Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Richard Jones (1786–1852)

by D. Shineberg

This article was published:

Richard Jones (1786-1852), merchant and pastoralist, was born at Chirbury, Shropshire, England, the eldest son of Thomas Bowdler Jones, small landowner and brewer, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Philips. He was educated in London and early chose a mercantile career, entering a London business as a clerk. He first arrived in New South Wales on 14 August 1809 in the Mary Ann. By May 1815 he was agent for Forbes & Co. of Bombay, importing spirits. In the same year he set up in Sydney as a general merchant in partnership with Alexander Riley. In 1817 Alexander Riley retired and was replaced by Edward Riley. In 1819 Macquarie referred to the fact that they were the only merchants in New South Wales: he complained to London that the order prohibiting convict ships from carrying merchandise made the colony unduly dependent on the goods imported by Jones & Riley, 'our solitary mercantile firm', and that 'this sordid Rapacious House' had consequently raised their prices by 100 per cent. Indeed, he went so far as to conjecture that the measure was suggested by Jones & Riley or their associates in London, Bell & Wilkinson.

In July 1820 William Walker joined the firm which was thenceforth known as Jones, Riley & Walker. In October 1818 Jones sailed to China on the Magnet, and after a short stay there, where he probably began negotiations with Walter Davidson for a joint pastoral venture, returned to England. In 1823 he married Mary Louisa Peterson, and in that year announced his retirement from the Sydney firm and his intention of acting as their agent in England. By 1823, however, he was making arrangements to return to Australia. It is evident that he intended to return as a pastoralist on a considerable scale: in 1823-24 he set about collecting a flock of pure-bred Saxon sheep to take with him to New South Wales.

In April 1825 he arrived in Sydney in the Hugh Crawford with his wife, his infant son Richard, his sister Elizabeth, his brother Edward and the first shipment of his Saxon sheep. With Davidson, who had a half share of the 'joint flocks', he imported altogether 488 sheep from Saxony, pioneering the introduction of this strain into the country, and bought on importation another 184 merino ewes at a total cost of £11,542.

Jones had been granted 2000 acres (809 ha) and had bought 4000 (1619 ha) more during the governorship of Brisbane, but in 1829 applied for an additional grant of 10,000 acres (4047 ha). In his application for this large grant he argued his case on the grounds of the great expense of the experiment in Saxon sheep (although he omitted to mention Davidson's share in it) as well as his other services to the colony. He received 10,000 acres (4047 ha) on the Hunter River where he managed the joint flocks and also ran cattle. Jones succeeded in producing wool of the finest description, and his introduction of the Saxon strain must be rated an important contribution to the Australian wool industry. Jones was now one of the most considerable landowners in the country. As well as another property on the Condamine River he also had the Fleurs estate near Penrith, on which he kept a dairy herd, pigs, poultry and a 6-acre (2.4 ha) vineyard which in 1844 produced 2000 gallons (9092 litres) of wine.

It is evident that Jones's heart was in his rural estates, and during the 1830s he repeatedly said that he wished to get clear of his mercantile interests to devote himself entirely to pastoral pursuits. But, in fact, most of his business and trading connexions were maintained until 1838. In 1825, on his return to Australia, he had re-entered the Sydney firm which, after the suicide of Edward Riley in the same year, became known as Jones & Walker. Although they traded with Van Diemen's Land, New Zealand and Mauritius, the business was best known for its commerce with China, the East Indies and India, and especially as large importers of tea and other eastern produce. J. S. Ferriter, who had married his sister Elizabeth, and (Sir) Stuart Donaldson entered the business briefly in 1836, but the firm dissolved a year later when Donaldson set up in partnership with Dawes.

Jones was a pioneer in several maritime enterprises. He was among the first to commence deep-sea whaling from New South Wales. By 1825 he was part-owner of five whalers, the Pocklington, Harriet, Mercury, Saracen and Alfred. With Riley in 1819 he sent the Governor Bligh sealing off the coast of New Zealand. Later he had the Samuel and the Mercury in the New Zealand seal fishery; in 1825 the Mercury was taken by the natives of Whangaroa. In concert with Ranulph Dacre and Henry Elgar he bought the secret information of the discovery of sandalwood on the Isle of Pines (near New Caledonia) and organized the first expedition there, with the Diana and the Orwell, in 1841.

By the late 1820s Jones had become a magistrate and a leading public figure in Sydney. There was scarcely a committee or society of which he was not a member, ranging from the Australian Religious Tract Society to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society and the Chamber of Commerce. He was a director of the Bank of Australia, president of the Gaslight Co., chairman of the Australian Auction Co., a director of the Marine Assurance Co. and on the committees of steamship companies. He was an original subscriber to the Bank of New South Wales of which he became president in 1828. Whenever a merchant was required to sit on a board or committee or act as an assessor, Jones was sure to be called upon officially for his services. In the nominated Legislative Council of New South Wales from 1829 to 1843 he was a particularly active member, sitting on almost every select committee that was appointed. When the council became semi-elective in 1843 he was again a nominated member but resigned in November of the same year because of his financial failure.

He was severely hit by the depression of 1842-44 and declared insolvent in November 1843. All his ships and estates were sold. Although his mercantile activities were thereafter negligible, he again became a landowner, with large properties in southern Queensland, towards the end of the 1840s. He was elected to the Legislative Council in New South Wales as member for Gloucester, Macquarie and Stanley in 1850, and in the next year, under the new Constitution, the first member for Stanley Boroughs.

Jones was well known for his conservative views, and was a determined opponent of Governor Sir Richard Bourke's liberal reforms. He was particularly active in his opposition to the restoration of civil rights to emancipists and to Bourke's attempt to curb the power of the unpaid magistrates. A fervent supporter of the Church of England, in 1836 he also opposed Bourke's plan for National Schools on religious grounds, and even the grant of £600 to the Roman Catholic Orphan School. Bourke regarded him as a leader of the unofficial opposition to his regime—the so-called 'Hunter River Cabal'—referring to him sourly as 'an acknowledged opponent' of the government, and pointing out that a petition to the Crown and another to the House of Commons in 1836 protesting against his measures, were 'got up at the House of Mr. Jones'. Indeed, Jones played a large part in the incident which led to Bourke's resignation, the election of an 'opposition' candidate for the position of chairman of the Quarter Sessions. Bourke supported Roger Therry, who was regarded by Jones and other exclusives as a critic of the magistrates and a friend of the emancipists, and who was moreover a Roman Catholic. Against the express wishes of the governor, Campbell Riddell, a member of the Executive Council, was nominated in opposition to Therry and, after a campaign led by Jones, was elected. In his later opposition to transportation Jones found himself in more liberal company.

Jones died at his home, New Farm, Moreton Bay, on 6 November 1852. Of his eight children, Richard became an Anglican clergyman; Mary Australia in 1844 married William Bligh, son of Sir Maurice O'Connell and the maternal grandson of Governor William Bligh; Louisa Alexandrine married Robert Ramsay, son of Sir George Mackenzie, baronet, of Coul, Scotland; Frances Sophia married Rev. Thomas Jones, an Anglican clergyman.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 14-18
  • A. G. Forster, ‘Some Early Homes and Epitaphs’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 11, part 5, 1925, pp 288-316
  • Moreton Bay Courier, 13 Nov 1852
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Dec 1852
  • E. Jones, Early Reminiscences (State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

D. Shineberg, 'Jones, Richard (1786–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Chirbury, Shropshire, England


6 November, 1852 (aged ~ 66)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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