Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Cousins ‘Family’s links with maritime history’

"Unexpected link between his great-great-great-grand-father, James Cartledge and the founder of the Holyman Line, Captain William Holyman."

First published May 1987

With the scheduled departure of the container ship Mary Holyman from the Bass Strait run, an era in Tasmanian shipping history will come to an end after more than a century and a quarter. Many will mourn the loss of the Holyman name in the Bass Strait shipping trade, after so many years, so it perhaps fitting to look back at some little known incidents at the beginning of the Holyman saga.

Pictured is a typical two masted schooner.

While researching his family history in Tasmania, some years ago, Rick Cartledge, discovered an unexpected link between his great great great grand father, James Cartledge and the founder of the Holyman Line, William Holyman.

The link was the 'Cousins', the Cartledge family's two-masted schooner that Captain Holyman sailed across the Bass Strait in the early l860s, trading between Port Phillip and Torquay (East Devonport). William Holyman at first leased the 'Cousins' from James Cartledge for something like £35 per year, the amount James charged earlier when leasing the schooner to Melbourne shippers.

Holyman was so pleased with the way the 'Cousins' handled that in 1862 he bought the schooner from James for "a sum not less than £100." The sale is recorded in beautiful copperplate writing in leather bound Register of Transactions preserved in the Commonwealth Archives, (Hobart).

The Bill of Sale is dated September 5, 1862, to "William Holyman of the Mersey in Tasmania, Master Mariner"; the owner of the vessel being "James Cartledge, of Launceston Tasmania, Master Mariner."

So it was that William Holyman, who had jumped ship in Launceston in 1854, acquired his first ship, the first in what was to become the famous 'White Star' Holyman Line.

To quote the 'Examiner', of December 12, 1955, marking the "centenary" of the Holyman transport empire, "Since 1854, when his first ketch the Cousins sailed Bass Strait, the Holyman fleet has contributed enormously to Tasmanian and in fact Australian expansion ... The development of this great concern from a single Devonport ketch of 18 tons is also the story of one of Tasmania's distinguished families."

This much is probably well known to those interested in Tasmania's maritime history. Less well known is the story behind the ketch 'Cousins'. The 41 foot, 17 ton, 2 two-masted schooner 'Cousins' was built in 1850 at the Supply Creek, near Exeter, for James Cartledge and his younger brother John.

The Cartledge brothers were working a flour mill an the Supply Creek which supplied 40 tons of flour a week to government stores in Deloraine, Cleveland, Campbelltown, Norfolk Plains and Kerry Lodge. The two brothers had bought the mill in 1847, hoping to make new lives for themselves in the new colony.

With James's wife Margaret and children John and George, they had arrived in Hobart Town from England aboard the London in 1844, narrowly escaping conviction and deportation as a political activists with the Chartist Movement. Ironically, James had secured himself a position in the colony as Superintendent of the Treadmill, first in Hobart Town, and then in 1845 at the Launceston Penitentiary.

The treadmill was used to turn a huge wheel which ground wheat into flour. Eighteen men walked up and down on the spot for 18 minutes at a time without a break. Each 60 seconds a bell would ring, allowing the end man to take a minute's break. When the bell rang again, he joined the line at the other end for another 18 minutes labour.

Sentences on the treadmill ranged from a few days to three or four weeks. James and John disliked their part in the penal system, and longed to start new lives for themselves and their families. John and his wife Eliza lived at the Mill at Supply Creek with their children John and Mary Anne. Several men and an apprentice worked the mill with John, and two of these were to mark their mark in the development and growth of colonial Tasmania.

Thomas Monds, later founder of the Monds' Roller Mills in Launceston and Carrick, served as an apprentice with John while learning the trade of mill management. Later he returned to manage the mill for the brothers, living in the miller's cottage with John and Eliza. Another apprentice who was to have a long and close association with the Cartledges was James 'Philosopher' Smith, the future discoverer of the Mount Bischoff tin deposits and other treasure troves of mineral wealth of the West.

James and John had close ties with 'Philosopher' Smith, and he became their associate and confidante in many of their activities. The reference they gave 'Philosopher' on his departure to the goldfields may be seen in the Smith Collection in the State Archives.

Unfortunately, the Cartledge brothers, in Thomas Mond's words "did not understand the (flour milling) business at all", and after struggling with insufficient capital for two or three years, were forced to give up the mill.

However they had one important asset - the Cousins. Completed in 1850, and registered in April 1851, the Cousins enabled James, now a Master Mariner, to broaden his horizons. Soon he would be trading to and from Melbourne.

Taking on cargo at Launceston, James set sail for the Victorian goldfields. With stops at Emu Bay and Circular Head to pick up eight passengers, James joined the exodus of hopefuls to gold rush.

Soon he was to discover there was better gold to be made from commercial transactions than scratching in the Ballarat dirt. A letter addressed to 'Philosopher' Smith, dated November 1852, shows James well established in this business,

However, by July 1854, the depression which followed the boom of the gold rush was already causing a downturn in trade, and James turned his eyes toward Tasmania again.

By September 1855, he had returned to Torquay, taking up some land near to 'Philosopher' Smith's bush blocks. He was still trading, working the Cousins as a 'coaster', on the Launceston to Port Frederick run, shipping shingles, sawn timber, palings, bricks, coal and produce. The run was later extended to Table Cape and Circular Head, and James became a prominent figure in the rapidly growing Torquay community.

Enter William Holyman

Holyman had arrived in Launceston in 1854 as an apprentice on board the barque Elizabeth Ratcliffe outwards bound from England with general cargo. One chilly night, he jumped ship in the River Tamar, hoping to start a new life and gain the affections of one Miss Mary Sayer.

Following his marriage to Mary Sayer in December 1855, the young couple moved to a cottage in Torquay, arriving three months after James' return from Melbourne. William at first was content to confine his sailing skills to working his father-in-law's barges on the

Mersey River, and later to operating a ferry across the river. But in 1861, he went to sea again - as master of the Cousins, leased from James Cartledge. And in September 1862, he took over as the Cousins' new owner. And the rest as they say, is history.


Commonwealth Archives, Hobart.

The 'Examiner' Newspaper, Dec. 12, 1955

This article by Sue Cartledge first appeared in The ADVOCATE' Weekender, [Tasmania] 30 May 1987 © 1987, 1994. S Cartledge. A copy of the original article can be seen at:

From the series ‘A Cartledge Family History’ – written by Dennis Cartledge and Sue Cartledge


  1. Thanks for putting this Cartledge history on-line. When visiting Tasmania (from the Adelaide Hills) in August 2009, we spent some time in the Hobart and Launceston Archives finding this information and later visited Stanley and the Supply Creek Mill. Beaconsfield Mine Museum acknowledged war service of Godfrey Cartledge. My father fondly remembered Stanley from his boyhood where his father Godfrey served in the police after the war. Phil, son of Roy Cartledge.

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