James harvey
James Harvey... Thomas & Sarah Harvey...

Roy Purton Harvey and Susan Margaret Chalcroft

3-Roy Purton Harvey was born on 30 Dec 1886 in Leith, Tasmania, died on 28 Jun 1950 in East Devonport, Tasmania at age 63, and was buried on 29 Jun 1950.

Roy married Susan Margaret Chalcroft, daughter of Walter Thomas Chalcroft and Martha Saunders, on 17 Dec 1919 in Holy Trinity Church, Ulverstone, Tasmania. Susan was born on 22 Sep 1897 in Leatherhead, Surrey, England, died on 26 Aug 1946 in Westbury, Tasmania at age 48, and was buried on 27 Aug 1946 in Westbury, Tasmania.

They had four children:

Roy appears not to have had much schooling.  As the eldest male in the family, he would have had to help his father Thomas, who was ailing for some time, to feed and support the family.  There were no disability pensions or safety network in the early 20th century.  Roy did work in the State railways from the time he was 14 until he enlisted in the army.  Phyllis states she left it too late to get Roy’s memories of growing up recorded, so little is known of his early life. 

Roy enlisted in the AIF on the 29th August, 1914, as a private in Company C of the 12th Battalion, regimental number 341.  He embarked for Europe on the 20th October, 1914 at Hobart, boarding the “HMAT A2 Geelong.”  His pay was 5/- per day, with a 4/- daily allowance for overseas service and deferred pay of 1/-. 

The 12th Battalion was among the first infantry units raised for the AIF.  Half the battalion was raised in Tasmania, 25% from South Australia and 25% from West Australia.  With the 9th, 10th and 11th, it formed the 3rd Brigade.

The battalion was raised within three weeks of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked just two months later.  After a brief stop in Albany, West Australia, the battalion shipped out to Egypt.  It arrived in early December and Roy was based in the Mesa Camp.  It appears from the following letter that Roy’s asthma, which troubled him his whole life nearly resulted him in being medically discharged, but that did not happen and he went on to fight at Gallipoli and the Western front.

War letter from Roy    Anzacs landing at GallipoliRoy Purton Harvey

1. War letter from Roy
2. Anzac troops landing at Gallipoli
3. Weekly Courier 24 Jun 1917: Private Roy Harvey, son of the late Mr. T. Harvey, Leith; wounded

The 3rd Brigade (4,000 troops) was the covering force for ANZAC landing on the 25th April 1915 at Gallipoli and so was the first ashore at around 4:30am.  Company B of the 12th landed from HMS Scourge.  The 12th Battalion War Diary for April 1915 describes the landing.  Lieutenant Colonel L. F. Clarke, commander of the 12th, was killed by a sniper within hours of the landing, at the “Sphinx.”  The battalion was heavily involved in establishing and defending the front line of the ANZAC position.  In August it contributed two companies to the attack on Lone Pine.  It was the only battalion in the 3rd brigade that did so.  The 12th served at Gallipoli until the evacuation in December. 

Roy was wounded in both legs at Gallipoli on the 2nd May, 1915.  The 12th ‘s War Diary reports that on that day the unit withdrew from the firing line.  He wrote the following letter to his friend Les Fisher as he recuperated in England.

 War letter part 1    War leter part 2

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the 12th Battalion returned to Egypt and, in March 1916, sailed to France for the Western front.  Roy returned to active duty with the battalion in February 1916.  From then until 1918, the battalion fought in the bitter trench warfare that was the Western Front.  The battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozieres[1], located in the Somme valley, in July 1916.  After the village was captured by the AIF in July 1916, the next phase involved capture of Mouquet Farm.  On Monday 21st August the 12th Battalion launched an attack on German line at 16:00 hours (the 12th ‘s War Diary for August 1916).  It was during this action that Roy suffered wounds to his chest, which finally resulted in his discharge from the Army in December 1917.  He suffered his wounds in a heroic action that resulted in him being recommended for “Mentioned in Despatches.”  The action that resulted in Roy’s recommendation is described in records as follows:


During operations near Mouquet Farm on 21st August 1916 showed great gallantry and dedication to duty, when two R.E. officers asked for volunteers to go out to a dugout 50 yards from our AID Post to bring in a wounded man.  Pte Harvey volunteered and went out with them under very heavy fire to the dugout but the man had died before they got there & on the journey home Pte Harvey was badly wounded.

The two Royal Engineer officers (Howard and Calley) recommended Roy.  The family story is that when Roy was in the hospital at the front with his chest injury, King George’s surgeon was visiting the troops and assisted in the complex operation, saving his life.  Roy was involved in two of the greatest battles fought by the AIF in WW1.

Given the size of both Shadrack Purton’s family and James Harvey’s family, many of their descendants (grandsons and great grandsons) fought in the Great War, many in the Tasmanian based 40th Battalion.

A search of the Purton surname in the National Archives returns 18 soldiers and a review indicates the vast majority are descendants of Shadrack.  Westbury is a common place of birth, as well as Kyeton in Victoria, the area where 2 of Shadrack’s sons (George and James) had set up a carting business and farmed.  John David Hazel Purton joined the AIF in October 1917, shipped out to Frances and was wounded in the buttocks and foot in August 1918.  He died of complications arising from his wounds in January 1919.  William John Denison Purton, who joined in May 1916, was a prisoner of war after being captured in April 1917.  Harold Robert Purton, who joined in August 1915, was gassed a number of times on the Western Front.

Roy recuperated from his injuries at the estate of the Wedgwood family (famous for pottery).  The upper class of England saw this as a way of doing their patriotic duty and helping the war effort.  Recuperating soldiers would be billeted out to the homes and estates to regain their health and strength. It was while Roy was at the Wedgwood Estate that he met Susan Chalcroft who was working as a domestic servant on the estate.  Phyllis speculates that they would have had little time for romance at the Estate.  As can be seen from comments in his first letter from an English hospital, the young women of the time socialised with the wounded to boost morale.

When he returned to Tasmania in 1917, shipped out of the United Kingdom on the “UTS Ulysses” in February 1917, he became a recruiting sergeant.  After his discharge, Roy first worked on the wharves in Devonport as a “wharfie” and then became a fisherman, the occupation he followed for the rest of his working life.

