BERRY, Alexander (1781-1873)

BERRY, Alexander (1781-1873)
was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, on 30 November 1781. He was educated at the Grammar School at Cupar, and afterwards studied medicine at St Andrews and at Edinburgh university. He was then appointed as surgeon's mate on an Indiaman bound to China, but having to attend the flogging of seamen led to his ceasing to follow his profession, and in 1807 he became part owner and super-cargo of a ship, the City of Edinburgh. He reached Sydney on 13 January 1808, subsequently voyaged to islands in the Pacific and New Zealand, and in December 1809, by the use of much tact and firmness, succeeded in rescuing a woman, two girl children and the ship's boy of the Boyd, all the rest of the ship's crew having been massacred by the Maoris. Berry made various trading voyages, but in 1812 the City of Edinburgh became waterlogged near the Azores and sank, though Berry succeeded in reaching the island of Graciosa in one of the boats. He found his way to Cadiz, where he met Edward Wollstonecraft, who became his agent and afterwards his partner. In 1819 they settled in Sydney and Berry at once established a high reputation. In February 1820, Governor Macquarie (q.v.) described him in a dispatch which Berry took to England as "an eminent merchant of this place". Both the partners obtained grants of land, and in 1822 another large grant near the Shoalhaven River was obtained, which was of a swampy nature and considered to be unfit for sheep. A large number of assigned men was obtained, and the land was drained by digging a canal between the Shoalhaven and Crookhaven rivers. The partnership continued until 1831, when Wollstonecraft died. Berry managed the convicts chiefly by moral influence, found that many of them had been transported for comparatively trivial offences, and that if well treated they were willing to work well. In after years Berry proved to be a most considerate landlord when there was much settlement on his estate. He was made a magistrate, in April 1828 was nominated a member of the legislative council, and he was also a member of the new legislative council formed in 1856, from which he resigned in 1861. He was a poor speaker and had little influence on the legislation of his time. He lived to be nearly 92 and died at Sydney in full possession of his faculties on 17 September 1873. He married Elizabeth Wollstonecraft, his partner's sister, who died in 1845. He had no children.
Berry contributed a paper "On the Geology of Part of the Coast of New South Wales" to the Geographical Memoirs, published by Barron Field (q.v.) in 1825, and he left in manuscript his Reminiscences which were not published until 1912. The account of his adventurous early days is interesting, but only a few pages were given to his life in Australia. He was well-read, had much knowledge, and had a good memory, but he seems to have been a man of modest nature who did not realize how interesting much of the life of the period would have been had he chosen to record it. His draining of the land at Shoalhaven was an admirable piece of work which led to the development of the district.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 1873; Reminiscences of Alexander Berry; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. VI, VII, X to XVII, XXIII; J. Jervis, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXVII, pp. 18-87; J. H. Watson, ibid, vol. III, pp. 234-5.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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