John Pirie

The John Pirie was the smallest of the nine ships that sailed for 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.


John Pirie

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

Bob Sexton

Share this page:

Comments or Questions:

No comments yet.