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Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Statuary meme: Ben Boyd's Tower, Eden, NSW

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BEN BOYD'S Tower is watching —
    Watching o'er the sea;
Ben Boyd's Tower is waiting
    For her and me.

        We do not know the day,
        We do not know the hour,
        But we know that we shall meet
        By Ben Boyd's Tower.

Moonlight peoples Boyd Tower,
    Mystic are its walls;
Lightly dance the lovers
    In its haunted halls.

        Ben Boyd's Tower is watching—
        Watching o'er the foam;
        Ben Boyd's Tower is waiting
        Till the 'Wanderer' comes home.

O! he lay above us —
    High above the surf —
Finger-nails and toe-caps
    Digging in the turf.

        We do not know the day,
        We do not know the hour,
        But Two and Two shall meet again
        By Ben Boyd's Tower.

(excerpt from 'Ben Boyd's Tower' by Henry Lawson).

I've been to the Bega Valley many times in the twelve years or so since my parents retired there, but I'd never been to Ben Boyd's Tower. It's one of those things you always mean to do. I've been to the Killer Whale Museum a few times, and there's (only) one spot in that museum from which you can see the Tower, and I always manage to stand there. So this time I made the effort and drove around Twofold Bay for a closer look.

Ben Boyd must be the hero of the Eden district. It's a conjecture I make from driving through the town and region. Every second thing is named after him. There's (at a quick glance) Ben Boyd Road, Ben Boyd Street, Ben Boyd National Park, Ben Boyd Mall, Boydtown, and of course, Ben Boyd Tower. Now, some may say that this is not about statuary but architecture; I beg to differ. And once I've finished, you'll understand why. Oh, BTW, I've been told the other Boyds (the artistic ones) are no relation. Dunno if that's true or not. I'd love to claim this man as a relative.

Ben Boyd was arguably Eden's most eccentric historical character. My mother, who is an Eden-Monaro history buff and holds high rank at the Bega museum, looked at me over her bifocals and corrected me when I expressed this view. 'He was an en-tre-pen-uer', she said. Yes, but a mad one. Aren't they all? According to the history books, he put Eden on the map. He was originally a wealthy stockbroker from England. He arrived in 1842 and established a coastal steamship service. He thought there was a lot of potential for Twofold Bay, and tried to build a town there: Boydtown. Like Governor Macquarie and numerous other colonial dignitaries, he thought that everything should be named after himself. Lots of vision, no imagination. Funnily enough, people down in Eden seemed to agree with him, since most of the things named after him have been done so since his demise.

When I look at the actual dates involved, I'm amazed at how much that man achieved. Within two years of his arrival Boyd had become one of the largest landholders in the colony, with nearly two and a half million acres in the Riverina and Monaro regions upon which were 158,000 sheep and 21,000 cattle. Whaling was already big in the area, and he bought into that. Apparently he was a big believer in unfairly low wages for a fair day's work, and surprisingly had a hard time finding labourers for his enterprises.

The Tower was what convinced me of his stupidity. It wasn't a bad idea, and one that incorporated a lot of his shipping and whaling interests. He decided to build a lighthouse for Twofold Bay. He didn't ask permission, he just did it. It's a rather gothic creation, and I loved walking towards it through the bush, imagining wild winds and craggy lighthouse-keepers. I can see what inspired Henry Lawson's imagination (mind you, I don't know if he actually clapped eyes on the place; it hasn't actually got 'halls'!). It would be a fabulous place to come on a moonlit night...
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It is a beautiful thing. It's got four storeys, nicely-formed windows (no glass), and made from gorgeous sandstone blocks. The inside is a series of platforms but with no ladders.
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Admittedly, that's a modern omission to prevent weekend oiks from climbing up with cartons of beer, shagging on the platforms and falling through the holes, but I can't imagine anyone trying to carry drums of oil or other such fuel up such a shonky arrangement. It's an odd sort of lighthouse.

