Last century thousands of British seafarers jumped ship in Aotearoa New Zealand. They jumped for a woman, to escape despotic maritime discipline, or just for a different life. They faced deportation, and years of lying low evading the police. Dean Broughton, a tutor and PhD student at Victoria University, shines a light on these forgotten immigrants.

By Dean Broughton | 14 February 2022

Eighty-three-year-old Harry Clark lives in Ōtaki. Originally from Sheffield in England, he joined the Merchant Navy in 1952 to escape an abusive father. In 1956 he was working as a steward in Rangitoto. While berthed in Wellington he met a girl. Two years later, he was back in the capital city, serving in Corinthic. After smuggling his belongings off the ship in small parcels, he jumped ship—colloquially known by seafarers as skinning out— and headed for Ōtaki, and the girl.

When Clark left Corinthic, breaking his contract, he became in law a “ship deserter”—subject to imprisonment, fines, and deportation. He went to live with his girlfriend and worked on a dairy farm, until he was sprung by a local police sergeant in 1962. He appeared in Wellington before magistrate Bernard (Ben) Scully, renowned for being hard on ship jumpers, and for hundreds of deportations. Surprisingly, Scully didn’t live up to his reputation, and Harry Clark was released. He went on to marry his girlfriend, and have three children with her.

Clark was one of the thousands of British seafarers in the twentieth century who saw jumping ship as a back-door way into New Zealand. They left ships at ports all around the country. Before 1945 about 200 seafarers jumped every year, but from 1945 to 1952 numbers increased to 700. When celebrated Wellington criminal lawyer Roy Stacey asked former seafarer Doug Cooney to find a ship jumper in 1950, Cooney replied that was easy, “. . . all you had to do was whistle in Lambton Quay and you would find fifty of them”.

The government reacted to the increasing numbers of ship jumpers, fearing delays in sailing times and the spoilage of valuable exports. In 1952 it introduced legislation allowing for the deportation of any British seafarer caught jumping, essentially creating a new class of unwanted immigrant.

Like the Londoner Mick Luckhurst, who in 1964 was a 17-year-old galley boy serving in Hobart Star. He jumped ship in Auckland after meeting a woman. For eleven months he shared a flat with her and three other ship jumpers in Wellington while working as a delivery driver for Levin and Co. Ironically, when making a delivery to the Wellington central police station as he had done for months, he was arrested for ship desertion and convicted. Unlike Harry Clark’s experience, Luckhurst was sentenced by magistrate Ben Scully to deportation. Categorised as a ‘Distressed British Seaman’ he was escorted to Lyttleton and locked in a ship’s cabin until the vessel sailed. Once back in Britain Luckhurst’s girlfriend joined him. He went back to sea, working around the British coast, and eventually around New Zealand for the Blue Star line as a chief steward in English Star. Today Luckhurst is retired and lives in Kent, England.  

In some instances, deportation was heartbreaking. Ian* was a deck boy in Suevic when he  jumped ship in 1971 after butting heads with the bosun during the voyage from England to New Zealand. As he saw it, he had two choices; jump ship or knock out the bosun. He worked in a car factory in Upper Hutt, and had a child before capture and deportation. He later returned to New Zealand to find his daughter.

Some ship jumpers went in for serious subtefuge. Steve* jumped ship twice. After the first ocassion in Wellington in the 1950s he acquired a wife and children, before going back to sea. On the second ocassion in Lyttleton in the 1960s, he started another family with a publican’s daughter. He changed his name and was always looking over his shoulder, putting on a fake American accent which his drinking buddies say he still had at the end of his life. He was never caught for jumping ship, and died a few years ago, leaving a secret family behind.

The experiences of the ship jumpers Harry Clark, Mick Luckhurst, Ian, and Steve represent an untold chapter of Aotearoa’s European immigration history, one that focuses on the assisted schemes of the nineteenth century along with the mid-twentieth century immigrants from Britain—the ten-pound poms. Ship jumpers are absent from this narrative even though they leave behind a rich legacy with many remaining in New Zealand, while others returning after deportation.

Family lore tells us that Bristol-born Sid Adams, father of basketballer Steven Adams and his Olympic shotput champion sister Valerie, jumped ship in the Bay of Plenty. Tommy Adderley one of New Zealand’s early rock and roll stars jumped ship, as did Jimmy Woods and Peter Galt, prominent members of the New Zealand Seamen’s Union. British actor Gareth Hunt of Upstairs Downstairs and New Avengers fame jumped ship, then worked in an Upper Hutt car factory before being imprisoned and deported.

Many seafarers found the desire to emigrate so strong that they became criminals by jumping ship. It is time for them to be embraced as part of Aotearoa’s history, and to be regarded as a genuine immigrant group.

*Full name withheld for reasons of privacy

Dean Broughton is investigating ship jumping and ship jumpers for a PhD. His father skinned out of a ship in Sydney in the 1960s before making his way to New Zealand. Dean is keen to hear from anybody who has a related story to tell. Contact him on 021 253 9025, or at



Dix, John. “Tommy Ferguson.” Audioculture Iwi Waiata, November 4, 2013.

“Gareth Fulfils Belgrade Prophecy.” Coventry Evening Telegraph, March 17, 1976.

Grant, David. Jagged Seas: The New Zealand Seamen’s Union 1879-2003. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2012.

Maritime Transport Act 1994 s. 202 (1) & schedule 3.

Martin, Bevan. Maritime Law in New Zealand. Wellington: Thomson Reuters New Zealand Ltd, 2016.

McGill David. Stacey: The Life, Style, and Trials of a Great New Zealand Criminal Lawyer. Paekakariki: Silver Owl Press, 2005.

Saker, John.  “The Adams Family: born to run.”  Dominion Post, February 16, 2014.

Share, David. Oceans of Time: The Memoirs of a Happy Go Lucky Seadog. Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2006.

Shipping and Seamen Act 1952 s. 385.


Miscellaneous legislation:

R6796821, Shipping and Seamen’s Act Ship Deserters, Series 7410, Accession W4927, Box 194, Record LEG, Archives New Zealand.

Miscellaneous cabinet files:

R2082108813, 1952, Box 29, Record CAB 134/12/2, Part 1 AAFD W3247 811 Box 56, Archives New Zealand.

Miscellaneous files:

R19978141, Seamen – Engagement and Discharge – Desertion from Overseas Ships, Series 16612, Box 22, Record 15/3/856, Archives New Zealand.



John Broughton, interview by Dean Broughton, Tauranga, Oct 21, 2021

Harry Clark, interview by Dean Broughton, Ōtaki, Oct 20, 2020

Mick Luckhurst, interview by Dean Broughton, Wellington, Feb 5, 2021

Tommy Adderley, interview by Roger Watkins, Auckland, November 23, 1992. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, OHint -0485-02

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