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Scotland Island - Western Shores - Mackerel Beach

September 1, 2023

Newsletter for the Offshore Residents of Pittwater, Australia - Volume 24, Issue 1198

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Traditional Custodians of Pittwater, as well as our Indigenous readers



Scotland Island's Original Wife Swapper?

Robert Lathrop Murray, 1777 - 1850

Roy Baker

One of Murray’s notices advertising Scotland Island for sale or rent:
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 21 August 1819

The impoverished convict, forced into petty larceny and then transported by an obdurate British state, is a notable trope of the Australian psyche. Many such cases existed, but it was not always thus. Andrew Thompson, son of a successful weaver and Scotland Island’s first European owner, was raised in a family that, though unremarkable, wasn't especially poor, while other convicts enjoyed a great deal more privilege.

Certainly that can be said of Robert Lathrop Murray, candidate for the title of Scotland Island’s second European owner. Claiming to be heir to a baronetcy, Murray was educated at Westminster School and Cambridge University before being commissioned to serve in the Napoleonic wars. He was so well connected that he corresponded with Queen Victoria’s father. 

A depiction of Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on Elba, 1814
Much about Murray is shrouded in mystery. According to one account, Murray, possibly claiming royal blood, visited Napoleon in 1814, during the latter’s exile on Elba. What occurred during the meeting is unknown, but apparently, on Murray’s return to England, Lord Castlereagh, then Foreign Secretary, wanted him tried for high treason. The trial never took place, but it seems that someone wanted Murray out of the way, and an investigation into his private affairs found grounds to get rid of him. 

Murray’s downfall was that, aged 18, he had married a woman almost twice his age. Then, four years later, and while still married, he wedded someone else. Nothing was done about this second marriage for 13 years, but upon Murray’s return from Elba, and apparently at Castlereagh’s instance, Murray was tried for bigamy. He was convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty: seven years’ transportation.

The sentence was extreme. Most bigamy convictions resulted in a fine or at most a short prison term. Why was Murray treated so harshly? His bigamy wasn’t of the worst kind: he had grounds for believing that his first marriage was invalid, and he had informed his second wife of his circumstances. Allies petitioned Parliament for clemency, but the conviction stood. So it was that in 1815 Murray arrived in Sydney.

Even if Murray was neither a traitor nor the worst kind of bigamist, a number of sources suggest that he was a philanderer and a rogue. Branded a swindler in Parliament, it is widely believed that his aristocratic claims were counterfeit. It’s even possible that he contracted a third marriage while already married to the other two women, making him a trigamist, not bigamist.

Murray was granted a pardon soon after his arrival in Sydney. Like many ambitious convicts he rocketed through the colony’s social hierarchy, finding employment under D’Arcy Wentworth, Principal Surgeon, and rising to assistant police superintendent, all within four years.

D'arcy Wentworth Lathrop Murray, Robert’s son, who claimed title to Scotland Island in 1868
Then, in 1819, Murray, declared himself proprietor of Scotland Island and advertised this ‘desirable farm’, with 150 acres of ‘excellent land’, as available for sale. Besides exaggerating the island’s size (it’s closer to 120 acres), was it Murray’s to sell?

Remember that the island had been granted to Andrew Thompson in early 1810. Following Thompson’s death later the same year, his executors made numerous attempts to sell the island. But there’s no clear evidence that any of them met with success. Apart from at least one short-term tenancy it looks like the island remained largely uninhabited until Joseph Benns took up its lease in 1855.

By the end of 1819 Murray had been dismissed from his post. Two years later he moved to Hobart, where he acquired large tracts of land and married for a third (or possibly fourth) time. By 1825 he had become editor of the Hobart Town Gazette and it is in the context of journalism that he is best remembered. Indeed, one Tasmanian historian records that ‘he was the man who put up the stoutest fight for Freedom of the Press in the island colony’.

In 1847, aged 70, Murray returned to his native Shropshire, where he died in 1850. That might have been the end of our story, but in 1868 his eldest son suddenly appeared on Pittwater, demanding the return of Scotland Island, which he claimed his father had bought in 1819. The son had recently arrived in Sydney from Tasmania, where he had sued his wife for defamation, the imputation being that he was born out of wedlock.

The son’s claim to Scotland Island, as well as that to his father’s alleged baronetcy, seems to have failed, but it perhaps caused some consternation to Joe Benns and his partner, Charles Jenkins, who had by then occupied the island for over a decade. But this was to be neither the last, nor the most serious claim to Scotland Island that Benns and Jenkins were to face. The tale of the other will be for another day.

This article is based on a number of primary and secondary sources. Among the most informative are the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and a paper entitled 'The Story of Pittwater', written by Maybanke Anderson, and published in 1920.


'Secret Island'

A new comedy for offshore Pittwater

Following the success of The Two Catherines, performed on Scotland Island in June, Pittwater residents are embarking on another theatrical venture: a new play written especially for the offshore community.

