Following rowdy melees at the 1923 Boxing Day Regatta at Croki, William Oscar (Spike) Ryan was convicted of the manslaughter of Frederick Smith.1 Narrowly avoiding a jail sentence, Ryan turned his life around and is remembered as a highly skilled boat builder.
Born on Oxley Island in 1886,2 he was indentured to Denis Sullivan, a ship builder of Coopernook, following which he undertook a seafaring life and honed his construction skills in Sydney and Newcastle.3
Married to Sarah O’Donoghue in 1916,4 he returned to Oxley Island where he undertook his first commissions in the early 1920s,5 before relocating to Taree in 1943 and operating from Browns Creek.6 Traces of a slipway can still be seen near the entrance to the Bicentennial Gardens off River Street.
Bill and Sarah raised a large family and five of their six sons also became shipwrights.
Ryan is perhaps best remembered as a builder of the numerous cream boats which served the local dairy farms, but during WW2, vessels were constructed for use by the Allied forces7 and, in the post war period, shipbuilding was undertaken in New Guinea for the Catholic Missions.8
After his death in 1959 the family business remained operational until 1983.9
Author: Penny Teerman
1 Northern Champion Wednesday 26 March 1924 Pg 4
2 NSW Birth, Deaths and Marriages http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/Pages/family-history/family-history.aspx
3 Voices, A Folk History of the Manning Valley by Helen Hannah 1988 (Interview 36 – Billy Ryan)
4 NSW Birth, Deaths and Marriages http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/Pages/family-history/family-history.aspx
5 Sydney Morning Herald Friday 2 July 1926 Pg 14
6 Manning River Times Saturday 8 July 1944 Pg 8
7 Great Lakes Manning River Shipping NSW https://www.flickr.com/photos/glmrsnsw/16382093475
8 Manning River Times Saturday 22 October 1949 Pg 2
9 Down to the Sea in Ships, Manning Valley Historical Society 2002