Dictionary of Sydney

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Bunker, Eber

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Bunker, Eber

Captain Eber (or Ebor) Bunker arrived in Sydney in September 1791. At 30 years old, he was the master of a Third Fleet convict transport and whaler, the William and Ann. Today he is recognised as the founder of the Australian whaling industry.

Formerly of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and from a whaling background, Bunker had emigrated to England via Nova Scotia at the time of the American Revolution, where he had married Margrett Thompson. She was a cousin of Vice-Admiral Collingwood, who succeeded Admiral Nelson upon his death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

In October 1791, Bunker, in the William and Ann, together with the Britannia under Captain Thomas Melville, went out whale hunting. Bunker went on to pursue many more whaling exploits, transporting valuable whale oil back to England, and in return, bringing out much needed trade goods for the new colony.

In 1803 Governor Philip Gidley King, concerned over French intentions in Van Diemen’s Land, sent Bunker, in the whaler Albion, to carry the bulk of a party to establish a British settlement there, on the Derwent River. In recognition of his efforts, Governor King awarded Bunker a land grant of 400 acres (162 hectares) in the district of Banks Town, which eventually became the estate of Collingwood. It was also known as Bunker’s Farm/Cottage.

In 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie granted Bunker another 500 acres (202 hectares) adjoining the original grant. A number of landmarks are named after him, including two Bunkers Hills (The Rocks and east of Quirindi in northern New South Wales) and the Bunker Islands off the Queensland coast near Rockhampton.

Bunker was also a successful merchant, with his trading operations based at Bunkers Hill in The Rocks. On 14 November 1909, the Sunday Times (Sydney) described the old Bunker House on The Rocks as at first being made of bark and slab, and later, at the time of Governor Macquarie, of stone. It was at the end of Gloucester Street overlooking the harbour, with Cumberland Street in the west and George Street to the east. In 2009, a plaque remembering Bunkers Hill is located on the Gloucester Walk, in The Rocks.

Later Bunker moved from The Rocks a property on the east side of the spring at the north of Pitts Row, located at the south-eastern corner of Pitt and Hunter streets. Governor King authorised the lease on 26 August 1803, for 14 years at two shillings and sixpence per year. The lease was reissued to Bunker in 1810 by Governor Macquarie.

Bunker achieved a level of seniority and respect within the colony. He was involved in many notable events, including the overthrow of Governor Bligh and the pursuit of escaped convicts who stole a boat and sailed off into the Pacific. He hosted Governor Macquarie and his wife at Collingwood during a trip to the area, and acted as Macquarie’s representative on a trip to London in October 1814.

He also made a significant contribution to the growth and development of Sydney through his business dealings and political involvement. Indeed, in such a small town, everyone seemed to be involved in something. Ultimately it was his whaling endeavours that created a viable industry within the colony and contributed to its first exports.

An astute businessman, and man of character, Bunker died at the age of 74 having had three wives, Margrett (née Thompson), Margaret (née MacFarlane) and Ann (née Minchin).


John S Cumpston, 'Bunker, Eber (1761–1836)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol 1, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1966, p 178

New South Wales Geographical Names Board website, 'Bunkers Hill', http://www.gnb.nsw.gov.au/name_search, viewed 17 February 2009

R Hodgkinson, Eber Bunker of Liverpool; 'The Father of Australian Whaling', Roebuck Society Publication, no 15, 1975

Bunker family sources