Characters that shaped Brownsea Island


Brownsea has been owned and looked after by a wide variety of people in its history, from hermit monks to Tudor kings, hopeful entrepreneurs to wildlife enthusiasts.

William Benson

In 1722 William Benson bought Brownsea Island for £300. He was an architect and a keen botanist and worked hard to make improvements to the buildings on the island, and planted many new species of trees. Unfortunetely, later in his life he suffered from mental illness and rumours spread that he dabbled in black magic, leading to his nickname 'Mad Benson'.

Sir Humphery Sturt

When Sir Humphrey Sturt of More, a local MP, took over the island he added wings to the castle, raised it to four storeys, and laid out gardens complete with hot houses.

A tourist in the 1770s wrote that Sir Sturt planted 'a million trees of various sorts, chiefly firs'. He had barge-loads of dung brought from London and pioneered new methods of cultivating plants, as well as creating two freshwater lakes, a walled garden and a pheasantry.

Colonel William Petrie Waugh and his wife Mary

In the belief that they had found a source of high quality china clay, Colonel Waugh bought Brownsea and built an impressive 3-storey pottery on the south of the island. He also built the village of Maryland (named after his wife), a state of the art farm, neo-gothic church and built the sea wall to reclaim land for pasture (now the lagoon).

Unfortunately, the clay was suitable only for making bricks and pipes and the Waughs left the island after 5 years.

Hon George Cavendish-Bentinck

After buying the island in 1873, Cavendish-Bentinck kept the pottery going for another 14 years. However, his real love was art and he bought many Italian Renaissance pieces to decorate the castle and the church. 

Van Raalte family

The Van Raalte family bought the island in 1901 as their country retreat. They regularly had visitors from London and were great fans of music and parties. Everyone who worked on the island was expected to play an instrument in the Brownsea band. 

Mrs Mary Bonham-Christie

In 1927 Mrs Bonham-Christie bought the island. She led a reclusive life, with the villagers from Maryland gradually returning the the main land. A great lover of animals and wildlife, she allowed the island to revert back to its natural state of heath and woodland, with the orchards and farm being quickly abandoned. 

See our collections online

Brownsea Island holds a rich collection of artefacts and some can be explored online. See our collections along with many more items owned by the National Trust across the UK.

Enter our collections database.