Does Bondi Have A Macquarie Connection?
On January 1, 1810 Lachlan Macquarie was sworn in as the fifth Governor of the colony of New South Wales. The 200th anniversary last year included a statewide celebration program to acknowledge his significant contribution to NSW and his achievements, and those of his wife Elizabeth, during his 12-year tenure.
Waverley may have a Macquarie connection, although it is a tenuous one. The Macquarie link with Waverley is related to the naming of Ben Buckler, the northern headland of Bondi Beach.
There are many conflicting stories about the naming of Ben Buckler. What is correct though is that the first mention of the name was in 1831, when a land grant to Richard Hurd at North Bondi was described as being “…to a point called Ben Buckler”. So it was known by the name at this date. The most common naming theories include:
• It was named after a convict, Benjamin Buckler or Ben Buckley, who lived locally with the Aboriginal people from 1810. His friend and fellow convict James Ives claimed he was killed near the point when the rock shelf on which he was standing collapsed. He also claimed that the headland was formerly known as ‘Ben Buckler’s leap’.
• A variation on the story has Ben Buckley as a bushranger who took part in many adventures and after getting his liberty lived in a cave in the rocks at the northern end of Bondi Beach and became a local character.
• Obed West (1807-1891) claimed that it was a corruption of an Indigenous word ‘benbuckalong’. Others have claimed that the Indigenous word was ‘baal-buckalea’.
The Macquarie connection with the naming of Ben Buckler was first raised in an anonymous letter to Sydney magazine the Australian Town and Country Journal on May 25, 1878. The writer, using the nom de plume ‘Old Colonist’, claimed that the name Ben Buckler was a corruption of a name bestowed upon the headland by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. He went on to argue that Macquarie named it ‘Benbecula’ in honour of the island of the same name located in the remote Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.
The west coast of Benbecula has golden sand beaches, including one long sweep of beach, Poll Na Crann, with sand dunes behind it, the same coastal environment Bondi Beach had before its development. Macquarie was born on the island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland in 1762 and may have visited Benbecula, although this cannot be confirmed.
Macquarie would have travelled along the South Head Road (now Old South Head Road), which had been constructed in 1811, and along parts of this Bondi Beach and its northern headland would have been visible. Did it look like Benbecula from a distance?
In 1906 the discussion began again in a local paper, The Bondi Weekly, when a land subdivision on the headland, known as the Queenscliffe Estate, began rumours that Ben Buckler’s name was to be changed to Queenscliffe.
On June 29, 1915 Captain J. W. Watson of the Australian Historical Society decreed that, “the name of Ben Buckler is a corruption of Benbecula, the name given by Macquarie.”
There is no primary evidence for any of the claims for the name Ben Buckler, making the debate about it all the more fascinating.