William and Martha Bucknell

by Paul Bourke.


William Bucknell was born in England in some time between 1776 and 1780. He states in a letter to Robt Wilmot Esqr. MP at the Colonial Office dated 28 January 1824 that ‘I was bread to the farming business in Somerset & Devonshire untill I was neare sixteen years old…’ [PRO Reel 138, CO 201/159, frame 48 and 49]. His exact place of birth is unknown, but it is known that his parents were living at Yeovil in Somerset in October 1810 and were still there in April 1826. His mother’s maiden name was believed to have been Cookson.

There are two Bucknell clock and watch makers recorded as working in Crediton, Devon in the past, but the connection between James (circa 1700) and William Bucknell with our William Bucknell is unknown at present.

It is said that William Bucknell was well educated and learnt the trade of watch and clock maker in London. He was living at 14 Cold Bath Square, London until at least 6 October 1810 and is first known to be living at No. 6 Nelson Terrace, City Road on 26 July 1811.

Martha ‘Mattie’ Wentworth was probably born in Portadown, County Armagh possibly at Fyanstown Hall between 1786 and 1790. Her father, William Wentworth (born 1749, died 1828), was a career soldier who rose to the rank of Lieutenant in the 5th Regiment of Dragoon Guards. He was also the oldest of Darcy Wentworth’s brothers, thus making Martha and William Charles Wentworth first cousins. Her mother was Elizabeth Dickson (born 1752, died 8 March 1836). Martha’s parents married on 2 February 1777.

William Bucknell established his business as a watchmaker at 20 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden in 1810 [‘Britten’s Old Clocks and Watches and Their Makers’ 9th edition 1982]. He met Martha whilst on a trip to Ireland to sell watches and clocks, possibly introduced to her by her brother Robert. They married on 17 October 1817 at Drumcree Church, about one mile from Portadown.

The family lived at No. 6 Nelson Terrace, City Road until at least 25 April 1814. Some time between 1814 and 27 March 1819 William’s business and the family moved to 10 Parliament Street, Westminster.

In 1823 WC Wentworth bought an 18-carat gold, quarter-repeating, fob watch with chain, seal and key made by William Bucknell. This watch, together with two mantel clocks (one kept in the dining room and the other in the second room) made by William Bucknell are now in the collection of Vaucluse House, the Historic Houses Trust property, formerly the home of WC Wentworth [‘The Descendants of William and Martha Bucknell of Elmshall, Paterson River, NSW’ compiled by Trissia and Bill Waddingham (Evgean Publishing 1996); Vaucluse House accession numbers V84/38-1:2, V88/454 and V89/140].

By 1824, the family had decided to emigrate to New South Wales. The Under Secretary of the Colonial Office wrote to Sir Thomas Brisbane recommending William as a settler on 9 February. Earl Bathurst wrote to the Governor authorising a land grant on 27 July 1825 [Historical Records of Australia Series 1, Vol XI, pp19, 433].
By the time of their departure for NSW from Plymouth aboard the Adrian on 18 April 1826, the family included –

Martha Maria (born 2 August 1812, named at Islington)
William Wentworth (born 9 July 1814 London)
Elizabeth Ann Wentworth, known as Eliza (born 14 January 1816 Islington?)
Mary Ann Arabella (born 25 March 1818 Westminster?)
Charles Wentworth (born 4 January 1822 Westminster?)
Catherine Wentworth, known as Kate (born 25 June 1823)

Two other children, Robert Wentworth (born 29January 1820, died 3 November in either 1820 or 1821) and Ann Wentworth (born January 1825) had died young. A son –

Adrian Wentworth was born at sea on 4 or 26 May 1826.


The family arrived in Sydney on 14 October 1826. It was reported in The Sydney Gazette of 18 October 1826 that William Bucknell had come “under the sanction and protection of the Government to arrange some waterworks…. This gentleman has brought out several hydraulic engines and has also a steam engine of 25 horsepower on the passage for the purpose of carrying his designs into effect.”

