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“A Better Commander Cannot be Had”…. The story of Joannes Wyllie - By John Messner

If you missed John's great presentation or would like to see it again it may be viewed on our YouTube channel at

This well researched and delivered talk was part of the VIRTUAL CONFERENCE 2021 "War on the Water"

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.


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