This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967
Molly Morgan (1762-1835), convict and landowner, was baptized as Mary Jones on 31 January 1762 at Diddlebury, near Ludlow, Shropshire, England, the daughter of David Jones, ratcatcher and labourer, and his wife Margaret, née Powell. She became a dressmaker after a brief period of schooling. On 25 June 1785 she married William Morgan, a wheelwright and carpenter from the village of Hopesay. On 8 August 1789 she was tried at the Shrewsbury Assizes and sentenced to transportation for seven years for having stolen hempen yarn from a bleaching factory. She arrived at Botany Bay in the Neptune with the Second Fleet on 28 June 1790 and was sent to Parramatta. There she was joined by her husband and, after she gained a ticket-of-leave, they opened a small shop. On 9 November 1794 she escaped in the store-ship Resolution with thirteen other convicts whose sentences had not expired. During the next few years there was some conjecture in the colony as to what had become of Molly Morgan, but she was working as a dressmaker in Plymouth, where she bigamously married Thomas Mears, a brassfounder. In 1803 their home was burnt down, and Mears accused his 'wife' of the crime; Molly was tried at the Croydon Sessions on 10 October 1803, found guilty and once again was sentenced to transportation.
She arrived at Port Jackson for the second time on 24 June 1804 in the Experiment. She soon acquired a protector in Thomas Byrne and became virtually a free agent. Several years later she was given land near Parramatta and a few cattle, but in 1816 she was found to have branded government cattle as her own, and was sent to the Newcastle penal settlement.
In 1819 she was one of a small party of well-behaved convicts given tickets-of-leave by Governor Lachlan Macquarie and sent to establish a settlement at Wallis Plains (Maitland), where they were given a few acres of land. Molly worked her land herself and in a small way became a successful farmer. Near the river she opened a wine shanty, which became increasingly profitable as the settlement grew and river navigation extended. On 5 March 1822 she married Thomas Hunt, a young soldier stationed at the garrison at Wallis Plains. In November 1823 Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, impressed by her efforts at farming and her general resourcefulness, allowed her the lease of 159 acres (64 ha) (converted to a grant in May 1830) and the help of a convict clearing gang. She bought 203 acres (82 ha) at Anvil Creek and built the Angel Inn in the centre of her lease, which occupied the nucleus of the town of Maitland.
By the mid-1820s Molly had become a wealthy woman. Through her personality, Wallis Plains became known as Molly Morgan's and the track from the settlement to Singleton as Molly Morgan's line of road. The Australian, 23 January 1828, named her as one of the largest landholders on the Hunter River. As the settlement at Wallis Plains grew she subdivided her lease and sold small blocks as a quick means of making money, though irregularities in the sales and transfers were later to cause countless legal difficulties. Her wealth rapidly decreased and at her death the only property remaining in her name was mortgaged. Her last years were spent in retirement at Anvil Creek where she died on 27 June 1835.
Molly Morgan, the ex-convict with a long record of petty crime, immorality and self-indulgence, was also a women of generosity and compassion for those in unfortunate circumstances. In 1827 she gave £100 towards the building of a school by the Church Corporation, and many other acts of generosity to the settlers have been recorded. She conducted a rough-and-ready hospital for the sick and is reputed to have ridden to Sydney more than once to intercede with the governor on behalf of convicts sentenced to execution.
At a time when the majority of women remained in the background of colonial society, Molly Morgan stands out as a colourful and rather remarkable personality, a pioneer of the Maitland district and one who successfully established her farm, built up trading interests, and impressed Governors Macquarie and Brisbane with her resourcefulness and ability.
Elizabeth Guilford, 'Morgan, Molly (1762–1835)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morgan-molly-2480/text3333, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 October 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967