Little Dog – Family History



Little Dog Island – a stones throw from Big Badger Corner. (open the link and the bay across the water west of Little Dog is Big Badger Corner)

Little Dog is a small island of around 206 acres and has been part of the Robinson/Holt family from the mid 1860’s until around 10 years ago. Great Dog Island is to the East and known as Big Dog. The two islands together are usually called ‘The Dogs’. For instance, Dad will still say he heard the boat (Trading) come in through ‘The Dogs’ during the night.

I have researched and found more early history on John Holt – makes sense about the attraction to Bass Strait.

John Holt’s death certificate states age as 52 when he died in 1878. DOB 1826 if certificate is correct. No documentation of arrival to Tasmania. There are several Mr Holt’s on the arrival indexes to Tasmania.

5 January 1857 there is a John Holt on the whaling Barque ‘Runnymede’ employed as a seaman. John Holt’s signature for payment food and wages. REF: MB2/33/1/355 reel, Z267.

5 May 1860 (second column half way down) advertisement of a stray pigs found in the backyard of John Holt, Canning St Launceston. The last 24 hours TROVE has given up these next five articles.

1 April 1865 (end of last column) John Holt Fish Monger and perhaps the earliest clue about the attraction to Bass Strait. In addition: Jimmy Holt used to tell his sons, as a lad  he had driven the stage-coach on the way to Hobart. In 1856 Jimmy would have been about 13 and probably did have a crack at driving at some point, or maybe he just sat beside the driver. Stage-coaches the mode of transport in those days.……..Jimmy started his boating career aged 14, the time lines work.

6 February 1867  John Holt returning from Bass Strait on 4 February aboard the Mountaineer.

20 May 1868 (top of second column) John Holt issues a warning to would be trespassers on Little Dog Island.

17 June 1872 Lease of Little Dog Island 200 acres (exclusive of 39 acres purchased by Mr J Holt).

17 December 1875 John Holt owner of 121 acres on Little Dog.

These articles set the scene for the Robinson/Holt history in Bass Strait.
We have  a lot of oral history handed down through Jimmy’s children about Great Grandfather Jimmy and his brothers Billy  and Johnny.

Most of the Robinson/Holt history is about Jimmy and Billy – not so much about Johnny. One explanation for this is that Johnny resided in Launceston and only lived on Little Dog during the birding season. The birding seasons a time when the three families came together to work, and hard work it was, everything   carted on and off the island – including wood. Wood was vital for the commercial aspect of running the three sheds and homes.The social aspect important for the brothers, their wives and of course the 30 + children and the thread to the cousins close friendships. Bishop Montgomery notes in 1891 (two years before Grandfather was born) about the three families on page 6.

The map below gives an idea of the division of land on the island in the early days. Jimmy, Billy and Johnny Holt reefs (named by the locals) worked out when you look map. One of the earlier maps I had Billy’s reef on the lower east when it should have been higher and in line with his land.IMG_0033

The three families continued this tradition and I am unsure when it all started to change, we know from the article below they were still operating commercially in 1913. Alf Holt in 1909 had the misfortune as Master of the Dawn and this involved his four sisters.

Johnny Holt died in 1915, James in 1926 and Billy in 1929.

1913 this link tells us about the Flu epidemic that claimed the life of Billy’s son Albert James Holt. Albert’s grave is next to his first cousin at Badger Corner. James article tells us the three families were all still birding in 1913 as he refers to his brothers and in the first article it seems perhaps a slight mix up, where in fact it should have said the young man died at his fathers camp William not James, then again he may have been in James camp if being nursed by Emily.IMG_5424

After James death the family had to sort out a complication with his Will.


George Robinson (Jimmy’s grandson) bought Johnny’s rookery . Tom Diprose (Jimmy’s son-in-law) bought Billy’s rookery.

When Dad was a child (the 40’s) the families still moved to the island to live and work during the birding seasons……….He has plenty of stories about this, especially how noisy the birds and penguins were at night  and again at dawn, not the ideal sleeping conditions! My siblings and I arrived in the 60’s and this annual migration had ceased instead we would do day visits in the Seaplane (boat). I remember the house and birding sheds where my Great Grandparents and grandparents lived and worked. I was still young when Little Dog was set alight and the buildings destroyed, sad losing these connection with our old family history. I remember the fire and looking across to Little Dog, a bright orange glow.

On Johnny’s block there is still a chimney. On Billy’s block there is a holiday home.