Phyllis recalls that Roy, like many serviceman, suffered post traumatic stress (“shell shock”) associated with his war service.  He suffered terrible nightmares, roaring and screaming in his sleep but unable to wake.  Susan had to wake him.  It was frightening for all the children in the house.

Roy, after his discharge, did what he could to educate himself.  He read vociferously and took great pride and pleasure in the lovely book case he had built to house his pride and joy – his books.  His reading interests were wide.  He loved nature books, books on building sea faring boats and books on Egyptian pyramids. Phyllis realised years later his interest in the wonders of the ancient world were based on his time in Egypt.

Roy' war records    Roy' war records      Roy' war records        Roy' war recordsRoy' war recordsRoy' war recordsRoy' war records        Roy' war records   

Roy' war records

Roy's war records

Susan left England on the Mahana on the 26 September 1919, aptly from Devonport, England, bound for Melbourne.  When Susan arrived in Devonport, Tasmania, there was not a soul at the wharf to greet her.  She had travelled 13,000 miles and nobody was there!  A local took pity on Susan at the wharf and gave her a lift to Leith in a horse and buggy. 

When Susan arrived in Leith she found Roy very sick with Spanish Flu.  The pandemic killed millions around the world, including Australian soldiers who survived the Great War only to die from the flu afterwards.  The flu was so serious that the bluestone building that was Westbury state primary school was closed and converted to a hospital for the duration of the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

Sarah Frances Harvey, was not thrilled with the idea of her son marrying a ‘pommy girl.”  She had picked out a “good local girl” for Roy!

Susan made her dress for the wedding in England.  Phyllis remembers it was cream eyelet satin or crepe-de-sheen.  Susan was a good seamstress and used the dress years later to make an anniversary dress for Phyllis to wear to Sunday school.  Susan had lovely handmade lace on her undergarments and Phyllis has some of it.  Phyllis still has a beautiful white knitted lace edged supper cloth that Susan gave her on Phyllis’ wedding day.  Its 60 years old and it perfect condition—a family heirloom.  Diane Castley also has a piece of Susan’s craft work.

Susan and Roy were married at Ulverstone in 1919. It was supposed to be at Leith but Susan was not impressed with the tiny wooden church, capable of only holding 20 to 25 people.  Roy’s sister Jean and his best friend Les Fisher were the witnesses.

The first home that Roy and Susan lived in was in Pardoe Street, East Devonport, near the beach.  The second home was a cottage at 11, The Esplanade, East Devonport.  The cottage still exists and is occupied by a car rental company (Thrifty).

It was while living in the cottage on the Esplanade that Roy engaged the services of a Mr. Edward Higgs[2] to build a fishing boat—the “Lady Phyllis.”  This would have been in 1925.  Higgs lived with the family while the boat was being built and became part of the family.  He was 74 years old at this stage.  The Lady Phyllis was approximately 37 feet or 11 meters long.  She had a cabin situated fore of the well, with three bunks for crew and a wooden stove.  The remainder of the deck was open.  The launching of the Lady Phyllis was done from in front of the cottage on the Esplanade.  The boat was moved across the roadway near the cottage and positioned on the river bank to slide down the embankment at high tide.  The Lady Phyllis joined the fishing fleet operating out of Devonport – in 1929, the fleet numbered 29 boats[3].

Scale model of Ladfy Phyllis

Scale Model of the Lady Phyllis Built by Dick Postill in 2008 and based on Edward Higgs’ original shipwrights model

Higgs built two other boats at about the same time —“The Viking,” also built in East Devonport for a Mr. Nelson and “Lady Jean,” built in Stanley for Captain Will Nichols on Roy’s recommendation.  Captain Nichols traded the islands in the Bass Strait (King and Flinders Islands) in the Lady Jean, eventually selling it after which it was used in Pacific Islands trading.  There is reference to the Lady Jean being registered in Samarai Island, PNG where it is listed in naval and merchant shipping movements in February 1942 in a document “North Queensland at War.”

The cottage is near the current Tasmanian Ferry Terminal and wharf area used by the fishing fleet on the Mersey River and Phyllis remembers the passenger boats of the era—the “Oonah”, “Loongana” and “Nairana”.  The families involved in fishing were families with a long and rich history in the Bass Strait—the Burgess’s, Dick’s Foster’s and  Ritchie’s – and other families of the sea that were friends were the Cocker’s, Murray’s, Oliver’s, Holyman’s and Hobson’s.  The Holyman family had been involved in shipping in Tasmania from the early 1800’ies.  The family friend Steve Holyman was not part of the shipping scene, he had left “the family business” and owned a bacon factory and exported goods.

Roy earned the nick name “Snatcher” from his peers — the story is that Roy was a successful fisherman because of some sixth sense for the sea meant whilst others were thinking about putting to sea to find the schools of fish, Roy was out there getting his catch, i.e. “Harvey’s snatched all the fish.”  Another version has “those others” going off to the pub whilst Roy worked!  The children did not like being known as “Snatcher Harvey’s kids.” 

Being a hard worker, Roy made good money, but fishing is not the type of industry that results in an even cash flow.  This meant that Susan had to run up credit at the local stores, something she was very uncomfortable about.  Often when Roy returned from the sea, the cupboards would be relatively bare.  Roy could not understand why Susan was reluctant to run up debt, but Susan made her point about needing cash and Roy made sure there was always enough money for the family to live comfortably.

Roy smoked fished at the Esplanade house.  That was until there was an accident and the place nearly burnt down.

Life for Susan was lonely — an English girl married to a deep sea fisherman who would stay at sea for as long as the fish ran.  Roy’s voyages could be for days, a week or for weeks.  Roy would provision up at home from the cupboards and sail, but if he needed to stay at sea then he would call in at Burnie, Wynyard or Stanley, all ports on Bass Strait.  When he returned, it was often at ungodly hours—1:00am, 2:00am, 3:00am or 4:00am.  The family would all stir with the excitement.

Phyllis has fond memories of the growing up at the cottage — at low tide, the high sand banks create a great swimming area used by all the local families.  All family members frequently got sun burnt.  The land on either side of 11 Esplanade, East Devonport was vacant.  It was a great environment for children to play.  The children made daisy chains, picked brushes from the periwinkle plant and dug up aboriginal bread, buried in the ground to preserve it.  The bread was dark coloured and heavy textured.

