‘Away we went from the East India Dock’: The Story of the Jack Family

portrait-john-jackIn late October 1883, the Jack family, John, Helen, and their two sons John Hill Hunter and James Whitson, left their home in Edinburgh for the port of Leith. Their luggage had already been packed and was delivered, ahead of the family, to the SS Iona anchored in Leith harbour, the vessel which was to take them to London. From there, the Jacks were to embark on a three-month journey to New Zealand. The departure in Edinburgh was a sad event. Aware of the fi nality of the Jacks’ decision to emigrate, 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 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. 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’.  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 give 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. Jackcremation

John Jack died in Wellington in 1909, and 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’s death was certainly 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. 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 diverse experiences in relation to John’s death through personal correspondence that criss-crossed the Scottish Diaspora.

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