ON SEPTEMBER 18, 1913, Port Chalmers in New Zealand lost one of its best loved citizens.

At the age of 91, Clackmannanshire born sea captain William Thomson died.

Born in Alloa on November 23, 1822, Thomson was the ninth child of a family of 12. And although his father died when he was seven, he remained in the town with his family until he was 13 when he went to sea as an apprentice.

He served his time on timber ships, many of which were owned by relatives, and sailed with his uncle Captain Watson Thomson.

With him, as well as distant Thomson relatives Alexander and William, Thomson developed the Ben Line Agency in Leith.

By the time he was 21 he was a ship’s master, and commanded vessels trading in the Mediterranean, North America, Manila and Australia.

During Ireland’s famine years in the mid-1800s, Thomson took thousands of Irish passengers to America, and during a particularly bad season, his ship was one of only a handful not quarantined due to sickness and disease on board when it arrived in the United States.

He personally examined the quarters every day and did all he could for his passengers. He even tried to make sure some of his crew were musicians to keep spirits up during the long journeys.

On one occasion none were available, so Thomson went on a hunt at the docks and found a young Irishman playing the fiddle on a street corner so asked if he would like to ‘take a pleasure trip to America.’

The fiddler accepted and a few hours later was in the North Atlantic. He returned to Ireland.

Once when he was sailing from Manila to Sydney, Australia, Thomson sighted a barque acting strangely. He sent out a boat of men to board the vessel and found only the cook and the carpenter.

She had been loading guano when a hurricane hit. While the rest of the crew were trying to sell the guano, the ship was ripped from her mooring with only the two men on board.

Thomson handed over some of his crew and the ship was steered carefully to Sydney. When they arrived the captain of the ship met Thomson and was so grateful for his help, he told him that the owners would reward him with £100. Thomson never received the money.

In 1852, Thomson transported the first ever direct cargo of Queensland wool from Moreton Bay to England on the barque Moselle.

In the early 1850s, the Alloa-born captain decided to give up life at sea and started up his own business in Melbourne, Australia.

He went home via Panama and bought out a ship loaded with timber and house building materials from Nova Scotia.

On his return to Melbourne, he discovered his business was unsuccessful so wound it up and went back to sea, becoming captain of a steamer trading in Geelong.

There he met the Honourable WH Reynolds of New Zealand, who had been sent over on behalf of the Provincial Government to attract mechanics and artisans to Otago.

He enticed Thomson to sail to New Zealand, where he found work with John Jones of Waikouaiti and for several years was in charge of the ship Thomas and Henry, trading to Melbourne.

His last command was on the steamer Geelong trading along the New Zealand coast.

In 1860, Thomson was appointed chief harbourmaster and therefore oversaw all ports in Otago. He held the position until 1874 when harbour boards were established, and his duties became based solely in Otago. He resigned 25 years after his appointment.

In the two years before, he had overseen Port Chalmers graving dock in a suburb Dunedin and resigned in 1888 to take up the position of marine surveyor and Lloyd's surveyor.

He was examiner of masters and mates and adjuster of compasses in Dunedin for 20 years and retired from that in 1894.

The city became the centre for the shipping trade and he lived there for some time before moving to Sawyer's Bay, a suburb roughly three miles from Port Chalmers, where he built his house and lived for the rest of his life. He was the first captain, and co-founder, of the Port Chalmers Naval Brigade.

Thomson was a long serving elder of the Port Chalmers Presbyterian Church which had been established in 1848 although the church itself was not built until 1852, thanks only to the generosity of the locals.

It is said the Sacrament was first celebrated on board the Thomas and Henry in the port when Thomson was its captain.

According to locals, he was kindly and helpful, and won the affections of the whole community by a long succession of kind and self-denying acts which he performed with tact and humility.

Thomson was married three times and had a daughter with his first wife, and a son and daughter with his second. All three of his wives pre-deceased him.