Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Esther Abrahams

Jewish Convict & First Lady (c.1771 - 1846)

As a 15yo milliner, Esther was charged with stealing lace from a shop (30/8/1786) - the evidence was circumstantial and three witnesses gave her good character references. Yet she was still found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. Esther was confined in Newgate Prison - she pleaded pregnancy and petitioned the Home Secretary for mercy. Sixteen months later the decision came down against her - but she was already in Australia.

Esther arrived in Australia on the "Lady Penrhyn". On the voyage out from England to Australia, Esther was taken up by George Johnston, 1st Lieutenant of Marines, future head of the New South Wales Corps, Aide-de-Camp to Governors Philip and Hunter. Johnston led the troops that deposed Governor Bligh (1808) and for six months, he acted as Lieutenant Governor. Esther was the colony's unofficial First Lady.

When Johnston was cashiered for his role in the mutiny, he was allowed to keep his land grants. He returned to New South Wales four years later and continued his career as an influential landowner, becoming the trusted friend of Governor Macquarie. In his absences, Esther administered Johnston's estates - and bravely stood up to those who tried to take advantage of Johnston's absence.

Esther became a successful farmer and received her own land grant (1809). Johnston finally married Esther (1814) - she bore him seven children. Yet it was impossible for Esther to maintain a secure social position in her own right - this may have been due to her gender, her convist origins, her long-held de facto status, and possibly her Jewishness.

Esther was nearly 60yo when Johnston died (1823). She inherited the large Annandale property; her son David had been left property of his own. However, her other son, the more wilfull Robert who was to inherit Annadale on her death, became increasingly unpleasant and eventually violent. Robert issued a writ (March 1829) against Esther in an attempt to wrest the property from her. Robert proceeded to have her declared insane. Esther put up a strong fight, producing many witnesses to prove she was lucid and well able to maintain her own property. But in the end Esther was powerless to prevent legal injustice. Esther was declared incapable of managing her own affairs.

Esther went to live with her son David on his property where she died 15 years later. Esther was buried beside her husband in the family vault on the Annadale property - her property.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, where is this photo from and is it a primary source? Doing a history project and just wanted to make sure. Thanks x