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Fitzgerald, Richard (1772–1840)

by E. C. B. MacLaurin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Richard Fitzgerald (1772-1840), convict, public servant and settler, was sentenced to transportation for seven years at the Westminster Quarter Sessions in 1787; he was held at Portsmouth, England, until 1791, eventually sailing in the William and Anne, and arrived in Sydney on 28 August, when his private assets were transferred to Australia.

Since he showed 'remarkable activity and regular conduct', as John Macarthur put it, and since he had some knowledge of agriculture, successive governors gave him increasing responsibilities connected with the public farms. In 1792 he was appointed superintendent of convicts at Toongabbie; in September 1795 his district was extended to include Parramatta; in 1798 Governor John Hunter made him superintendent of public agriculture in these places, and in the following year asked him to make a survey of all the grain produced around Parramatta. In 1800, after the reduction of the government farms there, Fitzgerald was superintendent at Toongabbie only; in July 1802 Governor Philip Gidley King appointed him inspector and director of all the agricultural settlements belonging to the Crown, but he retained particular charge at Toongabbie. By this time his private concerns had increased too. He had received a grant of 30 acres (12 ha) at Cabramatta from Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose in 1794, two more from Governor Hunter and had purchased 160 acres (65 ha), so that in 1802 he held 350 acres (142 ha); two years later he had 90 acres (36 ha) under wheat, 340 sheep and an increasing number of other livestock. One result of this was that in June 1804 King dismissed him from his public appointments for 'neglect of duty'. He then served as the 'faithful factor' of John Macarthur until the deposition of Governor William Bligh, and in February 1808 Major George Johnston appointed him to replace Andrew Thompson as constable at the Hawkesbury. In 1809 the Hawkesbury settlers' address to Bligh mentioned that a few of the latter's supporters had urged Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson to reinstate the governor, whereupon 'Richard Fitzgerald, high constable, offered a free pardon and a passage to England to any convict for life who would give such information as would convict any free settler of having such address in his possession'. Paterson recognized Fitzgerald's support by a grant of 300 acres (121 ha) in the Upper Nelson district; though he had to surrender this when Governor Lachlan Macquarie arrived, the latter appointed him storekeeper at the Hawkesbury at once and superintendent of stores in 1811, and in time he became a close friend, trusted agent and protégé of the governor.

Macquarie recognized his ability and praised the 'zeal, vigilance and integrity' of this 'most honest upright good man'. He invited him to Government House and stayed with him when visiting Windsor. There in 1810 he was ordered to build a 'handsome commodious inn', was superintendent of stores, and four years later was put in charge of the commissariat and of all public works, so that in due course he supervised the building of St Matthew's.

In June 1815 Fitzgerald married Mary Ford, who had been transported from Somerset in 1797; as she was then a married woman, perhaps Fitzgerald had had to wait for her first husband to die, though she had borne him three sons after 1805. In 1819 Macquarie decided to recommence 'public farming' to employ the large numbers of convicts arriving, and in September he appointed Fitzgerald superintendent of agriculture at Emu Plains. Sir John Jamison charged him with peculation, but Macquarie's trust was vindicated by Commissioner Bigge's investigation, though Bigge thought this post incompatible with the proper performance of his duties at Windsor, and Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane was instructed to replace him. This he did, leaving Fitzgerald to devote himself to his numerous private activities.

He had extensive properties to supervise near Cassilis at Tongy, Dabee and Wollar. He was agent for Mrs Macquarie and helped to obtain an additional grant of 2000 acres (809 ha) for her and her son. He also administered part of the Macarthur estate, a noteworthy appointment for an unrepentant emancipist. He was one of the early proprietors of the Bank of New South Wales. When he died on 25 May 1840, his estate was valued for probate at £34,000.

Fitzgerald was a man of pronounced liberal temperament, being a generous donor both to his own church, the Church of England, and the Roman Catholic Church. Name, family tradition and personal appearance attest a connexion with the Duke of Leinster. He was one of the earliest Freemasons in the country and is said to have played a considerable part in establishing the craft in Sydney; this is supported by a strong tradition, but his name has not been found in early Masonic documents. He was a generous supporter of the Hawkesbury Benevolent Institution. His republican and liberal sentiments taught him to treat the Aboriginals humanely, and they in turn led him to Tongy. That he was well regarded by his assigned servants and by John Macarthur as well as by Governor Macquarie is an eloquent testimony to his charm, tact, wisdom and great abilities. Altogether he was one of the most remarkable men to settle in early New South Wales. Through his granddaughters, he left a very large number of descendants in Australia, Britain and the United States, but the male line bearing his name died out; his second son Robert, (b. 1 June 1807), married Elizabeth Henrietta Rouse, and became a member of the Legislative Council in 1849.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 4-5
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-11, 14
  • E. C. B. MacLaurin, ‘The Ancient Family of Rouse’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 43, part 6, 1957, pp 299-316
  • D. G. Bowd, Richard Fitzgerald 1772-1840, (paper delivered to Hawkesbury Historical Society, 1957)
  • HO 11/1
  • manuscript catalogue under R. Fitzgerald (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

E. C. B. MacLaurin, 'Fitzgerald, Richard (1772–1840)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fitzgerald-richard-2048/text2537, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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