The Context:

The Torquay Ferry has been in continuous operation since the 1850’s transporting community members across the Mersey from East to West and return.

It has had various forms from the initial barge traverses to the current diesel operation and a variety of internal configurations.

The Ferry cross the Mersey is the longest continual transport operation in Tasmania.

( See History Below … )

Current Status:

The ferry was acquired by Phoenix Coaches in the 1990’s from a consortium of local business people who had rescued it from closure. The ferry operated on a 6 day a week basis from 7.30am to 6pm. In recent months, due declining passenger frequency, the timetable has been reduced to 5 days a week from 8.45am to 4.45pm.

In 2011 the limited subsidy that had been provided by the State Government (50 cents per concession card holder) was removed and the ferry has been running at a loss of circa $50,000 per year as a result.

The vessel ceased activity on Friday 27 June and is currently undergoing planned maintenance.

The owners are assessing its future.

External Circumstances:

Over the past 4 years a number of factors have contributed to the drop off in passenger number viz:-

• The original western pontoon was removed as a result of the Spirit of Tasmania colliding with it during a turning manoeuvre
• The new pontoon location to the south is not signposted, has no shelter, and is “out of sight out of mind”
• The TT line has closed access from a walkway off the Spirit of Tasmania which provided easy and ready access to the Eastern pontoon
• The TT line has refused the ferry owner to provide advertising material on the vessel or in the café area on shore
• The western shore pontoon has no shelter
• Calls to the Devonport Council for a public forum has been rejected

Possible Solutions:

Given the current cessation of services and the broad community support for the Ferry, It would appear that there is an urgent need for assistance from all stakeholders, e.g. Local, State, and Federal Governments, plus TT Line, TasPorts, Tasrail and tourism organizations.

Indeed some innovative thinking might just create a new vision for the viz:- The Tourist Connection for Devonport

Specific outcomes might include:-

• The reopening by TT of the walkway access between Spirit of Tasmania and the eastern shore Torquay pontoon
• The placement of Torquay ferry information on the Spirit of Tasmania
• Relocation by TasPorts of the western pontoon to a visible site. (Note that the old pontoon, now at the slipway to the south is wholly owned by Phoenix) and the construction of a shelter
• The provision by the State to the Operator of free leasehold of the crown land for each pontoon.
• Discussion commence immediately with State and Federal Ministers, and members for Braddon to regain financial assistance.
• Vastly improved signage at both locations.
• The development of joint tourist packages in conjunction with the ferry operators involving the Mersey and Devonport historic sites. This should include, but not be limited to dialogue with the Bass Straight Maritime Centre, the Julie Burgess, and the Don Railway.


The Torquay is an icon that the community demands remain in operation, It is imperative that this Government supports and creatively develops endeavours to ensure its ongoing viability.

Indeed I note the quote from Brett Whiteley MP where he categorically states on his website:-

“I commit to tirelessly fighting for our community’s fair share of government funding..”


Early operators

The Ferry was a vital link between Formby and Torquay and has since become a part of the history of Devonport. The first ferry to be granted a police licence in 1855 was operated by William Andrews followed by Thomas Thompson and the ferries we called “Victoria” that ran from the Union Inn on the Eastern bank to the British Hotel on the Western shore and the “Albert” ran from the end of John St Torquay across to Wenvoe.

William Andrews was later contracted to build the replacement bridge at Latrobe after the original Latrobe bridge built in 1858, was washed away in a flood during May 1873. This took him five years to complete which must have frustrated the residents of Latrobe at the time.

During the early 1860’s William Gray, William Chapman and Thomas Thompson all ran the ferry service but by 1865 William Chapman had also started a horse ferry, and William Gray in 1873 went on to become Formby’s post master. He died the following year and his wife ran the post office until the early 1890’s.

Captain William Chapman had arrived in Torquay in 1855 in command of the “Amelia Francis” with his friend William Holyman. He eventually married James Sayers’ Daughter Martha while his friend William Holyman married her sister Mary Anne.

