ome viewed Ben Boyd as being a pirate, others would have followed him to the ends of the Earth. Such was the effect the magnetism of the man had on people.
Little is known of his early life other than he was born in Scotland in 1796. By 1824 he was a successful stockbroker in London and by 1840 had established a fortune and a reputation emanating from his inherent Scots canniness.
It was at this time the adventurer in him came forth, filled with a lust for power and a greed for money.
Australia attracted him as he had heard of a country awakening from the Dreamtime with quick fortunes to be made from wool and wheat. He had heard too of the Sydney grog shops which could rival those of San Francisco and of the Sydney port, a likely stepping stone to the spices and dusky beauties of the Pacific islands.
With backers pledging 500,000 Pounds, with little or no guarantee, he was able to float the Royal Bank of Australia soon after his arrival in Sydney in July 1842 with his brother James.
Quickly establishing the bank he set about the task of buying or ‘jumping’ as much of the country as he could lay his hands on and within a relatively short period reported to his shareholders in 1844 of holdings of some 381,000 acres in the Monaro district near modern day Canberra and another 2,000,000 acres in the recently opened Murray and Riverina districts.
He then established two settlements modestly named Boydtown and East Boyd, on Twofold Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales. Boydtown was to serve as a port for the export of meat, hide, tallow and other produce from his properties.
There was already an established whaling industry in Twofold Bay and with ‘The Old Dart’ (Britain) clamoring for supplies of whale oil and whale bone Boyd quickly took up the challenge and went to war with the competition.
Battles were soon fought between rival whaling stations, even using pistols and knives. Boyd also imported Kanakas from the South Sea islands though they proved useless as cattlemen and they terrified the local population until Boyd shipped them out again.
To facilitate the hard work of processing the whales Boyd sank more money into sheds, wells and a boiling-down works. A year’s catch could return 50,000 Pounds, a large amount in those days but small in comparison with the capital investment of the syndicate. The shareholders back in London were becoming anxious for a return on their funding operation.
By 1848 the operation started to flounder after law suits on the insurance of a stricken vessel were lost. The London financiers voted Ben Boyd out of control and sent his cousin William Boyd to Australia to salvage the business. However, it was too late. By 1849 the value of sheep and cattle had slumped. Boyd was so over committed that his bank was one of the first to crash and even more money was lost by the London investors trying to prop up the operation of the business.
In the wash up all Boyd had left was his schooner the "Wanderer" in which in October 1849 Boyd left Sydney, fated never to return.
Unshaken by the disaster and believing in himself even more, Boyd set sail for California and the drawing power of gold.
However, he had no luck in the gold-fields and in 1851 Boyd put out from San Francisco setting a course once again for Australia.
After stopping in Hawaii, Boyd sailed on to the Solomon Islands where on the morning of 15th October he went ashore to shoot game. His boat moved up a small stream until out of sight of the "Wanderer", when two gun shots were heard. His failing to return to the "Wanderer" caused a search party to be sent ashore, but to no avail. The general consensus of the crew was that he had been taken by headhunters and had probably ended up in the cooking pot.
A month later the "Wanderer" was lost in a storm on rocks off Port Macquarie, 250 miles north of Sydney.
Ben Boyd was a man ahead of his time, a gambler who spent other people’s money wildly, trying to create great wealth and power, - and eventually losing out - you could say a former day equivalent of some of the Australian ‘entrepreneurs’ of the 1980s. You all know who they were, good and bad, so look them up on this web-site.
The pictures at the foot of this page are of plaques raised at the bottom of Ben Boyd road in the Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay.