Last year discovering Fanny and James Willett and how they fitted into our family history along with Dad’s recalling of the Dawn handed down to him thought it a good story to research. Dad said his father and uncles had many boating stories they often shared as he and his cousins were learning their boating skills in the Strait’s, naturally many lessons from their own father – Jimmy Holt.
Dad recalls the Dawn was wrecked of a notorious reef just outside Georgetown, all on board were his father (Horace) first cousins including female cousins, referred to as the ‘girls’ and the Dawn was returning to Launceston from Flinders. He remembers hearing the girls suffered terribly from this experience, he thought they were strapped to the mast to keep safe whilst bedding and other flammable gathered then set on fire, alerting the rescue from the Low Head Pilot Station.
James Willett’s wife Fanny was elder sister to Jimmy Holt or James Robinson’s wife Emily.
Alfred (Fred) and Henry Collis – Fanny’s younger brothers also lived at Settlement Point. The Collis family settled in the Straits in 1873
The following is a blend of research about the Dawn the night she was wrecked from Dad, the Willett and Collis history (Museum at Emita), TROVE newspaper articles and Walch’s Tasmanian Almanac.
The Ketch Dawn was built at Jack’s shipyard on the Tamar River, Launceston. Owner and Master, James Willett. Application of load line to the Launceston Marine Board registered on 24 March 1906, James Willett paid 10 pound to register the Dawn with at tonnage of 33.7.
The Dawn’s maiden trip to Settlement Point was 20/5/1906 with cargo and four passengers: Mr and Mrs Jimmy Woods with children Iola and Landon.
Trying to find when James and Fanny moved from Flinders to Launceston remains elusive. The 1904 Walch’s Almanac has James listed as the Post and Telegraph Officer at Settlement Point (also licensed to deal money orders and the savings Bank). In the 1905 edition, his brother-in-law Henry was listed as the registered Post and Telegraph Officer.
Fred Collis noted in his 1908 diary this entry: ‘May 3 F Boyes called going home he brought us a bottle of magnesia from Mr H Walker I went to my snares and got one kangaroo took a bag of skins out and put them in the shed cut three pieces of oak for J Willett and went along the line’
August 29 Sabbath Done nothing The Dawn came into Whitemark F Boyes Emily Huitfeld and Mrs Ferguson called in on her way home Bubs got a Doll and ball from her Aunt Fan……….Fred notes in his diaries the arrival and departures of the trading boats to Settlement Point, the Dawn was a regular trader.
As we were not sure of the year she was wrecked I decided to see if I could find any hints on TROVE. I found more than I bargained for. I was gob smacked when reading the articles, ah ha here was the history twist. It was not Emily’s (Willett) family on board, instead it was her husband’s family, his Nephew Alf Holt – still Horace’s first cousin but on his father’s side. Horace would have been about 14 when the Dawn was wrecked.
Alf Holt was Master and Mr Cutts the owner of the Dawn when wrecked in April 1909. Alf and his crew were transporting cargo (barrels of mutton birds), also Alf’s four youngest sisters back to Launceston from Little Dog Island. The girls were returning home from their annual migration to Little Dog Island as late April signals the end of birding season. Little Dog Island was owned/leased by the three original Robinson (Holt) brothers – every year at the start of birding season Jimmy, William and John and families would move to Little Dog to work the 12 weeks or so. The three families had a combined total of 30+ children. Every year Little Dog would become a small community of extended family and tells us a little more of why these cousins were all so close.
EXTRACT from Fred Collis 1909 diary; ‘May 2 I sowed Melotte clearing about home J Woods called coming from Whitemark. Heard sad news The Dawn being wrecked I felt sorry for Alf Holt.’
Alf Holt in the Examiner indicates had they abandoned the ‘Dawn’ in the dingy they surely would have perished. Reading the articles gives perspective of the trauma the girls must have endured. I wonder if they ever went back to Little Dog. What an ordeal for parents John and Mary, involving 5 of their 13 children having already lost son Albert Holt a few years earlier in 1906 aged 25.
Dad was spot on with the story.