William Holt and the Syren


William Holt 39 is standing at the bow of his boat with trousers rolled up. Enlarging this photo reveals the name of his boat, Syren. Museum Victoria’s recent upgrade gives the catalogue of photographs greater clarity and detail once enlarged, possibly better than the originals. William’s cap is easily picked up in three of these catalogued photos when enlarged – MM971762 and MM97108.

A.J. Campbell is standing next to the mast and possibly H Gunderson closer to the stern.

Isabella Rock in Franklin Sound is probably named after the 1844 shipwreck Isabella near Woody Island (West Anderson Island). Placenames Tasmanian indicates Oyster Rocks as Isabella Island number 2 on the

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“18th November. – Weather abated at last. We started for the Sound about 6am., when Mr. Holt soon landed us upon Isabella Islet, which he rents from the Tasmanian Government. We were soon gratified in finding the beautiful little White-faced Stormy Petrel (Procellaria fregata) in their burrow.” The Victorian Naturalist Vol X page 170

The second mention of young son (Fred) was visiting a family on the way to Babel, a possibility he left Fred behind whilst he was to be away at Babel.

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This photo was taken either November 20th or 21st 1893 from Cat or Storehouse Island looking toward Babel.

Captain William Holt in dinghy returning to the Syren after dropping his four passengers, a group of ornithologists into the rookery of either Gannets or Cormorants.

The following extracts, were published in March 1894 in the Journal of the Victorian Naturalist Volume X and includes additional references with a point of difference to the published newspaper articles found in The Argus 23/12/1893, 2/1/1894, 10/1/1894, The Australasian, The Mercury and The Daily Telegraph.

Valuable Holt/Robinson family history is located in the journal and portrays the affable characteristics of Bass Straits William Holt 39 a local identity well known for his marine and navigational capabilities.

Reading the finer details of the unpredictable conditions encountered on this five-day adventure to the Gannett Rookery on Cat Island reiterates the navigational challenges in and around Bass Strait.

19th November “The remaining portion of the day was spent on the bosom of an ocean swell, sometimes making a little headway, meals under difficulties, some scientists squeamish, crockery wandering on deck, raining, and Captain Holt not swearing – very nearly though. But, in spite of it all, Babel Island was reached about 6pm., where we anchored, between Cat and Storehouse Island. Supperless we went to bed. A low barometer made Mr. Holt very anxious, because we were lying in a very exposed position; moreover, with the stiff westerly breeze the cutter tugged and plunged at her cable all the live-long night.”

20th November “At Daybreak I was called by Mr. Holt, to find the boat swinging by two cables and the wind blowing half a gale, but fortunately not from the dreaded quarter- viz, the east. I took watch so as to allow Mr. Holt to have a rest, he having been up all night. Soon after breakfast we had a consultation, as we were very dubious of landing, on account of the high sea running. To make matters sill more annoying, we could see the Cormorant rookery on Storehouse Island, and the Gannet rookery on Cat Island, in full swing. This latter we had risked all and ventured so far to see. But our anxiety was soon set at rest by Mr. Holt, who, with our willing assistance, heaved up the anchors and sailed under the staysail to what turned out to be a more sheltered spot nearer Cat Island. We landed with some difficulty per dingy at 10am., and soon found our way to the Gannett rookery. Here all our troubles and seasick qualms were soon forgotten and amply repaid by the wonderful sight which stood revealed before us”

“As the wind was still rising we hurried on board, and soon left the dangerous anchorage, very nearly getting onto the rocks in making our first tack, just being saved by the excellent seamanship of our skipper. After boating about in a nasty, choppy sea for three or four hours, we succeeded in getting shelter in a snug little cove under Babel Island”

“A hasty tea and a climb up the Babel like tower was the order before turning in for the night. We were fast asleep, only however to be turned out at 3am.”

21st November “The wind had changed and was blowing right into the cove, so that there was nothing for it but to kedge the boat our far enough to get an offing, when we set sail again for Storehouse Island, anchoring within 100 yards of the Cormorant Rookery. While we were having breakfast we were deeply interested with the movement of these birds. Landing we soon got to work. Our sportsman bagging a brace of Swamp Quail; our leader taking a long tramp around the island, when he returned he found the artists had finished photographing and recording observations of the rookery.”

“After collecting some Polyzoa we hurried on board, as the wind this time was slackening, and started back for Franklin Sound. Afterwards we noticed a shoal of Mackerel being pursued by porpoises. It was interesting to watch the cunning manner in which the porpoises swam round and round, much after the fashion of a dog shepherding sheep, so as to keep the shoal together, while at frequent intervals one would dash in for a mouthful, resuming its original position immediately in rounding up again. Little wind and slow sailing was again experienced on our return. When we approached the bar we became very anxious; the wind had almost died away, but after considerable difficulty, not unattended with danger, we succeeded in getting through the rip, or the ‘’pot-boil’ ‘as it is locally called. We had to take to rowing in turns with a long oar.”

22nd November “Between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, at the first faint streaks of dawn the wind and the tide changed in our favour. Taking advantage of this we weigh anchor and at once spin up the sound with a free sheet. We enjoy being on deck before sunrise. However, the morn is chilly, and the fragrant scent from inland shrubs wafted across the Sound is most delightful and invigorating. At a glorious sunrise the favourable wind slackens: nevertheless we are able to make our camping quarters at Trousers Point in time for breakfast, thus ending an adventurous trip of five days to Babel Islands.” The Victorian Naturalist Vol X pages 171 – 4.

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