Thomas and Mary Reibey

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Mary Reibey on the $20 note
Mary Reibey on the $20 note

The marriage of Thomas and Mary by Reverend Richard Johnson in September 1794 joined two people with wide-ranging business skills. Thomas was the first mate on an East India Company ship Britannia, under Captain Raven's command which gave him knowledge of shipping and the whaling industry. Whale oil and associated body parts such as bone were the first major exports of the colony of New South Wales earning more income than wool up to 1833.

The Britannia brought clothing for convicts, beef and pork sufficient for 4629 persons in July 1792 then sailed to the Cape of Good Hope in October to purchase cattle, horses, flour, sugar and spirits. It arrived back in Sydney in June 1793 and stayed ten weeks for repairs. The next journey was to Bengal. However pirates attacked the ship forcing a change of plans with provisions purchased from Dutch East India Company instead and a return to Port Jackson by June 1794.

Thomas must have met Mary during the various shore leaves. He resigned from his ship and obtained a 30 acre grant on the River Hawkesbury in the district of Mulgrave Place in 1794 and a further 100 acres in 1803. Marine knowledge and skill encouraged Thomas to carry produce on his boat named The Raven from Windsor District along the Hawkesbury, into the open sea and down to Port Jackson. Trading proved successful and the Reibey family business expanded to include the Hunter River to Bass Strait and Sydney to Tahiti and Fiji.

Mary, aged 15 years, worked in Lieutenant Governor Francis Grose's home as a nursemaid soon after arrival from England on the Royal Admiral on October 7, 1792.

The first son, Thomas Haydock Reibey, was born in May 1796 only nine days before his mother's nineteenth birthday.

Trevor Patrick is a local historian of the north-west of Sydney, Australia. His latest book, In Search of the Pennant Hills, recounts some of these stories (and others) in more detail.