Susan, Phyllis, Irene and Walter at the beach

Susan, Phyllis, Irene and Walter at the beach

She recalls that in her school days, attending The Devonport Practising School in West Devonport, she would ‘fly’ from school to home for lunch.  The route involved running down and up hills and catching a ferry across the Mersey River to “White’s Hotel”.  From the ferry she would walk across a causeway of blue stone to get home.  The causeway had a tidal opening it and Phyllis remembers it being scary at low tide—crabs and mud.

Phyllis tells a story about Walter and her being tied up by a domestic servant.  Needless to say after they reported being tied up to Roy, the person was dismissed.  She does admit that maybe they were being naughty!

Like any family, the children had their own personalities.  Walter was a quiet reserved boy who as a youngster stuttered a little but, with help he grew out of it.  He also sleepwalked! He was the ‘brains,’ the thinker, of the family and the apple of his Auntie Olive’s (Susan’s sister) eye.  Irene was also quiet but not too healthy as a child.  Roy and Susan played particular attention to Irene.  When she was 2 or 3 she had her tonsils and adenoids removed, which resulted in a hearing problem she suffered from for the rest of her life.  To help her health, whenever he caught mutton birds on the islands in Bass Strait, Roy drained the oil from their gullets and gave it to Irene as a tonic, mixed with milk from the family cow.  Mutton Bird oil is coloured red and is clear as crystal, but it tastes vile.  Roy and Susan were concerned that Irene may get tuberculosis.  Susan did not enjoy the daily task of milking the cow.  Oliver was a very active boy, the youngest and spoilt as such. 

Phyllis went out to work in 1934, aged 14.  Phyllis’s first job was work as a domestic for a Mr. Knight, who had worked the Hydro schemes in his early years but at the time was operating the ferry from East to West Devonport.  She recalls that there were two girls and three boys to care for, who were obviously younger because Phyllis can remember frequently changing bed sheets for the boys following ‘accidents.’  She then worked for O. Gilpin’s Store in West Devonport.  These were the days when religion was in your face.  Gilpin’s would not employ Catholics, and another store (J.P. Sullivan) would only employ Catholics.

In 1928 or 1929, Roy purchased “Cliffden”, at 100 David Street, near the summit of the hill overlooking East Devonport.  Built in 1890 by G.N. Levy, the house still occupies a dominating location in East Devonport, high on the hill.  Originally constructed for a Miss Middleton, it was first occupied as a private girls’ school called Cliffden.  The building is very substantial.  It’s built on bluestone foundations, double brick cavity walls, with exterior cement render in mock sandstone block finish and four chimneys, topped off with a steep gable roof.  The interior rooms have 11 foot ceilings.  It has magnificent views over a large part of the Devonport port area and over West Devonport and from there up the coast to Don Heads.  Unfortunately, whilst the house was grand, Roy and Susan could not maintain it properly through the depression years when money was very tight.  It has subsequently been renovated by a Mr. and Mrs Bell who acquired the building in 1955 and who demolished large open verandas facing North West and extended one room and added two sun rooms.  One sunroom gave “panoramic views of Mount Roland, the Mersey River and the Bluff lighthouse.”  The house is now classified by the National Trust, but the many changes by Mr. Bell and other owners have ’spoilt’  the original grandeur and charm of the building.  The large block of land the property sat on has also been subdivided into some 12 suburban blocks, again reducing the streetscape impact of the house.

Roy created a magnificent garden on the original large site with man ferns, carnations and dahlias.  He was a dedicated gardener, a gene that he passed onto Walter and Phyllis.  23 gums trees graced the front of the property.

A shed on the acreage around Cliffden was hired out to a Mr. Cruise who stored his cart there. He cut and carted wood in the area.   The horse was kept in the paddock with the family cow.  The horse sometimes was difficult to control and the children got very upset if Mr. Cruise used a whip.  He never used the whip if Roy was at home, as Roy did not put up with any cruelty.  When Phyllis and Walter were growing up it was the time that the world was moving from the coal fired Industrial Revolution to the petroleum powered Industrial Revolution.  Cars and trucks coexisted with horse and cart and fishing boats still used sail.

Opposite Cliffden is another grand house built by the same builder—Fairmont.  Owned by the Austin’s when the Harvey's lived in Cliffden, it also had magnificent gardens—chrysanthemums being the specialty of that garden.  The Austin family owned the hotel at Stanley.


This was also the age before ‘indoor toilets’ and septic tanks or sewage networks.  Toilets were long drops or pan toilets, cleared by the night cart.  Apparently Susan used to get the clutch of children together for an ‘evening parade.’  Other times they would pair up—safety in numbers!  Once Phyllis was by herself and enthroned in the little house.  Guess who came down the lane.  The night cart man!  Opened the hatch and grab ‘the pan.’  Who got the biggest shock?  The cart man seeing a bare bum or Phyllis hearing all type of strange sounds beneath her!

Roy was not a tidy person.  When he went to bed, he had the habit of ‘stepping out’ of his trousers, leaving them on the floor for him to step into the next day.  Susan was a much tidier person, but she refused to pick up Roy’s clothes and put them on a chair or bench.  Susan taught Roy a lesson, one of the few where she won.  She would kick the trousers so they landed in the middle of the bed.  The next morning Roy would have to ’bend his back’ to retrieve them.  Susan’s message to Roy was “pick them up or bend your back.”   Roy learnt to pick up his trousers!

Roy was an innovator in the fishing industry—he was the first local fisherman to directly ship his catch to the Melbourne markets rather than sell locally to the fish monger, and then later he built freezers to store his catches and he introduced long net fishing (mile long nets) into the Bass Strait fishing fleet.

For many years Roy shipped his catches to Melbourne on the passenger boats “Oonah”, “Loongana” and “Nairana” and, after 1935, the “Taroona”  In an article titled “Days of the old-time fishermen”, Barry Argent reported that ‘there was never much of a market for fish in Tasmania, so they were packed in ice and shipped to Melbourne.  Many of the old fishermen had bitter memories of the “blueys” sent back by unscrupulous auctioneers in Melbourne, saying that the fish had arrived in such bad condition they had had to be condemned.  The auctioneer would slip a health inspector a bribe for the certificate, then sell the fish for his own pocket.  No fisherman could afford to go to Melbourne to check out the “bad” fish claim.  By the time he arrived there, after getting the notice, he would be told the fish had been taken away and dumped[4].’

Roy made many friends with the stewards and crew of the boats, making sure his shipment was looked after!  Often they would give him a gift of a tin of biscuits for the children.  Phyllis recounts an episode when Roy gave the kids a tin of 100’s and 1,000’s biscuit, telling them they could have a few whilst he did an errand.  The errand took longer than expected and more biscuits than was good were eaten.  On his return, all the kids got into the boat for a trip to Port Sorell, just east of Devonport.  Needless to say there were some very sick children throwing up into an old kerosene tin on board. 

Roy and the family often visited Port Sorell for camping trips.  Later Phyllis and Bob Ingamells had a weekender there for many years.  Walter, Margy and their family had holidays at Hawley Beach, just up the road from Port Sorrell, as well.  Ian remembers one holiday when Phyllis and her girls and Walter and the family went out at low tide to one of the islands in the bay to look at penguins that nested on the island.  The tide turned and by the time all made it to shore the water from the rising tide was up to his waist.  An adventure!

On one trip with Roy, he took the family and camped on “Rabbit Island” in the mouth of the estuary.  The island was a bit of a nature reserve because Phyllis can remember that night the tent was surrounded by kangaroos, wallabies, rabbits, possums and bandicoots, making noise and running over the tent.  Being that close to nature was too much of an experience for Susan, so the family decamped and hiked off the island the next day at low tide.  Susan did not go camping again!  Phyllis remembers that Port Sorell and the surrounding area would, in spring, be covered in beautiful wild flowers, including bush orchards, creating a wonderland that all enjoyed.

Roy and Susan at the mouth of the Mersey River    Roy Susan and children camping about 1926    Walter, Phyllis, Oliver and Irene about 1930

Walter, Phyllis, Oliver and Irene, about 1930

Other memories Phyllis has include that Roy often travelled to Robin Island and Three Hummock Island.  Roy would bring injured animals back home.  Phyllis can remember having a koala as a pet and caring for injured Giant Petrel birds.  There was also a very cunning pet sea gull.  Roy brought home from Flinders Island beautiful “Nautilus Shells” for the children – they were rare as they were only available every seven years when they shed the shell.

Walter has a scar on his right ring finger from a childhood accident.  He got his when playing with a deck chair in which Phyllis was sitting.  He kept letting it down on her.  When she got up and left the chair in disgust, Walter hopped into it and Phyllis decided to give him some of his own medicine.  Unfortunately when she let the chair down, Wal got his finger trapped and had to be rushed off to the doctors to have it stitched, leaving a half moon scar.  Interesting?  Well Wal’s son Ian also a half moon scar on his right ring finger.  He was playing with some 44 gallon tar drums the Westbury Shire Council had dumped at the top of Quamby St and when one over balanced, his finger becoming trapped between two drums and the top flange was left hanging by the skin.  Ian ended up at the Latrobe Hospital for his stitches!

Phyllis has pleasant memories of growing up at Cliffden.  At harvest time, all the women made jams of all kinds of fruits.  Why?  Well generally the main meal of the day was lunch and the evening meal was often bread, butter and jam.  Roy’s personal taste was bread and butter or bread and jam, and only bread, butter and jam on Sunday.  Sundays were a treat for the children—supper tasted so much better!  To bottle the jam, dark beer bottles would be collected and Roy would heat a metal ring attached to a long handle in the fire.  The ring was slipped over the neck of the bottle and the top snapped off and the new glass jar was dunked in cold water to make sure it was safe.

Another task was to make sinkers for fishing.  Roy would melt the lead in a container over the fire and then pour it into kerosene tin.  Sand was in the kerosene tin and little holes were poked in the sand, forming a mould for the lead.  The sinkers were not loose on the fishing line but attached to the hook forming one piece.  Roy attached the sinker to the hooks by slipping the hook into a wooden handle he had carved from the arm of a chair.  This was a regular evening job. 

The hook / sinkers were used to catch “couta” (barracouta).  Roy would catch 120 dozen couta on a trip and, being a game fish, that would not have been easy.  130 dozen flathead made up a successful voyage.  During the shark season, up to 140 dozen sharks would be caught each voyage.  

When Phyllis was about twelve (1932), Roy became a passionate believer in Communism and Russia.  This was the era when Stalin ruled Russia and the Trotskyites' were preaching the world revolution.  In Australia, the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) would eventually be banned by the federal government in 1950, though the legislation was overturned by the Federal Courts.  Being a communist meant you wanted to change the world, even if by violent revolution.  It certainly was not a popular position to take in Australia.  How Roy became an earnest advocate Phyllis cannot recall.  She can remember in the same year being taken by her father across the Mersey on the Ferry and, whilst walking up Stewart St to the Post Office, a gentleman got out of his Model T Ford, came round in front of the Roy and, whilst greeting, Roy, put his hand out to shake.  Roy refused to shake his hand, saying “I don’t shake hands with twisters.”  Phyllis states the gentleman was Joe Lyons.  This was at the time when Joe Lyons, had switched side from the Australian Labour Party (ALP), forming the United Australia Party (UAP), the conservative party that preceded the Liberal Party.  Joe was the local member, born in Stanley, educated in Ulverstone.  He had been a Labour Premier of Tasmania before entering Federal Parliament.  Joe was Prime Minister from January 1932 to April 1939, when he died in office.  Joe led Australia through the worst of the depression, defecting from the Scully ALP Government due policy differences about how to manage the economy in a depression. Joe, Acting Treasurer, preached restraint whilst the Labour Caucus wanted to spend their way out.

On one occasion in the 1930’ies, Roy went to Melbourne for the May Day March.  He took on the role of the ‘bloated capitalist’ in a piece of street theatre in the march, being carried through the streets of Melbourne on the ‘backs of the workers.’  There is little detail in Phyllis’s story, though apparently the march must have broken the law because Roy ended up in jail for the night!

