When the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company purchased its latest Incat-built high speed ferry for service on the Irish Sea it was a happy occasion, continuing a relationship established in 22 years ago.

In 1987, Incat’s chairman Robert Clifford was invited by naval architects Hart Fenton, acting for then Steam Packet shareholder Sea Containers, to visit the Isle of Man with a view of building a high speed craft to serve the island’s needs. Three years later, in November 1990 the first generation Incat car ferry Hoverspeed Great Britain arrived in the island for trials.

The craft provided a foretaste of things to come, demonstrating that ferry crossing times could almost be halved. It came as little surprise when in 1994 the 74 metre SeaCat Isle of Man made her debut on the Manx routes – a vessel which continues in Isle of Man Steam Packet service today as the Snaefell.

Nineteen years after the Hoverspeed Great Britain’s demonstration exercise, the fifth generation 96 metre Wave Piercing Catamaran Manannan has made her debut on the busy Douglas to Liverpool service.

The Manannan is now the largest diesel-powered high speed craft on the Irish Sea with greater cruising speed and increased vehicle and passenger capacity than the vessel she replaces. Onboard facilities have been enhanced to offer a variety of seating including two cinema lounges, a large bar area and the Coast-to-Coast cafe, the upper deck skylounge offers a range of pre-bookable seating including Premium and Manannan Executive Club which equal or better anything found on similar vessels operating around the British Isles.

On the Isle of Man in May as guests of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company as they welcomed their new ship into service were Incat chairman Robert Clifford and Incat commercial director Leith Thompson. At a reception to celebrate the new vessel, both heard the Steam Packet Company’s chairman highlight a connection between the Isle of Man and Tasmania stretching back far longer than Incat’s relationship with the Manx company.

Pointing to several beautiful pictures of Tasmanian scenes presented to the vessel by the Tasmanian Tourism Department he also made reference to some very early Manx settlers in Australia’s island state.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world and in 2010 will celebrate 180 years of service. But even before it was incorporated, there were Manx maritime connections with Tasmania.

Guests at the celebration on board the Manannan heard that 190 years ago a Manxman called William Kermode set off from the Isle of Man and sailed to Tasmania – then called Van Diemen’s Land – arriving there in December 1819. He was a successful merchant trading out of Liverpool with his own ships. On arrival he had to seek the permission of the Governor of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land to land – that Governor was a Scottish soldier born in Mull, one Major General Lachlan Macquarie.

How coincidental that the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company today is owned by Australian shareholders fund managed by Macquarie Bank!

Major General Macquarie’s immediate predecessor had been one Vice Admiral William Bligh, who himself was married in a church not far from the Manannan’s berth in Douglas.

In June 1821 William Kermode was granted 2000 acres (809 ha) on the Salt Pan Plains near Ross, Tasmania, where he eventually established a successful farm breeding sheep. There he built a house called Mona Vale, thought to be named after Castle Mona, the original home of the Duke of Atholl on the Isle of Man.

William Kermode was elected to parliament from which he later resigned in protest over a financial scandal. He also became a director of a new company called the Sydney & Van Diemen’s Land Packet Company and a founding shareholder of the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land before eventually retiring to Mona Vale, where he died on 3 August 1852.

Meanwhile, Robert Quayle Kermode, the eldest child and only son of William and Anne Kermode, had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land with his father in 1827, and was soon helping to enlarge their estate and improve farming methods. In the following year, his mother and sisters also travelled to Tasmania.

Robert was appointed a justice of the peace in 1843 and elected for Campbell Town to the Legislative Council in 1851 where he took a leading part in political questions as an anti-transportationist. He had liberal and enlightened views and contributed largely to the building funds of various churches and public institutions in the Ross district.

In 1865 he commenced the third family home at Mona Vale; built of local sandstone, it had a tower and over fifty rooms and was, and most likely still is, one of the largest private homes in Australia. The Duke of Edinburgh was entertained there in 1868. Robert Quayle Kermode died on 4 May 1870 and was buried at Ross.

He was said to be an outgoing person, very generous in his hospitality. Amongst the many people who came and stayed at Mona Vale was Count Strzlecki who advised him on an irrigation project that is in use to this day. Mona Vale and the neighbouring Beaufront, Charlton, Wetmore and Somercotes are interlocked with irrigation channels mapped by Strzlecki.

The last Kermode died at the nearby property at Lochiel in 1927. Unfortunately there are very little surviving records or photographs of the family’s time in Tasmania, much being burnt as per the final instructions of a will. However, there is a photograph of the last Robert Kermode in a shop in Ross which was the old Anglican Sunday School.

But Mona Vale thankfully still stands tall today, run by the Cameron family and renowned in the wool growing industry.

As for the vessel in which William Kermode travelled to Tasmania, she was a brig of 356 tons built in Liverpool in 1814 and remained in southern seas serving New South Wales, Tasmania and New Zealand.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s chairman celebrated the fact that 190 years after a Manx vessel went to Tasmania, the wheel had turned full circle with a Tasmanian vessel sailing to Manx waters. However he expressed some relief that CEO Mark Woodward did not decide to give the Manannan the same name as that brig which took William Kermode to Tasmania.

The Brig he said had “a very distinctive Manx name; a name that is either distinguished or notorious depending on your perspective – the Robert Quayle”

And the name of the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s chairman? Yes, you’ve guessed it! It is, purely coincidentally, Robert Quayle!

Mr Quayle presented to the Manannan as she entered service a First Day Cover from 1980 commemorating the Kermodes of the Isle of Man and Tasmania and their vessel, the Robert Quayle.

“I don’t know whether William Kermode’s descendents are involved in Incat – but there is a patch in Tasmania that is very much connected with the Isle of Man,” Mr Quayle said.

After the presentation, the vessel was officially named Manannan by Mrs Mary Cringle JP, wife of the President of Tynwald (Manx Parliament), and welcomed also to the Manx shipping register, the first aluminium high speed craft to be flagged in the Isle of Man, with Douglas as her port of registry.

The Lord Bishop of the Isle of Man then pronounced a blessing on the ship and all who sail in her, in the name of the only One in history who has proved to have had the power to calm the wind & the waves.

In closing the celebration of the Manannan’s entry into service, Mr Quayle commented “The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is a proud Manx institution, here to serve the Isle of Man & its people. We are committed to do that, will do that to the best of our ability and Manannan is an earnest of our desire to do that.”