Mission to the Islands

‘Mision to the Islands’ was published in 1979 by Stephen Murray Smith. Smith collated all of Canon Marcus Blake Brownriggs publications written for the Examiner on returning to Launceston after his annual visit to the Furneaux Group 1872 – 1875. Mission to the Islands’  includes the entire publication of Brownriggs book ‘Cruise of the Freak’. Smith also presents his researched preamble expanding information about the local identities Canon Brownrigg refers in his travels. The last chapter is about Ralph Plaice’s murder, as Tommy Rue’s mentioned in the Narratives.

I read the book when it was first published, and aware James Holt and  Collis families were part of our history – what’s interesting reading again after so many years and the recent family research, is I am able to recognise a lot more in the ‘Narratives’ allowing me to thread together more than just names.

Smith’s preamble on James Holt, concludes as I do, that James was born in 1852.

The first reference to our family history is 1875 – Brownrigg was not keen on the smells of the ‘birding industry’. Those born and raised in the Straits and lucky enough to experience ‘birding’, will relate to this extract with a smile………..it is unique!! The smell of the rookeries in my opinion, is predominantly ‘earthy’ and yet in a good way, subtly pungent. The production side is certainly not for the faint hearted, as you will glean in the following extract. Would love to hear others descriptions, please feel free to comment in box below.

‘Our first anchorage was at Little Dog Island; we brought up in a sandy bay about a hundred yards from Mr Holt’s huts. Here “birding”   operations were in full swing, and, despite a breach of good manners, we were compelled on landing to hold our handkerchiefs closely to our noses, for an aroma inconceivably intolerable and indescribable assailed us, and at first made breathing a semi-suffocative proceeding. Doubt less use is second nature, and those concerned in ” birding” become indifferent to the unavoidable perfumes attending it, but, to say the least, it tries a visitor, and we ourselves were not a-little tried. However, by keeping somewhat to wind ward of the establishment we experienced a sense of relief, and were then able to converse with our friends.’

1876 ……when I read the following extract all those years ago I was not aware Jimmy Holt owned the Elizabeth, I certainly do now!! The Pearl is also part of our history, and owned by Jimmy’s younger brother Johnny. I am not sure if he owned her in 1876, (need to check marine board records) Jimmy was helping out the ‘Pearl’ possibly his 20-year-old brother in a pickle……..the Pearl did a lifetime of work in the Straits with her owner Johnny Holt, trading out of Launceston. There are many stories about the ‘Pearl’ from Dad we are lucky to have the most magnificent photo of the ‘Coogee and Pearl’ when I get to the Holt brothers page.

One of the first objects that met our view on making the harbour was the unfortunate cutter Pearl as a wreck on  the rocks. To us, the special interest attaching to this vessel was the circumstance that she had been built expressly for the Furneaux Mission, though, so far  as I know to the contrary, never actually employed on that behalf. However, there she lay remarkably poised on a rock and likely to give some trouble before she can be got off and repaired. About two hours after anchoring at Cape Portland we were surprised by a hard blow from the eastward. The grassy bottom proved insecure holding for our anchor, hence we dragged; and so to prevent a stern board on to the reef under our lee we quickly lowered the dingy and laid out another anchor to windward, which held us fast. At noon, taking advantage of a lull we got in our anchors, and sailed the cutter into the inner harbour, where we found the cutter Elizabeth;’

The second extract from this year; (there are several but in particular) references Bishop Bromley staying overnight with Collis family.

Arrangements having been kindly made by Mr and Mrs Collis for the Bishop, his Lordship remained ashore allnight, and was rejoined by us in the morning (Sunday) in time for service.’ 

1881 Click on this link and you can read the entire article – for those not familiar with TROVE – double click on the actual article to enlarge. I corrected some of the text but it was going to take forever. I usually enjoy text correcting when hanging around airports, a job I can do rather than sitting around waiting, helps pass the time (quite quickly) in the ‘unlikely’ event of delays!!! This article references the Collis family on CBI, and also William Robinson/Holt in his boat the ‘Rosebud’ along with his BIL John Smith. William and John must have decided  Brownrigg’s activity was a high risk and as gentlemen, acted accordingly. Also reference to James Holt in the ‘Elizabeth’, Cannon Brownrigg fails to mention that shortly after being dropped back at G’town …..James returned with his beloved Emily and he married them at St Johns.

1882 (part1)

The following extract refers to James Willett and William Brown, both renowned boat builders in the Straits who assisted to fix the leaking ‘Franklin’. James Willett was Emily Holts BIL, he was married to her eldest sister. The Holts and Willetts were not only related but the greatest of friends. When James died his funeral left the home of James and Fanny Willett. Dad recalls his parents were also the greatest of friends with the Willett’s, his cousins.

‘An opportunity was now open to us of placing the Franklin on the beach , to ascertain and stop the cause of the her leakage. This was soon effected, in part by Mr Brown, and in part also by Mr J Willett, who kindly gave their time and labour free to our service. The benefit of their labour we have since enjoyed, and now thankfully acknowledge.’

