In 1906 there were rumours spreading on Bruny Island and mainland Tasmania that one rural Bruny family had 23 children, and that the youngsters had never seen an illustration in any form. The secretary of the charitable Victoria League’s Book Committee had expressed her concern at their AGM.

How old the eldest of those 23 children was the secretary did not say, but even if half of them were twins, the eldest must be a fairly good-sized child by now, and how he or she could have lived all those years without seeing a picture is rather hard to believe. The committee appealed for donations of books of travel stories and illustrated magazines, which they can distribute among the families and settlers scattered all over the island‘. (The Mercury, May 24 1906)

The mystery surrounding the extraordinarily large family was solved by the wife of a Glenorchy councillor, Mrs Sydney Shoobridge. She discovered that the children actually belonged to three different Bruny Island families. Sadly, the fact that they had no exposure to books appeared to be true. Let’s hope access to schooling soon followed.

Twenty years later another, rather gory puzzle was intriguing residents. A sea cod had been caught near the Island and when it was being cleaned a small, half digested bird was found inside. It had a tiny metal tag attached to its leg engraved with some letters and numbers…. T31.36. It was far too small for a homing pigeon, and hang on, weren’t they yellow feathers? Eventually someone got in touch with the Tasmanian Canary Society and fortunately, the society had a registry of its members. The poor little bird was traced to a Mr W. Arnold, a canary fancier of Hobart. Of course the question of how it fell into the jaws of a voracious cod after escaping confinement was impossible to answer. (Information from The Mercury, July 12 1935) By the way, sea cod in Alaska are increasing eating quite sizeable birds, turning the tables on their predators.

Cod cartoon


The final puzzle is also maritime based. In March, 1950 a 12 year old boy called Barry Sward found a sealed bottle on the rocks near his home at Simpson’s Bay.

Barry is at far right in the following school photo, aged about 9.

Simpson's Bay, Bruny Island.

In the best tradition of adventure stories young Barry found a message inside, dated June 2 1944. It read as follows;

Will the finder send to the nearest shipping agents in any capital city. Travelling from Auckland to Wellington, Kama (or Kamo) encountered a storm, breaking the mast in two. We were then driven on a reef somewhere on the New Zealand coast. Just before we sank messages were sent out. Here are our names and addresses. Capt. Bob Davis, Belmont St., Otago; Roger Davis, Glasson Rd., Otago; Norman Archer, 1 Rosvear Ave., South Aukland; Ray Allen, 14 Pillering St., Wellington; Geoff Parker, North Terrace Wellington; Mrs R. Davis, Belmont St., Otago. (The Mercury, April 19 1950).

The yellowed message was signed by Bob Davis. In red pencil on the outside of the crumpled paper the letters S.O.S. were written. The boy’s mother dutifully forwarded the message to the New Zealand Shipping Co., but received a message giving news of an unsuccessful investigation.

Someone must have lived at the addresses given. Did the shipping company check, or merely consult lists of lost vessels? And did Captain Davis and his passengers have a life raft, or were they simply marooned on a reef?

This final mystery is yet to be solved, despite those names and addresses and the name of the yacht. How very odd. I think I may have a lead, but meanwhile I wonder whether anyone remembers Barry Sward? He would be in his eighties now.

To watch a video on the bird eating cod of Alaska, CLICK HERE

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