The quack who owned
Scotland Island, 1892 - 1900
Island photographed sometime around 1870,
during its occupancy by Joseph Benns and
Rocky Point is in the foreground.
In 1892 two farmers, Charles Jenkins and Joseph Benns,
finally secured ownership of Scotland Island after decades
of grazing livestock on its steep slopes. No longer were
they young men. Benns, a former sailor, was already
approaching middle age by the time he took up residence on
the island in the 1850s. Now aged 76, he must have felt
that retirement was overdue. Jenkins was still only 65,
but in ill-health. They may have wanted to remain on the
island, but no doubt they would have welcomed a steady
income that didn’t involve tilling its hard soil.
Fortunately for them it seems that a solution was at hand.
Within days of securing title to the island, Benns and
Jenkins sold it. But rather than having to pack up and
leave, they came to an arrangement with the new owners. In
return for accepting payment by instalments, Benns and
Jenkins would be allowed to remain on the island.
In the event, Jenkins died within months of this agreement
being reached. But Benns, along with his wife Catherine,
the fabled ‘Queen’ of Scotland Island, was to live there
for a further eight years, until his death in 1900.
The island’s new owners were three men: a tailor called
Charles Bond, a civil servant named Thomas Wiltshire, and
William Wallace Elmslie. Little is known about Bond and
Wiltshire and anyway they quickly drop out of our story,
because in 1894, just two years after the sale of the
island by Benns and Jenkins, its ownership passed into the
sole name of William Wallace Elmslie.
advert under the name Dr Wm Wallace, The
(Brisbane), 21 Sept 1900
Scotland Island seems to have an uncanny knack of
attracting dodgy characters, present company excepted, of
course. In previous articles on island history we
encountered the bigamist Murray, who almost certainly
faked his baronetcy. Then we met John Dickson, purported
owner of the island, who absconded to England rather than
face trial in Sydney for forgery.
Enter now William Wallace Elmslie. Dr Elmslie first
appears on the public record in 1886, when he was
appointed government medical officer and ‘vaccinator’ for
the district of Junee, a small town in the Riverina region
of New South Wales. Elmslie quickly acquired considerable
local status, first being appointed returning officer for
Junee, and then magistrate.
Elmslie ran a surgery and apothecary in Junee. On the
morning of 27 December 1887 the premises burned down. The
subsequent inquest failed to establish arson, but Elmslie
was obviously under suspicion, especially since he was
facing competition from a new physician who had recently
moved to town. What’s more, Elmslie had significantly
increased his insurance cover just three months before the
We can only speculate as to whether Elmslie torched his
own premises. But he doesn’t seem to have been the most
savoury of characters, because within three years he found
himself in Sydney, giving evidence before a parliamentary
select committee examining medical quackery. Apparently
the city was awash with charlatans selling fake remedies,
and Elmslie was suspected of being one of them.
Was Elmslie even a qualified physician? Quizzed by the
select committee, Elmslie claimed to have a doctorate in
medicine from an American state. But could he remember
which one? No. Such details are so easily forgotten,
aren’t they? Anyway, he’d purchased the qualification by
mail order, so how was he to know?
Elmslie didn't even practise under his own name. He had
taken up residence in the consulting rooms of a specialist
by the name of Speer, who had gone overseas. Elmslie
claimed that he was merely filling in for Dr Speer until
his return. But everyone else seemed to know that Speer
was never coming back. Indeed he never did.
‘Do you tell patients that you are not Dr Speer?’,
enquired the committee. ‘If they ask me the question I say
I am not’, Elmslie replied. And if they don’t ask? Then
Elmslie didn’t tell.
headline for the Truth’s
exposé on Elmslie, 17 Feb 1901
The medical profession was poorly regulated at the time,
and despite these startling revelations Elmslie continued
to practise, although only ever under a pseudonym. Besides
presenting himself as Dr Speer, he took to producing
‘ladies’ irregularity pills’, first as ‘Dr Colewright’ and
later as ‘Dr Cartwright’. The ‘irregularity’ in question?
Apparently this was a euphemism for pregnancy. Elmslie was
capitalising on the prohibition against abortion to offer
a solution to unwanted pregnancies that was almost
Another of Elmslie’s specialisations was to offer cures
for ‘loathsome diseases’, better known to us as STIs.
