Capt Colin McDonald (FRGS)

Colin was the fifth child of Mr & Mrs Hector McDonald. He was born in Applecross, Scotland on May the 15th, the year however is a matter of conjecture. I have several items that give the year as 1851, this ties in nicely with the age given on several passenger lists and in many newspaper articles. However I also have 2 official documents, the index for his Masters certificate and the index for his WWI medals that state 1854. To confuse things even further I have a list of discharges from 1922-24 that gives a date of 1858! While the 1858 date can easily be proved to be incorrect, it does place some doubt on "official documents".

In 1856 his parents accepted an offer from Mrs McDonald's family of migrating to New Zealand and undertaking a life of farming in the new colony.  So with their meager possessions in hand, the family, including a very young Colin, walked across the highlands of Scotland to board the Bair & Co. Barque Lord Burleigh at Gravesend, the vessel sailed on 18th of April, the start of a new life.

As the years passed Colin became very conversant with animal husbandry, a skill which he was to put to good use many years later, in particular when he was involved in the "India trade".  Colin had given his father an undertaking to assist with the farm until he was 20 years old, having fulfilled that commitment he decided to follow in his father's and brother Duncan's footsteps and go down to the sea in ships.

He joined the Melanesian mission schooner Southern Cross in the early 1870's under the command of Capt Jacob who was well known to the settlers at Waipu as he had been the Mate on the Gazelle which had brought  many of them to New Zealand from their brief stay in Australia.

Capt Colin McDonald
Brigantine Magellan Cloud
Name of Person
Rank for which granted
Class of Certificate
Date of Issue
Colin McDonald
Only Mate
Foreign Trade
11th Oct 1876

The annual report of the Marine Board shows Colin passed his Only Mate Certificate in October 1876.

In Auckland (NZ) on the 12th of October 1878 Colin was married to Margaret Elizabeth Graham Bruce, Eldest daughter of James Duff Bruce and Elizabeth Bruce (nee Graham).


Colin's first command is believed to be the Schooner Kenilworth in 1877-1878 followed by the Schooner Kate McGregor in 1878 - 1879. At that time it was not unusual for "Masters" to command small vessels before certification , in fact, it is noted in a wreck inquiry of 1876 for Acadia that Capt Duncan McDonald did not hold a certificate at the time and I have yet to find any record to show he ever did.

On the 29th of August 1878 Kate mcGregor under the command of Capt Colin McDonald collided with the steamship Taupo in Rangitoto channel, she struck the steamer broadside, the collision taking out Kate McGregors cat-head and throwing her anchor up on deck, there was no damage to the steamer.

Return of Wrecks on which Inquiries have been held between the Ist July, 1878, and the 30th June, 1879 - Marine Department annual report

After serving the appropriate time at sea, Colin passed his Masters Certificate on the 3rd of November 1879 in Wellington and officially began a long and illustrious career as a Master Mariner.

Name of Person
Rank for which granted
Class of Certificate
Date of Issue
By 1880 he is listed as Master of the Brigantine Magellan Cloud, which he also commanded in 1881. During this time Colin and Margaret had two children, Bruce George (1880) and Ann Elizabeth (1881),two more children followed, Elizabeth Ann (1883) and Lillian (1885).
Colin McDonald
Master Ordinary
Foreign Trade
18th Nov 1879

Colin then took command of the 297 ton Brig Robin Hood in which it is said he had a financial interest, although I have not found any evidence of this in Watts Index. In May 1882 Robin Hood encountered a heavy gale during which Capt McDonald, in trying to evade the force of a wave, received a blow from part of the bulwark that was washed away. He was said to be "perfectly insensible" for 4 days until they arrived in Sydney and medical assistance could be obtained. The New Zealand Herald, 26 May 1882, Page 5 has an account of the incident. The passenger list for Sydney notes "Master too sick to sign manifest".

From the shipping intelligence of the day it appears Colin often took family members with him on his voyages. In Feb 1882 the Robin Hood docked in Melbourne listing Hector McDonald as a passenger, in Nov 1882 Wife Margaret and Daughter Ann accompanied him. Feb 1883 and Margaret, Bruce and Ann were on board, Feb 1884 - Margaret, Bruce, Ann and Elizabeth are listed as passengers.  Shipping intelligence for Sydney Oct 1884.

