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Henry (Harry) O'May (1872–1962)

by David Dilger

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with George Elwin O'May

Henry O'May (1872-1962) and George Elwin O'May (1876-1956), ferrymasters, were born on 27 February 1872 and 17 June 1876 at Kangaroo Point (Bellerive), Tasmania, sons of Robert O'May (d.1900), a boatman from Scotland, and his wife Ann, née Roberts. Robert and his brothers Thomas and James established (c.1865) O'May Bros ferry service which plied between Hobart Town and Kangaroo Bay.

Harry attended Bellerive State School and Scotch College, Hobart, but left at the age of 11 to work as a wharf-boy. He gained his river-master's and engineer's certificates, and in 1889 became skipper of the Silver Crown, the firm's fifth vessel. In 1891 George joined O'May Bros as a deckhand. Following the deaths of Thomas and Robert O'May, James took over the management of the company; he was joined in partnership by Harry and George who inherited their father's share of the business. At Bellerive on 17 March 1902 Harry married with Presbyterian forms Frances Isobel Cottrell (d.1921), a 25-year-old dressmaker; they were to have three children.

In 1903 the firm bought the paddle-steamer, Kangaroo. This ship, affectionately known as 'The Twins' or 'Old Double Guts' because of her twin hull, carried both passengers and vehicles. Harry was her master. George, who had skippered Silver Crown, took charge of the newly built Derwent in 1905. A double-ended vessel certified to carry 590 passengers, she cost £6000 and was to make 250,000 river crossings. George married Emily Lavinia Clark with Congregational forms on 2 December 1907 at Nubeena. In 1912, after O'May Bros merged with Rosny Estates, the company acquired 668 acres (270 ha) between Kangaroo Bay and Lindisfarne Bay. Rosny Estates & Ferry Co. hoped to increase patronage of its ferries by encouraging settlement through the sale of cheap land.

James O'May retired in 1921. Harry succeeded him as manager and George became master of the Kangaroo. Following the failure of its land sales, the company went into liquidation in 1926. Harry and George reconstructed their old firm as O'May Bros Pty Ltd. In February 1927 they established a ferry service from Bellerive to Hobart and two years later bought out their main rival, the Reemere Steamship Co. On 6 November 1929 at Chalmers Church, Hobart, Harry married 52-year-old Maud Isabell Fraser. The Tasmanian parliament passed legislation in 1937 which gave the Hobart Bridge Co. Ltd 'sole right of transport across the River Derwent'. On 1 May 1939, when O'May Bros was taken over by that company, Harry and George retired. George died on 30 December 1956 in Royal Hobart Hospital and was cremated; his son and daughter survived him.

Harry O'May published Wrecks in Tasmanian Waters (1955), Wooden Hookers of Hobart Town (1957) and Hobart River Craft (1959). He was a foundation member of the Shiplovers' Society of Tasmania and the Bellerive Yacht Club, patron of the Bellerive Regatta Association, a member (from 1941) of the Royal Society of Tasmania and a trustee of the Narryna Folk Museum. Survived by the son and two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 15 May 1962 in his Bellerive home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • The Tasmanian Cyclopedia (Hob, 1931)
  • D. G. O'May, Ferries of the Derwent (Hob, 1988)
  • W. T. Davenport, Spirit of Clarence (Hob, 1989)
  • Bellerive Historical Society, Bellerive Heritage, vols 1-4 (Hob, 1993-96)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16, 18 May 1962
  • Examiner (Launceston), 26 May, 2 June 1962.

Citation details

David Dilger, 'O'May, Henry (Harry) (1872–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 February, 1872
Bellerive, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


15 May, 1962 (aged 90)
Bellerive, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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