Benjamin Boyd

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Benjamin Boyd
Member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales
In office
1 September 1844 (1844-09-01) – 1 August 1845 (1845-08-01)
Constituency Electoral district of Port Phillip
Personal details
Born (1803-08-21)21 August 1803
Wigtownshire, Scotland
Died 15 October 1851(1851-10-15) (aged 48)
Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Nationality Scottish-born Australian
Residence Eden district
Occupation Stockbroker, pastoralist, entrepreneur

Benjamin Boyd (21 August 1801 – 15 October 1851[1]) was a Scottish-born Australian pioneer and entrepreneur, and briefly, a politician.

Boyd became one of the largest landholders and graziers of the Colony of New South Wales; before suffering financial difficulties and becoming bankrupt. Boyd briefly tried his luck on the Californian goldfields before being purportedly murdered in the Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.[2]

Boyd was a man of "an imposing personal appearance, fluent oratory, aristocratic connexions, and a fair share of commercial acuteness".[3] Georgiana McCrae, with whom he had dinner when he first came to the Port Phillip District, looked at him with an artist's eye and said: "He is Rubens over again. Tells me he went to a bal masque as Rubens with his broad-leafed hat".[1]

Early life

Born at Merton Hall, Wigtownshire, Scotland, Boyd was the second son of Edward Boyd by his wife Jane (daughter of Benjamin Yule).[1] His brother Mark Boyd would play an active role in some of his ventures.[4]

By 1824 Boyd was a stockbroker in London and on 8 October 1840 he addressed a letter to Lord John Russell, stating that he had recently dispatched a vessel entirely his own at a cost of £30,000 for 'further developing the resources of Australia and its adjacent Islands'.[1] He stated that he intended to send other vessels, and asked for certain privileges in connexion with the purchase of land at various ports he intended to establish. He received a guarded reply promising assistance, but pointing out that land could not be sold to an individual to the "exclusion or disadvantage of the public". About this period Boyd had floated the Royal Bank of Australia, and debentures of this bank to the amount of £200,000 were sold. This sum was eventually taken by Boyd to Australia as the bank's representative. He arrived in Hobson's Bay, Port Phillip District, on his schooner, the Wanderer, on 15 June 1842, and reached Port Jackson, Sydney, on 18 July 1842.[1]

In Australia

File:Ben Boyds Tower.JPG
Ben Boyd's Tower, used for whale-spotting, Ben Boyd National Park.
File:Ben Boyd Tower Window.jpg
Window of Ben Boyd's Tower, showing sandstone quarried in Sydney and masonry work, plus crucifixes.
File:Ben Boyd Tower Interior.jpg
Interior of Ben Boyd's Tower.

Boyd soon began investing his own and his bank's money. In a dispatch of Sir George Gipps dated 17 May 1844 he mentioned that Boyd was one of the largest squatters in the country, with 14 stations in the "Maneroo" district and four in the Port Phillip district, amounting together to 381,000 acres (1,540 km2) of land. At about the same period the firm of Boyd and Company had three steamers and three sailing ships in commission. Large sums of money were also being spent on founding the port of Boydtown on the south coast, which involved the building of a jetty 300 feet (91 m) long, and a lighthouse 75 feet (23 m) high.

Four years later a visitor, speaking of the town, mentioned its Gothic church with a spire, commodious stores, well-built brick houses, and "a splendid hotel in the Elizabethan style". At this time Boyd had nine whalers working from this port.

Boyd was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Council for the Electoral district of Port Phillip in September 1844, a position he held for 11 months.[2]

Having difficulty in obtaining cheap labour, in 1847 he began shipping Pacific Islanders to Australia, hoping thus to get an unlimited supply of cheap labour. This scheme turned out to be a complete disaster. Boyd had already used Aboriginal, Maori and Pacific Islands labourers in his whaling industry ventures, and, worried about not having sufficient labour for his pastoral properties, he decided to experiment with bringing in a Pacific Islanders workforce, without waiting for government permission. In 1847 he brought the first 65 Islanders to Australia from Lifu Island in the Loyalty Islands (now part of New Caledonia) and from Tanna and Aneityum Islands in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). They landed at Boydtown. The clerk of the local bench of magistrates described them this way: “none of the natives could speak English, and all were naked..”. “[T]hey all crowded around us looking at us with the utmost surprize, and feeling at the Texture of our clothes…they seemed wild and restless." [5] They had all put their marks on contracts that bound them to work for five years and to be paid 26 shillings a year, plus rations of 10 lbs of meat a week, and two pairs of trousers, two shirts and a kilmarnock cap. However, clearly they had no idea of what they were doing in Australia, and the local magistrate refused to counter-sign the documents. Regardless, some of Boyd’s employees began to take the party inland on foot. Some of them bolted and made their way back to Eden. The first one died on 2 May and as winter approached more became ill. Sixteen Lifu Islanders refused to work and began to try to walk back to Lifu along the coast. Some managed to reach Sydney and seven or eight entered a shop from the rear and began to help themselves to food. Those that remained at work were shepherds on far off Boyd stations on the Edward and Murray Rivers.

