JOHN FINLAY DUFF, ANNE ELIZA DUFF .
and their daughter JESSIE LIGHT DUFF .
John Finlay Duff's voyage as a passenger on the ‘Asia’ in 1839 was his third trip to Australia, his wife's second, and their daughter Jessie's first. He was born in the shipping port of Dundee, Scotland in 1799, son of John Duff, Wright and Elisabeth Finlay whose father and grandfather had been shipmasters there. He was a master mariner and is first recorded as having sailed, into Australian waters on 4th July 1835, when he reached Hobart Town as captain of the 'Africaine', carrying a cargo of "'sundries', a crew of twenty, four cabin passengers and five servants. Customs records also state that there were no convicts on board. The ship had sailed from London, via the Bay of Bengal and Mauritius.
At the age of thirty-seven, nearly a year later, on 1st July 1836 he again set sail from England as captain of the 'Africaine', with a predominantly Scottish crew. This voyage was bound for South Australia with ninety-nine aboard, including the first paying emigrants for the new colony - a group that arrived before the 'Buffalo'. The ship's departure from Deal had been held up because he had married Anne Eliza Turner, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Turner of Chepstowe, in the church of St Botolph-without-Aldgate the day before, so this voyage to Australia was also their honeymoon!
When the 'Africaine' reached Rapid Bay Colonel Light left his survey party, was welcomed aboard by Captain Duff and sailed up the gulf in her, to Holdfast Bay and the site - as yet unfinalised, for the proposed new city of Adelaide. He authorised Duff to set sail almost straight away, for Hobart Town - the nearest source of fresh provisions for the survey party and the newly arrived emigrants who were all running very short of food. Light also requisitioned for a supply of bullocks and carts, for the colony was totally without land transport. Duff's contacts from his 1835 visit proved very helpful, and he became a regular trader in the ‘Africaine’ between Hobart Town and Launceston in the earliest years of colonization. Referring to the harbour at Port Adelaide, on the first coloured manuscript map of the site of Adelaide sent to the Colonization Commissioners in London, Light wrote -
"Many complaints have been made about landing stores on the beach at Holdfast Bay on account of the surf when the westerly breezes set in. To them I have replied no ships now have any business there. They ought to go up and anchor opposite the harbour (if not in it), where they can land goods if it blows half a gale of wind, but notwithstanding this the Buffalo remains there for all other ships to bring up by. Captain Duff of the Africaine I can never praise too much: he was determined to see everything himself and took his ship at once up to the harbour in spite of all reports, and is highly satisfied with its safety and capabilities.”
(The underlining is Colonel Light’s.)
Duff took up one of the original town acres of the corner of Currie Street and West Terrace - near the road to the Port, and was granted an eighty-acre section to have frontage on to a six-mile canal proposed by Colonel Light, to be made from the Port to the City.
He also took up country acres at Woodford, on the Para River and in the first survey of Port Lincoln - some with his partner John Hallett who had been a witness at his wedding and migrated from Woodford in Essex with his wife and three children, on the 'Africaine'. The partners had bought livestock in Capetown, grazed sheep at Woodford and in 1837 exported to England four bales of wool - the first produced in the colony.
Hallett and Duff were also in partnership as sellers of imported goods from a location in Grenfell Street, until July 2nd 1838. Later that year John Finlay Duff and his wife returned to England where their first child was born at 3 America Square, Aldgate on 29th November 1838. She was christened Jessie at the church where they had been married eighteen months before.
The Duff family set out for South Australia again as passengers in the ‘Asia’ on 6th March 1839, by which time Jessie was just over three months old. Fortunately for their descendants, Dr George Mayo, on his second voyage to South Australia as a ship's surgeon, makes numerous mentions of them in his diary. He obviously appreciated Duff's seamanship when Captain Freeman's failed - when he warded off a threatening pirate ship by convincingly insisting that the ‘Asia’ had 200 convicts on board, and later averted shipwreck at Cape Borda.The friendship continued and the day after landing they all had dinner at the Halletts. George Mayo visited the Duff’s frequently - not only in times of sickness. A month later he was very impressed when he went with Duff to see the partners' 1540 'remarkably healthy' sheep at their stock station on the Para River. He was also present at baby Jessie's christening on August 25th at Holy Trinity - the church for which Hallett and Duff had been founding contributors. The christening is interesting for it was Jessie's second! On this occasion she was given a second name - Light, in honour of the friend her father so admired - the founder of the city of Adelaide, who was by then dying.
George Mayo also records what appears to be his first visit to Colonel Light. He went with 'Cap Duff' and there would no doubt have met Maria Gandy whom he later married. Not surprisingly, John Finlay Duff was part of the official party at Light's funeral, and subscribed generously to his memorial.
Duff owned other ships - notably the 99-ton ‘Waterwitch', a painting of which still exists. Because he employed others to take his ships to sea he is regarded as the first shipowner of South Australia. Ships records also show that over the years he continued to go to sea himself and that his wife and their children often travelled with him. On one such voyage in 1854, his wife died in England, when Jessie Light Duff was sixteen, John Finlay Duff Jr, eleven and Eliza Dixon Duff only six. Two other sons and a daughter had died in infancy in South Australia.
In 1862 he married Mary Schroder, who bore him four more sons, two of whom - Joseph Stilling Duff and Stuart Duncan Duff survived to adulthood. He died in 1868 and was buried in West Terrace Cemetery.
Joseph Stilling Duff's son and grandson were both named John Finlay Duff, the latter now living in Lower Hutt N.Z.
In "Notable South Australians', printed in 1885, George E. Loyau described him as
'associated with some of the earliest and most memorable incidents in South Australian history. He was a man of great public spirit and took active interest in all that concerned the land of his adoption'.
This is only part of the story of John Finlay Duff, a story which includes personal and financial setbacks and which I am in the process of researching.
Jane Brummitt 7.7.1989