Botany Bay's Rothschild amasses a fortune

It was the theft of 400 pairs of stockings that was the undoing of Manchester labourer Samuel Terry. He was sentenced to seven years transportation to the penal colony in New South Wales for his troubles.

He arrived on the Earl Cornwallis in Sydney in June 1801 and worked for the missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden in a stonemason's gang on the Parramatta female factory and gaol. He also helped to cut stones for Reverend Marsden's church, both praised for his industry and whipped for his neglect of duty.


Samuel Terry

More industrious by nature he expanded his experience as a convict by becoming a private soldier, a stonemason and ran a shop in Parramatta. By 1809, two years after his sentence expired he was found with his own farm on the Hawkesbury River.

He eventually moved to Sydney and became an innkeeper, being one of only a few granted a liquor licence. He married free woman and widow Rosetta Madden (nee Pracey), who had independent means, also being an innkeeper.

Together they had a meteoric rise in prosperity running an inn and a store, then speculating in city and pastoral properties. He was described by Governor Lachlan Macquarie as a wealthy trader. He had become a successful and important supplier of flour and fresh meat to the government.

Between the years of 1817-1820 Samuel earned his reputation as the 'Botany Bay Rothschild' when his fortunes included more than one fifth of the total value of mortgages in the colony. That was more than the Bank of New South Wales.


His process of acquiring so much wealth was questioned and investigated by the colony's auditor Commissioner John Thomas Bigge. Commissioner Bigge reported that in 1820 Samuel had 1450 cattle, 3800 sheep, and 19,000 acres (7689 ha), almost exactly half of the land held by former convicts. A phenomenal amount even in today's terms. He was also the largest shareholder of the bank.

In hushed tones and general gossip, extortion was the accepted consensus around the traps when describing Samuel's ability to build his wealth. Claims of officers and small settlers signing away their possessions in a state of drunkenness to pay off debts, were commonplace.

Those rumours became less hushed when Commissioner Bigge printed them in his report. These charges were, however, dropped. By the 1820s Samuel had established a bloodstock stud on Illawarra land granted him by Macquarie, built the vast Terry's Buildings opposite his residence in Pitt Street, established a country seat, Box Hill, and developed his farming properties at Liverpool, on the Nepean, and later at Yass and Bathurst, as well as flour-mills and breweries.

He took on public life with a short-lived seat on the Bank of New South Wales board and took on many roles in philanthropy. He died in 1838, three years after a severe seizure that paralysed him and was buried following one of the grandest funerals ever seen in the colony. He left a personal estate of £250,000, an income of over £10,000 a year from Sydney rentals, and much landed property.


Tombstone of the Terry family now residing in Rookwood cemetery. Courtesy Jack Edwards


He was buried in the Devonshire Street burial ground and his family members eventually joined him, with their inscriptions being written on the grand tombstone marking their final resting place. This cemetery closed in 1867 and by 1901, families claimed the remains which were transferred to the Rookwood cemetery.

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