our family stories


This timeline has not been checked for years.
I’m in the process of verifying what I can, adding and updating.


Alexander became Master Mason in the Grand Lodge of Scotland.

His daughter, Catherine McFarlane (Kate) Low was born. She later married Thomas Madge.


Mrs A. Flanagan listed as living in High Street in Dunedin Directory of 1871-2. This suggests that John Flanagan was no longer around.


Alexander spent 7 months whaling in the Davis Straits on the S.S.Polynia. The ship sailed from Dundee oh May 4 and returned on November 11. Once, while icebound in the Arctic, he fashioned a brass box while spending many hours as an engineer in the engine room of one of the whalers on which he sailed.


Alexander had 7 voyages on the Despatch.
Voyage 1. The ship sailed from Dundee on 8 September for one month in the Baltic Sea. It returned to Dundee on 7 October.

Voyage 2. He left again the next day, 8 October, on another Baltic voyage, this time returning after a month and a half on 28 November.

Voyage 3. The same day (28 Nov.) he set sail for another month. This time it was to Copenhagen and Kangsbery. He returned on 31 December.


Alfred and Eleanor Low emigrated to New Zealand from Dundee in Scotland. Perhaps they came out with Alexander and Sarah Low and their children. It was probably between 13.8.74 and 1.10.75 that Alexander emigrated to New Zealand with his family, most likely to Otago. [see 1874] David Low says in his autobiography:

“Grandfather Low was a marine engineer After doing a stretch of whaling in the Arctic and ranging the South Seas, he found in New Zealand what he thought was a great place to live Sc he uprooted his family of five from Camoustie and sailed the lot of them off to the new settlement at Dunedin in the 1860s Grandfather Low, according to his daguerreotype, had a sad face and dreamy eyes behind his forest of dark beard.”
[*date proven to be incorrect]


Voyage 4. March 14: a 14 day voyage to the Baltic Sea saw him leave Dundee, this time as acting First Engineer. The ship returned, this time to Granton, on 1lth April.

Voyage 5. April 13: the Despatch left Granton and sailed for Swinemunde.
 May 19: The ship returned on May but the place of discharge is not recorded, although it is thought to have been South Shields, as indicated by the official stamp.

Voyage 6. May 20: The next day he left again on the Des patch from South Shields. The description of the voyage simply states “Archangel”.

July 2: He returned to Dundee after being away from his home port for a total of three months.

Voyage 7. July 6: The final known voyage on the Despatch was 4 days later, again to the mysterious destination, “Archangel’.

August 13: It returned. It was not until January 1877 that the next known voyage occurred.


The Union Steamship Company, which is said to be responsible for the development of shipping in New Zealand, began in that country in Dunedin in 1875. In this initial year, the Union Steamship Company had 5 coastal ships.

1 October: Alexander commenced overseeing work in Dunedin on the N.Z. steamer, SS. Matau for Kincaid, McQueen and Company. The Matau, no.61029, was a screw steamer of 147 tons gross and 104.37 tons net register. Her engines were 5Ohp and her depth 7.7feet. The SS Matau was an “iron steamer. 133 ft overall. She was rigged as a three masted schooner and on occasion could spread a comfortable amount of canvas. She was built under the inspection of Mr Low who will now act as chief engineer.

“The engines were made under the special superintendence of her engineer, Mr Low, who gives his opinion based on 21 years experience, that he never saw better machinery turned out in any part of the world.”

[Note:Ship building was New Zealand’s first industry, commenced in 1819. The first yard was built near Kauriforests which provided excellent ship-building material. (SS Matau had kauri pine decks.)

Later, steamships were built. By 1887, 98 New Zealand steamers had been registered. SS Matau had been built in 1875\6, 12 years earlier. Thus, the Matau must have been one of the first steamers built in New Zealand. The Iron Age, bought by Alexander in 1776, would also be one of the first, possibly even older than Matau as it was already in operation in Otago Harbour when the group purchased it.]


