Great Dog Island – family history

Big (Great) Dog and Little Dog Islands or the ‘The Dogs‘.

Island Shed_Artboard 3 - Big Dog

Whilst we have a more recent connections it’s been interesting to learning Marsey Waterhouse Barrett lived on Big Dog – post WWI, the ‘Linda’ was built there in 1887 by Henry Taylor  and fills in the gaps of why Brownrigg visited Big Dog with John Smith and Fred Collis in 1882.

Dad knew the ship Linda was built on Big Dog, on certain low tides you can still see the runners – about 200 yards east of Riddles shed. It’s amazing to learn the extent of boat building industry in the Straits in those early days. The outer islands home to dozens of families and boats the only mode of transport. These families as isolated as they were had consistent contact with each other and the mainland due to the extensive shipping network that existed.

The Long Island Barrett family lived on Big Dog before moving to Long Island.

Big Dog was originally on Goose Island –   Dad’s said his Grandfather Jimmy Holt was contracted to move the dismantled house from Goose to Big Dog in his boat the Coogee. He is not sure of the time frame. An early picture of the homestead. The back building was originally the kitchen. The kitchen in our time was the first room to the left on entering the front door. The lounge room was directly behind the kitchen and the bedrooms on the other side of the passage. I also remember the Cherry tree on the East side of the home – they were delicious! and the palm type tree at the front. In November 2014 at the Museum Emita in the light house history folder – Goose Island history section there is a fantastic photo of two identical homesteads taken prior to moving, when I mentioned to Dad he said ‘thats right one went to BD and the other to Emita and was the home of Mr Fisher’. The evidence needed to corroborate the stories handed down.

The Mills family is another name associated with Big Dog – Walter Robinson married Doris Mills or Aunt Dorrie. She was well-known for her horse riding skills. Dad’s Uncles said she could handle herself rounding up the cattle, better than any of the men. It wasn’t unusual for the folk on Flinders looking over to Big Dog to see Aunt Dorrie on her horse.

1913 Dan Bowman wrote in his diary: 28 May 1913 the Toroa discharged 50 head of cattle at Great Dog Island: meaning the cattle would swim the short distance from the boat to their new home.

Marsey Waterhouse Barrett lived on Big Dog after his return from WWI farming the land until his death in 1940.

In the mid 1960’s Robinson Bros. took on Big Dog to run 450 head of sheep. As children we spent a lot of time there when Dad and his cousin went over to work.

One time we all remember vividly: the dreaded ‘BBQ’ on the beach below the homestead one summers day in the 70’s. The scene: three families having a fun time on the beach: until Mr Tiger Snake turned up for a swim (scared out of the bushes by the kids fetching sticks for the BBQ) when Dad saw the snake he put me under one arm and my cousin under the other so we could get the heck out of the water only to find Mr Tiger Snake positioning itself between us and the beach, each time Dad made a move so did the snake. Quite a predicament and lucky for us the dinghy was close by and came to our rescue………

One of my earliest memories is visiting Mr and Mrs Riddles shed on Big Dog – the few things I remember clearly, how excited we were to see Mrs Riddle, the fresh tussock floor covering, but most of all – the smell; tussock, sea air, birds cooking, smoke, a blend unique to birding and only loved by those born into the industry.

Big Dog Island 1963

The Willis’ birding shed was to the West of the homestead and we would sometimes visit. At least we had solid ground to walk on as we headed across the paddock, not like Little Dog where it was hard work walking anywhere.

Below memories from those good old days!

Frank Willis

Heather Willis 

The papered walls and the tussock floor covering.

Washing day – Lady Barron in the background behind the washing

Frank as we all love to remember him

Goose Island number 1 number 2

My last visit to Big Dog was to help with the last of the shearing, my kids were only small and we had a happy day helping out out with the shearing lots of laughing and story telling (mainly about the snake) marking the end of our association with this lovely spot.

The other day when were talking about the old days – Dad said he didn’t miss ‘the boggy, rocky beach’ ……………….and we were all there with him.

5 thoughts on “Great Dog Island – family history

  1. It’s good to see some info on Big Dog Island. Marsey Waterhouse Barrett was my grandfather, and my father lived on the island as a young boy until his father died. Marsey Barrett was wounded in France in WWI. His military records say that he received a gunshot wound to the abdomen. My father tells me that my grandfather was hit by a bullet, which hit him at the front of the hip, then hit his pelvis. The bullet then shattered, with pieces of shrapnel lodging in his spine, and a large exit wound on his back. We suspect that the shrapnel that couldn’t be removed from his spine may have played a part in his eventual death due to an infection in the spine.

    Marsey Barrett was survived by his wife Beatrice, and his sons Edward, Donald, Thomas (my father), Patrick, and Brian. Beatrice Barrett and her five sons then moved to Lilydale, near Launceston (Tas), to be with her family, the Arnolds.

    • Danny thank you for your information about your dear grandfather.
      Marsey it seems will be forever connected to George Robinson/Holt and Dan Bowman in the photo the boys had taken when Marsey arrived in the UK.They and their families all suffered terribly and sad to learn the terrible extent of Marsey’s injuries. In our family they didn’t speak about what happened to George, other than to pass on he died of wounds in Belguim. I don’t think they knew the extent of the what he had endured, possibly the same with all our wonderful men returning home to their beloved Bass Strait – glad to be home and haunted forever by the experience. I am so glad the generation of today know the finer detail as terrible as it is, as the generation not directly impacted we have the opportunity to make sure these men and women’s memories live on.
      Our older families have a long history in the Straits and there are several connections still today………

  2. Hi there,
    My boat Britannia was built in 1898 on Little Dog, but now we seem to think it was Big Dog.
    Do you have any knowledge of Richard Davey building boats on the islands?
    Bella Laughton-Clark

  3. My Nan, Theodocia Ellen Riddle ( born November 1898) as she knew herself, but Theodosia Helen on her birth certificate as registered by her father, William Henry Riddle, Marsey’solder brother. Nan also had a tiger snake story from her childhood in the islands

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