The History of Tasmania's Bruny Island Ferry
The first vessels to actually ferry people between the mainland and Bruny Island occurred in Bruny Island's pre-history, they were the bark canoes made by the Nuenonne tribe who lived on Bruny Island and along the shores of the D'entrecasteaux Channel as well as up the Derwent River to the area around Sandy Bay. Depending on seasons the Nuenonne people would live either on Bruny Island or the mainland. The main quarry for their stone tools was on the mainland near Kettering so they would use their canoes to carry tool making material over to their Bruny Island campsites. The unique construction of these canoes, long strips of buoyant bark bound together into three independent hulls, meant that they could not capsize even in rough weather.
Woureddy a Chief of the Bruny Island Tribe
The Bruny Island tribe's bark canoes were usually between 4 and 5 meters long and could ferry up to six people at a time.
The Barnes Bay Pilot station on Bruny Island circa 1850, note the rough stone jetty on the point and the little sailing yawl approaching it. For many years this jetty at Barnes Bay was the landing point for the Bruny Island Ferry. This historic old ferry jetty and ramp are still in existance today.
The D'entrecasteaux Channel Ketches
The written history of Bruny Island began with the arrival of the first Europeans in the late 18th century and then the British settlement of Hobart in 1803/04. It was not long before Europeans moved into the D'entrecasteaux Channel and onto Bruny Island. Of course the only means of transport was by boat.
The first European to make a permanent home on Bruny Island was James Kelly, the Hobart Harbor pilot. James Kelly made his mark on history by being the first man to circumnavigate Tasmania in an open whale boat. He is also remembered by history for the discovery of Macquarie Harbour. Like many others at the time Kelly made his fortune in "Bay Whaling" from the camps on the shores of Bruny Island.
James Kelly built his home on the north west tip of Bruny Island and the location was called Kelly's Point. Now it is called Dennes Point after the Dennes family who bought James Kelly's properties on Bruny Island. The first ferry jetty on Bruny Island was built on Kelly's Point and was a regular stopping place for Channel ferries and other vessels.
From the 1820's ketches ferried goods and people between Bruny Island and Hobart. Small rough jetties were made in sheltered bays or people simply rowed up onto the many sandy beaches along Bruny's shores.
As land was cleared and agricuture thrived on Bruny and up the Huon river and new breed of boat men grew. Sailing ketches ferried produce, people, mail and hardware to Bruny as well as up the Channel and to the Huon River settlements.
The ketch Priscilla was typical of the Channel Ketches that operated as ferries for most of the 19th century. This historic photo shows the Priscilla off Bellerive Bluff on the Derwent River
By the 1850's Bruny Island was well settled. Whaling and small cropping had given way to large sheep farms such as Murryfield. These changes brought affluence and culture to Bruny Island. Regular horse races were held on the Bruny Island race track on Murryfield and people were brought down by ferry from Hobart for a weekend at the Bruny Island races.
From the Hobart Courier 29th March 1850
The Turf - Bruny Island Races.-These races will be held on Tuesday. If a steamer could be laid on for the day, there is no doubt many visitors from Hobart Town would attend. The beautiful scenery of the island, even without the attractions of the turf (now for the first season,)
would be a fiillicienl inducement to make the trip. The speculation would not be a profitless one.
By this time steamer driven ferries were completing with the sailing ketches for the Bruny Island ferry business.
Soon the sailing ketch would be relegated to history and a new era would begin... the era of steam.
The steamer Minx would reguarly ferry passengers and cargo from Hobart to Bruny Island, stopping at Kelly's Point, Barnes Bay and other places on North and South Bruny.
Then came the age of cars and the Vehicle Ferry was born. Often these early ferries would discharge their vehicles on Bruny's sandy beaches or rocky points such as the one shown in the painting above.
The Gordon to Bruny Ferry Service
Whilst most of the ferry traffic to Bruny Island came from Hobart there were also some locally operated ferry services between Bruny Island and other population centres in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.
One of these was a very small affair. The ferry operating from Three Hut Point at Gordon to Sheepwash Bay on South Bruny was a 3 metre boat driven by sail and oar. The ferryman was one George Davis who rowed the couple of miles carrying passengers between the three pubs at Gordon and their homes on South Bruny.
When George Davis retired the Gordon to Bruny ferry service was taken over by Teddy Spong who also carried the mail across to South Bruny twice a week in his little ferry. Its is said that Teddy Spong only missed one crossing of the Channel in two years and that was because such a gale was blowing up the Channel that local residents chained up his boat to prevent him making the crossing in such dangerous conditions
Below: Woman at Three Hut Point waiting for the ferry to Bruny Island. Note the old jetty made of rocks and logs (painted by Mary Morton Allport)
Bruny Island Vehicle Ferries
Since 1954 there have been four different vehiclular ferries operating from Bruny Island
The first full time vehicle ferry to Bruny Island t was the S.S. Melba which ran between Kettering and Barnes Bay from 1954 to1961. After she was retired from teh Bruny run she often worked as a replacement ferry if the others needed to be repaired.
