John Pirie

The John Pirie was the smallest of the nine ships that arrived South Australia in 1836. It was just 19 metres long!  By comparison, today an articulated bus is 17 metres long. It was named after the London merchant  and alderman John Pirie who owned half of the shares in the vessel. The other half were owned by a group of investors from Macduff in north-eastern Scotland.

In its early years the John Pirie carried cargo from Britain to Palermo in Italy, the Canary Islands, Riga, Santa Domingo, Vera Cruz, Halifax and St Helena.

By 1833 Alderman Pirie had become the sole owner of the vessel. Two years later he became deputy chairman of the South Australian Company. He was approached by Samuel Stephens, the manager of the South Australian Company, seeking vessels for the new colony. One of Pirie’s other ships, Emma, was hired or chartered for the voyage to South Australia but the John Pirie was purchased by the Company.

The ship was prepared with stores, farm animals for the colony and just twenty-one passengers. One of those passengers said the vessel was ‘only a washing tub with a tiller’. It would have been a very small and uncomfortable ship for a long voyage. It was also said that the schooner was ‘built for stowing rather than sailing; one end of her is very much like a packing case’. That comment no doubt referred to the blunt outline of the schooner’s bows. The John Pirie’s shape would have made it buoyant and Captain George Martin claimed he had never been in a better sea-boat.

Artist representation of the ship John Pirie

Artists representation of the ship John Pirie by John Ford FASMA. South Australian Maritime Museum collection.


Carrying capacity 105 tons

Length 19 metres (62 feet 3 inches), beam 6.1 metres (20 feet 1 inch), depth in the hold 3.4 metres (11 feet 1 inch)

Built by Alexander Hall and Company at Aberdeen, Scotland 1827

Rigged as a schooner

-Information compiled by Bob Sexton.

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11 Responses to “John Pirie”

  1. Judith July 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Chris. are you aware of the Alford American Family Association? I was an Alford but not related to Henry and I have saubmitted my ‘ tree’ to them for world wide use.
    Their address is;-



    • Allison July 11, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Thanks for the information, Judy.

      Allison History SA

  2. Vic Symons June 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    My children’s great grandfather x 5 was a passenger on the John Pirie, Charles William Chandler, after which Chandlers Hill was named. His wife Elizabeth Holmes died during the early stages of the voyage.

    Vic Symons

    • Mandi June 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

      Thanks for your information Vic- you will definitely want to tune into week 19 on Sunday for important journal entries concerning the Chandlers.
      Kind regards,
      Mandi, History SA

    • Mandi June 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

      Thanks for your information Vic- you will definitely want to tune into week 19 on Sunday for important journal entries concerning the Chandlers.
      Kind regards,
      Mandi, History SA

  3. Chris Tillett June 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    I have a fairly detailed tree of said Henry ALFORD if anyones interested.

    • Darren June 20, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      Many thanks Chris

      We welcome people sharing information about the passengers on the blog.

      History SA

    • Sharon September 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

      Hi Chris. I’m really interested in finding out more information on the Alford family tree. My email address is Look forward to hearing from you. Sharon.

    • Wendy October 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      I would like to know more about Henry Alford as he is one of my forebearers. My name is Wendy Lucy MacLeod (nee Toy) and it was through the Toy side of the family (my father’s name is Alfred Joseph Toy) that Henry Alford’s line comes. I do not have a family tree which traces me (and my family) back to Henry Alford but would be interested to see one.

  4. Kristy February 23, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    Hi Julie,
    We have a little information about your great grandfather but anything you could add would be fantastic! – Born Acton, Middlesex 12 Feb 1816. In SA he worked as a policeman and a publican. He was at one time Second Inspector of the Mounted Police and volunteer in the Adelaide Mounted Rifle Corps. He lived for periods on Kangaroo Island and in Adelaide, Glynde and Norwood.

  5. Julie Peak February 23, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    My great great great Grandfather was on this ship – Henry Alford, one of the first policemen in South Australia who worked closely with Inspector Tolmer.

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