Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jenkins, Robert (1777–1822)

by R. F. Holder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Robert Jenkins (1777?-1822), merchant, was the son of Robert Jenkins, of Arlingham, Gloucestershire, England. His mother's maiden name was Warren, and he was said to be well educated. He arrived in Sydney in 1809 in the Atalanta owned by William Wilson, a London merchant, to act as his agent in the colony, replacing Campbell & Co., who had hitherto acted, but were being opposed by the rebel administration.

Wilson's bankruptcy in London encouraged Jenkins to go quickly into business in Sydney on his own account. In 1811 he received some public recognition through his appointment by the Court of Civil Jurisdiction as auditor of the accounts of Lord, Kable & Underwood, at law over a partnership agreement. By 1813 he had won some standing in the community. He was one of those who framed the forthright New Year address to Governor Lachlan Macquarie and was a member of the committee appointed to draft a memorial to the British government, mainly on the need to encourage a colonial export trade.

On 22 March 1813 at St John's Church, Parramatta, he married Jemima, the widow of Captain Austin Forrest, formerly of the East India Co., who had died in 1812 at Swilly Farm, near Richmond. Mrs Forrest was the daughter of Robert Pitt and Mary, née Matcham. The widowed Mary Pitt had settled in New South Wales with her young family in 1801 on the recommendation of Lord Nelson, with whom she was connected by marriage.

In 1813, when Simeon Lord resigned, Jenkins was appointed auctioneer, a post he held for three years. He was also one of the two appointees to the Court of Civil Jurisdiction. In January 1816 he was appointed as one of the two magisterial members of the Governor's Court when it was reorganized after the death of Ellis Bent under the acting judge-advocate, Frederick Garling. In another sphere of public activities Jenkins became in 1814 collector for the New South Wales Philanthropic Society, in 1817 a member of the provisional committee of the Auxiliary Bible Society, which had plans for the establishment of schools, and in 1819 treasurer of the Benevolent Society. Meanwhile Jenkins was one of the 'principal merchants' of Sydney invited to attend the meeting on 19 November 1816 to plan the foundation of the Bank of New South Wales. He was elected a director on the first board of the bank when it was established next year, but resigned in 1819 and became a member of the committee of the Savings Bank (Campbell's Bank). Having an interest in farming, principally through his wife's estate, Jenkins received a land grant of 1000 acres (405 ha), known as Berkeley, in the Illawarra in 1817. He was among the first five landowners in the district. In 1819 he was one of the convenors of the important assembly of 'free settlers, merchants, land- and house-holders' which met to draft a memorial to the British government on the familiar themes of trial by jury, the disabilities imposed on the colony's trade by shipping restrictions and British import duties, and the need for a distillery. Approval of the last item, which Macquarie had consistently advocated, interested Jenkins because in 1822 he imported the still for the first legal distillery in Australia. By the time it was in operation, however, Jenkins was dead, as a result of a fall from his horse in May 1822. He was survived by his widow and two sons, Robert Pitt and William Warren.

Energetic, capable and successful in business, Jenkins took an active part in the affairs of the colony. He seems to have co-operated amicably with the emancipists on most public issues and mixed freely on such social occasions as the first Anniversary Day dinner, in 1817, where he gave voice to early sentiments of Australian patriotism in a song written by himself. There are indications, however, of some private reservations about his compatriots.

Although collector for the Philanthropic Society he did not become involved in Samuel Marsden's libel suit against John Campbell over the letter to the Sydney Gazette, 4 January 1817, containing imputations about the society's funds. Marsden stated that Jenkins, who had just received his land grant, refused to support him for fear of offending the governor. Circumstances may have dictated prudence on this occasion, but Macquarie was eventually to list him in 1821 as one of the 'factious and dissatisfied' persons in the colony. No reason for the governor's criticism was given, but it may be conjectured that Jenkins's interests had led him to favour the demands of the larger settlers for generous land grants and cheap convict labour.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘Biographical Sketch of Robert Jenkins’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 8, 'supplement', 1923, pp 408-13
  • manuscript catalogue under Robert Jenkins (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

R. F. Holder, 'Jenkins, Robert (1777–1822)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenkins-robert-2274/text2919, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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