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Sat, 15 May


Via Zoom

“A Better Commander Cannot be Had”…. The story of Joannes Wyllie, commander of the blockade runner Ad-Vance

As part of our 2021 Virtual Conference, 'War on the Water', we are pleased to have this exclusive presentation telling the story of a Scottish captain who ran the blockade into the Confederacy

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“A Better Commander Cannot be Had”…. The story of Joannes Wyllie, commander of the blockade runner Ad-Vance
“A Better Commander Cannot be Had”…. The story of Joannes Wyllie, commander of the blockade runner Ad-Vance

Time & Location

15 May 2021, 13:30 – 15:00

Via Zoom

About the Event

The most important officer to command the famous blockade runner Ad-Vance wasn’t a Southerner, or even an American, but a Scot from Fife. The full role of Joannes Wyllie, until now but a footnote to history, has been uncovered and his importance to one of the most successful of all runners of the war can now be told.

Wyllie was born in 1828 and was not destined for a life at sea. He was the son of a farmer and a promising student, granted a bursary to attend the University of St Andrews. A mysterious incident in which he was declared dead lead him to the sea, signing up as an apprentice seaman in 1852.

He quickly rose through the ranks and in 1862 gained his maritime masters certificate in Liverpool. He there took command of his first vessel, the steamer Bonita, bound for Nassau with war supplies. It was on the return voyage that a chance encounter with two agents of the State of North Carolina led to Wyllie’s fateful connection with the Ad-Vance. Soon after Wyllie was given command of the Lord Clyde, as the Irish Sea steamer purchased by the Carolinian agents was then known. From day one it was Wyllie who was a constant force on the steamer, serving on the vessel for every voyage as a runner. He was a valued officer whose service gained him the respect and admiration of crew and State officials alike.

After the war he returned home to Fife and took over tenancy of the farm his father rented near Kirkcaldy. His stories of adventures at sea wowed local crowds and for over thirty years as he gave numerous popular lectures in aid of local charities. However, his fame died with him in 1902 and his story was soon forgotten.

Join author John F. Messner for a discussion about Wyllie’s time on the Ad-Vance and the sources used as the foundation for his new book A Scottish Blockade Runner in the American Civil War – Joannes Wyllie of the steamer Ad-Vance from Whittles Publishing

About the Speaker

John F. Messner is a curator and historian with 20 years’ experience working in museums. He has held the post of Curator, Transport and Technology at Glasgow Museums since 2006. During that time he was part of the project team for the Riverside Museum, winner of the European Museum of the Year 2013. In 2015 he co-curated a display about Glasgow’s role in the American Civil War which led to his work on the life of Joannes Wyllie.

He previously held positions at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, The World of Glass, St Helens and the National Football Museum (England).

Originally from Michigan, he is a graduate of Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana and received his MA in Museum Studies from Leicester University. He now lives with his family in Ayrshire.


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    The event is free but we welcome donations to enable us to continue our education and conservation projects on both sides of the Atlantic.




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