Mary Ann Harvey, the main subject of this piece, spent her entire adult life in the tiny coastal settlement of Bicheno, on Tasmania’s beautiful east coast.

She is mentioned in this brief description of the community published in 1903.

BICHENO – Three private homes, a school, and church, form the settlement of Bicheno, which is just about midway on the coast between Swansea and St. Mary’s. The school, needless to say, has a very small attendance. The post office is at the residence of Mrs Harvey, whose husband holds the office of special constable for the district….there are a few farmers who send their produce to market by the boat calling weekly at the jetty. The immediate country around Bicheno is hilly and thickly timbered. (Mercury, 1903)

By the time of the above report, Mary had been a resident for nearly fifty years.  What a remarkable person she was. I have been immersed in her story for days. She was born on April 17, 1837 t0 Robert and Ann Blackmore. at Sorell.  In 1855, aged 18, she married Henry Harvey at the convict built St John the Baptist Church, Buckland.

My sincere thanks to descendant David Nelan for this photo of Henry.

Constable Henry Harvey,

Henry Harvey

Mary took on the duties of  postmistress for the district soon after her marriage

The next mention of her in the press occurred when she  was 31,  and looking after the farm while her husband was away. She was moving hay in the stable by hand and felt some sharp stings in her finger. When she went back to the house she found several puncture marks, presumably from a snake. Her neighbours, the Glovers, came to her aid.  Mr Glover scarified the area with a blade and applied a tourniquet. His wife, bless her heart, did her best to suck out the venom. They dosed Mary with two glasses of brandy, which was all they had, and tried to keep her awake and moving all night.  Good grief,  definitely not the recommended treatment today. Her arm had become very swollen and discoloured and by Friday morning she was seriously ill.  It was midday before the doctor arrived, but there was really not much more he could do except to monitor her condition.  Meanwhile a large, black snake was found under the hay in the stable.

Somehow Mary pulled through and the doctor put this down to a remarkable piece of luck. The snake’s fangs had struck where his patient was wearing  her wedding band and a ‘keeper ring’. Due to this, it was believed  not all the venom entered her bloodstream.

The whaling industry was in full swing when Mary and her husband Henry next appeared in the newspapers. Five disaffected American crewman had had deserted their whaling ship in a small boat and were hiding out on the east coast with a warrant issued for their arrest. Henry was with police officers south at  Coles Bay when Mary heard that the whalers had come ashore at Bryant’s Lagoon, six miles north of Bicheno. Off she went on horseback to the Lagoon, where she found the abandoned boat. She removed the oars and other items to prevent their escape by sea and then tried to follow their trail.  Perhaps it’s just as well she didn’t come across them!  She then  rode back home. By now Henry and his officers were there and she was able to tell them where to search.  (Information from The Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 3 1870).

UPDATE…Since publishing this piece Shane Gould, who is a resident of Bicheno, has provided me with new information. Apparently Mary did catch up with the absconding whalers. They were cold and hungry and she lured them back to Bicheno with the promise of a roast dinner and warm blankets. Many thanks Shane.

Here is a delightful painting of the Bicheno  post office and residence by Curzona Allport (1860-1949). It is undated. I wonder if the building at far left is the ‘snake stable’?

Mary Harvey's home at Bicheno.


If the ring Henry gave Mary saved her life, she was able to repay him on another occasion.

The story went that the couple were returning from a neighbour’s house with their child when they spotted a man digging up potatoes under the cover of darkness. In his role of constable Henry tried to stop him and  the pair ended up in a violent struggle. When Mary heard the commotion she parked the youngster under a fence, picked up a stick and went to help her husband. By then the potato thief was on top of Henry, battering his head with a rock and yelling that he would finish him off. Mary bravely attacked the man with her stick until he ran off.  Henry was almost dead and bleeding from  nine wounds.   It would takes weeks for him to recover.  Meanwhile, the assailant was traced by police due to all the blood on his clothes  and the nasty gash on his scalp from Mary’s stick.

There is a bit of a mystery surrounding the young child under the fence. In my exhaustive research of the couple I have found no other mention of them having a child; not its birth, life or death. Perhaps this bit was added in the retelling of the story over the years.

Living on the coast, both Henry and Mary became  known for their courage in helping seafarers  in danger. When the ketch Starling was wrecked in the winter of 1883,  Henry tried to haul the vessel  ashore. Unfortunately the receding surf  pulled him into the water and he was smashed into rocks. It was only with the greatest exertion that he managed to get ashore and continue the rescue., (Source – The Tasmanian, 21 July 1883.)

