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Bangalla - Sydney's historic island holiday destination

Martha Catherine Bens 1838-1920

Historic Bangalla

A Joseph Ben (sometimes spelt Benn) first became associated with the island in 1855, and here the links to Bangalla’s early history start becoming more tantalising. Joe Ben was born in Belgium (his real name was Ambrol Josef Diercknecht) and he ran away to sea at a young age. He was soon a trader working in Sydney before moving to live on Scotland Is in 1855.

Ben is said to have rebuilt Thompson’s house on arrival (the location of this property is unclear), and went on to marry an Aboriginal girl, Catherine (daughter of Biddy and John Lewis) who became a well known midwife and delivered many of the local babies of the time. Catherine moved to the island in 1860, and had at least one daughter who stayed on the island, having a baby girl near where Tennis Wharf now is. Ben paid rent for 5 years from 1855 until finding his landlord (the Dickson family) did not have legal title to the island, after which he and his partner successfully claimed legal title for themselves.

Joe and Catherine Benn lived on the island until Joe’s death in 1900, with Catherine staying on to at least 1905 after inheriting his estate of £355. There is local, oral history sugestting that Joe and Catherine lived at Bangalla prior to his death, and it’s quite possible Joe built the property in the late 1800’s although this is unconfirmed at present.

The island was marketed for sale in August, 1896 and considered by the agent, Richardson & Wrench to be eminently suitable for a sanatorium or recreation grounds.

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