Roy had always been interested in people and his community.  In the Depression Era he shared his good fortune with others, especially the “underdog.”  He was a great worker for charitable organizations, the Toc H[5] movement especially.  Roy would personally take food and clothing to those less fortunate.  Barry Argent reported that Roy was ‘remembered now (1982) by contemporaries for the boxes of fish he slipped to the needy, on the quiet.’  Phyllis recalls one time when a local family lost their home to fire and the insurance company would not pay.  Roy leapt into the breach, taking the insurance company to court and winning.  Roy fought for the underdog in society. 

He was also interested in Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.  When Phyllis was 5 years old, Roy took her with him when he visited a tribal elder who lived in Pardoe Street.  Phyllis still has the necklace made by Aboriginals that the old lady elder gave her.  In Devonport at the Mersey Bluff, the Tiagarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre is located near aboriginal rock carvings that Roy showed to a local teacher (Mr. A.L. Meston[6], who later became a principal of Launceston High, published an article about the carvings under the auspices of the Royal Society of Tasmania) who is commemorated as the discoverer - correspondence is recorded in the Tasmanian Archives from 21st April 1931[7].

Phyllis believes it was the Depression and the effect it had on those around him that caused Roy to change his attitude to life, to begin his campaign to build a better world.  His commitment to his beliefs was firm and unswerving for the rest of his life.  Roy was an evangelist for his cause, hitting the road preaching his message. 

He invited the family of a fellow believer, Mr. Nichols, to move into Cliffden.  These were four children in the family, much the same age as Roy and Susan’s four.  Phyllis remembers Mrs Nichol as a nice person but says she sickly and down trodden.  Roy worked to feed the twelve people living in the house, whilst Mr. Nichols spent his time writing to the press the prophesising the communist solution to the woes of the Australian proletariat.  Like Roy, Mr. Nichols was an ex serviceman.  That an additional family lived in Cliffden created tension, especially between Susan and Roy.  Susan was a firm believer in King, God and Country and took the children to the Grand Hotel in Devonport to see where the Governor General of Australia[8], had had afternoon tea whilst on holiday in Tasmania.  Mr. Nichols told Roy that Susan and the children had being in the crowd—he was also there but only to stir up trouble.  Needless to say Roy was horrified by Susan’s action and the tension that was growing between Susan and Roy went up a few notches.  The tension in the house was such that eventually the Nichols left and Roy and Susan decided to separate in 1935 and then divorce in 1940, after 21 years marriage.  Susan’s beliefs were just too different from Roy’s.  After the separation Roy became even more committed to his personal gospel, advocating the political utopia on the highways and byways of North West Tasmania.

Susan and the four children moved to Westbury.  Roy agreed to pay the rent on a cottage at the top end of William Street and to give Susan a small allowance for two years.  Cliffden was sold.  Susan supplemented Roy’s allowance by doing housekeeping work around Westbury.  Roy was receiving a small disability pension based on the severity of his wounds from WW I.  Roy was not always on time with the rent, creating more problems for Susan.  After a year the Williams St property was sold and the family moved to a poorer quality house on the Bass Highway.  It was damp and cold.  In the second year, Walter who was attending the Westbury State School, sat an entrance exam to go on to higher education.  The school headmaster, Mr. Dazley, contacted Roy recommending that Walter be given the chance to go to high school (3 years to Intermediate Standard) at Devonport.  Roy agreed and Walter went to live with Roy at Leith in 1937. 

Roy’s house, in Braddon’s Head Road, uphill inland from Leith, was a large (12 rooms) run down property ‘with potential,’ as they would say today.  It still stands, having been renovated and extended.  Walter, who was 12 years old when he moved to Leith, would often be in the house by himself because Roy would go to sea fishing, staying out for as long as the fish ran.  The house was up a lane and in the winter Walter would leave for school in the dark, carrying a lantern for the 3 kilometer walk to the Leith Railway Station to catch the train to Devonport.   He would leave the lantern at Granny Harvey’s front gate and pick it up on the way home.  There was no electricity to the house and the wallpaper was peeling off the walls— a real “ghost house.”  Walter kept the house for Roy and himself, because Roy was no housekeeper.

At the end of the two year period, Roy turned up unannounced to the rented house in Westbury with a driver and a truck to repossess the furniture.  As you would expect Susan and the children were very upset by this behaviour.  Roy had every intention of taking Oliver and Irene but they were ushered off to friends.  He left with the goods and chattels but returned a few days later to take Oliver and Irene out of school and back to Leith. 

Phyllis, who was about sixteen, was working at Ingamells’ home and shop for 10 shillings a week and as such not part of the bitter family battle between Roy and Susan.  She worked seven days a week from 7:30am until 2:30pm and had a Sunday off once a month.  It was at this time that Bob, who was about 21,  noticed Phyllis but he waited until she ‘grew up’ before starting a relationship that eventually lead to marriage and two daughters.

Susan was devastated by Roy’s actions.  She moved in with Uncle Norm George Harvey and Auntie Lizzie and stayed there whilst she plotted to leave Tasmania with the children.  She planned to go to Sydney, putting some distance between her and Roy.  Norm lent her the money for fares and a small bank roll.  When it came time to execute her plan, Susan caught the train to Devonport and picked up Oliver and Irene.  Walter was left behind to finish his schooling.  She returned to Westbury and Phyllis joined her mother on the train trip to Hobart.  At 10:00pm after an exhausting day, the family arrived in Hobart and stayed with friends until they could board the Zealander[9] a few days later, heading for Sydney.  The trip was long (from Saturday morning to Monday morning) and rough.  Nobody left their cabin bunks for the whole trip, they were so sick.  A friend of Susan’s met them and took them into her small bed sit where they all stayed until Susan and her friend found somewhere for the family to live.  The place they found was in Auburn, about 40 minutes by train from Sydney on the Parramatta line.  About 1½ mile from the railway station, the house was owned by Jack Lang, the former Premier of NSW, and a famous ALP character.  The family had the barest of chattels and furniture.  Phyllis can remember a packing case was the table and the chairs were the floor boards.  After a while, with the little money they got together, Susan brought some second hand furniture which arrived with bugs! 

