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William Wentworth Bucknell & Susannah Barker

[Elms Hall], [Brecon]

William Wentworth Bucknell

William Wentworth Bucknell was born in London in 1814, the son of William and Martha Bucknell, and he emigrated to New South Wales with his parents and family, arriving in 1826 on the Adrian. William Wentworth Bucknell was a second cousin to Australian explorer, politician, barrister and newspaper editor William Charles Wentworth.[1]

In 1827 William Bucknell snr was granted 2,560 acres of land north of the present-day village of Vacy (see map). He named his grant 'Elms Hall' after the Wentworth's ancestral home in Yorkshire but he did not settle to a rural lifestyle. William Wentworth Bucknell formally leased Elms Hall from his father in 1830 at the age of 16.[2]

Elms Hall store

William Wentworth Bucknell stayed on at Elms Hall when his parents moved to Sydney in the early 1830s, and he opened a store there in 1838.[3] By this time he was in a relationship with his housekeeper, Susannah Barker, and their first child, Thomas, was born in 1837.[4]

In 1841 part of Elms Hall was subdivided into town lots intended for sale as the private township of 'Brecon', but the town never eventuated.

Feisty mistress

Masters were expected to provide appropriate supervision for their assigned convicts and this was something the NSW government took very seriously. When William Bucknell was away from Elms Hall in September 1838 he left Susannah Barker in charge of the 15 convicts who lived and worked there. Susannah had a row with Mary McDonald, who was a convict assigned to Bucknell along with Mary's convict husband James. Barker told Mary she was a convicted bitch who ought to get 50 lashes twice a week. When Mary's husband found out he confronted Susannah for abusing his wife. Susannah replied 'give me none of your impudence or I will send you to court and get you flogged'.[5]

James McDonald immediately went to the Paterson police office and reported the matter. As a result, Bucknell returned from Sydney to find himself charged with 'Keeping an Improper female on his Establishment, to the great annoyance of his Assigned Servants'. The local magistrate decided Bucknell was unfit to have charge of assigned servants. Faced with losing all his convict workers, William Bucknell returned to Sydney to plead with Governor Gipps that he really was a respectable character. Gipps partially agreed and removed only the McDonalds from Bucknell's service.

Incredibly, less than a month later, Barker was at it again. She asked the local constable to take a convict into custody for disobeying her orders and brought two more of Bucknell's convicts before the magistrate on charges of stealing. The magistrate was outraged. He refused to hear the charges and reported to the Governor that Bucknell held the government in utter contempt and was totally unfit as a master of convicts. Governor Gipps ordered the removal of the three convicts who were the subject of Barker's complaints, so Bucknell lost another three workers.[6]

Marriage and missionaries

In 1841 William Bucknell married Susannah Barker. Their second son, Arthur, was born the same year. In 1852 American Mormon missionaries (of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) began operating in the lower Hunter Valley and by 1853 there was a branch of the Church at Williams River. William and Susannah Bucknell were baptised into the Mormon faith during 1853, and their two sons were baptised as Mormons in 1854.

In 1856 William, Susannah and their two sons were booked to sail for America on the Jenny Ford to make the Mormon pilgrimage to Salt Lake City. William had by this time formed an extra-marital liaison with a female servant and, following the Mormon practice of polygamy, was determined to take her to America. However, when Susannah turned up at a Church meeting with a black eye, William was excommunicated from the Mormon Church.

Second wife and family

Susannah and the two sons sailed as planned, while William stayed behind. Rather conveniently, a death notice appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in December 1856 stating that Sussanah Bucknell had died shortly after arriving in San Francisco.[7] It was a fake death notice placed by an unknown person but it freed William to remarry, which he did a few months later. He married Susan Hopkins in Sydney in July 1857 (probably his former mistress). The ceremony was performed by a leading Presbyterian minister, William having declared himself a bachelor. William and Susan had eleven children, of whom eight survived.

Susannah and her two sons returned to Australia to find William firmly established in his new relationship and apparently unwilling to recognise his former family, although he gave them financial support.

William and Susan and their growing family divided their time between his country estates and their residence, 'Avondale', in the Sydney suburb of Arncliffe. 'Susannah Bucknell lived in obscurity at Wallarobba in the Hunter Valley', north of her previous residence at Elms Hall.[8]

In 1853 Elms Hall was sold to John Silk, ending the Bucknell family's association with the estate.[9]


Thomas was killed in a lumber-camp accident in 1874 and Arthur became a well known farmer at Big Creek and Hilldale (north of Elms Hall) where he donated half an acre of land for the building of a union church.

Susannah Bucknell died in 1898 and in buried at St. Paul's Church of England cemetery in Paterson. Her death certificate confirms her identity as the person who married William Wentworth Bucknell and bore two of his sons.[10] Her death certificate also proves beyond reasonable doubt that the 1856 death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald was fake. William Wentworth Bucknell died at Arncliffe in 1891.


1. Bourke, P. Newtown Project website: William and Martha Bucknell.

2. Catalogue entry—State Library NSW (on-line).

3. Sydney Herald 27 July 1838 p.1.

4. Index to NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages, birth V18371689 24A/1837.

5. Johnstone to PSC, 10 October and 8 November 1838, CS In-letters, 38/11272 and 38/12086 in 4/2387.1, SRNSW.

6. Foster, SG. "Convict Assignment in New South Wales in the 1830s", in The Push from the Bush: A Bulletin of Social History, no. 15, 1983, pp.35-80.

7. Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 1856, 1. My thanks to Douglas Wilkie for alerting me to this death notice.

8. Newton, Majorie. Seduced Away: Early Mormon Documents in Australia.

9. Waddingham, Trissia. "Elms Hall, Vacy", in Museum News, vol. 8, no. 2, May 2001, Paterson Historical Society.

10. NSW Death Certificate 6777/1898.


Newton, Majorie. Seduced Away: Early Mormon Documents in Australia.

Newton, Majorie. "The Gathering of the Australian Saints", in The Push: A Journal of Early Australia Social History, no. 27, 1989, pp.1-16.

See also

Mormons, Paterson 1850s.

Waddingham, Trissia and Bill. The Descendants of William and Martha Bucknell, Elmshall, Paterson River, NSW. Earlwood NSW, 1996.