Boyd refused to admit that the trail shipment was a failure, sending for more Islanders. By this time colonial society was beginning to realise what he had done and was feeling uneasy. The New South Wales Legislative Council amended the Masters and Servants Act to ban importation of “the Natives of any Savage or uncivilized tribe inhabiting any Island or Country in the Pacific”. When Boyd’s next group of 54 men and 3 women arrived in Sydney on 17 October, they could not be indentured and once Boyd found this out he refused to take any further responsibility. The same legal conditions also applied to Boyd’s Islander labourers from the first trip; they left the stations and set off to walk to Sydney to find alternative work and to find a way home to the islands. The foreman tried to stop them but the local magistrate ruled that no one had the right to detain them. Their progress from the Riverina was followed by the press as they began their long march to Sydney. The press described then as cannibals on their way to eat Boyd, and the issue as depicted in the media was extremely racist.

The whole matter was raised again in the Legislative Council and Boyd showed no remorse or sense of responsibility. Boyd justified himself with reference to the African slave trade and there was much discussion in the colony about the issue to introducing slaves from the Pacific Islands. The recruiters were accused of kidnapping, a charge with they denied.

The Islanders remained around Sydney harbour, begging for transport back to their islands. Some of them found alternative work in Sydney and dropped out of the record. Most of the others finally embarked on a French ship returning to the islands, although it is unlikely that many of them ever reached their home islands. This fiasco was the first time Pacific Islanders had been imported into Australia as labourers, although some had already reached Sydney as ships' crews.

Boyd's troubles continued with the loss of two lawsuits for the insurance money on one of his vessels which was wrecked, but it seems his schemes were too grandiose for the then state of Australia. The shareholders in the Royal Bank became dissatisfied, and eventually all of the capital was lost and there was a deficiency of £80,000.

Later years

Boyd sailed in his yacht, the Wanderer, to California on 26 October 1849. He had no success at the gold-diggings, and in June 1851 sailed in the Wanderer among the Pacific islands with the aim of establishing a 'Papuan Republic or Confederation'.[1]

On 15 October 1851, while at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, Boyd went ashore with one native to shoot game. Soon after being seen entering a small creek in his boat, two shots were heard 15 minutes apart, Boyd was never seen again.[1] A party was landed and search was made for him, but no trace of him could be found except a belt which had belonged to him. It appears to be certain that he was killed soon after he landed. There were afterwards rumours that he had escaped, and at the end of 1854 an expedition was sent to the islands to make further inquiries. The search was fruitless.


In 1971 the Ben Boyd National Park was established, located near Boydtown near Eden and named after Boyd. The park area covers approximately 10,407 hectares (25,720 acres).

Boyd's Tower[6] is located at the entrance to the park near Twofold Bay and was designed as a lighthouse and lookout. The tower was designed by Oswald Brierly who had accompanied Boyd to Australia from England. It was built from sandstone quarried in Sydney.[7] The structure was not commissioned as a lighthouse and the building work stopped in 1847 as funds became short.[8] The tower was used as a whale sighting station.[9][10] Whaling was already an established industry when Boyd arrived in the area and he brought with him his own boats and crew,[11] aggressively went into competition with the locals and expanded his fleet until he had nine whaling boats working for him.[1]

Boyd's legacy includes the decaying buildings of Boydtown near Eden on Twofold Bay in New South Wales. The township was established by Boyd to provide services for the extensive properties he owned locally. It was abandoned in the mid-1840s when Boyd's finances failed.[11] The township has since been revived.

An addition, Ben Boyd Road in Neutral Bay, New South Wales was named in his honour; as was Boyd house of Neutral Bay Primary School.[12] A small plaque describing his life and death is on display on near Kurraba Point. It is believed that the Victorian town of Bendoc and the Bendoc River are named in honor of Boyd, who had a dock located on the river, adjacent to one of his pastoral leases.[13]

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Boyd's disappearance, a scale model of the Wanderer was created for the Eden Killer Whale Museum.[14]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Walsh, G. P. (1966). "Boyd, Benjamin (1801 - 1851)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1. Melbourne University Press. pp. 140–142. Retrieved 22 February 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Mr Benjamin BOYD (1803 - 1851)". Parliament of New South Wales. 15 September 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Sidney, Samuel (1852). The three colonies of Australia : New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia : their pastures, copper mines, & gold fields. Ingram, Cooke. ISBN 1-4374-4246-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Steven, Margaret. "Boyd, Benjamin". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/3103.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. Diamond, Marion. The Seahorse and the Wanderer. Ben Boyd in Australia (Melbourne 1988, pp 128-129
  6. Searle, Garry. "Ben Boyd Tower". Lighthouses of New South Wales. SeaSide Lights. Retrieved 23 March 2008.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Travel: Boydtown". The Sydney Morning Herald & The Age. 8 February 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Oswald W. B. Brierly - images from the exhibition Upon a painted ocean, 18 October to 6 February 2005: Whales in Sight. / A shore whaling party coming out of Twofold Bay, 1844 /watercolour drawing by Oswald W. Brierly". State Library of NSW. Retrieved 23 March 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Ben Boyd National Park". New South Wales Government. Retrieved 23 March 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Ben Boyd National Park = Culture and History". New South Wales Government. Retrieved 23 March 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Bendoc River: 613509". Vicnames. Government of Victoria. 2 May 1966. Retrieved 2 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Canberra Times, 23 July 2001, p. 5

Further reading

New South Wales Legislative Council
Preceded by
Thomas Mitchell
Member for Port Phillip
Served alongside: Thomas Walker, John Lang,
Adolphus Young, Charles Nicholson
Succeeded by
Edward Curr