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Captain John Peter Bollons (1862 - 1929)

Captain John Peter Bollons, and an unidentified woman, on board the ship Tutanekai at Akaroa. Hart, Roger :Photographs of Somes Island and other subjects. Ref: 1/2-112289-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.



Captain Bollins was born on November 10, 1862 at Bethnal Green, London, England. His father, Thomas Bollons was a cab master, and his mother was Helen Elisha.  300

At the age of 14, Bollons went to sea, joining the crew of a barquentine bound for the West Indies. Five years later on November 7, 1881 he landed in New Zealand when as a crew member of the barque England's Glory, it ran ashore near the entrance to Bluff Harbour. Bollons spent the next ten years serving aboard a number of vessels. In 1892 he earned his master's certificate and in 1893 he joined the Marine Department. In 1898, he became the master of the Hinemoa.  300

On November 28, 1896 he married Lilian Rose Hunter the daughter of a retired master mariner, John Hunter.  300



In Invercargill on 28 November 1896 John Bollons married Lilian Rose Hunter. Like most events in Bollons's life this had its nautical connections. Lilian was the daughter of a retired master mariner, John Hunter, and the couple's eldest son and eldest daughter received their middle names from ships that Bollons commanded: the Tutanekai and Hinemoa respectively. From around 1911 the Bollons family lived in Wellington.

It was on the steamers of the Marine Department that Bollons made his real contribution to New Zealand's maritime history. The duties of these well-known ships took them to all parts of New Zealand's coastline and its subantarctic dependencies. They serviced lighthouses, maintained navigation aids, charted the coast, replenished relief depots and conducted search and rescue missions, often spending long periods hugging dangerous coasts. Over the years Bollons developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of New Zealand's coastline. He rescued several crews, most notably that of the barque Dundonald, wrecked off Disappointment Island in the Auckland group in 1907. The government steamers also transported scientific expeditions and ferried dignitaries. During these voyages Bollons befriended many senior politicians.

His work enabled Bollons to pursue his interests in natural history and Maori culture. He always welcomed scientists and scholars aboard his ship and was himself a keen and observant naturalist, carrying a small dredging plant with him for collecting specimens. He spoke and wrote Maori fluently and was a friend of the ethnographer Elsdon Best. Bollons researched Maori folklore and cultural practices and made a special study of Maori fishing equipment. His collection of artefacts remains one of the more significant at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

John Bollons was a tall, deep-voiced man with a King George V beard and an energetic manner. It is said that he never used bad language. On one occasion, after avoiding rocks by just inches, he limited his exclamation to 'Holy sailor – we nearly did it that time!' In 1928 he was made an ISO. The Marine Department extended his retirement age to enable him to oversee the delivery of the Tutanekai's replacement, the Matai. Just before leaving for Britain, however, he underwent surgery for a hernia, relapsed and died unexpectedly in Wellington on 18 September 1929. He was survived by his wife, Lilian, and by four daughters and three sons. Bollons was buried at Bluff, home town of his wife and whose inhabitants had given him refuge 50 years earlier. The crew of the Tutanekai erected a plaque to his memory in All Saints' Church, Kilbirnie, which Governor General Sir Charles Fergusson unveiled two months later.

GOVERNMENT SERVICE APPOINTMENTS. Captain J. Bollons, appointed to the command of the Hinemoa, was Customs Shipping Master at the port of Wellington since the early part of this year. Previously he was chief officer of the Tutanekai. Captain Bollons, who was born in London, came out to New Zealand 17 years ago, and was on board the barque England's Glory, wrecked in Foveaux Strait. Ever since then he has been trading round the New Zealand coast in various capacities. His first position in the Government's service was as second officer of the Stella. From that vessel he was drafted to the Hinemoa, and remained there first and second officer tor some four years. As soon as the Tutanekai was brought out from England, Mr Bollon was appointed chief officer, and earned golden opinions from everyone for his smart seamanship and energetic bearing. A Press Association telegram from Wellington Bays:—"lt is understood that Mr Hunter, the late chief officer of the Tutanekai, who lost his foot by an accident while the vessel was lying alongside the Westport wharf last Easter, is to be appointed Customs Shipping Master at Wellington, in succession to Captain Bollons.'

Press, Volume LV, Issue 10083, 8 July 1898, Page 4


1877     Captain John Fairchild appointed as the Hinemoa's master, he also commanded the Stella, the Government lighthouse tender.

Captain Fairchild had been master of the paddle-wheel steamer Sturt on the Waikato River and on the coast during the New Zealand wars, until he captained the paddle wheel steamer Luna.  He commanded the Stella during the building of the Brothers and Puysegar Point lighthouses, captained the Hinemoa for 7 years, then was appointed Skipper of Tutanekai of 1896. Two years later Captain Fairchild was fatally injured on board the Tutanekai while supervising the loading of an engine.  The Prime Minister Richard Seddon, and the leader of the Opposition, headed the long line of people who mourned the loss of New Zealand's finest Captain.



1898     Captain John Fairchild was accidentally killed when a shackle broke aloft and struck him a fatal blow. Captain Bollons was the late Captain Fairchild's immediate replacement.

John Peter Bollons arrived in New Zealand as a sixteen year old seaman at Bluff on the seventh of November 1881, when the barque England's Glory was wrecked on the beach at Lookout Point, Bluff.


"Andrew José came as a boy, one of the crew of the England's Glory wrecked in 1881 below what used to be called Suicide Point at the Bluff.  The Glory Track named for this ship starts just above this point.  She was a fully rigged 183 feet barque with a magnificent figurehead carved from a single trunk of Oregon.  It has been one of the treasures of the Southland Museum for many years.  Another member of this crew was John Bollons, and it was 'Old' Barney Buller (Tohi te Marama) of Bullers Point, The Neck, who took both boys in and fathered them for years."

From 1892 Bollons served as articled apprentice, able seaman, second mate and then ship's mate under Captain Fairchild on the Hinemoa before becoming her master for twenty four years.  His tremendous knowledge of the coast, islands, ocean and people was unsurpassed.  He was intensely interested in everything pertaining to the Maori race and was first ashore to inspect each lighthouse station and discuss events since the ship's last visit.  Bollons examined any fossils or artifacts that had been found and, master of barter that he was, often left with articles to add to his substantial collection.  A fluent Maori speaker, resourceful master seaman, tough disciplinarian and a kind hearted gentleman, he died suddenly on the 17th of September 1929 while Master of the 811 ton government steamer Tutenekai of 1896 and is buried at Bluff.


Additional Sources:

300. Gavin McLean. 'Bollons, John Peter', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 5-Jun-2013 URL:

301. Press, Volume LV, Issue 10083, 8 July 1898, Page 4




More suggestions and sources Edwards, G. H. 'Captain John Peter Bollons'. New Zealand Marine News 25, No 4 (1974): 99--118

Martin, E. R. Marine Department centennial history, 1866--1966. Wellington, 1969

Obit. Dominion. 19 Sept. 1929: 11



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