William’s plans of boring for water were soon brought to nothing as Governor Darling had already engaged Mr (John) Busby, a mineral surveyor, to obtain water for the settlement.’ [Waddingham op. cit.]

The family initially lived in Sydney, but found their expenses too great and moved to Parramatta where they lived for a time in Wentworth House, the property of Darcy Wentworth. Prior to their arrival in the Colony, William had been given reports of 75% profits on goods sold in Sydney and had forwarded a consignment of merchandise to Sydney on the Doncaster that had arrived on 27 May 1826.

At Parramatta, William set himself up as a merchant. Unfortunately, this venture was not successful and by 1 November 1827 he was declared insolvent for the first of several occasions. Notices in relation to William’s bankruptcy appeared in the NSW Government Gazette on 24 February, 7 May, 21 October and 26 October 1844, 8 February 1845 and 31 July 1850. On 2 January 1828 it was advertised in The Australian that Mr Bodenham was selling sundries belonging to William.

On 2 January 1827 William was promised a land grant of 2,560 acres, as a reserve which could be resumed by the government if not stocked and improved within 18 months. On 20 March 1827 he selected his land grant, between the Paterson and Allyn Rivers to the north of Maitland although for various reasons possession was not officially authorised until 4 March 1830. [Waddingham op. cit.; ‘A Synopsis of the History of the Paterson River’ by Harry F Boyle; Val Anderson and ‘George Townshend 1798-1872 and Trevallyn, Paterson River’ by Jack Sullivan]. The village of Brecon, between Paterson and Gresford, is on land that once formed part of the property.

The family had moved from Parramatta after 1 November 1827 to Longreach, Wallis Plains (now East Maitland). When they moved to the property (named ‘Elmshall’ after the Wentworth’s ancestral home in Yorkshire) in 1828, William soon realised that the land he had selected for his grant was not suitable for dairy cattle and also was too far from transport. Boats were used as the main transport in the Hunter region and could only travel up the river as far as Morpeth, which developed into the major inland port on the Hunter.

William rented a farm from Dr Francis Moran on 30 June 1828 on a ‘navigable part of the Hunter’ for £100
per annum, leasing ‘Elmshall’ to his oldest son William Wentworth Bucknell. William senior was in conflict with his landlord from the start and the family was forcibly evicted from Dr Moran’s. This resulted in a protracted legal battle involving three Supreme Court of NSW trials, with William claiming damages.

They returned briefly to Elmshall, but by August 1828 the Bucknells were occupying a farm granted to Dr Short, close to the Hunter down river from Morpeth in the Parish of Alnwick. Both –

Francis Newnham, known as Frank (born 24 August 1828) and
Juliet Wentworth (born 31 December 1830) were born there.

On 16 July 1836 William wrote to the Colonial Secretary from New Town requesting that “the Deeds for my Grant. be as quickly as possible pass’d through the necessary forms of the Office as I have now been waiting a very long time and have been repeatedly promised I should have them in a few days, and the non possession of them is putting me to great loss & inconvenience.” This is in reference to the grant at Elmshall, which appears in the Grant Index for 1830-1839 on 6 June 1836 as serial number 42 on page 83 [State Records NSW reel 1103, shelf location 2/7814, letter 36/5841].



Martha Bucknell and her cottage, Newtown, ca. 1860 / photograph by P. Lawton, State Library of New South Wales Collection, a4177063


The earliest reference so far found to the Bucknells and Newtown is on 10 September 1834, when the NSW Government Gazette reported the arrest of Thomas Jones, a convict who had absconded from the Bucknells. However, references to W Bucknell 1833 on 31 October 1832, and William Bucknell on 3 September 1832 and 28 January 1834 in Surry Hills may place the family in what is now Newtown earlier [NSW Government Gazette, and William Penson and Eliza Bucknell’s entry in St James C of E marriage register].

The name ‘New Town’, derives from the ‘New Town Store’ opened in 1832 by John Webster, fronting King Street between Australia and Eliza Streets. It was named by him to distinguish it from established stores in the general area at O’Connell Town, Camperdown and Cook’s River, would not have been universally adopted at that stage.