Passenger list for the Brig Robin Hood 15/10/1884
Aproximate position of wreck of Robin Hood behind Hummock Island

lists Mrs McDonald and 2 children and Mrs Murdoch. The actual passenger list (above) shows Colin as Master, Murdoch McDonald as Mate and passengers Mrs Colin McDonald,Mrs Murdoch McDonald and two children. This trend also continued in Colin's steam days as shown in his passenger lists.

On the 27th of December 1884 the Brig Robin Hood was on a voyage from Kaipara (NZ) to Adelaide (AUS) loaded with 255,000 ft of timber when she encountered a westerly gale in Bass Strait. Capt McDonald brought Robin Hood around to the Eastern side of Hummock Island to shelter from the gale and struck an uncharted sunken rock (see chart here), the vessel began to fill with water and the crew took to the boats. Colin made his way to Launceston where he cabled the owners (W.N. Laurie) for advice, adding that most of the cargo had been saved but the vessel had broken her back and was a total loss (both the vessel and cargo were well insured). Evidence as to the loss was taken from Capt Colin McDonald, First Mate Murdoch McDonald and Second Mate Charles Richards.

The board of inquiry concluded on the 29th of January 1885 "That there is no evidence to show that any blame attaches to the officers of the brig".

Watts index of New Zealand registered ships shows Colin as a ship owner in 1885 with the small schooners Result 1885 to 86 and Totara (24 shares) 1885 to 90. Colin's next known command was the Barquentine Buster (1885) owned by DH McKenzie, Mr McKenzie had been the owner of the ill fated Acadia in which Colin's brother Duncan had been lost. Mr McKenzie was also the owner of the Brigantine Stanley which Colin was known to be in command of until 1888. Leaving Stanley in Melbourne he took command of the fully rigged ship S.F. Hersey for C.G Millar, Railway contractors.


Remains of the Barquentine Buster on a N.S.W beach - Wrecked in 1893
Fully rigged ship S.F. Hersey - shown under the American flag

In 1889 Mr Millar sold the "Hersey" and appointed Colin sailing master of Saide, Mr Millar's personal steam yacht. To quote Mr Millar "I sold the ship to secure the man". Saide was an axillary brigantine of 383 tons register, Colin was to be her Sailing Master for the next 6 years. Saide was a fine vessel, noted as one of the finest in the world and definitely the finest in the Southern Hemisphere. Named after Mr Millar's youngest daughter Saide, as a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron it was the only yacht "south of the line" that was permitted to fly the white ensign of the Royal navy.

The opulence of this little ship was well described in a newspaper article in 1893. With measurements of 142.8 x 24.7 x 13.4 (feet) and a permanent crew of 23, she was the largest yacht in Australian waters and far and away larger and more impressive than what today is referred to as a "yacht" (more correctly a sail boat).

The Saide was far more than a yacht by name, she was often used for her intended purpose. In 1891 she embarked on an 8 month cruise from Australia to the Orient and return, including Japan, Hong Kong, Manila and New Guinea. During that voyage she was struck by a typhoon off the coast of Japan which split the jibboom but did no major damage.

Her involvement with rough weather was not restricted to foreign shores, on a voyage from Bunbury to Fremantle in 1893 there was a lucky escape for one seaman . It was necessary to send two men out on to the jibboom to secure the outer jib, when one of them was suddenly washed off by a heavy sea. A gallant rescue followed, fortunately with no loss of life.

While in London, awaiting the arrival of her owner, Saide was chartered to Capt Townley Parker, who, together with Capt Colin McDonald, was involved in the search for the Wellman Polar Expedition.

Steam Yacht Saide RYS
Mr Charles Gibson Millar from a caricature in Vanity Fair titled Saide - RYS

Capt Townley Parker and Capt McDonald became good friends with Capt Townley Parker presenting his own personal leather bound copy of Lloyd's Yacht Register (1894) to Capt McDonald with the inscription - Townley Parker 1894 to Capt Colin Macdonald "Saide" 1894.