Susan got jobs doing domestic work to keep the family together body and soul.  Phyllis got herself a job at a fruit shop in Circular Key and then got herself a job at the shop in the State Theatre in Market St., Sydney.  This meant she worked until 11:30pm at the Theatre before taking the train to Auburn and working home—arriving well after midnight. 

Walter was left behind to finish his schooling but the emotional effect was such that he collapsed whilst he was doing one of his intermediate certificate exams.  He was taken to Devonport Hospital, people fearing he may have polo, as there was an epidemic at that time.  Because nobody knew what he had, his exam paper was destroyed.  In the end it turned out that he had ulcers from all the stress.  He was the brainy one though.  His best friend Tom Walker topped the state and despite his ordeal, Walter came second in the state with eight ‘first class’ passes.  The boys went off to Cradle Mountain to celebrate their success. Walter’s Val dictum from school shows a young man who was outwardly managing the trials and tribulations of Roy and Susan’s bitter separation and divorce.

Walters Val Dictum from Devonport High
Walter’s Val dictum from Devonport High

Susan recovered her strength and moved to Melbourne to be near her sister Olive.  Irene came back to live with her mother and Susan found a ‘live-in’ position as a domestic with a bed sit arrangement for them live in.  Phyllis stayed in Sydney and supported her mother by sending money.  Phyllis had quite a good job at McDowells, a store in the city.  She also had an evening job as an usherette.  Phyllis, after a while, returned to Westbury and married Bob Ingamells.

Walter moved to Melbourne after school finished and worked as a clerk for The United Stevedoring Pty Ltd until, at 18 in 1941 he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).  He was living in the YMCA in Northcote when he joined.  As an 18 year old, Walter was supposed to have his father’s permission to join the forces, but he lied on his enlistment papers, stating his father was dead.  When Roy found out about Walter enlisting he protested to the military authorities.[10]  When Walter appeared before a military tribunal to answer for his lie, he stated his father may as well be dead and he wanted to serve!

Oliver stayed in Tasmania with Roy, becoming a fisherman with his father as he grew.

Walter did his early training at Western Junction in Tasmania, flying Tiger Moths.  Apparently he used to ‘buzz’ Phyllis is Westbury, dipping his wing to let her know it was him.  He gave his home as Westbury, so while on leave he often visited Phyllis and Bob in Westbury.  Phyllis and Walter remained close all their lives. 

Phyllis was pregnant with Suzanne when Walter began his overseas war service and had just had Judith when he returned from the War.  She was thrilled when Bob turned up to take her home after Judith’s birth and there was Walter. 

Roy was still fishing the Bass Strait.  Phyllis tells the story of when Walter was on his final leave prior to shipping out.  They both caught the train to Stanley where Roy was fishing, having let him know they were coming.  It was a long trip and they arrived at the station late in the evening.  Roy was not there to greet them.  He had accessed the tides and weather and decided it was a good time to be catching shark.  Phyllis and Wal were not impressed!  They went to the waterfront to wait.  There he was, having return to harbour with his catch.  He and the crewman were cleaning the catch and unloading but whenever they looked up (the wharf is a good 2 plus metres above the waterline) their faces and eyes were red.  Was Roy upset at his oldest boy going off to war?  No!  Ammonia from the sharks being gutted hung in the air.  They looked terrible. 

In World War II, ‘fishermen were required to fish only for ‘couta and shark, and if they went after luxuries such as crayfish the authorities could confiscate their boats.  Sharks were important for the extraction of a cod liver oil substitute, as supply of the medicine from overseas was cut[11].’

Like many fisherman, Roy could not swim a stroke.  He always had a dinghy on the fishing boat or attached by a line to the stern of the boat.

In this period (1941 to 1945) Roy got very sick for a long time and sold the Lady Phyllis, living on his war service pension, but he eventually recovered and went back fishing and evangelising communism.  Roy repurchased the Lady Phyllis and modified her by decking her in and installing a twin cylinder Leister 25hp diesel engine, as well as large ice chest-chillers.  It is still in use today in Hobart as a pleasure boat, with its name misspelt as the “Lady Phillis.”

As stated earlier, Roy was a mover and shaker in professional fishing.  In 1941 he built the first fish freezers on the North West Coast—at Devonport, Burnie and Wynyard.  Roy was assisted by his friend Englishman Robert Woodhead[12] who was an engineer who had come to Burnie in 1936, working for Associated Pulp and Paper Mills up until 1941, to build the freezers at East Devonport.  They were commonly called Woodhead’s freezers but may have been jointly owned by Roy and Robert.  The freezers were a great step forward in marketing fish in Tasmania and on the Mainland.  Roy was able to store his fish on the shelves in the freezers till the price at the markets was optimal.  It also stopped catches being declared unfit for human consumption.  Roy did not master the freezers – rather than adjust the thermostat Roy would turn the freezers off for a few hours each day in order to prevent the excessive chilling of the fish!

Roy was also a committed activist in his local community.  He was the driving force behind the creation of the Tasmanian Fisherman’s Association in 1944 and was its first state President.  He stood for Devonport Council but was narrowly beaten.  He even stood as a Communist Party candidate for the Tasmanian federal seat of Darwin in the House of Representatives in 1943.  That contest was not close in any way, with Enid Lyons, widow of Joe Lyons, winning the seat.

In 1945 Roy divorced Susan.  Walter and Phyllis were very upset that Roy ‘sprung’ this action.

Marjorie came to Australia some months after Walter had been discharged from the RAAF.  Susan never forgot her arrival experience in Tasmania and vowed that Margy would not suffer the same lonely arrival in a strange land she did.  She stated she would be at the wharf with Walter, even if it killed her.  Her health was by this stage very poor.

The ship was delayed in arriving and it was a very cold day when it birthed in Melbourne.  Susan stayed at the wharf all the time, making good her promise to meet the woman her son was bringing back from the United Kingdom.

Susan health got worse and she left her place of employment and went to stay at Phyllis and Bob’s in Westbury.  She died 26th August 1946, aged 48.

Roy was getting his life back together.  He had gone back to fishing, repurchasing the Lady Phyllis and had built a new house in Marine St, Devonport.

