From Scotland to New Zealand

In late October 1883, the Jack family left their home in Edinburgh for the port of Leith. Their luggage had already been packed and was delivered to the SS Iona, the vessel which was to take them to London. From there, the Jacks were to embark on a three-month journey to New Zealand.

Emigrating to the other side of the world

The Jacks’ departure in Edinburgh was a sad event for the family – John, Helen, and their two sons John Hill Hunter and James Whitson. Aware of the finality of the Jacks’ decision to emigrate to New Zealand, Peter Gardner, a family friend, observed how unlikely it was that they would see each other again ‘in the flesh’. Perhaps Gardner was among those gathered in front of the Iona in Leith for the farewell; befitting the occasion, someone had brought ‘a nice cake’.

After an unexpected delay of three weeks in London, the Jacks were pleased when they could finally leave their hotel, ‘a close dirty place’, to take up their quarters on board the Invercargill bound for Wellington. With a mixture of anxiety and anticipation, John Jack and his sons perambulated the London docks for one last time before the family finally left the British Isles on 19 November 1883. Writing of the departure, John noted that after ‘much cheering and waving of handkerchiefs, away we went from the East India Dock’.

Travelling as cabin passengers, the family no doubt journeyed in relative comfort. New friendships were quickly formed aboard the ship, particularly with fellow Scots; the sharing of cultural pursuits and the death of a fellow passenger contributed to the emergence of a firm bond and a collegial spirit. With all passengers bound for a new life and venturing into the unfamiliar, points of contact were welcome.

Arrival in Wellington

And, as it turned out, the Jacks immediately benefited from a new acquaintance in their quest to secure suitable lodgings on arrival in Wellington on 20 February 1884, when the Invercargill ‘with colours flying, sailed gracefully up the harbour’.

New friendships and letters of introduction helped the Jacks

Facilitated by a fellow cabin passenger’s contacts, the Jacks settled in their new home in Wellington’s Mowbray Street on 25 February 1884, almost exactly four months to the day after their departure from Edinburgh.

The Jacks were also able to utilise several letters of introduction and testimonials they had brought with them. Written by family and friends to acquaintances they had in New Zealand, these letters and testimonials were meant to provide the Jacks with contact points in their new home who might be able to help with jobs and other aspects of life, easing the Jacks’ transition. While some of the Jacks’ letters only gave the name and an address of a person that ‘will show you kindness’, other letters indicate that patronage flows were utilised.

Another important contact point was the church. The Jacks had all been heavily involved in church activities in Scotland, and would have valued this particular contact facilitation. They could present the Revd. Paterson, their new minister in Wellington, with a statement provided by their Scottish local minister that confirmed the family’s commitment to church – a document suitably comparable to a modern certificate of good conduct. 

Making home in Wellington



When members of Wellington’s Caledonian Society and their guests gathered to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day in 1887, they did so ‘in truly national fashion.’[i] A sumptuous dinner was provided and, to appeal to the sons of the Land o’ Cakes, ‘[t]he decorations were in capital taste, the walls being hung with bunting, in which the Scottish flag was given a conspicuous position, and mirrors, surmounted by the representative thistle, were also placed at regular intervals.’[ii] The evening’s proceedings continued with speeches and toasts, the intervals filled with the enlivening sound of the bagpipe. The instrument was skillfully played by John Jack, a recent arrival from Edinburgh.[iii] An enthusiastic musician, John had already put his talents to good use, forming a band with fellow Scots and other passengers aboard the Invercargill, the ship that brought him and his family to Wellington in early 1884.[iv] The band offered a welcome escape from the dull routines of shipboard life, equally serving as a means to establish new contacts and friendships with fellow expatriates en route to New Zealand. The Jacks were well aware of the importance of such informal connections and networks, bringing with them several letters of introduction written by friends and business partners in Scotland. Addressed to Scots already resident in New Zealand, the letters were useful as initial contact facilitators in the new world. One of the letters’ recipients was John Duthie, a native of Kintore, who arrived in Auckland in 1863, eventually settling in Wellington in 1880. A prominent merchant, Duthie later became the city’s Mayor and Member of the House of Representatives.[v] Given his position in colonial Wellington, Duthie undoubtedly was a useful contact to have. It may well have been through Duthie, a founding member of the second Wellington Caledonian Society, that John Jack and his two sons, John Hill Hunter and James Whitson Jack, were enticed to become members themselves.

An associationalist

When John Jack died in 1909, the Evening Post published an account of his funeral, listing the attending representatives of ‘bodies with which the deceased was more or less associated.’ Among these were representatives of the Wellington Harbour Board, of which John had been chairman in the 1890s, the Choral Society, the Masonic Lodge and the Caledonian Society.

The ties that bind

John Jack was a real associationalist. As a staunch supporter of St Andrew’s on the Terrace, his local Presbyterian Church, it comes as no surprise that members of the church were also present. John’s activities were not confined to para-church associations, but were linked into Wellington’s foremost organisations of civic life. His commitment to associations is typical of the involvement of many migrants in a range of ethnic, fraternal and leisure societies: these migrants were ‘joiners’, and membership in associations reflected their attempts to order, and contribute to, the development of the new society in which they were living.

When John died, his wife Helen immediately sent a letter to family members in Scotland, informing them of John’s death. She also asked them to put a notice about it in the home papers. John was the first person in New Zealand to be cremated and he had specifically made this request so that his ashes could be sent back to Scotland to be buried in the family plot.

His wish was duly observed, relatives in Scotland receiving the ashes in early 1910. When the ashes arrived, a private ceremony was held at the family home in Dundee. John’s ashes were placed on the old oak table in the living room, before the mourners proceeded to the cemetery to lay Jack to rest in the family grave.

John’s wife and family only learned of the course of events months later when a letter arrived in Wellington from Helen’s niece, Jeanie Wilson. Although an immediate relative, the two had not met in person for more than two decades, but were now united in sharing their distinct experiences in relation to John’s death through personal correspondence that criss-crossed the Scottish diaspora.

Scotland remained home in the end​

John’s death was well documented in the Wellington press, not only because he had become a prominent citizen there, but also because he was the first person in New Zealand to be cremated. John had specifically made this request so that his ashes could be sent back to Scotland to be buried in the family plot.