On Saide's return to England she was visited in Portsmouth on 15/08/1894 by HRH's The Prince Albert (Later Edward VII) Prince of Wales and The Prince George (Later George V) Duke of York and Colin entertained both their Highnesses for lunch.

Mr Millar sold Sadie in London and in 1895 Colin joined Lord Brassey's private yacht "Sunbeam", in Madeira as her Navigation officer on its voyage to Australia when Lord Brassey took up his post as Governor of Victoria (1895-1900). Sunbeam was well known as one of the finest yachts in the Royal Yacht Squadron and Colin Stayed with her touring Australian coastal waters until 1896.

In July 1896 Colin joined the Australian based Archibald Currie Line as a steamship master in the ss. Clitus, the same year he was also master of the ss.Darius. This was the year a fifth (and final) child was born, Hector Millar Macdonald at the family home, 39 The Strand Williamstown, Victoria, Australia. In 1897 Capt Colin was appointed to the Currie line's ss. Argus.

The family connection stayed with the move to steam. In Jan 1897 Son Bruce took passage in Clitus, May of the same year

saw Mrs Margaret McDonald and infant Son Hector in Argus. 1899 and again Mrs McDonald and her youngest son were at sea with her husband, this time in Euryalus.

One of the main cargo's for the Currie line was the transportation of Horses from Australia to India as remounts for the Indian army, with various animals being carried on the reverse voyage, including camels, plus, "Indian produce" which included jute, coconut fibre and tea.

In 1899 Colin had taken command of the brand new steamer Euryalus for Curries. The captains register of Lloyd's of London shows Colin as Master of Euryalus from 1899 - 1901, though shipping intelligence and passenger lists have been

Steam Yacht "Sunbeam" RYS
ss. Clitus - Archibald Currie's Australian and Indian Line

found that give Colin as master into 1903. It must be remembered that not all voyages were telegraphed to Lloyd's and therefore did not make it into their captains register.

Colin experienced the first of his wars when he embarked Col Tom Price's 2nd Victoria Mounted Rifles in ss. Euryalus bound for the Boer War. The Euryalus set sail on the 13th of  January 1900. A letter sent home by one of the soldiers notes "the Captain of the boat fills in an odd evening with a lot of views from a magic lantern." There is also an interesting story of this voyage in the book THE LION OF SCOTLAND. It details an incident between the ships cook and the soldiers and the novel way Colin dealt with it. Details of both of Euryalus's Boer War voyages can be seen here.

The 3rd Bushman's contingent (Victoria Mounted Rifles Regiment) followed in the same vessel on the 10th of March 1900. On the 7th of June 1900 a Luncheon was held aboard

the troopship Euryalus, this was attended by the Victorian Premier, The Honourable  Allan McLean and the Minister for defence Mr Donald Melville.  Mr Melville presented Colin with 2 silver epergnes as a mark of appreciation of the government for his contributions to the South African War effort.

It must be remembered of course that this was before federation so each individual colony (state) had it's own defence force and Minister for defence.

At some unknown point in time Colin's eldest son Bruce joined the Currie line as a marine engineer. If I was to guess I would say around the turn of the century as Bruce was born in 1880.

In 1901 Colin had a run in with the law regarding a case of small pox on Euryalus, the case went firstly to the Water

Departure of the ss. Euryalus en-route to the Boer War
ss. Gracchus (B.I Livery)

Police Court then it was referred to the Court of Quarter Sessions.

It was also in Euryalus that Colin brought "Queenie" to Australia in March 1902, "Queenie" was an Asian elephant that was to reside at Melbourne Zoo giving children rides for many years. Some sources claim she was loaded in Calcutta while others claim Singapore.

It is not known exactly when he was appointed, however the shipping intelligence of 1903 notes Capt Colin McDonald as "Commodore" of the Currie fleet, when there was a "triangular change of masters" including Colin leaving Euryalus and Taking command of the ss. Gracchus and his brother Murdoch Taking over the Euryalus. Early 1904, in Gracchus, Colin rescued the crew of the sailing ship Ladmene which had struck a rock and sunk off the coast of Burma.

