The Ketch ‘Dawn’ – built by J Willett


Photo of the Dawn in the Weekly Courier April 29 insert 4 and donated by Jacks Ship builder shortly after the Dawn was wrecked of George Town.

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.

The Willett’s lived on Flinders Island for many years and in these articles James tells us 109 years later (his words) about his boating history. Examiner article 1. Examiner article 2.

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.

A young Alf Holt


Captain Alfred John Holt, is he in the first photo? perhaps a few years and pounds lighter. Alf 'Mate on the Loongoona around 1911 and then Captain of the Agnes 1918. The first photo was around the vicinity of 1896 - 1905.


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.

Fred Collis and Harry Briant – Friends?

Fred Collis


Early last year when I copied Fred’s diaries in the Hobart History Room I knew the document would be fascinating and bound to tell more about our Collis Robinson family history. Imagine my surprise when I noticed several references to the Bryant’s (Samphire Briant’s).

Late last year when looking through the Briant/Stephens family private letters I stumbled upon a letter written by Fred to Harry passing on his condolences after the death of Harry’s beloved Adeline. IMG_0013This was a letter written not to an acquaintance but a close friend – this started me thinking how was this so. When I found the letter I cranked up the laptop, opened the Diaries, read Fred’s entry on 8/11/1925. What became clear was a functional variance with his daily diary notations compared to this personal letter.  On the day he wrote the letter, 8/11/1925 Fred was home alone…… the rest of the family were at Church and possibly had the quiet time to sit in the day light and write to Harry. His Nephew Bert was staying with them and more than likely conveyed the Briant family situation which was not exactly straight forward. I concluded his diary entries were possibly written at night, under a candle or lamp explaining the often difficult to read handwriting. Fred entries as comments makes interpreting  sometimes tricky. One example – It was a hot day  Had a good shower, thinking he had a shower……impressive for 1905, reading again a few days later….. realised he meant it rained!! Silly me!

The question: how did they become such good friends, so back to earlier days on CBI………..Fred arrived on CBI as a 13-year-old around 1873, over the next few years grows into adulthood within the CBI community, explaining how he became the social butterfly of Sawyer’s Bay. Many references to this one or that one called in and stayed, often overnight……..starts to make sense.

Canon Brownrigg also mentioned Fred 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.’ 1882

Enter: The Briant lads to the straits – again able to work out from a letter IMG_0090to Harry from his older brother that Harry and his younger brothers Alf and George entered the Straits scene mid to late 1880’s: here was the connection, Fred born 1959 and Harry born 1865 –  these handsome young Briant (Harry, George and Alfred) and Collis (Alfred and Henry) men of similar ages, education and values, destined to become lifetime friends.

Harry leased Prime Seal, a stones throw from Sawyer’s Bay – well sort of, I wonder if Harry and Fred caught up when Harry was out on Prime – bet they did, wish there were more diaries.

In December 1934 this friendship cemented  forever when Harry’s daughter Maud married Fred’s Nephew Horace – what a great ending to a long friendship………… they were family!!

After finding the pictures of Fred and his father Henry and hearing Dad telling his recollection of stories handed down from Horace about ‘Uncle Fred’ I could see a family resemblance. Have a look at these three pictures (how cool doing this) of Horace between his Uncle Fred and Grandfather Henry – Dad interested when I noted Horace was more like the Collis side of the family – something he hadn’t considered. Horace was also a ‘mover and shaker’ as reported in the Island News 50th anniversary edition,  a great story-teller (like Dad and Tim) and like his Uncle Fred married later in life.Henry Collisjack-and-flora-collisFred Collis