerly the site of the first saw mill in the Bunnythorpe area and was owned by Messrs Richter, Nannestad and Co. Captain Campbell did not take a prominent part in public matters though he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Reform Party, and expressed his convictions in no unmistakeable way at election meetings.


John Campbell pre-deceased his wife, dying on 24 September 24, 1920, at Bute Farm, Taonui, Feilding, at the age of 85, and was buried at Bunnythorpe Cemetery two days later. Captain Campbell left one son, Archibald, and two daughters, Jane McGibbon and Agatha. His wife, Margaret, died at Taonui on October 7, 1922, aged 87, and was buried at Bunnythorpe Cemetery.


  1. Archibald Campbell, born Port Ahuriri, Napier, on October 26, 1870. Married Emma Mary Parkes (born Wanganui), at Wanganui, on April 3, 1907.
  2. Jane McGibbon Campbell, was born at Port Ahuriri, Napier, on October 30, 1871. Died at Eastbourne, on April 21, 1949, aged 78. She was buried at Bunnythorpe Cemetery. Unmarried.
  3. Agatha Campbell, was born at Port Ahuriri, Napier, on August 17, 1875. She married Frederick William Bowman at Taonui, on March 23, 1904, and lived at Napier.


  1. Old Parochial Register, Kilfinan Parish, Argyll, Scotland
  2. Obituary
  3. Registrar-General Shipping and Seamen, Great Britain.
  4. Anecdote of Jean Bowman, Napier, Wednesday, 7 January 1987.
  5. Daily Telegraph newspaper, Napier, New Zealand.


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