This post is the first in a series where I hope to heighten people’s awareness as to who the people are that grace the front and back of the banknotes in Australia.
The twenty-dollar polymer bank-note from Australia has a pair of fascinating people depicted on it. From a historical point of view this lady pictured under is just an absolute Trojan from the school of hard knocks and sheer determination.
Her name is Mary Reiby and this is her story.
She was born in Bury, Lancashire, England in 1777 as Mary Haydock. Shortly after the death of her parents she was taken in by her Grandmother who reared her. Later she was sent in to service as a house servant and at the tender age of 13 she decided to run away. She stole a horse and dressed herself as a boy in order to avoid awkward questions. She was however arrested and sent for trial on charges of horse stealing and impersonating a man. The second charge becoming apparent only during her trial when she was forced to give her real identity. The court found her guilty and sentenced her to, “Transportation To Australia”. She traveled to Australia aboard the convict ship Royal Admiral and landed at New South Wales in October 1792 and was assigned as a nursemaid in the household of Major Francis Grose. The whole episode which resulted in her conviction as a felon at the age of 13 and transportation to New South Wales was probably no more than a high-spirited escapade attributable to lack of parental control.
Early pieces of her notes and letters have been archived and although she only displayed a rudimentary command of the written English given the degree of colloquialisms she used, her hand was strong and amazingly she even seemed, within her letters, to be completely unclear as to the real terms of her punishment. These early documents however did not presage the women that she would ultimately become.
In September 1794 after 2 years in the colony she married a young Irishman Thomas Reiby in the service of the East India Co., whom she had met in the transport and who had returned to Sydney in the Britannia that year.Thomas appears to have been the first free settler outside the military ring to trade.
The first years of his married life were apparently spent on the Hawkesbury River, where he acquired several farms on the Hawkesbury River, and traded in coal, cedar, furs and skins was engaged in the grain-carrying business. Later he established himself near the waterside in what is now Macquarie Place on a further land grant and turned his former association with the East India Co. to advantage by importing general merchandise. He named his trading establishment Entally House, after a suburb in Calcutta. In 1803, Thomas Reibey advertised cedar beams for sale in the Sydney Gazette. He traded his goods along the Hawkesbury and Hunter rivers, bringing raw materials and produce to Sydney. Mary meanwhile operated a bakery. By 1803 he also owned three small boats, James, Edwin and Raven, and traded to the Hunter and Hawkesbury Rivers in coals, cedar and wheat. In 1804, now prosperous, the family moved to Sydney. He later entered into partnership with one Edward Wills and was engaged in sealing in Bass Strait in 1805. In 1807 they bought the schooner called Mercury for trade with the Pacific Islands and, from 1809, to China and India
The scope of his business activity was indicated when in 1801 he became indebted to Robert Campbell senior for the sum of £160 10s., and in October 1803 he mortgaged to Campbell three Hawkesbury farms totaling 260 acres (105 ha), their buildings, crops, livestock, and boats, along with certain other property and buildings in Sydney, for a further credit advance of £150 to enable him to carry on his business.
Late in 1809, he set sail for India. There, he fell victim to sunstroke, from which he never fully recovered, dying in Sydney on April 5, 1811. Mary took over the business. She then assumed sole responsibility for the care of her seven children and the control of the numerous business enterprises they had built. Having been responsible her husband’s affairs during the previous 15 years of his frequent absences from Sydney she was well equipped to take on the task. Now a woman of considerable wealth, Mary Reibey continued to expand her business interests. In 1812 she opened a new warehouse in George Street and in 1817 extended her shipping operations with the purchase of further vessels. By 1828, when she gradually retired from active involvement in commerce, she had acquired extensive property holdings in the city. In the emancipate society of New South Wales, she gained respect for her charitable works and her interest in the church and education. She was appointed one of the Governors of the Free Grammar School in 1825. On her retirement, she built a house at Newtown, Sydney, where she lived until her death on 30 May 1855. Five of her seven children had predeceased her. An enterprising and determined person of strong personality, during her lifetime Mary Reibey earned a reputation as an astute and successful business woman in the colony of New South Wales.
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