January 17: the 88 Matau was added to the steam fleet in Otago when it was launched . Alexander was made Chief Engineer on the ship. To officially trial the ship, 150 invitations were issued for a short voyage from the Rattray street wharf. The ship went past Port Chalmers, round the immigrant ship, Wellington, and back to Port Chalmers. After a short stay it steamed up to Dunedin. The ship had made an earlier, unofficial trip.

September 23: The 88 Matau was wrecked. On that day the steamer, bound from Wellington to Westport, stranded about 7 miles from the west coast port and became a total wreck. The casualty was caused by loose mooring lines being washed overboard and failing the propeller, thus rendering the vessel helpless.

October 4 and 5: Efforts were made by the government steamer, Luna, to tow the Matau off, but failed each time as a result of the tow lines breaking. On the evening of October 5 a heavy sea set in and the steamer broke her back, parting just forward of the boiler. All hands were on board at the time, and they barely had time to scramble ashore before the steamer filled. Great blame was attached to the Wellington Customs Authorities for permitting the Matau to leave port with so many passengers, and hampered by a deck cargo. The court inquiry found the master negligent in remaining in his cabin during a heavy sea, while close in shore. It was commanded by Captain Donald Urquart.

June 24: Alexander signed an agreement with 4 other men to become part owner of the steamer, Iron Age. It was trading at the time in the harbour of Otago. His co-owners were:
Evan Prosser merchant of Dunedin owned one sixth
 John Mill stevedore of Port Chalmers owned one sixth
 John Densem shipmaster of Dunedin owned one sixth
 Cohn MacAndrew shipping agent of Dunedin owned one third.

Alexander also owned one sixth and was listed as stevedore. The agreement was witnessed by William Parker and the agreement was drawn up by the Dunedin solicitors, Sieuwright and Stout.

[note: Alexander’s sons, David and Alexander. were later to become managers of branches of New Zealand’s largest drug company, Kempthorne, Prosser and Co (called The New Zealand Drug Company]. Perhaps they were introduced to Mr Prosser through the Prosser association with the Iron Age.]

Alexander was on a 4 month “foreign”voyage on the ~‘Gazelle”. By now he had
emigrated to New Zealand.

January 9: He sailed as an engineer from Lyttelton.

May 16: He returned to the port at Bluff Harbour.

[Note.The Gazelle was a barque and it made frequent trips to Sydney. Most of its trips were from the Solomon Islands and passengers included Solomon Island natives. It was listed as a Sydney ship. Although there were lists of crews, no engineer appeared on any of the lists. Among the Gazelles known voyages were:
Solomon Islands to Sydney: 24 September 1 878
Solomon Islands to Sydney 9 April 1 879
Solomon Islands to Sydney: 10 October 1880
 14 October 1884]

It is possible Alexander spent some time in 1877 whaling on Macquarie Island in the Antarctic, but this is to be confirmed.

July: The Gazelle sailed on a 4 month search for the General Grant. There was an engineer on board. It is possible that Alexander was that engineer. Here is an account of a search for the General Grant that has been handed down through the Low family.

Robert Baxter Low emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Otago.


Alexander was foreman for the building of a dredge at Greymouth.


January 8: In a memo for the engineer in charge of Middle Island, the District engineer (Mr C. Y. OConner) wrote:

“I have the honour to report that the dredge .. has been completed in a thoroughly workmanlike manner, . . . and that it works well . . . and does its duty . . . in a most satisfactory manner.

“I should also wish to state that Mr Alexander Low, the contractor’s foreman, who has erected the dredge here, has been most obliging, and careful to meet our requirement in every possible way, so that besides a thorough knowledge of his business as a practical engineer, which he so evidently possesses, he has united the most untiring energy and anxiety to make the work a success, and to facilitate our carrying it on hereafter in his absence.”

Jean Aristides Dallas was appointed Lecturer in French at Qtago University. He was also given the role of French Master at Otago Girls and Boys School.