Roy outside the Marine Street house

Roy outside the Marine St House

 Roy was still a committed communist.  This was in the late 1940’s, when the world was paranoid about the subversion of western democracy by communists.  The Malayan Emergency had started in 1948, the French were fighting the Vietminh in Vietnam (1946-1954), the Chinese civil war was raging, being won by the communists in 1949 and Stalinist North Korea invaded South Korea.  The domino theory was the prevailing belief in the Western world.  In the USA there was McCarthyism[13]  and the associated Congressional interrogations of Government officials and, more famously, the film industry.  In Australia Robert Menzies was shaking the ‘reds under the beds’ flag everywhere and trying to ban the Communist Party.  He eventually held a referendum in 1951 (Communist Party Dissolution referendum) trying to achieve banning.  The CPA was infiltrating the Australian Labour Party and the Trade Unions including the coalminers union in Newcastle and the Builders Workers Industrial Union.  Eventually there was a split in the Australian Labour Party because of the ban issue, with the conservative, mainly catholic element leaving the ALP and forming the Democratic Labour Party. 

The CPA was full of intellectuals.  Roy’s friends included school head masters[14] and lecturers at University.  Roy, self educated as he was, could converse with these people on any matter.

Roy used to receive part propaganda literature from Russia which he would distribute to other party members.  Phyllis reckoned it had a strange smell.  Walter could remember party members would go to the fishing boat and listen to English language party broadcasts from Russia over the boat’s two way radio. 

Phyllis tells another story about how, in 1938, when she still living in Sydney, Roy came to Sydney.  He sent her a telegram (the best way in those days to get a fast message to someone!) asking her to meet him for a meal and entertainment.  She met him and they had their meal.  Roy then took Phyllis to Redfern to attend an “Australian Socialist Conference,” a front for the CPA.  The hall was full and Roy told Phyllis he had to get up on the stage.  Phyllis recalls many ALP members were there, presumably from what is now called the Socialist Left faction of the party as well as full card carrying members of the CPA.  Up on stage the USSR flag with its hammer and sickle emblem is unfurled and the Internationale is played for all to sing.  Phyllis was horrified, so much so she was the only person sitting down!  Phyllis certainly saw red that night- just not the political colour.  She stormed out of the meeting.  Roy jumped down from the stage and caught up to her.  She dressed him down and declared she would not wait for him.  In the distance she could see the Central Railway Station clock tower and off she marched through streets she did not know, keeping the tower in sight. 

Roy died in 28th June 1950, aged 53 years old.  Marjorie was in Launceston Hospital after the birth of Kate when the call came.

Phyllis states that whilst Roy had his faults, he was at heart a good man who did not smoke, drink, chase women or gamble.  He died of a heart attack after either milking the cow or whilst bringing it up to the top of the hill at Marine Street.  At the time a Mr. and Mrs Napier were living with him and taking care of him.  Roy had made arrangements that if he died the Napier’s could live rent free at the house for 12 months, but they moved out not too long after Roy’s death.

The funeral, given the hostility towards the CPA raging at the time (referendum to ban the party, the miner strike had just finished), was very stressful for the family.  Walter in 1950 was working in the Commonwealth Bank and Bob Ingamells was beginning his public service life.  Fear of being labeled a CPA sympathiser was a real fear for some family members. 

Roys abituaries
Obituaries for Roy from the Advocate and The Examiner

Oliver arranged the funeral.  Roy left clear instructions to Oliver that he was to be buried as a Communist.  When the family arrived at Marine Street for the first stage of the funeral there was his coffin draped in the hammer and sickle flag.  It was a shock to the brothers and sisters and the children.  The controversy of the funeral was played out in the papers for weeks.  The funeral director in Devonport, a Mr. Hassock, was the Warden of the Devonport Council but lost the next election for the role, partly because of his role in the funeral.  The community outrage was taken up in the Launceston City Council, as report below in the Examiner. 


LAUNCESTON, Monday – A Russian flag was draped over the coffin of a well-known Devonport Communist at Launceston crematorium recently, it was stated at a meeting of the City Council this evening, and an avowed Communist gave a funeral oration described as containing foreign propaganda.

Some relatives are reported to be concerned that the body of the Communist was not given a Christian burial by a minister of religion.


Alderman Henty[15] successfully moved for an examination of crematorium regulations to eliminate the possibility of any recurrence.

The cremation took place on June 29.

Arrangements for the cremation were made, according to Alderman Henty, by a Devonport funeral director. A report from the crematorium superintendent disclosed that, when asked which minister of religion would be conducting the service, the funeral director replied that would be arranged at Devonport as the circumstances were somewhat unusual.

Ald. Henty added that when the funeral procession arrived at the crematorium the coffin was taken from the hearse, and entered the chapel draped with a Red Flag, bearing the insignia of the hammer and sickle.

“As no minister of religion was present, a Miss Boles, whom I understand is secretary of the Communist Party in Tasmania, gave an oration in the chapel, in which she referred to the fact that the deceased was an ex-serviceman, but offered an apology for the fact that he fought in was, as he was a stretcher-bearer,” Alderman Henty continued. He added that the deceased had joined the 1st A.I.F. at 16, and was an Anzac.

Alderman Henty criticised the Devonport funeral director, stating that, by failing to notify the superintendent of the exact nature of the proceedings to be adopted, he showed a “complete lack of appreciation of what was surely a fundamental sense of responsibility to this country.”

If that had been done, contact could have been made with relatives, some of whom he understood were not aware of the procedure plans, and felt deeply perturbed that the body was not given a Christian burial by a minister of religion, Alderman Henty said.

Alderman Oldham said the City Council was faced by a delicate situation.  He quoted Section 16 of the Cemeteries Act, which says Trustees of any cemetery shall not interfere, directly or indirectly, with the performance of any religious ceremony in the burial of the dead, according to the usage of the communion to which the minister performing the ceremony belongs.

“But, as I understand this case,” he added, “the whole proceedings were characterised by lack of religion.”

“In these times it ill-becomes anyone to attempt to use such an institution, provided for the disposal of the dead, for the disseminating of the filthiest type of propaganda of which I know.”


“I can see no virtue in causing to use milk-and-water methods with these people,” Alderman Oldham continued. “ I can think of nothing lower than going out there to use such a case and occasion of dissemination of propaganda to further the influence of a foreign country.”