On 24 November 1832 the Sydney Gazette reported that “the neighbour-hood about the spot known as Devine’s Farm has obtained the name of Newtown”. This suggests that it was not recognised either officially or colloquially outside the local area. [Marrickville: Rural Outpost to Inner City by Richard Cashman and Chrys Meader (1990) page 52; Pictorial History Newtown by Alan Sharpe (1999); ‘Historical Notes on Newtown’ by LG Norman 1963, second edition 1994)]

Nicholas Divine (later spelt Devine) was granted 120 acres in 1794 and 90 acres in 1799 which he named Burrin Farm. It was located in Newtown and included the land Newtown, Macdonaldtown and Erskineville railway stations now occupy. Divine was approaching the last stages of dementia when his wife, Margaret, died in May 1827. He signed his 210 acres over to his assigned convict servant, Bernard Rochford, a former solicitor’s clerk who had been transported to NSW for fraud. Divine died in 1830 aged between 91 and 103. Soon after Rochford began subdividing and selling the land. In 1833 William Bucknell bought 5 acres 16 perches of land at what was called Surry Hills from Rochford with frontage to Cook’s River Road (now King Street).

Divine’s relatives heard about the estate and John Devine, Nicholas’ grand nephew and heir, arrived from Ireland and in 1848 filed a declaration claiming the whole of Nicholas’ farm. He took thirty Newtown landowners, including William Bucknell, to court in March 1852 in ‘Doe dem Devine v Wilson and Others’. When the defendants won, Devine appealed to the Privy Council in 1855, who recommended a second trial. This took place from 17 August to 16 September 1857 and Devine lost again. The defendants, however, paid him a handsome but undisclosed sum to drop his claim and he returned to Ireland, thus ending the Newtown ejectment case after nine years. [Norman op. cit.; Sharpe op. cit.]

William Bucknell erected four cottages on his Newtown land. On Monday 14 April 1834 there was a fire at the Newtown property, with The Australian reporting on Friday the 18th that –

“On Monday morning, at sun rise, Mr Bucknell, who resides at the Surry Hills, discovered that his cottage and the huts of his men were on fire. Every exertion was made to keep the devastating element under but without effect. The habitations were burned to the ground. Fortunately for the public, but contrary to the principles of the Alarmist, Mr. Bucknell has no doubt that the fire originated from accident.”

On 2 August 1834 the Newtown property was mortgaged to William Charles Wentworth. In June 1835 part of this property was leased to the merchant George William Paul.

During 1834-1835 bricks supplied from a pit on part of the Newtown property was used for building Lyndhurst in Glebe (currently the location of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW). [Waddingham op. cit.]

On 10 Mar 1836, William applied to purchase the block adjacent to Elmshall, which was less than 640 acres. On 22 Mar 1837 he applied to purchase approximately 400 acres in the Parish of St Vincent, in the District of Illawarra, in the vicinity of Stanwell Park. The family called this land ‘Bulli’ and Martha and the children appear to have spent at least part of the ensuing years there. On 30 March 1838 he applied to purchase 2,560 acres at Lake Macquarie. In 1840 he bought 12 allotments at Gippstown, Five Dock Estate from W Stubbs. [Waddingham op. cit.]

On 26 Feb 1840, 640 acres of the southern section of the original grant of Elmshall was sold. This was the area bounded on the east by the Allyn River, including the area that was subsequently sub-divided into the Brecon township.

The following advertisement appeared in The Australian of Saturday 13 June 1840 –

“Cottages to let at New Town. – A Cottage of Five Rooms Kitchen, Stable and Garden with Coach House if required. Also, a Cottage of Two or Three Rooms, a Shop and small Garden. Enquire of Mr Bucknell, near the premises. May 29th, 1840.”