Apparently he once charged a young man the then massive
sum of £10 to cure his embarrassing condition. After the
young man’s teeth fell out, the pills sold by Elmslie were
found to contain large doses of mercury.
Elmslie’s Sydney-based quackery seems to have continued
throughout his ownership of Scotland Island. But in 1900
something must have happened, because he left Sydney for
Brisbane. Now practising as ‘Dr Wallace’, Elmslie
continued to offer ‘unfailing remedies’ that would
‘produce vigour and potency to every function’. This
prompted Sydney’s Truth newspaper to publish an
exposé on Elmslie, warning the people of Queensland about
this ‘protean practitioner’ and his ‘cloud of aliases’.
When he moved to Brisbane Elmslie defaulted on the
mortgage which he had used to buy Scotland Island. His
mortgagees foreclosed on the loan and the island was sold,
thus precipitating a chain of events that led to the
departure from her island of ‘Queen’ Catherine Benns, Joe
Benns’ now widow. It also brought about the island's
development for housing. How that came about will be a
tale for another day.
This article is based largely on records held by the NSW Land Registry, combined with contemporaneous
newspaper coverage of events.
Scotland Island to get a
disaster funding boost
Scotland Island is to receive $2 million to help rebuild
its road and drainage system. The money is to come through
the jointly-funded Infrastructure Betterment Fund and
Community Local Infrastructure Recovery Package –
Community Assets Program. The purpose is to build better
infrastructure on the island, making our community more
resilient to extreme weather and local flooding.
The Infrastructure Betterment Fund is focused on restoring
essential public assets, such as roads and drainage
impacted by the storm and flood events in 2021 and 2022,
as well as the 2019 / 2020 Black Summer bushfires. The
intention is that assets will be repaired to a more
resilient standard that can better withstand future
natural disasters and increased rainfall.
The funds are intended for the reconstruction of road
formations to reinstate eroded sections of pavement. We
can also expect to see new precast table drain units to
collect and convey stormwater runoff safely to the piped
drainage network, which will be amplified where necessary.
Kinnison, whose group helped secure funding
for island roads
In 2022, SIRA was invited to submit ideas to Northern
Beaches Council for improving roads and drainage on the
island. SIRA’s Roads and Drainage and Environment
Subcommittee, headed by islander Sharon Kinnison,
submitted ideas and photos. NBC then applied for funds
from the Infrastructure Betterment Fund and the Community
Local Infrastructure Recovery Package.
'This is an excellent outcome', says Robyn Iredale, SIRA
president. 'Our thanks go to Sharon Kinnison and her group
for their efforts. Of course, $2 million will not cover
the whole island and priorities will now need to be
For more information on the funds that have been directed
towards the island, click here and here.
The more observant among you might notice something a
little special about this edition of the PON: it's the
For a small, community publication to be so productive Is
something to celebrate. To realise that 1,150 of those
editions came out under the editorship of just two men is
even more impressive.
The history of the PON stretches back to March 1955,
although in those days it was known as Scotland Island
News, abbreviated to SINEWS. Volume 1, edition 1
reported on the foundation of the Scotland Island Progress
Association, as SIRA was then called. In 1972 SINEWS was
taken over by the indomitable Leicester Warburton.
Leicester's tenure as editor was to last a daunting 28
years. Leicester died last year at the age of 101.
SINEWS had been a paper publication, printed and
circulated door-to-door around the island, often by
Leicester himself. In 2000 the new editor, Paul Purvis,
introduced an online 'Scotland Island Newsletter monthly
update', distributed via email. Originally this was
intended to supplement, rather than replace, the hard-copy
newspaper. But the new format proved so popular that it
quickly became a free-standing publication, adopting the
name Pittwater Offshore Newsletter in 2001.
When Paul took the PON online he also started a new
numbering system. The reports included in volume 1,
edition 1, released in May 2000, have a familiar ring
about them: problems with Council, issues with the
emergency water system and, guess what, a SIRA survey on
roads and drainage.
In his eight-year tenure as editor, Paul put out some 340
editions before handing over to Julian Muir in 2008.