He agreed with Alderman Henty that something would have to be done to prevent a solemn occasion being made an occasion of propaganda.

The Mayor (Alderman Hollingsworth) regretted that the passing of an Anzac should have been discussed in such a manner, but he said Alderman Henty had rendered a service by bringing the matter to notice.

The Mayor said that there was nothing to prevent a non Christian burial at Launceston Crematorium…….

Ald. W. Clarke said he believed that if any flag was to be used in connection with the burial of an ex-serviceman, it should be the British flag.

He agreed that the undertaker concerned should have notified the Mayor of the form of the ceremony was to take.

“It is regretted,” he added, “that a minister of religion was not appointed for the ceremony.”

Although he agreed completely with the other aldermen, Ald. Gellie pointed out that the council could not have prevented the burial of cremation of atheists without religious ceremony.

“It is unfortunate,” said the Mayor (Mr. Hollingsworth), “that a funeral service should be the subject of a discussion at a council meeting.”

However, it was a severe reminder to the citizens of Launceston that Communism was firmly embedded in the city and in Australia.

“To know that Communists are openly practising their rites and ceremonies here is indeed very disquieting,” he added. 

Before Roy died, he bequeathed land adjoining the Marine Street property to the Devonport Council, on the conditions that trees on the land were not removed.  Unfortunately the land became a waste area and the children lobbied the Council to clean it up and acknowledge Roy’s generous bequest.  It was not until the 1990’s that Irene and Phyllis were successful in getting the park land cleaned up and a plaque placed on the land, after Oliver’s and Walter’s death. 

Harvey Park

Roy purchased a house block for Irene to build a place but at his death, apart from leaving Oliver some assets, the rest of his estate was left to the CPA.  Walter and Phyllis were left out of the will.  Phyllis and Irene did consider contesting the will[16], but eventually decided not to pursue the contest.

The family bonds between all family members were broken by the last years of Susan and Roy’s life and Roy’s commitment to the CPA.  From the time she was 15 years old (1935), Phyllis can not recall a time when the family were altogether as a family.  Ian can remember only meeting his Uncle Oliver once, and then only after he answered the front door in Howrah and got Walter for the “visitor.”

All the children responded to the trauma of those last years of differently.  Irene was never a strong woman in terms of health and her stressful marriage to Fred but she struggled through life with the help of her Christian faith and church.  Oliver was aimless, never knowing where to go.  Walter was committed to his family and showed a strong devotion to it his whole life, despite his health problems.  Phyllis was the least affected by the bitterness as she was already developing an independent life by the time it happened.

[1] The battle of Pozieres was one of a large number of separate battles that together made up the battle of the Somme.  Day one of the battle still holds the distinction of being the bloodiest day for the British Army, with nearly 60,000 casualties, including 20,000 killed.  In the fighting, around the Windmill and northwards along the ridge towards Mouquet Farm, the AIF suffered more than 23,000 casualties in little more than six weeks, between 23 July and 5 September 1916. Of these casualties, nearly 7,000 were killed, had died of wounds or were ‘missing’.

[2] Three generations of the Higgs were involved in boat building in Tasmania.  Their family has been researched and documented. 

[3] Argent, Barry; Days of the Old Fishermen, The Advocate, March 27, 1982.

[4] Argent, Barry, Days of the Old Fishermen, The Advocate, March 27, 1982

[5] Toc H Movement arose from a Soldiers Club that operated out of Talbot House in the small Belgian town of Poperinghe.  It was a Christian based club where soldiers could escape the traumas of war and, unlike many other contemporary establishments, it was open to all ranks. Entrance was only allowed if one abandoned rank, making all men inside equals  Compassion, Caring, Understanding, Fair-mindedness, Service were all ideals which were espoused by the men who knew Talbot House, and above the door which opened on to the street hung a large sign which read "Everymans Club 1915 - ?"  Its members built a fine tradition of 'Caring for People' carrying on the ideals for which Talbot House stood. 

[6] Merton AL, Aboriginal rock-carvings in Tasmania: Part II, The Royal Society of Tasmania, Papers and Proceedings, 1932, Walter E. Shimmins, Government Printer, 1933.  It was issued separately on 10th May, 1933.

[7] The Centre is located on Mersey Bluff, a traditional Aboriginal sacred site on the Mersey River. It is one of the few Tasmanian sites where ancient Aboriginal rock carvings, or petroglyphs are still well preserved.  A local schoolteacher (AL Merton) discovered the petroglyphs in 1929, and over 200 engravings were subsequently found.  Tiagarra was established at the site in 1976 in order to protect them.

[8] Being early in the 1930’ies it is probable that the Governor General in question was Sir Isaac Isaacs who was the Governor General from 1931 to 1936 and was the first Australian or “local” appointed to the role.  If earlier, it was John Baird, 1st Baron Stonehaven, an Englishman.

[9] The Zealander was lost in World War II in Japanese bombing of Darwin in February 1942

[10] The protest was possibly driven by his political beliefs – early in WW II, there was a non aggression treaty between USSR and Germany, so Roy would not like his son fighting against Germany.

[11]Oliver Harvey quote in the article by Argent, Barry

[12] Robert Woodhouse possibly shared political beliefs with Roy.

[13] McCarthyism is a term describing the intense anti-communist suspicion in the United States in a period that lasted roughly from the late 1940s to the late 1950s.

[14] In the family history of James E Wright, reference is made to a long friendship with Roy, based on shared political beliefs.  James was headmaster of a school in East Devonport in 1929, when the friendship began.  In the article the statement is made (James) was a Fabian socialist — ‘socialism is the only cure for all our economic troubles and economic troubles are at the root of all our social inequalities and most of our social evils’. By the end of his life he was sorely disappointed by the failure of Labor to carry out social reform. ‘The communists are the only progressive Laborites.’  The beliefs of Roy!

[15]  Sir Denham Henty was the ex Mayor of Launceston (1948-49) and a Liberal politician who became a senator and Federal Minister for Customs and Excise (1956-1964) in Menzies and Minister for Supply (1965 1968) in the Holt, McEwan and Gorton governments.

[16] AE525, Case File in Probate Actions, Tasmanian Archives Online