Colin had become very well known and revered in the community which is shown in a myriad of newspaper articles, not to mention the company had started advertising which vessel he was currently commanding.

In 1906 Colin traveled to the United Kingdom to take delivery of a new ship, the ss. Hymettus, more than likely the privilege of the Commodore - Master.

After a serious accident in Madras in July of that year where Colin was hospitalized after being kicked by a horse and having his leg broken. It appears a horse broke loose during unloading and Colin attempted to stop it! Capt Murdoch McDonald took over the Hymettus, leaving Colin in Madras. Victorian passenger lists show Colin in command of the ss. Itonus from July 1908 to late 1909.

Colin rejoined Hymettus in 1910 before making his way to Britain to take delivery of the new ss. Janus. The Janus was completed in July 1910 at a cost of £72,000 and her maiden voyage, under the command of Capt Colin McDonald, was Great Britain via Calcutta to her home port of Melbourne.

Daughter Ann was married to Gordon Duncan Clark on October 10th 1910 at the family home "Waipu" in St Kilda.

Hector Millar Macdonald, Colin McDonald, Bruce George Macdonald
Janus fire, Albany, Western Australia 1914

In January 1912 Colin was joined in Janus by his youngest son, Hector Millar (H.M.), who had signed on as a Midshipman. The Currie Line was taken over by the British India Steam Navigation Company (B.I.S.N) in 1913 and Janus was handed over to them on the 5th of July. Shipping news of the day quoted Colin as not being in good health and intending to retire. They also lamented the loss (as master of Janus) to the Adelaide Zoo, referring to Janus as a floating zoo for all the exotic creatures she had brought to these shores for the various zoo's around the country.

For whatever reason this was not to be the case and Colin continued to command Janus for the new company and was Joined by his son, H.M. Macdonald as a Boy Cadet/4th Officer, another Macdonald that was to come up through the hawes pipe and later become Commodore of one of the worlds largest shipping companies.

Early on the morning of the 16th of December of that same year, while alongside the wharf in Sydney, Janus's cargo caught fire. The cargo in #1 hold was well ablaze and producing large quantities of smoke when the fire brigade arrived which hampered their efforts to find the seat of the blaze. The brigade had to use smoke helmets and were pouring 1,000 gallons of water a minute into the hold in an attempt to control it. Eventually the blaze was extinguished with no structural damage to the ship. The agents were expecting her to be able to sail on Friday the 19th.

A spectacular blaze from the accounts of the day, however this was just a prelude to what was to come some 8 months later at sea.

Janus fire, Albany, Western Australia 1914
ss. Janus WWI

On the 28th of August 1914 Janus took fire in the Indian ocean, the blaze could not be controlled so Colin made for Albany.

She arrived at the port in a massive cloud of smoke, finally with the assistance of the port authorities (and the flooding of the hold) the fire was extinguished but not before causing considerable structural damage to the ship. A board of inquiry later found everything had been done properly and no blame was attached to the master. You have to wonder if, with smoke pouring from his vessel, Colin's mind went back to his brothers command the ss. Fortunatus which had been lost at sea due to a fire in the Indian ocean in 1907.

With the outbreak of WWI Janus undertook trooping duties and the supply of military horses to both France and Mesopotamia. An insight into the humanity of the man was seen in 1917 when he made a public appeal for tinned fruit for the British soldiers in Mesopotamia.

There was some joy for the family in these years with second daughter Elizabeth marrying Robert Cyril Johnson on 29th of June 1917 at Albert Park in Victoria.

During the periods 1915-1916 and 1917-1918 Janus served as an Indian Expeditionary Force transport and for this work Colin was presented with a silver tray by the Indian Government.

