REIBEY, Mary (1777-1855)

Mary REIBEY, baptised Molly HAYDOCK, was born on 12th May 1777 in Bury, Lancashire, England. She was a businesswoman and trader. Following the death of her parents, she was reared by a grandmother and sent into service. She ran away, and was arrested for stealing a horse in August 1791. At the time, she was disguised as a boy and was going under the name of James BURROW. Sentenced to seven years’ transportation, she arrived in Sydney, Australia, on the Royal Admiral in October 1792.

On 7th September 1794, 17 year old Mary married Thomas REIBEY, after he had proposed to her several times; she finally agreed to marry the junior officer on the store ship Britannia. REIBEY also used the surnames RAIBY, REIBY and REIBEY interchangeably, but the family adopted the spelling REIBEY in later years. Thomas REIBEY was granted land on the Hawkesbury River, where he and Mary lived and farmed following their marriage. They built a farmhouse called Reibycroft, which is now listed on the Register of the National Estate.

Thomas REIBEY (1769-1811) commenced a cargo business along the Hawkesbury River to Sydney, and later moved to Sydney. Thomas REIBEY’s business undertakings prospered, enabling him in 1804 to build a substantial stone residence on a further grant of land near Macquarie Place. He acquired several farms on the Hawkesbury River, and traded in coal, cedar, furs and skins. He entered into a partnership with Edward WILLS, and trading activities were extended to Bass Strait, the Pacific Islands and, from 1809, to China and India.

When Thomas REIBEY died on 5th April 1811, Mary assumed sole responsibility for the care of seven children and the control of numerous business enterprises. She was no stranger to this task, having managed her husband’s affairs during his frequent absences from Sydney. Now a woman of considerable wealth by her husband’s businesses, 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. In the same year, the Bank of New South Wales was founded in her house in Macquarie Place.

By 1828, when she gradually retired from active involvement in commerce, she had acquired extensive property holdings in the city. Like many others, however, she was on occasions somewhat economical with the truth. In March 1820 she had returned to England with her daughters to visit her native village, and came back to Sydney the next year. So in the 1828 census, when asked to describe her condition, she declared that she “came free in 1821”.

In the emancipist 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.

REIBEY built a cottage in the suburb of Hunters Hill circa 1836, where she lived for some time. The cottage, situated on the shores of the Lane Cove River, was later acquired by the JOUBERT brothers, who enlarged it. It is now known as Fig Tree House and is listed on the Register of the National Estate.

On her retirement, she built a house at Newtown, Sydney, where she lived until her death on 30th May 1855 from pneumonia. Five of her seven children had predeceased her.

An enterprising and determined person of strong personality, during her lifetime REIBEY earned a reputation as an astute and successful business woman in the colony of New South Wales. She is featured on the obverse of Australian twenty-dollar notes printed since 1994.

Mary Reibey Memorial headstone in Devonshire Street Cemetery

Mary Reibey Memorial headstone in Devonshire Street Cemetery. Image courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Mary Reibey headstone transcription:

Sacred to the Memory of

Mr Thomas Reibey

Who departed this life on 5th May 1811

Aged 36 years


Mrs Celia Wills wife of Mr Thomas Wills

Eldest daughter of Mr Thomas Reibey

Who departed this life 28th September, 1823

Aged 20 years and 9 months

Also Alice Wills, infant daughter who departed this life

11th April 1824 aged 11 months 5 days

Also of

Mary, widow of the above

Mr Thomas Reibey

Born 12th May 1777

Died 30th May 1855

And a voice from heaven saying unto me

From henceforth blessed are the dead

In the Lord, even so saithe the Spirit,

For they Rest from their Labours.

Sources: Wikipedia, Botany Pioneer Memorial Park headstone transcription

For further information on Mary REIBEY, click on the link below, to go to the State Archives and Records Authority of New South Wales website.