It would look great with a long yellow plait of hair falling from the top floor.
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I do have a soft spot for sandstone and the markings that are left by stoneworking tools. I used to live in a beautiful sandstone house in Sydney and it delighted me every day.
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Then I read the signs. Boyd's lighthouse was never approved. It was never used as a lighthouse, and the most useful purpose it provided was as a shelter for some of the whaling teams. I thought, while walking towards the tower, that he would have at least have used the glorious red rock that graces that coastline for the building material.

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But no, he had all the blocks cut in Sydney and brought down by boat and painstakingly levered into place at the bottom-most tip of Twofold Bay.
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What a wally.

Of course, he ran out of money. So Ben Boyd arrived in 1842, spent all his money on wild ideas like this and Boydtown, then one of his best ships sank and he ran out of money. He then did what was natural. He scarpered. He left for the California goldfields in 1849. He disappeared at Guadalcanal in 1851. He did it all in 9 years. What a man. I like to think he found a huge amount of gold, ran away to some other needy deserving rural district and did it all again, under a different name. Or maybe he just found a nice pub and stayed there a while, reflecting on his mistakes. I doubt it. That man sounded like he needed to keep busy.

The Tower is a great, useless, beautiful piece of sculpture. There are other remnants of Ben Boyd's short but enthusiastic visit to the Far South Coast, but nothing as poignant as this. We popped into Boydtown on the way back, expecting to find more sandstone ruins or some nice old houses. Boydtown has a big sign on the highway. Instead we found a huge caravan park and a pub. And a tribute to BB in the form of a smaller version of the Tower. This one is about 15 feet high and not quite accurate, having only three stories and a door and glass windows, but you get the general idea.

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It also had a very nice ant colony running up and down the side of it, which was the only sign of life we could find in the area. No chance of buying a beer at this time of year. Ben would have been disappointed.

Postscript: please do press the Eden Killer Whale Museum link. Read about Old Tom, and definitely press on the FAQ button.

5 comments:

Lucy Tartan said...

gorgeous post, and I totally agree that it's a sculpture more than a building. You make me almost want to go via eden and go slowly next time we have to travel up thataway. And now, at long last, I understand why the little crenelated castle icons on the roadside signs pointing to Boydtown.

It's interesting how the little replica tower compares to the original. The original's proportions are much, much nicer, thats how it looks from your photos anyway. The wild colonials weren't crude in every way were they.

Love the Lawson poem too. Very Walter Scott.

Lucy Tartan said...

Old Tom, the pointy-fanged quisling whale. He deserved everything he got.

Ampersand Duck said...

I think so too... what a traitor to his species!
Do visit the Tower. Wear a long flowing dress and take a bottle of champagne. Then walk down to the cliff and watch the sea for a while. Try to ignore the sounds of the wood-chipping mill just over the rise.

Sarah M said...

Hey,
I'm Sarah, a boarder at Canberra Girls' Grammar School, and I live in Pambula.
I was Googling Boyd's Tower to find (more) information on it for my recent history assignment. My last assignment was a 1000 word biography on Boyd, and now I'm doing a field study on the tower. I've found out some interesting (and amusing) things about both Boyd and the Tower. Your blog is very interesting, but I would love it if I could actually see the photos that you've taken of it. I would also love to hear your ideas on the carvings more. I'm speaking of the two crosses on the north wall and the strange (and incomprihensible) carvings on the lowest east wall windowsill.
Please email me (sarahm91@hotmail.com) if you have any information, or ideas that could be of use. I would greatly appreciate it.
-Sarah

Gunter said...

I recently visited Ben Boyds Tower and was very impressed with the location and the various viewing platforms in it's surroundings. However, I was thoroughly disappointed with the fact that it is not possible to climb the tower via an internal staircase. This would grant a 360° view of one of the most magnificent viewing points in all of Australia. Come on, Eden, come on NPWS, you can do it!
Boyd Town Pub in the meantime has been renovated into a hotel and conference centre called "The Seahorse Inn", we had a nice lunch and decent coffee there.