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Bunker, Eber (1761–1836)

by John S. Cumpston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Eber Bunker (1761-1836), by unknown artist, c1810

Eber Bunker (1761-1836), by unknown artist, c1810

State Library of New South Wales, Original: MIN 58

Eber Bunker (1761-1836), sea captain and farmer, was born on 7 March 1761 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, United States of America, son of James Bunker and his wife Hannah, née Shurtleff. On 16 November 1786 at St George-in-the-East, Middlesex, England, he married Margrett, daughter of Henry Thompson, and his wife Isabella, née Collingwood, who was first cousin to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. As master of the William and Ann, a transport in the Third Fleet, he arrived at Sydney in 1791. After a short whaling trip on the coast in company with the Britannia, during which the first whales were taken in Australian waters, the two ships left for the eastern Pacific. He returned with stores to Sydney in 1799 in the new ship Albion, owned by Messrs Champion, and spent the next two winters whaling, first off the Australian and then the New Zealand coasts. In December 1800 at Governor Philip Gidley King's request he visited the missionaries at Tahiti. Before he left Australia he acquired Laing's farm on the Parramatta road, in Bulanaming, from Thomas Palmer.

During a second whaling voyage from England in the Albion he discovered the Bunker Islands off the Queensland coast and, with stores and cattle, accompanied the Lady Nelson to establish the new settlement at the Derwent in 1803. He was given a town lease and a grant of 400 acres (162 ha), which he named Collingwood, on St George's River near Banks Town, immediately south of the future town site of Liverpool.

In August 1806 he reached Sydney from England as master of the Elizabeth, part-owned by Robert Campbell bringing his wife and five children. Bunker then went whaling off New Zealand, and next year took a cargo of salt pork to Hobart Town; but in September he left the Elizabeth. On 1 January 1808 he signed the dutiful address to Governor William Bligh, but joined those arresting him later in the month. He received eighteen head of cattle from the new administration, made a survey of the government stores and sat as a member of the Vice-Admiralty Court. In May he sailed in the Pegasus for New Zealand, Tongatapu and New Caledonia in search of the Harrington which had been stolen by convicts; next summer he went sealing off southern New Zealand, where he charted Foveaux Strait. On his return he took up a grant of 500 acres (202 ha) at Cabramatta Creek, adjoining his Banks Town land. This he called Collingwood Dale. To replace wheat lost in floods at the Hawkesbury in 1809, Bunker was engaged by J. C. Burton to command the Venus from Bengal to Sydney. Bunker's wife Margrett had died in March 1808 and he now married Margaret Macfarlane, widow of an officer of the East India Co. On his return he farmed at Liverpool, but his services as a mariner continued to be in demand. As master he went whaling in the Frederick in 1810 and trading to the Derwent and New Zealand in 1811 in the Governor Macquarie. In 1814 at Governor Macquarie's request he took to England the Seringapatam, which had been captured by the American frigate Essex and retaken at the Marquesas by prisoners of war. In 1817 he sailed the American ship Enterprize to the sealing grounds and returned from Bengal in 1818 in the Dragon.

In 1821 Bunker was promised a grant of 600 acres (243 ha) at Ravensworth on the Hunter River, and was given a permit to proceed to the country south and west of Bargo with 100 cattle and two servants. He then went to England to buy the Wellington. While he was away his wife died, and on his return he married, on 28 April 1823, Ann, widow of William Minchin. In 1824-25 he made a final whaling voyage in the Alfred to the Santa Cruz Islands. In 1828 he held 1600 acres (648 ha), of which 340 (138 ha) were cleared. He died at Collingwood on 27 September 1836, aged 74, and was buried in the old Church of England cemetery at Liverpool. Once described by Governor Macquarie as 'a very able and expert Seaman … and of a Most respectable Character', he had been a leading member of the community in New South Wales. He has been called the 'father of Australian whaling'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3-10
  • J. E. Philp, Whaling Ways of Hobart Town (Hob, 1936)
  • manuscript catalogue under E. Bunker (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John S. Cumpston, 'Bunker, Eber (1761–1836)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bunker-eber-1849/text2143, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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