On Saturday 2 January 1841 a further advertisement appeared:

“TO LET, a Verandah Cottage, containing four good rooms, a kitchen and store, with a garden attached. Also, a large Garden the soil is a rich black earth, and it has several large water holes in different parts of it which are never dry. Enquire of Mr Blackwell on the premises, New Town, or Mr T. Stubbs, Auction Mart, King-street. It is one mile from Parramatta street, and a Sydney coach passes four times a day. December 21, 1840”.

It shows from these advertisements that William Bucknell was trying to supplement his income so he could pay off his debts by building and renting out accommodation on his Newtown property.

In the 1841 census twelve people were listed in the household living at Newtown, including one female and four males convicts. In the period between 2 April 1832 and 7 December 1842 the NSW Government Gazette reported a series of thirteen abscondments and eleven arrests in relation to convicts assigned to William at Sydney, Surry Hills and Newtown.

In May 1841 some of the Newtown land was found to be part of the Bligh Estate (presumably the part located between King and Wilson Streets) and had to be repurchased, adding to William’s financial woes.

The ‘Plan of the Camperdown Estate to be sold by auction on May 21st by Mr. Lyons 1841’ shows ‘Mr Bucknell’ as owning land that was located on the east side of Bucknell Street from King Street to south of Wilson Street. Perhaps this is when it was discovered that part of the land was actually part of Bligh’s grant, rather than Divine’s. The land owned by William also extended slightly south of where the railway line now exists, between Macdonaldtown and Newtown stations. [SLNSW Mitchell Library; Sharpe op. cit.]

On 25 February 1843 William Bucknell purchased one acre 36 perches at New Town for £30/12/6.

On 22 April 1844 the trustee transferred ownership of one acre 36 perches of William’s Newtown land to John Blackman, who was an auctioneer in King Street Sydney from 1834. This land was the western half of the land William owned to the south of Wilson Street. [Waddingham op. cit.; Sharpe op. cit.]

On 11 Feb 1853, William Bucknell sold Elmshall to John Silk [Waddingham op. cit.]

It also appears that he sold the part of the Newtown land between King and Wilson Streets around this time, as the plan of Newtown in the 1850s included in the South Sydney Heritage Study, Vol. II, 1995 by Tropman & Tropman shows ‘Robey’ as the owner of that land. Ralph Mayer Robey (1809-1864) was also one of the defendants in the 1852 Newtown Ejectment case.


William Bucknell died on 20 February 1856 aged 79 at his home in Newtown and was buried on the following day. Martha died at 10.30pm on 16 June 1871 aged 83 at Newtown. They were both buried at Camperdown Cemetery, adjacent to St Stephen’s Newtown in the C of E Parish of Camperdown.
The Sydney Morning Herald of Thursday 21 February 1856 has the following notice –


At his residence, Newtown, on Wednesday, the 20th instant, William Bucknell, sen, Esq, aged 79.


The Friends of the late Mr. WILLIAM BUCKNELL, Senior, are respectfully requested to attend his funeral; the procession to move from his late residence, Newtown, THIS DAY, at 3 o’clock p.m. precisely. WALTER AND REUBEN THOMAS, undertakers, King-street West.”

‘Burials in the Parish of Camperdown in the County of Cumberland in the Year 1856’ shows that William Bucknell, abode Newtown died on 20 February and was buried on 21 February at 79 years of age and his quality or profession was Gentleman.

Martha frequently stayed with her cousin, William Charles Wentworth and his family at Vaucluse [Sarah Wentworth Mistress of Vaucluse by Carol Liston (Historic Houses Trust NSW, 1988)].

In the 1861 Sands Directory Mrs Bucknell is shown as living at Vine Cottage, Newtown. She is not listed in 1863, but in 1864 is shown as living in Wilson-street, Newtown. In 1865 she is shown as Mrs Margaret (sic) Bucknell, Wilson-street, Newtown, in 1866 as Mrs Bucknell Wilson-street, Newtown and in 1867 as Mrs Martha Bucknell, Meryville, Wilson st. Ntown.

Martha is not listed in 1869 and 1870. In 1871 she is listed as Mrs Martha Bucknell Wilson Street Newtown. In the Municipality of Newtown rate book the listings for Wilson Street in O’Connell Ward show Mrs Bucknell as a ratepayer during 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1871.

