The Grays of Grasmere, Killora, Bruny Island

Liz Field, New South Wales Regional Meeting

On a recent trip to Hobart, I visited the Quaker section of the Cornelian Bay Cemetery and found the graves of Frederick Simmons Gray (1853-1933), Bithiah* Gray (1860-1915) and Thomas Edward Gray (1897-1916), and wondered if they were part of the family of Oliver Gray, who had lived on Bruny Island until his death in 1993. Through the Dictionary of Australian Quaker Biography (DAQB) and other sources, I discovered that they were all of that family, and following is a little of their lives.

Left to right: Arthur, Oberlin, Henry, Oliver, and Thomas in front:   Photo courtesy of Coralie Meyer

Sometime in the 1870s, Frederick Simmons Gray, an English Quaker sailed to Australia in the barque Grasmere and started farming on Tasmania’s east coast. Frederick had been to Ackworth School, as had his friend Robert Pudney, whose family migrated to New Zealand. Frederick married Robert’s sister Bithiah* and moved for a while to New Zealand. After a while they returned to Tasmania and eventually had five sons, (Robert) Henry, (Frederick) Oliver, Oberlin Herbert, Arthur Plester and Thomas Edward, all born between 1889 and 1895.

Their birthdates are significant, as it means they were all of an age to serve in the First World War, and indeed, Oberlin, Oliver and Thomas all volunteered for Ambulance service. Oberlin volunteered first, in December 1914, served in Gallipoli in 1915, but became ill and was invalided home. On recovery, Oberlin returned to France with the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance. Oliver, originally joined the Australian Army Medical Corps, and needed his father’s written permission as he was only 20 years old at the time. He then transferred to Oberlin’s unit. Sadly, Oberlin was hit by a shell in August 1918, and died soon after.

Oberlin wrote extensive diaries during his war experiences and these have been donated to the War Museum in Canberra and are on-line so available on searching to be read.

Oliver, who had been with his brother when he was killed, went on serving on the Western Front and was awarded the French Legion D’Honneur for his exceptional courage and devotion to attending wounded men.

Thomas enlisted on the same day as Oliver (presumably also with his father’s written permission), and was first stationed in the Claremont camp for training, where meningitis had broken out. Thomas volunteered to nurse a case, caught meningitis himself and died in Hobart when only 19 years old.

Arthur travelled to England to serve in the war also, and little was known of his service there. However, other keen searchers found that he worked in munitions in England, an unexpected find bearing in mind his being a Quaker!

All four brothers mentioned above are named on the Friends School honour board commemorating all old scholars who served in the Great War.


Backtracking a little, we find the eldest son, Robert Henry, known as Harry, also went into farming, and after gaining experience at the May Brothers’ farm at Sandford, in 1912 he established a farm at Killora, Bruny Island, naming it Grasmere (homestead photographed by EF in February 2024) after the ship in which his father  emigrated. His parents joined him there, and remained at Grasmere until their deaths, Bithiah dying in 1915, and Frederick in 1933. In 1920, Harry married Irene Burcham of Launceston, and they moved to Lymington and took up an orchard. They lived there until 1967 when the disastrous bushfires of 1967 wiped out the property. Harry practiced organic farming and was widely respected in his community.

Grasmere homestead, 2024.  Photo:Liz Field

Meanwhile, Frederick was joined at Grasmere by his sons Oliver and Arthur (with his wife Lena whom he married in England) when they returned from Europe in 1919. Oliver married Gladys Pybus in 1921 and spent the rest of his life at Grasmere. Arthur died in 1949, and I assume he lived at Grasmere and worked at farming with Oliver until then. They certainly farmed as the Gray Brothers for a time.

As well as farming, Oliver served the Bruny Island community as warden, as coroner, and as Justice of the Peace. He wrote books of recollections of North Bruny, which unfortunately are out of print. He also provided weather observations for North Bruny to the Meteorological Bureau for decades.

 Oliver died in 1993 and his Testimony states that “generations of boarders will remember the homely welcome Oliver and Gladys gave them during school vacations.”

 There are Testimonies or notes about Frederick, Oliver and Robert in the DAQB but nothing about Thomas, Oberlin or Bithiah. This article has been put together with information from the DAQB, as well as other records, especially wartime records. The boyhood photo is copied with permission from a Tasmanian Government website, Centenary of Anzac; and some of the information comes from there also. The boys do not look particularly pleased to be being photographed!



*Bithiah on her grave, and on the marriage notice in the Mercury in 1921, but Bethiah in other references in DAQB

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