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A surprise encounter Down Under: Mary Reibey’s letter from the colony, 1792

Mary Reibey's letter
By Mike Millward

Early in 2010, Dot and I visited Sydney, New South Wales to stay with our son. Sydney is a wonderful city, full of life and culture, and while there we visited many museums and galleries. One of the exhibitions we saw was in the Mitchell Library, the National Library of New South Wales.

As part of its centenary celebrations, the library put on a wonderful exhibition of 100 items from its collection ranging in date from the sixteenth century to the present day. While browsing amongst the many fascinating things on show, my eye was caught by the word “Blackburn” in the label to exhibit 19, a letter written to a Blackburn resident in 1792.
At the age of thirteen, the orphaned Mary Haydock was sentenced to transportation for seven years for horse stealing. Shortly after arriving in Sydney from England in October 1792, now aged fifteen, she wrote this letter to her aunt Penelope Hope in Blackburn. A transcription appears at the end of this article.

Two years after landing in Australia as a convicted thief she married Thomas Reibey, a merchant and landholder with whom she had seven children before he died in 1811 when Mary was 32. She took over the running of his business interests with such success that within five years she was reputed to be worth £20,000. Eventually, she became a prosperous businesswoman in her own right with interests in trading ventures and property. She died in 1855 aged 78, a wealthy and respected member of colonial society, a legendary businesswoman who also took an active interest in community affairs.

The letter was purchased by the Library in 1994 from the London bookseller Burgess Browning with assistance from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Mary Reibey's letter
Mary Reibey’s letter


Octb 8th 1792 bottany bay

My Dear aunt

We arrived here on the 7th and I hope it will answer better than we expected for I write this on Board of ship but it looks a pleasant place – Enough we shall but have 4 pair of trowser to make a week and we shall have one pound of rice a week and 4 pound of pork besides Greens and other Vegetaibles the tell me I am for life wich The Governor teld me I was but for 7 years wich Grives me very much to think of it but I will watch every oppertunity to get away in too or 3 years But I will make my self as happy as I Can In my Pressent and unhappy situation I will Give you – Further satisfaction when I Get there and is settld I am well and hearty as ever I was in my life I – Desire you will answer me by some ship that is – Coming and lett me know how the Children is and all inquireing friends so I must Conclude because we are in a hurry to go a shore remember – My Love to my sister and aunt wamsley and My Cousens so no more at pressent from your undutifull neice Mary Haydock
Mr Scot Took 2 Ginnues of me and said he would get me My Libberty with my sister has been very ungrat [?] To me so I must never see you again

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