1882 (part 2)

The following extract refers to Alfred Collis (abt 18) and younger brother to Emily (Edith her first child was born prematurely a few months after this visit), James and Emily had William and Ellen and their four children (William, Jessie, James and Phillip) staying with them, also Ellen’s ?brother Edward. Phillip Daniel ‘Boob’ Robinson was the infant baptised. I suspect they hadn’ been living at Badger Corner that long as Emily and her family were still living on Cape Barren when they married in 1881. Edie was born on Cape Barren as well. It’s these notes allowing us a glimpse of a close family – from other diaries I have read, James and Emily always had lots of visitors to their home. Interesting that Canon Brownrigg uses J. Robinson instead of Holt as he usually did, this was probably because he was aware of the correct name Robinson when he married James and Emily in 1881.

‘The heavy weather continuing all that  day detained us at Long Beach, and  induced us to find a refuge in the school-room for the night. I would here grate-fully acknowledge the kind and assiduous  attention we received from Mr and  Mrs Collis.’

‘Wednesday morning opened to us the  desired prospect of a run down the Sound. The wind was westerly and light, and at about 10 a.m. we got under way for Little Badger Corner. Previously,  however to starting, I visited the public school, and was satisfied with the  result. The attendance also during the past year showed a decided improvement. Not with standing the advantages of improvement and tide, our passage through the Sound was not so satisfactory as it might have been, but this was owing to detention  upon a sand-bank over which the depth of water was less than we had expected. We arrived, however just before ‘dark, and in the evening I had family prayer in the cottage occupied by Mr J. Robinson. The next day, leaving the Franklin at Badger Corner, I took a passage over to Big Dog Island in the Rosebud, as the navigation among the numerous sandbanks was well known to Edward Smith and Fred Collis, who offered me the passage in that boat. After visiting Mr Taylor at Big Dog we proceeded to Little Dog Island as Smith and Collis wanted to procure a few mutton birds for home use. Though there was no resident on the island I landed and accompanied Smith and Collis to their “birding.” The rookery the birds inhabit resembles rabbit warren. The soft ground is burrowed out in all directions among the tussocks of grass and the thin, covering over these holes often gives way-as it did frequently  in my own experience and lets one down knee deep. The mode of birding is very simple, but by no means free from danger, arising from snakes, which are occasionally found in the same hole with the bird. To procure the bird the arm is first bared, and then thrust in sometimes quite up to the armpit into the hole, and the bird is laid hold of. The young birds offer no resistance, but the old, bird does not hesitate to defend itself, and makes its presence felt by sharply driving its beak into the hand or arm of the capturer, and drawing blood. When dagged from its hole a jerk of the hand speedily kills the bird by breaking its neck. As the birds are collected they are fastened upon a pointed stick called a “spit”, which is pushed through their beaks and thirty birds makes a fair load to carry.Within a short time Collis and Smith had collected sixty, birds, and with the spoils returned to the boat, and sailed over to Badger Corner. At family prayer in the evening I baptised the infant child of Mr. W. Robinson making the ninth-time of administering that rite among the islands during this visit.’

1884 – this article my very favourite, describing a characteristic of Edie. I wish Brownrigg had mentioned her name but after re reading this article so many years later with a better understanding our family history, quickly identified the child as Edie, she was born prematurely and lucky to have survived, albeit she and her family had to adjust to life around her disability. You can read Edie’s story on her page under the heading Emily and Adeline. Emily had twins Tuck and King a few months after this visit.

‘At 2.30 p.m we started against a strongebb tide for Little Badger Corner, where we anchored for the night, and spent part of the evening ashore in the cottage of Mr.James Holt. It was here I witnessed the very novel performance of an infant, about fifteen months old, rocking itself to sleep in its own cradle. In the following manner was the deed performed. The little legs left free to act, the right one was first raised and thrown from side to side,whereby an oscillatory motion was imparted to the cradle. That limb being fatigued the left leg was then raised and moved in like manner, sustaining the motion which had thus been imparted to the cradle. Both limbs being tired, the feet were placed down, and the side to side action continued by the knees. All this the child managed for itself and then dropped off to sleep. My reference to this domestic incident will, I am sure, be pardoned, for this infantile proceeding is here looked upon as one of the phenomona of the islands. I doubt not, indeed, that many mothers elsewhere would be well pleased could their infants, in similar fashion, relieve them of the sometimes monotonous duty of cradle-rocking.’

1885 – reference to James Willett in the ‘Clarence’ and W Davey in the ‘Syren’, which would later be owned by William Robinson Holt.

‘At about 3.55 a.m. (March 1st) we got under way for the Heads. The morning was very cold, due principally to the keen fresh S.S.E . wind. During the previous few hours the sea had gone down very much, and as we approached the Tasmanian shore we entered calm water. Throughout  the day the wind was light and unsteady.  When about 22 miles from the Heads we met the cutter Clarence, bound for Flinders. Her master, Mr. J. Willett, sailed close alongside of us, and threw a parcel of letters and papers aboard. Later on we passed the Syren cutter, under the care of  W. Davey, bound for Barren Island. While glad to report the sighting of these vessels,  we felt that by their means the progress we had made would be conveyed to the friends  we had left among the islands.’  

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