Charles Ramsay’s “With the Pioneers” recalls to get a bullock team across the river before the punt was in service was the work of hours, as the wheels had to be removed and taken across, the bullocks swum across while the dray body was floated across. To supplement their income when not on the ferry, Chapman built boats while Thompson was a fisherman. In 1865 a vehicular ferry was launched which consisting of a punt across the river by a wire cable. This indigenous method involved when the tide was coming in, the punt was placed on the up river side of the wire cable and when the tide on the ebb the punt was transferred to the other side of the cable. The tide would strike the side of the punt at an angle and propel it half way across before the ferryman had to take over using a short thick stave which he took grip of the cable at the front walking to the rear before releasing his grip and repeating the action until the ferry reached the shore. When the ferry was idle the cable laid in the bottom of the river allowing ships to pass.

In 1867 the Mersey Marine Board was established to manage the ports, harbours and rivers of Don, Mersey and Port Sorell, William Chapman was appointed as the Pilot and Harbour Master for the Mersey River. His salary wad the pilotage fee received and he continued until resigned as a pilot and a harbour master in 1844. He remained as the assistant pilot until being appointed light keeper in June 1888 at a salary of 20 pounds per annum.

In March 1898 with the river bed deepened and the banks becoming steeper boarding the punt became more dangerous so the Mersey Marine Board decided to cease operations of the punt at the end of the year. However when December came around the Board decided to sell the lease to the current operator William Innes for 40 pounds and he continued the operation until the Victoria Bridge across the Mersey was opened in May 1902.

The Savage brothers connection as ferrymen:

The Savage Brothers began working as ferrymen for William Innes in the late eighties and Thomas Savage’s brother-in-law Jimmy Manix joined them in 1890 as a ferryman.

Charles Ramsay records that in 1903 the Savage brothers tried to oust Mr William Innes from the ferry business by operating their own ferry for donation only. Passengers were expected to leave a penny on the seat as they could not give change which would indicate charging an illegal fare. Once the superintendant of Police Mr Scott tested the system by tendering a half crown but Mr Savage just smiled, was quick enough to drop it in his pocket it with a weak thank you. Mr Scott waited a few minutes and then asked for his change but whether he got his money back is not recorded. A court case was brought against the Savage brothers and they were fined a penny or twopence but an appeal to a higher court resulted in a heavier fine. After that the brothers the presented to the Marine Board a complaint bearing 200 signatures accusing Mr Innes of giving most inefficient service. So eventually due to fewer passengers Mr Innes finally gave in and sold his lease to the Savage brothers.

Of course, as this service was a rowing ferry the brothers Tom, Billy, Ned and Ernie charged one penny a fare, or you could buy 13 tickets for one shilling, but if you were able to do the rowing yourself you did not have to pay. The tickets were supplied by McKinlays who used the reverse side to advertise drapery, clothing, ladies costumes and gentleman’s suits that were sold in their store.

Former Latrobe Warden Les Brown recalls that there was quite a difference in time it took to get across as some rowers were faster than others. Because they operated 18 hours each day the brothers employed four other ferry men. They were “Cockeye” Anderson, Jimmy Manix, “Dodger” Lilee and Sam “Shreader” Johnston. It is said “a good man with a pen would have been able to write a book on each of them”.

Thomas Savage continued in the ferry business throughout the 1920’s and introduced the first motor vessel to the service in 1916. It was an open boat that had to be run aground on the eastern bank as a pontoon had not yet been built. The “Success” and “Inez” as they had were now named, allowed Thomas to spare no expense and he advertised this new service lavishly.

The Success was used for paying passengers to cross the river from the Victoria Hotel to the Formby Hotel while the Inez was used as a pleasure craft for tours to bells parade at Latrobe, fishing excursions and even as far afield as the Tamar River. Devonport identity Mr Bill Mercer now 88 years old recalls as a teenager when he and his friends would be at the Don Heads watching Thom Savage run the bow of his ferry aground to load snow white stones from the beach to be sent to Sydney for powder making. This was the only area where the white stones were available. If the sea was rough then the stones would have been pre bagged ready for a quick collection.

In the summer Thom often landed his ferry near the old diving board at the bluff and took passengers around the headland to Coles beach. The fare then was sixpence.