Medals awarded to Capt Colin McDonald
At the end of the war Janus came under the Liner Requisition Scheme and was used to repatriate troops including the special wireless section from Mesopotamia. He was so impressed with the conduct of these soldiers he called in at The Register newspaper office in Adelaide and told them so.
Janus - embarking troops for return to Australia 1919
Capt Colin McDonald and niece Elizabeth (Murdoch's daughter) 1920's

According to the Daily Commercial News and Shipping List , Wednesday 8 June 1921:- "Captain Colin McDonald, of the
British-India S.N. Co.'s steamer Janus, retired from the sea at Newcastle prior to the steamer's departure from, that port on the 2nd instant on her return to India. Captain McDonald
was previously with Messrs. Archibald Currie for many years, and had command of most of the steamers of that line. He brought the Janus out from the Tyne as a new vessel about eleven years ago. When the Currie Line was bought by the British-India- S.N. Co. Captain McDonald went over with the Janus. He still holds a position with the British-India S.N. Company.

It was always said around the family that Colin did pilot work for B.I. after he "retired" and this appears to be the case. I have passenger lists and discharges that put him in command of 33 vessels along the Australian coast between leaving Janus in 1921 and the end of March 1924. It would appear that the first of these was to pilot B.I.'s steamer Muttra. Sailing from Newcastle on the 30.06.1921 they took passage to Gladstone where horses were loaded then continued through the Great Barrier Reef to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait where Colin was put ashore, Muttra continued on her way to Bombay being sighted by the Goode Island (goods Island) lighthouse keeper on the 07.08.1921. It is noted in the book "Sailor in Steam" that as Muttra passed each lighthouse during her passage through the Great Barrier Reef, Colin would sound the ships horn and the keeper, his wife and children would come out and wave to the ship, naturally Colin would return same. On these remote lighthouses in the early 20th century the wave from the bridge of a passing ship might be the only contact these keepers and their families have with the outside world for many months at a time.

In October 1922 Colin was proposed as a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society by S.G. Green and Francis J Bayldon, a well known Australian Master Mariner and nautical instructor. Colin was duly Elected on the 13 November 1922. I don't know if he ever used them but the fellowship comes with the post nominals FRGS.

All the pilot work of 1921 - 1924 seems to have been for B.I. except for one ring in. On the 25th of May 1923 the discharges show Colin in command of the Burns, Philp vessel Marella, possibly it was under charter to B.I. (they were B.I's Sydney agents), whatever the case, Colin was definitely master of the Marella for that voyage. It would appear that Colin finally retired from the sea in 1924, the last vessel I can find for him in any records is the British India Passenger/cargo liner Chyebassa 13/03/1924 - 21/03/1924. He was about to turn 73 years of age in May.

Colin died on the 8th of November 1946 at his home, "Waipu" in Emerald rd Belgrave, aged 95 years. He was Buried at the Brighton Cemetery in plot Pres M 33 on the 09/11/1946.


Margaret Elizabeth Graham McDonald (nee Bruce) survived her husband by a little over a year, passing away at home, "Waipu" in Emerald rd Belgrave, on the 16th of February 1948. She was buried with Colin at Brighton Cemetery , Victoria in plot Pres M 33 on the 17/02/1948.

Bruce George McDonald passed away on the 13th of July 1918 at his parents home, "Waipu" 63 Park st St Kilda at 38 years of age due to a malignant growth on the hip. He was buried at Brighton Cemetery, Victoria, Australia in plot Pres M 34 on the 17/07/1918.

Ann Elizabeth Clark (nee McDonald) passed away on the 19th of February 1922 at her home, Cremorne road Cremorne, at 40 years of age and was buried at Brighton Cemetery, Victoria, in plot Pres M 33 on the 22 February.

Hector Millar Macdonald passed away in 1961

Lillian (Lily) McDonald passed away in 1965 and was buried at Brighton Cemetery, Plot Pres M 31 on the 30/03/1965.

Elizabeth Ann (Bess) Johnson (nee McDonald) passed away in 1978 at Wagga Wagga NSW, her ashes were interned at Brighton in plot Pres M 31 on the 09/08/1978.


List of medals awarded.

To see the Bibliography for Capt Colin McDonald please click here.

To see the known ship list for Capt Colin McDonald please click here.

Actual Passenger lists (with some transcriptions) click here.

Index to the Victorian passenger records click here.

To see a list of discharges 1922 - 1924 please click here.


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