Robert Lathrop Murray,
1777 - 1850
of Murray’s notices advertising Scotland
Island for sale or rent:
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
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
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.
depiction of Napoleon Bonaparte during his
exile on Elba, 1814
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’
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,
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.
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?
Wentworth Lathrop Murray, Robert’s son, who
claimed title to Scotland Island in 1868
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
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.
A new comedy for offshore
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 email@example.com 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.
Catherine Park, Scotland
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,
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.
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.
Scotland Island Fire
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
- 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
this week to remove any excess
vegetation from your property ahead of the bushfire
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
Scotland Island Recreation
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (email@example.com) for
more information or to express your interest in
The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per
attendance to defray expenses.
Sunday 24 September,
10 am - 12 noon
September, 7 - 9 pm
Club asks for $5 per person per attendance to
For sale: 33 ft
cruising boat with steel hull.
Five berths, 20 hp Bukh
engine. This boat has completed many South Pacific
Call Paul: 0403
Missed out on a
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expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily
the views of the Scotland Island Residents
or the Western Pittwater Community