Born in 1828 near Kelso in the Scottish Borders, Wyllie went to sea as an apprentice seaman in 1852 and quickly rose through the ranks. By 1862 he had gained his masters certificate in Liverpool, and there he took command of his first vessel, the Bonita. He sailed for Nassau, then a booming port involved in running contraband through the Union blockade of the Confederate States, at that time fighting in the American Civil War. Sailors from Britain rushed to man these vessels as great fortunes could be made if a successful run was made into a Confederate port.
On the return journey, two agents of the State of North Carolina, Thomas Crossan and John White, were travelling to Britain on the orders of Governor Zebulon Vance to purchase ships to run the blockade. This set Wyllie's career as a blockade runner on course. White and Crossan arranged the purchase of the Clyde-built paddle steamer Lord Clyde and, just five months after docking in Liverpool as commander of the Bonita, Wyllie took command of the Lord Clyde, renamed the Ad-Vance. He was aboard from the start of the vessel's new career until her capture in September 1864.
Two more commands of blockade runners followed; he was captured again and then evaded the American authorities through an ingenious, and at sometimes unbelievable, escape to Scotland. After the war Wyllie continued at sea for another two years before returning to Scotland to settle as a farmer. Unlike some of those who ran the blockade, Wyllie appears not to have come back a wealthy man. For over 30 years he gave numerous popular lectures of his time at sea in aid of local charities and was known locally as 'Captain Wyllie'.
The role that Wyllie played during the Civil War is explored in depth and reveals that he was a constant face, and force, in the crew of the steamer with his actions and abilities being greatly appreciated by both crew and owners alike.
The most comprehensive history of the Ad-Vance is provided, from the day she left Glasgow until her capture off the Carolina coast. Many fascinating contemporary passenger diaries, personal recollections from crew, letters and telegrams between Wyllie and Governor Vance, official records of the war and newspaper reports are included. In association with Glasgow Museums.