In a letter to the editor of The Mercury on September 10 he is credited with saving the entire  crew of the Starling, and afterwards its cargo. However, the letter goes on to say that his actions brought to mind the bravery of his wife a decade earlier;

‘In 1874 two young men, brothers, by the name of Allen, went out fishing on the open coast about 1 1/2 miles from Bicheno. From mismanagement and increasing wind the boat was capsized in sight of their father’s house. No other boat being available there. a brother of  the young men ran 1 1/2 miles to Bicheno where Mr Harvey kept a small boat. He  being from home, Mrs Harvey ran about and endeavoured to get the boat manned for the rescue, but not being promptly responded to by some young men about, on the plea that it would make them sick, or it was too rough, she jumped into the boat, and was followed by two residents, who unfortunately were not used to rowing, which made it doubly dangerous. Mrs Harvey managed to steer the boat and stimulate the men, who were about to give up several times.

They managed to reach the boat, but by now one of the brothers had drowned. The other was in  a terrible state, but was able to be revived. The boys’ father placed an advertisement in The Mercury thanking the crew of the boat, but in particular  Mrs Mary Harvey. It prompted a call for her to be honoured by The Royal Humane Society. This did not occur, but she became known as Tasmania’s Grace Darling.

In 1877 friends gathered in the nearby Swansea council chambers to pay tribute to Mary. She was  presented with several gifts in honour of her courage over the years. In addition  to a purse containing fifteen pounds she received a saddle and bridle, which I thought was rather wonderful….and appropriate.  A silver plate on the saddle read, ‘ For her heroic conduct in saving human lives‘. She  also received  a gold locket, inscribed with the same words.  An address of appreciation was read by the Warden. Mary was far too nervous to respond, so she had a friend read her prepared speech of thanks.   (Information from The Mercury, August 8 1877)


The little church at Bicheno, completed  in 1882 was a huge part of Henry and Mary’s lives.  The day it opened they hosted a celebration at their home.

The community church as Bicheno

Centre of the community, still standing.

In  July 1905 the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, a remarkable achievement after all they had been through together. An announcement appeared in The Mercury.


The very next year brought disaster for the now elderly Harveys. Their home was destroyed by fire along with the contents. It was th0ught the blaze  started when lightning struck the post office, fusing the telephone.  The couple were uninsured. Neighbours rallied round and the rector at Swansea wrote to the papers urging for a fund to be  established for them. Once again, Mary’s actions on the night of the fire were remarkable. Her first thought was to rescue the mailbags, which she did, albeit at the cost of saving personal belongings.

The inmates of the house were aroused at 2.00am, and only escaped in their nightclothes. Mrs Harvey very courageously returned twice into the burning house and succeeded in rescuing the mail-bags which had arrived that night…..Mrs Harvey is carrying on her postal duties in another building, pending permanent arrangements being made,  (Mercury, Jan. 5, 1906.) Henry was unable to assist his wife, as he had been an invalid for some time and his eyesight was greatly impaired.  He died the following year.

It’s interesting that Harry mentions  18 year old Florence Gemmell  in his will as his adopted daughter. Florence’s mother had died when she was very young, but she could not have been the infant Mary popped under a hedge many years earlier. That was decades before Florence was born.

Mary made her own will  shortly before Henry died. In turn, she left her entire estate, small as it now was, to Florence, who was then aged 23.

Florence married in 1911, becoming Florence Jesser. Twelve months later Mary passed away.

Henry and Mary Harvey were such a special couple. They lie together in the cemetery at Bicheno. the seaside town they loved so much and served so well.  If the ‘child under the fence’  had really existed and predeceased them, he or she  would surely have shared their grave.


  1. Great article Pauline. Enjoyed reading about Tas’ pioneers.

  2. Pauline an addition to the story about the Walers is that Mary did encounter them North of Bicheno tired and hungry and enticed them back to Bicheno jail with the promise of cooking them a roast dinner and giving them warm blankets.

    One of the rescuers of the Allen boys was an older brother Alfred Australia Allen 1853-1913
    Son of John Allen and Anne Bell. The drowned son was either Ambrose 1858 or Aaron John 1860 There’s no death records of either of them or in the cemetery in Bicheno, Llandaff or Cranbrook.
    This info was in a history of Allen family held locally and in UTAS special collections. It’s in the history room in Swansea too.

    • Pauline

      Hi Shane
      Thanks so much for taking the trouble to give me this added information, I really appreciate it. I so enjoyed researching Mary and her husband, what a special couple.

  3. Hi Pauline,

    I can provide a photo of Henry Harvey if it is of interest to you. My family is related to the Harvey’s and we would be interested information about them.

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