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William Holyman (1833–1919)

by W. F. Ellis

This article was published:

William Holyman (1833-1919), master mariner and shipowner, was born on 17 December 1833 at Barton upon Humber, Lincolnshire, England. His parents took him to Hull where his training for maritime service commenced at Trinity House School. His father was lost at sea in 1839. In 1847 Holyman began his apprenticeship on a coastal ship trading out of Hull. He completed his articles in 1854 and then joined the barque Elizabeth Ratcliffe, sailing to Launceston where she berthed on 12 June. Holyman left his ship to join the schooner Victory, sailing between Tasmanian and Victorian ports. In 1855 he transferred to the coastal trader Amelia Francis (Captain William Chapman). On 15 December Holyman and Chapman married daughters of James Sayer at Devonport, Holyman to Mary Ann; they had three sons and a daughter.

Holyman settled at Devonport and worked on barges owned by his father-in-law. In 1861 he returned to active command in the ketch Cousins. Ten years of profitable trading in her on the north coast of Tasmania encouraged him to buy the paddle-steamer Annie in 1871. This venture was not a success and she was sold in 1873, discouraging Holyman from further use of steamships for many years. All his sons qualified as master mariners and in turn commanded ships which were added to the fleet of the family company, William Holyman & Sons. In 1882 the company registered their ships as the White Star Line. In 1882 Holyman's only daughter Susannah married Harry Wood, a shipbuilder at Devonport. This added an important service to the Holyman company, which later bought several ships for enlargement and renovation at Wood's shipyard.

Holyman retired from the sea in 1886 and visited England with his wife. He then gave his full attention to management of the company, to his interest in music, reading biblical history and community affairs. He was an active founder of the district library and Chamber of Commerce and was elected to the town board, later becoming its chairman. He was a prominent Freemason and Oddfellow and a member of the Protestant Alliance Federation. After his wife died in 1900, the management of the company was again revised with William, the second son, assuming the management of the company from his father and transferring its head office to Launceston. The company continued to expand its fleet and its operations. In 1911 they bought automobiles to carry mail from Launceston to Beauty Point, the first regular mail service by motor car in Tasmania; pastoral estates of 27,000 acres (10,927 ha) were also developed on the islands of Bass Strait. Later the company inaugurated a commercial airline.

Holyman senior died at his home in East Devonport on 18 August 1919, survived by three sons, a daughter, thirty-one grandchildren and eighteen great-grandchildren. His son William died aged 63 at Launceston on 29 September 1921, leaving an estate of £57,155 to his wife Honora, four sons and five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 2 (Hob, 1900)
  • C. Ramsay, With the Pioneers (Hob, 1957)
  • Tasmanian Year Book (Hob, 1968), p. 570
  • Examiner (Launceston), 19 Aug 1919, 30 Sept 1921.

Citation details

W. F. Ellis, 'Holyman, William (1833–1919)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 December, 1833
Barton upon Humber, Lincolnshire, England


18 August, 1919 (aged 85)
Devonport, Tasmania, Australia

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