John Dunlop Allison was a mariner from the final era of sail into the early days of steam.
The hand-written account of his adventures was discovered in an attic in England a hundred years after he wrote it. His story describes extraordinary events, of wars and wives, of gold fever and greed, of death and disease, of storms and shipwrecks all over the world.
This is the authentic voice of a spirited and adventurous man, written as he was approaching "the allotted span of man, three score and ten". Beginning with his birth in 1842 and fiery youth in Scotland, his story moves through four decades of global voyages. He was also, at various times, a prizefighter, a smuggler, a gold prospector and a warrior in Egypt. He once escaped a violent dispute over his alleged complicity in murder, during which thirteen people were killed. Whilst on the run he joined up as a soldier in the Maori Wars, where after his final battle he was discovered by a search party, unconscious under a pile of bodies - 48 of the 50 soldiers involved had been killed.
A man of amazing resilience and stoicism, John Dunlop Allison was twice shipwrecked, and miraculously survived a cyclone off Mauritius in which most of his crew mutinied and his ship very nearly sank. When his wife died suddenly in Calcutta he wrote home to Scotland for a replacement… "and we were quietly married the following Monday".
That which was commonplace at the time he wrote his story is extraordinary to someone reading it a century later, so short accounts of the various conflicts and circumstances have been included for historical context and background.
This story brings to life the astonishing differences in the way some of our recent ancestors lived, and the maritime perils which were endured to shape the modern world.
‘Life like the wave
You see it pass and not a spark remains
Another comes to fill the place
And so will end the human race.’
Some make a greater noise and splash on the shores of eternity than others,
and some die out before they reach it.
— John Dunlop Allison