During this time the pilot for the Harbour Master used an open rowing boat to board the ships that needed pilotage up the Mersey River. From 1919 Thomas Savage provided a motor launch for this pilot service but as that was still an open boat and boarding the large ships at 3 miles out to sea in rough weather was becoming more hazardous. On one occasion in 1924 the pilot Captain Ireland left a departing ship at the entrance of the river because of the rough sea running at the time and from his report it was obvious he was very angry. An enterprising Thomas Savage must have appreciated this anger so he offered a more suitable boat at a fee of 24 pounds per annum with a fee of 2 pounds each time it was used.
This offer was accepted by the Marine Board.

Around 1931/1932 Thomas Savage sold his business and went into the motor hire trade while the new ferryman became Ted Knight who introduced the new “Molly” a covered service onto the run in 1932.

This new vessel was named after Ted Knight’s wife.

In 1944 Bert Costello was employed as a ferryman and Bert subsequently purchased the business in 1953 which he ran himself until his retirement in 1960. Bert reminisces the service boomed in these days and once he carried 6200 people across the river in a three day period. Sometimes the pontoon would just about sink with the weight of people standing on it. The fare then was 2d across or 3d return but by 1960 had risen to 6d across. Bert says this period was the most amusing period of his life as he met people from all over the world and witnessed many funny events.

For a number of years during the 1950’s Ron Jowett also worked as a ferryman with Bert. Ron took over the “Molly” for a year after Bert retired but the ageing “Molly” was due to be replaced so in 1962 the Devonport Marine Board commissioned and launched the steel hulled craft called “Torquay”.

The old “Molly” was sold for use as a pleasure boat and believed to have sunk near the Tamar River while in transit to its new life. Ron Jowett moved on to work at the East Devonport carpet factory until he retired.

In 1962 Keith Savage, who started working on the ferry as a 16 year old in 1925 with his father Thomas Savage, re-entered the trade with Doug Bishton as a partner and together they ran the “Torquay” ferry service until 1975.

When Keith retired, Doug Bishton took on the lease for 12 months but after that i have further information on who the ferrymen were.

In 1979-1980, 110,000 people used the service dropping to 81,000 people in the 1980-1981 as the number of passengers using the ferry rapidly declined over the last decade.

In 1985 the “Torquay” was take off the run and now lies rusting in a paddock in Port Sorell.
She was replaced with a new shaped hulled “Torquay” costing $67,000 with seating for 25 passengers that operated i believe on lease from the Devonport Marine Board.

The Phoenix Link:

There were several ferrymen over the following years before a private consortium of local businessmen consisting of Messrs. John Palmer, Chas Kelly, Una Rockcliff, Denis Fieldwick and Duncan Fox saved the ferry from closure before selling to the local Phoenix Bus Company.

The owners Grant and Jan Bingley today continue to keep the operation trading, maintaining an important service to the people of Devonport and continuing the link joining East and West across the Mersey River.


The article above has a Powerpoint presentation associated with it that displays in animation form that describes the development of the icon in pictograph form.

Due the size it is not possible to display on TT but has been sent complete to all relevant Ministers and MPs associated with Braddon, plus the Mayor of Devonport.

In summary it shows the various forms of the Ferry over the past 160 years; highlights that it has outlasted 44 Premiers since colony foundation; and that support from current governments is needed for the icon to continue.

It also highlights that a launching of a new “Torquay” in 1986 was a proud memory for former Premier Ray Groom.

Would it not be ironic if the current Minister for State Growth Matthew Groom was the Minister who oversaw the demise of this iconic part of the Devonport community.
I also not the article in The Advocate on 23 July

If the Council wishes to upgrade the waterfont etc the Torquay MUST be part of their consideration.

• Luke Martin, in Comments: Unique, heritage assets like this don’t grow on trees, and we know from the challenge with heritage rail across the State once something ceases operation just how much more challenging and expensive it is to resurrect the operation. Nevertheless it seems from this article and stories in the Advocate, there are some fundamental challenges with the Torquay that maybe require a total rethink of its future purpose. In this context, I’d be interested if thought has gone into the following questions?