Fred Collis and Harry Briant – Friends?

Fred Collis

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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…………..now 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

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