This picture taken on an overnight visit to the Island. I was so not disappointed, watching the birds landing with a thud in the rookery then wandering off squawking to find their respective burrows all very noisy and a magnificent display  of nature. The early morning racket on  scrambling to the rocks to fly off. Its one thing to hear the stories, its something you  need to experience to comprehend what it must have been like for our forbears………

The commercial story ended a long time ago and my parents owned Jimmy’s block until about 10 years ago.

In 1882 Canon Brownrigg gives a very accurate description as follows (I don’t think he was all that taken with birding)

‘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 dragged 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

In Uncle Fred’s 1905 diary wrote of his helping J Holt manage a fire in the New Year and taking some of the children with them – he went back during the birding season and spent a few day on Little Dog and I love how he writes…… Nephew Walter borrowed his boat to pop across to Little Green Island – this was the norm in those days, socializing between the islands – even the communications were amazing all by fires etc, no phones or mobiles in those days.

Settlement Point has a little rookery where visitors to Flinders can go along and watch the birds returning to their burrows a natural spectacle. For the best part of the year the rookeries lay dormant awaiting the noisy return of the residents – the remarkable Short Tail Shearwater.

The Furneaux Museumvisitors can experience a replica of a working mutton bird shed.




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James Robinson

James Robinson or Jimmy Holt, either/or……..the same person, our Grandfather and Great Grandfather! He is well-known by the two names and I often use both. Dad only ever uses Jimmy Holt as this is the history handed down to him by his father Horace also known as Horace Holt for a fair period of his life. We only ever heard stories about Jimmy Holt and his mother was always Meg Youl. A decision to photo copy James Masters Mariners Ticket – along with a few other documents as Christmas gifts last year, evolved into our family research and hasn’t stopped since!!

The tricky subject of James birthdate –  what’s written on his Masters ticket and Masters application doesn’t fit  with the 1858 birth certificate. IMG_5247 IMG_5248 Naturally I thought this was Jimmy’s original ticket – all became clear in the Hobart History Room, finding it was a duplicate and reissued in 1891 and has fold marks, probably kept in his wallet. (The original (and duplicate) application and examination was signed by James Riddle, great-uncle of Bill Riddle Senior who bought the Robinson home at Badger Corner in 1930’s.) IMG_0063 References for these documents – certificate No 52.

This information is direct from Jimmy Holt himself……… birth date, place and address…… Little Dog Island in Badger Strait. (Interesting…… Badger Strait) The specifications of the Elizabeth (built by William Brown, Cape Barren Island) the other boats he had been employed on.

Thank you Jimmy for this information. When I first read like others before me, a son had been born in Georgetown  24/9/1858 to Samuel Robinson and Mary Devine, thought it possible the registrar (registered 6/10/1858) may have mis heard Dwyer and why we see Devine.

The baptism certificate for this same child on November 3rd 1858 states the child’s name was ‘David’ parents named as Samuel and Mary Robinson, no reference to maiden name. As the dates fitted this would suggest the child was James Robinson.

However when I was examining his Home Trade Ticket, the glaring inconsistency was DOB, 1851, the dates didn’t fit with his parents history. Was James was the eldest of the brothers not the youngest. Did Samuel Robinson have another son in Georgetown with another woman called Mary and possibly the crux of his sudden departure in January 1859.

A trip to Carr Villa to photograph the headstone.

James died in February he hadn’t turned 75, taking this into account he was born in 1851. IMG_5222

Elizabeth Prest’s Will names James first, although William and John are around the wrong way. Again James marriage certificate – states in 1881 he was 29 years of age, again 1851. There is a variable of 7 years working on 1851 and 1858. James applied for his Home Trade Ticket in January 1875 –  James Holt states he started working on the ‘Blackbird’ in 1866, making him 15 or 16 as a boy and worked for 8 years in the trade, bringing his age to 23. James and his mother Elizabeth Holt owned the ‘Elizabeth’. If he had been born in 1858 – he would have started working at 8 and applied for his masters ticket at the age of 16. In this case he would have become the Master of the ‘Blackbird’ when he was 10. My youngest nephew has just turned 10…… ludicrous to consider he could be employed as a Master or even as a boy at this age, (no offence, Will, I think your parents would agree). The book Mission to the Islands published by Stephen Murray Smith also supports the 1852 theory – Smith researched and presents information about the local identities from Cannon Brownrigg’s work.

The answer I suspect is with Meg his mother who arrived in the Colony in 1853. I wonder if James chose his brothers, did Meg leave 2 boys at the orphanage and 12 months later leave with 3 boys. Would love to hear other ideas about this……..