Most of you wouldn’t know the name Mary Reibey, but chances are you’ll see her at least a few times a week, especially if you’re paying for something with a $20 note.
Mary Reibey is the woman who adorns our currency, and was an important person in the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales, who went from being a convict to one of the most powerful business people in her time.
Born Molly Haydock, on 12 May 1777 in Bury, Lancashire, England, Mary was convicted of stealing a horse in August 1791, and sentenced to seven years transportation to the Penal Colony of New South Wales, arriving in Sydney October on the Royal Admiral, October 1792.
Mary paid for her past transgressions, and went on to become a law abiding citizen, and released into the general public. Mary was courted by a young naval officer, Thomas Reibey, who was commissioned on the store ship, Britannia, and they married on 7 September 1794.
Thomas was granted land on the Hawksbury River, and the couple moved into a farmhouse on the land, where they prospered. Thomas started a cargo business up and down the Hawksbury to and from Sydney. When the business started to pick up they moved to Sydney.
On 5 April, 1811, Thomas Reibey died, and Mary took over the responsibilities of the business interests of her late husband. As her husband was frequently away to England for business, she usually ran the affairs of the company in his absence, and knew how things operated.
Many believed the business would flounder without Thomas, with some even trying to take over from Mary, which proved to be fruitless. Mary was a formidable force to be reckoned with. Not only did she ride out the attempts by unscrupulous businessmen in the Colony to close her down, she actually prospered.
Mary expanded the trade routes with the purchase of faster and larger ships. She even had a large new warehouse built, which opened in 1812, which was one of the largest in the Colony.
By the time Mary retired in 1828, she had amassed great wealth, and had a portfolio of properties in and around Sydney and the New South Wales Colony. Mary wasn’t one to forget her humble beginnings, and gave back to the community she cared about. She established educational funds to help build schools and gave to the church, which she credited with helping her become the successful person she did.
Next time you pull out a $20 note, take time to look at the woman who helped the flourishing of Sydney and New South Wales, and also broke down barriers for women in the business world, when it was very much a man’s world.
Which women in history do you admire?
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