Julian was to remain editor for the next 13 years, racking
up over 800 editions, which means an average of 63 a year,
ie more than one per week. How did you do it, Julian?
I took over in April 2021, by which time we'd reached vol
22, issue 1150. It's humbling that I've produced less than
5% of PON editions. That said, much has changed over the
last 23 years, particularly with the advent of social
media. Facebook didn't appear until 2004, and today many
islanders choose to communicate via that medium,
particularly when it comes to selling or giving away
items. What's more, SIRA, besides lending financial
support to the PON, now produces its own emailed
newsletter, SIRA News. This tends to handle
notices of a more quotidian nature: road closures,
interruptions to the community vehicle service and so on.
A great deal of this work is done by my industrious friend
and neighbour CB Floyd, and I'm grateful to her for taking
much of the burden off the PON.
Despite the advent of Facebook and SIRA News, I
hope there is still a role for the PON on Pittwater. No
longer the sole conduit for routine island notices, I see
a monthly PON as a forum in which we celebrate offshore
life, not just endure it. Encompassing the western
foreshore, I envisage this as a platform for more
thoughtful and exploratory writings relating to our past,
present and future, free of the rancour sometimes
witnessed on Facebook.
And on the subject of considered and informative writing,
I remind readers that there is an open invitation to
submit articles for consideration for the PON. Please
email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roy Baker, editor.
Bush fire support on
To help reduce the risk of bush fire on Scotland Island,
Council is organising a fine fuel collection. This
will occur on Monday 27 November 2023 – have your bags
ready by 7am.
Fine fuels include leaves, twigs and bark that can
easily catch fire. Fine fuels are less than the
diameter of your little finger. Other vegetation
will not be collected.
What you need to do:
Who can I ask for more information?
- Pick up a fine fuel bag supplied by Northern Beaches
Council. One bag ONLY per household, please. You may
pick up from Tuesday, 7 November outside the fire
- Clear your roof and rake up all the fine fuel around
your house. Then tip it into the fine fuel bag. Only
Council supplied bags will be collected.
- Place your filled bag on the road outside your
property for collection, leaving a 3m space to allow
passage of emergency vehicles.
Too sad! No toys
Someone tried again to break into the shed below the
Recreation Centre and this time really wrecked the door.
It took a lot of patient hammering to open it.
What's inside? Only a few toys for preschool children to
enjoy at playgroup, the last remnants of the kindy. If
it's wrecked, Council won't replace it, because there is
PARENTS - please talk to your children and teenagers about
what's happening so they help keep the island fun for
Bronze Orange Bugs
Bronze Orange Bugs
Orange Bugs in their adult form
On my walks around Scotland Island I have noticed quite a
lot of Bronze Orange Bugs. These are those smelly, ugly
bugs that crawl over citrus trees. Commonly called stink
bugs, they are very damaging to citrus trees as they suck
the goodness out of stems. New shoots wilt and fruit and
flowers will drop prematurely. You also need to be careful
of the foul liquid they eject as their defence mechanism.
This will burn skin and eyes on contact.
Bronze Orange Bugs change colour as they grow. Young green
nymphs hatch from eggs, then turn orange/pink as they grow
before eventually becoming black when fully grown. By this
stage they are about 25 mm long.
During winter – spray trees with NATRASOAP or ECO-OIL.
Spring/summer – physically remove bugs with tongs or an
old vacuum cleaner. On hot days Bronze Orange bugs will
withdraw from the foliage and congregate on the lower
trunk of the tree where it is cooler. This is the perfect
opportunity to squash them with a stick or collect them
via the above methods.
For further information, click here.
Thanks, Robyn, for the
If readers would like to
submit gardening tips for future PONs, please email them
The PON regularly goes out on the first of each month.
If you can email me your tip at least three or four days
prior to that deadline that would be appreciated.
Scotland Island Community
Sunday, 5 November, 3 - 6
Art Space on The
8 - 19 November (artists'
talk 19 Nov, 2 - 4 pm)
Many readers will be
familiar with islander June Lahm, an enthusiastic and
gifted photographer. June is part of the Blue Hour
Photographic Collective, seven like-minded artists
bringing a unique voice to their love of
For this Exhibition June
and her colleagues have responded to the theme
'Mending', each artist taking different perspectives on
the need for mending, and repair in our society and
All are invited to attend the closing afternoon on
Sunday 19 November, 2 to 4 pm, when you can meet the
artists and listen to them talk about their
inspiration for the images.