Next was the Mangana which ran to Barnes Bay from 1961 until 1983.
In 1983 the Mangana was replaced by the Harry O'May . The replacement of the Mangana co-incided with a change in the ferry route to Bruny Island. A new landing platform was constructed at Roberts Point on Bruny and the shorter route cut the time of the ferry trip from Kettering to Bruny by more than half. The Harry O'May continued ferrying cars and passengers to Bruny Island until 1991.
In 1991 the current Bruny Island ferry, the Mirambeena took over as Bruny Island's ferry and has been doing a fantastic job every since.
The S.S. Melba was built in 1921 as a cargo steamer to operate on the Derwent River and Huon rivers. She commenced operations as a single-deck vehicular ferry on the Bruny Island run in December 1954, with a capacity of 22 cars. She was the main Bruny Island ferry until the arrival of the Mangana in 1961, after which she continued on the Bruny Island run, assisting at peak periods or when the Mangana was under repair.
In 1975, the Tasman Bridge disaster created an urgent short-term need for ferries operating across the Derwent River. The Melba, despite frequent strandings due to her deep draft, operated between Hobart and Bellerive.
The Mangana, originally known as the George Peat, then the Ewen Alison, was one of two 42.06 metre-long single-deck ferries built in 1930 to operate a service across the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.
The ferry was then purchased and moved to Auckland Harbour in N.Z.. In 1959 the ferry, now re-named the Ewan W. Alison, was purchased by the Tasmanian Government along with her sister ferry the Alexander Alison for use on the Bruny Island run, the Alexander Alison sunk in April 1960 while being towed to Tasmania. Seven months later, the Ewan Alison / Mangana was successfully towed across the Tasman, and began ferrying duties on Bruny Island in March 1961. The Mangana was named after a Chief of the Bruny Island people, whose daughter Truganini is generally considered to have been the last full-blooded Tasmanian Aborigine.
The Mangana, with a capacity of 37 cars, was the main Bruny Island ferry until the early 1983, staying on as a reserve ferry for the Harry O'May until 1991.
The Harry O'May
The Harry O'May had been a Hong Kong ferry called Man On, and began to work as the Bruny Island ferry in the 1980s and 90's. Its two decks greatly increased carrying capacity relative to the earlier ferries.
In 1983 Bruny Island ferries moved its landing point on Bruny Island from Barnes Bay to Roberts Point Prior. The trip from Kettering to Barnes Bay took around 35 minutes. The change of the ferry's route to terminate at Roberts Point meant that the trip time was reduced to about 15 minutes.
The Mirambeena began operation on the Bruny Island run in the early 1990s. Completed in 1991, it is a 52 metre two-deck ferry equipped with a Voith-Schneider propulsion system.
When the Mirambeena is being serviced, other vessels operate the run.
Bruny Island Ferry Mangana steaming out of Barnes Bay
The Bruny Island Ferry Harry O'May ended its days a floating dock in the Tamar River
Murray Sward: the story of a Bruny Island Ferry Master
I met Murray Sward toward the end of June 2011 at a party where I found him drinking a good sized mug of beer. Murray had piercing blue eyes and an easy manner; he was the uncle of a good friend of mine who was the hostess of the party. As we got chatting he apologised because his knees were a bit tired so would I mind if we sat down while we talked; he was the 5 months away from his 93rd birthday.
I didn’t know it when we started chatting but Murray was just the man I had been seeking for more than a year, he was a retired Bruny Island Ferry captain and a man with a long connection with Bruny Island and the Channel.
Murray’s paternal grandfather was Emanuel Sward who had been a sailor but who jumped ship at Hobart in the mid 19th century to establish himself and his linage on Bruny Island. The family home was built at Simpson’s Bay where Emanuel and his wife raised seven sons.
Murray’s maternal grandfather was Emanuel Seaborne who ran the first ferry from Three Hut Point, at Gordon, across to Sheep-wash Bay on South Bruny Island boy.
The first fully dedicated passenger ferry to Bruny ran from the old jetty at Middleton to the long jetty at Simpson’s Bay directly in front of the Sward’s family home. This was around 1937 according to Murray Sward. The second passenger ferry to Bruny left from the jetty at Tinderbox and carried its passengers to Denne’s Point.
The first Bruny Island Ferry was bouyant and capable of carrying 6 to 8 people between Bruny and the mainland