Monday, 19 September 2011

A rose by any other name.......

I have discovered that Wauchope is the sixth most mispronounced town in the world. Number 1 is Phuket. The only other Australian town listed is Mooball, which comes in third.

I wondered what effect this could have on the psyche of the town’s people. Did it make them angry to be referred to as ‘Warchoppy’ or ‘Wowchop’? Or did this verbal mangling of their town’s name just lead to a gales of laughter as red-faced tourists back away muttering apologies?

Wauchope is an allegedly Scottish name, first known in early medieval Scotland and England. Both have dibs on it, as the name is found both in the district called 'Wauchopedale' in the parish of Langholm, Dumfriesshire, and from the area in and around Wanchope Forest next to the Cheviot Hills on the border with Northumberland. Given how fluid the border was between Scotland and England in medieval times, it is not surprising that both lay claim to the name. According to the online surname database ( the name means 'the valley of the foreigner(s)', and is derived from the Old English pre 7th Century word 'walh', foreign(er), which generally referred to pockets of Scotsmen, Welshmen or Bretons, or English in Scotland, with the Old English 'hop', Middle English 'hope', a small, enclosed valley.

Wauchope does lie in the Hastings Valley, and if you do ask the locals, they will tell you that there has been an influx of foreigners into their town precincts, mostly from Port Macquarie, to whom they (the Wauchopians) most emphatically do NOT belong. So Wauchope, the valley of foreigners, is an enticing option. But as attractive as this theory is as to why Wauchope is so named, the story offered by a couple of local historians is even more fantastic.

According to the Port Macquarie- Hastings Council website (

…the name Wauchope comes from a Scottish family named Wauchope that lived for some 700 years on a family estate in Edinburgh. In 1761 Robert Wauchope was born. When Robert's father died the family quarrelled about the sharing of the estate and the matter was taken to court. Robert lost the case and became so embittered that he retired to his portion, called Foxall and eliminated the letters 'ope' from his name. His son, born in 1786, was given the surname Wauch.

Like his father the son decided to follow an army career and became Capt Robert Andrew Wauch of the 28th Regiment of Foot. When he retired from the army he sailed for Sydney in 1836 with his wife and 3 children and came to the Hastings Valley.

He purchased 2297 acres on King Creek and 4 years later bought an additional 1168 acres. He built a house and called it Wauch House.
Following his death in 1866 in the Macleay the Government Gazette published the deeds of the blocks Capt Wauch had purchased 30 years earlier. For a reason never explained the deeds specified the properties should been called Wauchope.

In 1881 the postal authorities opened a post office in the nearby settlement and gave it the name Wauchope, even though the Government Gazette, because of a misprint, spelt it Wanghope. The error was not corrected until 1889.

Wanghope??? This is even worse than Warchoppy. And 8 years to correct the mistake? Only a Government Dept could take so long to recognise a typo that may have potentially created a cultural cringe in Wauchope’s citizens - even before culturally cringing was recognized as a potential colonial hazard.

We have found this story of Capt. Wauch repeated in various publications around the town and online, including Wikipedia. The trouble is, there doesn’t appear to be any substantiation for the story of Robert Wauch’s family lineage in any birth records that we have access to, including Scotland’s People. While there is no doubt Capt. Wauch existed, and while I acknowledge that the story of his family origins might be true, it does seem suspiciously like a folk tale, where the local hero was wronged by someone in the British aristocracy, thumbed his nose at them, and came out to Australia and made good. Australians do like an anti-hero, and perhaps Capt. Wauch presented them with this kind of opportunity.

Whether one identifies with Wauchope, the valley of strangers, or Wanghope, the typographical error, or Wauch that was really Wauchope, or Wauchope the 6th most mispronounced town in the world, Wauchope is a place where the long term residents are very proud of their town and their heritage. So much so that when I innocently asked if there was anywhere in Greater Port Macquarie that free-range chicken could be purchased, I was firmly informed that “WE ARE NOT PORT MACQUARIE.” Oops.

The newspaper that lay waiting in our driveway when I got home announced it was the paper of “Greater Port Macquarie”. So at least for some, the times - and the name - are a-changing.

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