Artists are Susan Buchanan,
June Lahm, Jilly Perrin, Carolyn Pettigrew, Janet
Tavener, Kirry Toose and Carmel Wellburn.
June will also be at the Gallery on Thursday 9 and 16
November, as well as Friday 17 November. But
please visit any time during the opening hours: 11 am to
4 pm Wednesday to Friday, 11 am to 4 pm Saturday and
The exhibition is at the Art Space on the Concourse, 409
Victoria Ave, Chatswood. The gallery is next to the Box
Office and parking is available beneath the building.
58 Florence Terrace / 29
Thompson St, Scotland Island
11 & 12 November, 10
am - 4 pm
Have a go at making with clay — hand building or on the
pottery wheel — at Mike Hall’s workshop and home on
Scotland Island, as part of the Australian Ceramics Open
This national annual event involves more than 200 potters
and ceramic artists in cities and regional areas opening
their studios to the public.
Hall with some of his ceramic creations
Mike will demonstrate on his wheel, explain his making and
firing methods - including how to find and process local
clay - and invite you to have a go at making something
He’ll open his kiln at 11am on Saturday to reveal the
results of his latest firing. These fresh pots will be for
sale and some of his other work too.
This is a free event. Stay as long as you like,
ask questions and learn as much as you can.
Enjoy a slice or two of homemade cake and coffee or tea.
Celebrate clay, community and creativity by visiting your
Mike's studio can be found close to Eastern Wharf.
Call Mike on 0404 028 253 or Melinda on 0404 028 259 for
Scotland Island Community
Saturday, 18 November, 6 -
Scotland Island Community
Sunday, 19 November, 10 am
courtesy of Ross Hardy
All members are invited to
attend the annual general meeting of the Scotland Island
Residents’ Association. At the meeting, brief reports
about SIRA activities over the last year will be
provided, and members will elect a new committee.
The Committee needs new
people to join! If you feel you can contribute to the
volunteer work that the Committee undertakes each
year, SIRA strongly encourages you to do so. Meetings
are held about once every six weeks.
Nominations for officers
(President, Vice-Presidents (2), Secretary, Treasurer)
or for ordinary committee members (5-10 people) are
invited. They must be sent to the secretary at secretary@SIRA.org.au
at least 7
days before the AGM (ie by 12 November for the AGM on 19
Nominations must be made in
writing, signed by 2 members of the association and
accompanied by the written consent of the candidate
(which can be on the nomination form or provided
separately). For the nomination form, click here
Scotland Island Recreation
Tuesday 21 November, 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
September session, CB Floyd led a discussion on the
concept of 'meritocracy', and what they mean in
For the October meeting, Roy Baker asks us 'what is
intelligence?' This topic has been carried over
Sometimes missing from the current brouhaha over
artificial intelligence is clear agreement over what we
mean by 'intelligence'. We use the term a lot, but how
does it butt up against concepts such as
intellect, knowledge, recall, understanding, empathy,
morality, conciousness, self-awareness and so on? What's
emotional or social intelligence? Are plants and other
animal species intelligent? How do we best measure
intelligence, develop it, use it and maintain it? And is
AI as smart as it's cracked up to be?
1. Read the Wikipedia article on intelligence,
which offers at least ten different definitions of the
word. (The listed references throw up additional reading
2. Read this Conversation article on the topic
of human and AI hallucination.
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 email@example.com
Alternatively, contact Jane Rich (firstname.lastname@example.org) for
more information or to express your interest in
The Recreation Club asks for $5 per person per
attendance to defray expenses.
Saturday 25 November,
6 - 9 pm
To mark the end of
the year, this extended dance will begin at 6 pm.
Please bring a bottle
and/or finger food to share.
Club asks a minimum of $5 per person per
attendance to defray expenses.
Sunday 26 November, 10
am - 1 pm
5.30 pm (Scotland
7.30 pm (Church
Missed out on a
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Scotland Island Community Calendar
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expressed in this newsletter are not necessarily
the views of the Scotland Island Residents
or the Western Pittwater Community