Martha had signed a will on 4 August 1866 which named her son Charles and son-in-law Geoffrey Eagar as executors. Contained in the will was a plan of the property at Newtown showing which portion of the land each of her six youngest surviving children would inherit. [NSW Supreme Court Probate Division – Volume 2 No. 1543]

She died at Newtown at 10.30pm on 16 June 1871 and was buried in the Parish of St Stephens at Newtown. The cause of death was ‘decay of nature’ and she was aged 83 years. [‘Burials in the Parish of Camperdown in the County of Cumberland in the Year 1871’ microfiche]


Elizabeth Ann Wentworth (Eliza) Bucknell married William Penson on 3 September 1832 at St James C of E in Sydney and went to live with him at Robert and Helenus Scott’s property Glendon in the upper Hunter, near Singleton. From 19 June 1850 they were based at the 30,000 acre run Oakwood. Although they moved from there to Stonehenge and later Pinkett, they remained in the Glen Innes area. William Penson died at Beardy Plains near Glen Innes on 21 April 1873 and Eliza died there at Pensonville in Beardy on 31 October 1881.

William and Martha’s oldest child, Martha Maria, married William Humphreys at the Presbyterian Scotts Church in February 1837. William and Martha Humphreys converted to the Mormon church in about 1852. Whilst en route to Salt Lake City aboard a 350 ton American bark, Julia Ann, bound for San Francisco, Martha and one of her daughters drowned on 3 October 1855, when the ship hit a reef near Scilly Island (now called Manuae), the westernmost atoll of the Society Islands about 400 nautical miles west of Tahiti. [Signals nos 35 and 38 (Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney, 1996 and 1997); Sydney Morning Herald 15 May 1997]

William Humphreys is shown at Lord Street, Newtown in the 1873 Sands and was named as a drayman in Gorden Street, Alexandria in 1875. In 1876 there is a William Humprey listed at Lord Street and William Humphries at O’Connell Street, both in Newtown.

William and Martha’s oldest son, William Wentworth Bucknell, married Susannah Barker on 26 December 1841. Susannah later left her husband and, taking their two sons without William’s consent, left with some Mormon elders for the United States. She later returned to NSW where she died at Sydney in 1898. William married for a second time to Susan Hopkins in 1857 in Sydney. They lived in a house called Avondale in Arncliffe Street, Arncliffe. William accidentally drowned in Woolli Creek on 8 October 1891 and Susan died at their house on 15 May 1911. [Waddingham op. cit.; Mitchell Library letters Donaldson Ministry, statement by William Wentworth Bucknell A 731, p. 460 frame 825 and 826].

On 7 March 1843 Mary Ann Arabella Bucknell married Geoffrey Eagar at a Catholic church in the Parish of Petersham. Mary Ann and Geoffrey lived in Glebe Point Road at a house called Elmville ‘on an allotment large enough to offer scope for developing one of Sydney’s most impressive gardens.’

From 1854 until 1859 Geoffrey was the Bank of NSW’s first Branch Accountant, second to the Secretary in the head office administration.. In September 1859 he resigned from the Bank and accepted an unpaid appointment to the NSW Legislative Council, where he became Secretary for Public Works and Representative of the Government in the Legislative Council in the Forster ministry from 27 October 1859 to 8 March 1860. He stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly seat of The Glebe at the November 1860 election.

He re-entered politics in 1863, winning in West Sydney and becoming Colonial Treasurer in the Martin ministry from 16 October 1863 until 2 February 1865 and from 22 January 1866 until 26 October 1868. The title ‘Honourable’ was conferred on him for life. He retired from politics in 1869 and was appointed to a senior Treasury position on 1 July 1871. He became Under Secretary in the following February, a position he occupied until March 1891. [Descent Volume 5 Part 3 ‘The Eagar Family’ article (Society of Australian Genealogists, 1971). Geoffrey died on 4 September 1891 and Mary Ann on 22 July 1895.

