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The First Post Mistress of Bruni

‘Are you interested in a portrait of my Great Grandmother, Marianne Martha Gray’, read the email, ‘it’s rather large!’

I said yes, but it wasn’t until it arrived on the back of Rodney’s ute that I realized the true size of the picture… and that it was in fact a painting and not a photograph. It was fabulous! Here, in all her glory was the first postmistress of Bruny Island. There had been post offices and receiving houses on the island since the 1850’s, but none up until this time (1881) had been managed by a woman.

Rodney Huon Gray remembers the painting always hanging at Morella while Florrie his grandmother, Florence Gray nee Davey, lived there.

It is generally assumed within the family that the painting moved from Old Mill Farm (Lunawanna) to Lumeah (Adventure Bay) with Marianne. After her death it was passed on to her son Frederick Huon Gray and hung at Liamana (now called Suva).

‘When Florrie moved to Morella it went with her, and after Dad [Douglas Huon Gray] sold up it went to my Aunty Kathleen. I managed to acquire it before she died. No one ever told me anything about it not even my aunt.’ — conversation with Rod Gray Feb 2022

Marianne Martha Gray (1838-1916)

Marianne was born in 1838, to Henry John Allen and Marianne Scanlin. Henry Allen was the son of an officer in the West Indian Service and was educated at Christchurch, UK. After arriving in Tasmania, he had set up a school in Brown’s River and held the license for the Kingston Hotel. Around 1855 he moved his family to Huon Island, where he set up an agricultural enterprise. There are reports of crops & a pig farm, but it appears to be dairy that was most successful. In his obituary it stated,

Thirty years ago, Mr Allen relinquished school life and turned his attention to agricultural pursuits, and for the last 25 years has kept one of the most complete dairy farms in the southern side of the colony, on Huon Island. Mr Allen brought up a large family, three of whom he had the misfortune to lose by drowning. One of his daughters was married to the late Mr Gray, of Taylor’s Bay, a well-known and highly respected Channel resident.’

- Tasmanian News, 30 July 1888

It was on Huon Island in 1858 that Marianne Martha Allen and Frederick Gray were married by special license. The witnesses were interestingly Joseph Moir who went on to build the shot Tower at Taroona and George Arnott Robinson who was married to Margaret Scanlin (Marianne’s aunt). Robinson later became the surgeon at Port Arthur. Frederick aged 27 was noted on the marriage entry as an engineer. He was in fact a convict who had received a conditional pardon in 1854 and had created a successful timber milling business at Taylors Bay prior to his marriage.

Marianne & Frederick went on to have seven children, Francis (Frank) Allen (1859 - 1872), Charles Edward (1861 - 1913), Marian (Minnie) Hester (1863 - 1927), Henry (Harry) George (1866 - 1938), Lucy Grace (1869 – 1904), Frederick Huon (1871- 1937), Herbert Bruni (1874 – unknown). Tragically the eldest son Frank drowned in a boating accident off Huon Island.

When private schooling for the mill workers was set up at the Gray Mill in Lunawanna, we can only speculate that Marianne may have taught there, like her father had done in Brown’s River many years before.

Mrs. Marianne Martha Gray was appointed as Post Mistress at Little Taylor’s Bay 3rd December 1881. The post office was at Old Mill Farm, where a wooden tramway ran along the foreshore of Little Taylors Bay to a deep-water jetty where boats could load timber and deliver mail.

In that year Walch’s Almanac listed the arrival and departure of mail as uncertain; noting, ‘By sailing vessel as opportunity offers.’ However, by 1887 The mail service was more regular. Arriving at 4pm on a Saturday, outgoing mail closed at 5pm and was scheduled to arrive in Hobart on Tuesdays at 5.30pm and in Launceston the following morning. Postage for a regular letter was 1d.

On her resignation in 1891, her position was taken by her daughter, Mrs. Marion Hester Frizoni who continued the Post Office at Little Taylors Bay until it finally closed 1st June 1893.

After their father’s death in 1886, Charles, Henry & Frederick continued the saw milling operations in South Bruny until 1888 when the mill was relocated to Adventure Bay. And as was the practice in the day, they sealed up the boilers and floated them around to the new site.

At Quiet Corner, Adventure Bay, the new Gray Bros complex was large. It comprised of a long timber jetty, wooden tramways into the forest, work men’s huts, blacksmiths shop, stables, and a private school. Frederick Jr also built a new house on the site, later called Lumeah. The Adventure Bay Post office also operated from here.

From 1st Dec 1890 mail was conveyed between Taylors Bay and Adventure Bay by J. J. Dillon, the postmaster at this time was Mr. Charles Gray. However, on the 1st of Dec 1893 Marianne was once again appointed postmistress. She held this position at Lumeah until 1905 when she resigned having completed over twenty years with the Tasmanian Postal Service.

That year as a mark of respect and recognition for her service to the community, Marianne was invited to lay the foundation stone at the new church in Adventure Bay.

Marianne continued to live with her sons until her death in 1916. She is buried in Queensborough Cemetery Sandy Bay, along with her youngest daughter Lucy Grace Gray and her sister Lucy Allen.

This article was based on Gray Family records, Pybus Book and the resources available at TAHO and the Bruny Island History Room.


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