Written by a long-term resident of Scotland Island, the comedy 'Secret Island' had its first reading last weekend. The event was very successful and well-attended, with one participant commenting 'Wow! The play is SOOOO good. We are going to have people laughing like no tomorrow'.

All are keen to get things rolling. We need actors, lighting and sound operators, stage hands and more.

The production is set for March 2024 but preparations start now! Please let us know if you’re interested in taking part and we’ll keep you informed.

Send an email to editor@scotlandisland.org.au telling us the type of contribution you'd like to make.

The acting roles to fill are;
  • Lead role Pat: 20s to 30s
  • Lead role Wendy: 20s to 30s
  • Fitzy: Any age
  • Natasha: Eastern European accent
  • Alex: Eastern European accent
  • Fire captain: Any age
  • Non-speaking character: brief, preferably tall.

Island Playgroup

Catherine Park, Scotland Island

Tuesdays, 9 am - 12 pm

Parents, grandparents and their children, from babies to four, are meeting in the park and playgrounds on Tuesdays from 9 till noon, weather permitting. 

In the meantime, thanks go to Council for removing the redundant fence besides the old Kindy. Nettie's mural now shines from afar as well as close up. Kids are fascinated by the myriad colourful creatures and trace their fingers along them.

Thanks also go to Roy Baker and Paul Kinnison for removing the remaining kindy furniture in the general clean-up. Extra thanks go to Roy who is now Community Buildings manager and cleaner. He is putting in a lot of extra voluntary time cleaning out the generations of stuff dumped under the hall. The place has never been so well cared for.

Parents of older children, please remind them that they are welcome in the fenced-in play area behind the Rec Centre, but they should leave the equipment within the fenced area.

If you have any questions about the Tuesday morning play group, please call me on 0406 806 648.

Jenny Cullen


Scotland Island Fire Brigade: Get Ready Weekend

Scotland Island Fire Station

Sunday 17 September, 10 am - 3 pm

After several years of wet weather, the risk of bush fires is increasing again. It’s time to get ready for the bushfire season by updating your family’s Bushfire Survival Plan and preparing your property.

Come down to Scotland Island fire station on Sunday 17th Sep between 10am and 3pm to discuss your preparations with local firefighters. We’ll show you what we are doing to get ready. There’ll be plenty to do:
  • check out the fire trucks and other firefighting equipment;
  • talk about your Bushfire Survival Plan;
  • get tips on preparing your property;
  • install the latest apps on your phone;
  • get advice on your emergency pump;
  • and have a free sausage sandwich!
Don’t forget to use the Northern Beaches Council Green Waste Collection this week to remove any excess vegetation from your property ahead of the bushfire season.

You can get the latest fire season forecast here.

If you are interested in joining the Scotland Island brigade, you will find further information on the brigade's website.


The Tuesday Discussion Group

Scotland Island Recreation Centre

Tuesday 19 September, 11 am - 12.30 pm

The Recreation Club runs a discussion group, meeting on the third Tuesday of each month, from 11 am to 12.30 pm in the Recreation Centre. Everyone is welcome.

Members take it in turn to design a session. At the August session, Sarah Palomka invited us to think about the media's role in perpetuating racial prejudice.

For the September meeting, CB Floyd asks us 'are meritocracies necessarily a good thing?'

A 'meritocracy' is a society in which individuals achieve success on account of their performance, intelligence and education.

Compared with situations in which wealth and position are inherited or relate to race, gender etc, meritocracies seem a good idea. But do they presume a level playing field that doesn't exist? Are meritocracies too individualistic? And do factors such as intelligence and education really make us more deserving?

To prepare:

1. Read the Wikipedia article on meritocracy, which provides a good overview of the meaning of the term and gives a history of the idea.

2. Read this Guardian review of Michael Sandel's book The Tyranny of Merit.

For those who want to delve deeper, read The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel (Allen Lane, 2020).

The group is administered via a WhatsApp group, which will be used to distribute further information about this and future discussions. If you would like to be added to the group, send your mobile phone number to editor@scotlandisland.org.au.

Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (janebalmain@hotmail.com) for more information or to express your interest in participating.

The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per attendance to defray expenses.


Scotland Island Café

Catherine Park, Scotland Island

Sunday 24 September, 10 am - 12 noon


International Folk Dancing

Scotland Island Community Hall

Saturday 30 September, 7 - 9 pm

The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per attendance to defray expenses.


For sale: steel-hulled cruiser

For sale: 33 ft cruising boat with steel hull.

Five berths, 20 hp Bukh engine. This boat has completed many South Pacific sailing trips.

$20,000 ono.

Call Paul: 0403 144608


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The views expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily the views of the Scotland Island Residents Association (SIRA),
or the Western Pittwater Community Association (WPCA)
Original Newsletter Design:Paul Purvis & Julian Muir