Updated: Sep 4, 2021
In the early days of white settlement it was an unusual situation for a male convict to be assigned to his wife. To be assigned to his 16-year-old Aboriginal wife, is definitely one for the books, but that was the case for convict Robert Lock after he had married Maria, daughter of an Aboriginal chief.
An artist's impression of Maria Lock
It is not known exactly when Maria was born, but best guess is around 1794 or possibly as late as 1808. Her father's name was Yellomundee or Yarramundi and her grandfather was Gombeeree. Sources say she had a brother called Colebee, but an early newspaper article claims her brother was possibly Deeunba. Colebee was, instead, a native interpreter of some early explorers to the eastern floodplains of Deerubbin, later called the Hawkesbury River and near the village of Richmond. Documents, however, when she later petitions for land, show her brother's name as Coley.
Maria's first introduction to the white people would have been around 1814 when local Aboriginal tribes congregated in the market place at Parramatta. There was a feast of roast beef, bread and ale. Maria's father, Yellomundee headed the tribe from Richmond, of which Maria would have been a part.
The young native girl's life was about to change when her father agreed to place her in the care of William and Elizabeth Shelley where she would be tutored at the new Native Institution. William was the headmaster and superintendent.
The boys were to be instructed in agriculture and ‘mechanical arts’ and the girls were to be taught needlework. It was here Maria's academic abilities began to shine. When the school anniversary examinations were held at Parramatta she won the major award, in competition with nearly 100 local European children. She was the talk of the town.
By late 1822 a new Native Institution was being built at Black Town, on the Richmond Road. It is believed Maria was married to Dicky, a son of Bennelong and a member of the Richmond clan through his mother, but weeks after the marriage he fell ill and died.
Two of the carpenters involved in the construction of the new institution were father and son convicts, Jonathon Lock and his son Robert. Maria caught Robert's eye and on January 26, 1824, 36 years after the establishment of the New South Wales colony, history was being made in St John's church at Parramatta. It was the first legally sanctioned marriage between a young Aboriginal woman and European convict.
Another unique aspect to their relationship was after the marriage, Robert was then assigned to his wife. At that time it was estimated Maria was 16 years old. The couple returned to Black Town and settled on a four acre farm adjoined to the Native Institution.
A year later they left Black Town to go to Liverpool beside Cabramatta Creek. Maria had been promised a small grant of land and a cow as her marriage portion. She received the cow but not the land, so she requested and received the 30 acres of land that had belonged to her deceased brother, Coley as written in her request to Governor Darling
Ten children later, Robert Lock died, aged 53 years, on 23 August 1854. He was buried at St Bartholomew’s Church in Prospect. Maria survived him by 24 years, and on her death, all her land passed to her nine surviving children.
The memorial erected to honour Maria Lock of Blacktown. Photo: Noelene Harris
Maria's death on 6 July, 1878 was the cutting of the last thread that linked early Aboriginal-European contacts with the Native Institution experiment. On the burial register at St Bartholomew's Church of England in Prospect, next to her name in smudged black ink is written ‘Last of the aboriginals from Blacktown’.
'Biography of Maria Lock', Blacktown Native Insitution Project, republished from Lock, Maria, Dictionary of Sydney, 2008CC BY-SA 2.5 AU, accessed online 5th August, 2021, Biography of Maria Lock – Blacktown Native Institution Project (bniproject.com)
'Yarramundi', Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Saturday 16th September, 1911, Page 1
Naomi Parry, 'Lock, Maria (1805–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lock-maria-13050/text23599, published online 2005, accessed online 8 August 2021.