Convict to Entrepreneur: Maria Lord


Not my ancestor this time! An ancestor of the descendants of Maria Lord, a convict who became a respectable entrepreneur. The story of Maria Lord is one of courage in the face of betrayal. Her ability to survive and thrive, despite her transportation to Van Diemen’s Land and what Edward Lord did to her, is a story that should be told. The brutal government of women in the colony, the biassed social rules of the early 1800s, and the losses suffered by female convicts are all part of Maria’s story. This is her story from her perspective – a piece of creative writing for a speech given at the Riverina Online Toastmasters ‘Fellons and Free Settlers’ storytelling event, today, 16 October, 2021.

Further details of her story can be found online and in particular, in chapter 1 of Convict Women by Kay Daniels. In another blog post by blogger Lynley Joyce in her blog Shorthand Social, you will find more of Maria Lord’s storyline.

Maria Lord (nee Riseley)

Hello, my name is Maria Riseley. I arrived in Sydney when I was just 21 years old. There were 29 other female convicts on board our ship, The Experiment. Well, they called it a ship; we called it a hell hole. We’d only just set off on October 1804 and sailed into the Bay of Biscay when a tremendous storm damaged our main mast and we had to go back into Cowes. Set us back a bit; then it was 12 weeks of sheer hell until we reached Sydney cove; and storms once more delayed our landing. Yes, I remember Molly Morgan and Mary Daniels parading themselves on deck and swearing like troopers.

But, I was smart, see! I had some of my shop goods with me and I could see myself in business when I got me land legs. What was my crime? They say I stole a dress! Well, that was a lie! It was my dress. Seven years I got. It devastated my old ma and pa! I never saw em again. I saw my brother John some years later; and he told me some stories about me back in London.

I had some stories for him, too. About my time in the Factory at Parramatta. That was a sorry place for me and my firstborn, Caroline. It was more like a cattle yard when the toffs came touting for a wife. Most of the poor wretches didn’t stand a chance with their shaved heads and rags on their backs. Their hands all scoured and dried up with all the washing of the woolens. I was lucky he came looking about a month after Caroline was born; I was in fine fettle by then. Mind you, I had no help from her father, John Thompson. Waste of space that one.

Anyway, on that parade day, that’s when I first set eyes on Edward Lord. He strutted like a Lord too. I had to hold my tongue that day as he peered into our mouths and lifted our skirts. Like a bleeding marriage bazaar it was! When he got to me, something must have appealed to him. I was out the door like a shot; glad of a reprieve from the factory. Glad I kept my one silk dress for special occasions.

I’ll give him this. He treated me right and took in little Caroline Maria, too. Loaded he was! If my Ma and Pa could see me now, working in the kitchens of a grand old house.

Me and Edward we had six kids together. Sorry to say we lost one daughter. Oh yes, we were married by then; well almost. We had to wait until I got my free pardon; that was about 4 years later. Life was sweet for a while! It was Edward who got me a pardon from Colonel Foveaux, and got married in Hobart Town by the Reverend Knopwood in 1810.

I built up the drapers store business and was importing goods from old blighty and making a small profit. Edward was all for it. He supported me well, for a time. Even though he could not put his name to it as a military officer. When my brother John arrived in 1819, we went into partnership. John lived with us a while at Ingle Hall, in Hobart, till he was on his feet. Lovely house, that was! 

Edward sailed back to England many times in that time together. One time, he took Caroline with him and they sailed back to Hobart on his new ship. He named it the Caroline. She inherited that and set herself up well with Frederick Dawes. They had two boys Frederick Walter Dawes, born 4 August 1825 at Hobart Town and Edward John Lord Dawes, born 1831. 

 When he was back home, though, Edward was a tough old boot. I remember when Martha Hudson came and complained about Edward’s treatment of our servant, Mary. I wasn’t even sure that it was Mary who stole the bleeding tumbler; and not happy that he put her in the stocks.. But Martha was having none of it and he then turned on her and ordered four dozen lashes. 

There were good times for Edward too; I remember when old Governor Collins died, and they appointed Edward as acting Governor for about 10 weeks. Not that I had much to do with that side of things; I was too busy giving birth to young John Owen. He was born in 1810.

Me and Edward got on fine and we were very successful – individually in Hobart. We had five more children after John; Elizabeth, Edward Junior, Corbetta, William, and Emma. Edward took young John back to England when he was six to be brought up in the Lord’s family home. Then later, he took both Edward and Eliza. 

Little did I know then that there was also Edward’s other family back home in England; Edward was in a relationship with our children’s nurse in England, bloody Anne Fry. And they had five children. When I found out about them I was furious and I had no qualms about setting up house with Charles Rowcroft.

When Edward returned to Hobart in 1824, he took Charles to court; criminal conversations, they said, fined 1000 pounds. Funny name for a romantic interlude. Left me with nothing but my business affairs and Caroline. He took Emma back to England, and I never saw them again.

We never divorced, but apparently he had left me an annuity. Fat lot of good that did! His family thought I was trash; being a convict. I got to see my sons John and Edward Robert a few years later; they returned and came to live at Lawrenny, the Lord property, near the Derwent River. I was crushed when John drowned in that river just two months after his return. A mother is not meant to outlive her children!

I continued to run my import business and also ran a boarding house for several years. I later retired to The Priory at Bothwell. Edward Robert purchased that for me. That was a just a small property compared to the acres my husband Edward owned in the 1820s; including 6974 acres; 3,400 cattle; 4500 sheep and 41 horses; 50 convict servants and 25 free workers. Edward Lord was one of the richest men in the colony. But he was not well liked.

Back then, I was supplying almost a quarter of all meat purchased by the Commissariat and had a monopoly on wheat, meat and the best quality rum in the colony. I supplied that old rogue the Reverend Knopwood with his rum. That kept him off my back when I was looking after business during Edward’s many absences. The old Reverend used to enjoy my dinner parties. He said our housewarming party on October 1814 was the greatest dinner given in the colony. I was the darling of Hobart Town.

Now I know I had no claim on Edward Lord’s wealth, all because they found me guilty of adultery. Different rules for us females. Edward had his cake and ate it too. However, he did care for each of his bloodline, and I am glad about their good fortune. But I am just angry that my story got tangled up with his story and we did not bring him to justice for his misdoings.

Many of the colonial officers and gentlemen had convict mistresses, but very few married them. I was prosperous and considered a pillar of society. I could stand on my two feet and on my own merits. My story needs to be told!

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