Bass Strait Maritime Centre

Developers and dredges

SIGN NUMBER 4 – Developers and dredges

Dredging of the Estuary

Attempts to dredge the Mersey River were ineffective, so in 1880 the Marine Board purchased a Priestman dredge from Hull in England. Unfortunately, the first dredge was lost during transit when the ship carrying it sank, near Melbourne.

A second Priestman dredge was purchased, arriving in Devonport in 1882. This was mounted on a locally made barge built at Woods’ Point.

This dredge proved inadequate so another dredge, Davenport, was purchased from the South Australian Government in 1891. Davenport started operating in 1892, supported by two barges built at Woods’ Point slip yard. Soon after this, the dredge Agnew was leased from Launceston to assist in removing the silt bar in the middle of the river. To learn more about the fate of the Davenport, please click here.

Davenport and Agnew. BSMC-1705.

By 24 February 1894, a significant amount of the silt bar had been removed and the water depth increased at both east and west wharves. 16 feet (5 metres) at low water and the channel width ranged from 150 feet (45 metres) to 80 feet (24 metres).

The Holyman Story

In 1861 the Holyman Shipping Line was born when William Holyman purchased the ketch Cousins flying under his own flag; a white “H” on a red background (trading as the White Star Line).

The company grew through subsequent generations of family involvement from a Tasmanian coastal shipping operation to offering services across Bass Strait.  From 1861 to 1987 more than 70 ships sailed under the Holyman flag.


In 1932, the Holyman family established their Australian National Airways fleet of aircraft, with the purchase of a de Havilland DH83 Fox Moth. This was soon joined by a British de Havilland, then a Douglas DC-2 and a DC-3. By 1938, the ANA fleet had 100 aircraft.

Over the next two decades the Holyman family was at the forefront of the rapid expansion of the civil aviation industry with ANA playing a major role in the war effort in Australia and in battle zones in Papua New Guinea and other South East Asian countries. By 1957, the ANA fleet was made up of DC-3, DC-4 and DC-6 aircraft.

Other Business Interests

The Holyman family had many other business interests including national land transport which was eventually sold to TNT AllTrans, domestic and international freight, property, and tourism.  They owned the Strand Hotel in Cairns and Wrest Point Hotel in Hobart.

They managed several islands in Bass Strait (including Robbins Island). Other interests included timber and flour mills, farming, fish canning, cheese production, electricity supply and heavy machinery sales.

In 1923 the family acquired Northern Motors, which grew to became Australia’s first Datsun dealership.

Symbolically, the Holyman story ended in 1987 when the last company ship, Mary Holyman was taken out of service.  It marked more than 125 years of pioneering business in Australian transport industries.


  • “With The Pioneers” by Charles Ramsey
  • “The Quiet Achievers” by Maureen Bennett
  • Bass Strait Maritime Centre
  • Holyman’s of Bass Strait by Johnston and Burgess (available from all good book shops)