Charles Wentworth Bucknell married Ann(e) Creagh Mass(e)y on 18 March 1847 at St Stephen’s C of E at Camperdown. Charles was superintendent of ‘Mungyer’ run in the Barwon area by July 1845 also later had several runs in his own name. Ann(e) didn’t enjoy the outback life. She moved back to Sydney and lived at Moncur Street Woollahra and Wellington Street Newtown after they separated in about 1855. She is believed to have later run a school and died on 7 October 1910 [Waddingham op. cit.].

After they separated, Charles had four different de factos and moved to Korolevu on the south coast of Viti Levu in Fiji in 1870. He died on a boat sailing to Suva on 9 July 1889 whilst trying to seek medical attention after contracting tetanus [Waddingham op. cit.].

Juliet Wentworth Bucknell married Norman John Crocker of Adelaide on 20 March 1851 at St Stephens, Camperdown. They at first lived in Adelaide, but were back in Sydney by 1862 and made their home in Newtown at a house they called ‘Finchley’ after the Crockers home in England. The 1869-70 Electoral Roll lists Norman’s address as Stanmore Road. The 1873 and 1875 Sands Directories list Norman as a wholesale grocer at 519 George Street, with a private residence at Egan Street Newtown. In 1876 his address is listed as Prospect Street, Newtown. Norman died on 6 March 1902 at Waverley, his home at the time. Juliet died on 29 July 1913.

Catherine Wentworth (Kate) Bucknell married William Henry Hill on 20 September 1853. Kate and William lived in their home at Newtown, about one mile from her brother Adrian. In the 1869-70 Electoral Roll and the 1876 Sands William’s address is at Wilson Street, Newtown.

In 1883-1884 Kate negotiated with Geoffrey Eagar to sell some land to Francis Benson William Woolrych. William died in 1900 and Kate in 1906.

Adrian Wentworth Bucknell lived in Newtown during the 1840s and 1850s. He owned cattle that he sent to the Gwydir from the early 1840s and by the middle of the decade he would accompany cattle down the Darling River to Adelaide. By 1851 his sister Juliet was married to Norman Crocker and living in Adelaide. On 7 August 1856 Adrian married Fanny Maria Crocker, Norman’s sister, at Christ Church North Adelaide.

After their marriage, Fanny sailed to Sydney and Adrian returned overland with horses and provisions. They initially made their home in Newtown at a house also named ‘Finchley’, which they were still using as a Sydney base in 1885, but spent most of their time at their station on the Barwon, ‘Yarrawa’. The 1873 Sands shows Adrian Bucknal (sic) at ‘Cambridge ter., Ntown rd’. They travelled to Newtown every two or three years by horse or covered buggy to Singleton, train to Newcastle and boat to Sydney.

Francis Newnham (Frank) Bucknell attended the ‘Normal Institution’ during 1841 and 1843, until he was 15. He owned some cattle that were sent to the Gwydir properties of his brothers whilst he was still at school. By 1848 he was working on these properties and being paid a wage by his eldest brother William. He was described as a natural bushman, with a keen interest in horses.

Frank married Eliza Maria Canvin on 5 March 1862 at St Paul’s Murrurundi. Eliza lived at St Peters, Newtown for at least part of the time, whilst Frank remained a squatter in the Gwydir district. Frank died on 5 October 1902. Eliza died on 1 July 1919.


William and Martha were buried at Camperdown Cemetery, inside the circular road behind the church, but where precisely are their graves?
How long after Martha’s death did the land inherited by her children stay in the family’s hands?
105 Wilson Street, which contain industrial premises, was built in 1885 on land which Geoffrey Eagar owned in 1871. Was Geoffrey the owner when it was built?
What happened to the houses in which the Bucknells lived in Newtown, including Vine Cottage, Meryville and Finchley and the other cottages described?
How far eastward did the Bucknell’s land between King Street and Wilson Street extend, and when precisely was it sold?

This work is copyright © Paul Bourke 2002. No part of this work may be copied or used in any way without the written permission of Paul Bourke.