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Richard Brooks (1765–1833)

by Vivienne Parsons

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Richard Brooks (1765?-1833), mariner, merchant and settler was born at Withycombe Raleigh (later Exmouth), Devon, England, second surviving son of Henry Brooks, mariner, and his wife Honoria, both English-born. Richard sailed on his father’s ship, Henry and Honoria (later Honoria), from an early age, and others, rising to become captain. During the first French revolutionary war he traded to Oporto, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic. He began his association with New South Wales in 1801-02 when he captained the convict transport Atlas. After this voyage he earned the censure of Governor Philip Gidley King for the high death rate among the convicts in his charge, which was largely due to his negligence and to the overcrowding on board caused by his large personal cargo. The surgeon, Thomas Jamison, brought a civil action for assault against Brooks, and the transport commissioners threatened him with prosecution, but he escaped punishment. In 1806 he was captain of another transport, the Alexander; thereafter he made a number of trading trips to the colony, in the Rose in 1808, the Simon Cock in 1810, and the Argo in 1811, and built up large interests in the colony.

As a partner of Robert Campbell, who was part-owner of the Rose, he was opposed to the rebel government after the deposition of Governor William Bligh and refused to give a passage to Captain Symons R.N., the bearer of Joseph Foveaux's dispatches to England. Foveaux then ordered the Rose to be seized for trading in violation of the East India Co.'s monopoly, but this was a subterfuge, and he allowed her to proceed when Brooks agreed to take Symons on board. He entered into a bond for £4000 to account for any irregularity in their trading, but as Brooks was easily able to show that he had been duly licensed by the company, it is perhaps not surprising that he was heard using 'some highly disrespectful expressions towards the present government of the colony'. Brooks also carried letters on behalf of Bligh and, after the Rose sailed, he had Symons confined as a deserter, and the rebel supporter, John Blaxland, who was also on board, arrested at the Cape of Good Hope.

In February 1813 Brooks was on his way to England in the Isabella when she was wrecked near the Falkland Islands, and he sailed to Buenos Aires in a long-boat for help. In July he asked for permission to go to New South Wales as a free settler; he said he had already established a large herd of cattle there, and could increase it if he were granted land. Allowed to go, he arrived in March 1814 with his wife Christiana, nee Passmore, and children in the Spring. He exchanged his brig for a house at the corner of Pitt and Hunter Streets, and set up business with her cargo. Lachlan Macquarie granted him land at Cockle Bay (Darling Harbour) in compensation for a grant promised at Farm Cove which had been incorporated in the government Domain, and he began a profitable business supplying meat and provisions to ships, to the public and to the government store. He was also an agent for Lloyds of London and for shipping which called at Port Jackson.

He suffered during the depression which followed, but this was only a temporary setback. Although in 1816 Governor Macquarie upheld Commissary David Allan in his charge that Brooks was among the most prominent of those settlers who withheld stock during the drought and thus profited by the rise in prices, in January 1817 he granted him 300 acres (121 ha) in the Illawarra district, and in August appointed him a justice of the peace. Meanwhile he had strongly supported the establishment of the Bank of New South Wales, and in January 1819 he was on the committee of landowners and merchants who petitioned the British government for the repeal of commercial restrictions. In 1823 he moved from Sydney to Denham Court, a property near Liverpool which he had acquired from Richard Atkins more than ten years before in settlement of debts.

For the rest of his life he lived there, a prominent settler, a member of the New South Wales Agricultural Society, a vice-president of the Benevolent Society, member of the committee of the Bible Society, and a strong supporter of religious charities of all denominations. He owned properties in Sydney at Cockle Bay and Surry Hills and had extensive holdings in the Illawarra, Williams River and Lake George districts. He died on 16 October 1833, after being gored by a bull; with his wife, who died on 12 April 1835, he was buried in a vault at Denham Court and the church of St Mary the Virgin was built to enclose their remains.

Of their seven children, his sons Richard and Henry became prominent settlers in the Monaro; his daughter Christiana married Thomas Valentine Blomfield; another daughter, Honoria, married William Edward Riley of Raby.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 3, 4, 8, 10
  • C. Bateson, The Convict Ships (Glasgow, 1959)
  • B. T. Dowd, The First Five Land Grantees and Their Grants in the Illawarra (Wollongong, 1960)
  • V. W. E. Goodin, ‘Denham Court’, Descent (Sydney), vol 2, part 2, 1964, pp 35-44
  • Sydney Gazette, 7 Apr 1810, 16 Oct 1813, 5 Mar, 18 June 1814, 9 Mar 1816, 9 Aug 1817, 23 Jan 1819, 16 Jan 1823
  • J. M. Cox, reminiscences (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Richard Brooks (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Brooks, Richard (1765–1833)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Richard Brooks, n.d.

Richard Brooks, n.d.

Wollongong City Library, P01\P01328

Life Summary [details]


Exmouth, Devon, England


16 October, 1833 (aged ~ 68)
Campbelltown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

farming accident

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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