THE FUNERAL of one of the great characters of the Tasmanian ports and maritime scene was held last week in Devonport.

Captain Dick Burgess passed away on 14 April at the age of 92 after a lifetime of passionate involvement with the sea, beginning when he joined his father and brothers in the family crayfishing business in Bass Strait. The Burgess family originally emigrated from the UK in the early 1800s and then built up a Tasmanian-based shipping and trading business that built, owned and operated over 150 ships over time.

Capt Burgess finally retired from his role as skipper of the 64-foot ketch Julie Burgess, the family’s final vessel, in 1987 after 44 years at sea – but Dick never ‘retired’. He was elected Master Warden of the Devonport Marine Board (later Devonport Port Authority) and fully involved himself in the commercial port, championing its expansion and modernisation. In all he served 30 years with various incarnations of the port managers’ board.

Burnie’s The Advocate described Dick as ‘feisty” and this was a classic understatement. He was a straight-talker as well as a Strait-talker and detested political speak in any shape or form. When the then Tasmanian Government attempted to amalgamate the local marine boards – eventually achieved through the formation of TasPorts – Dick stood firm, and loud, and successfully torpedoed the initial attempts.

During the 1990s Dick took great delight in contacting DCN to “give us the dirt” on government manoeuvring at all levels and polishing his reputation as an iconoclast and fearless defender of his patch. But he was also deeply interested in global maritime matters and thought nothing of ringing DCN to get a better understanding of topics that he deemed relevant to the port. At the end of 2016, when Searoad Shipping’s Searoad Mersey II made its debut in Devonport, Dick sought out this writer to offer his thoughts on a wide range of maritime matters “rather than talk to these know-nothing dignitaries”.

Dick’s death notice described him as having a passion for seafaring and all things maritime: “He championed the preservation and promotion of maritime history and Tasmanian history in general,” it said. “He had a deep love for his country and did his bit to serve her. Fiercely independent, he championed the underdog and never shied from speaking truth to power.”

Julie Burgess was sold to the Devonport City Council and now operates tourist, pleasure and educational cruises from Devonport.

Dick was also one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the city’s Bass Strait Maritime Centre. More of his and the Burgess family’s history can be found here.