Jemina Jenkins

Jemima Matcham Jenkins (1786-1842), pastoralist, was born in Belchalwell, Dorset, the youngest child of Mary (born Matcham) and Robert Pitt. When Robert died leaving his family impoverished, relatives arranged their emigration to New South Wales, bearing letters of introduction from their kinsman Admiral Nelson. With her widowed mother, three sisters and brother, Jemima Pitt arrived in Sydney on the Canada in 1801. They were granted land at Richmond. Jemima's sisters and brother soon married into local families, all of whom were free settlers.

In April 1810 at Windsor Jemima married Austin Forrest, an employee of the East India Co., who died on Christmas eve 1811 after being thrown from his horse. Their only child, a daughter, lived barely a month. Jemima was married again in March 1813 to Sydney merchant Robert Jenkins, who also died (in May 1822) following a fall from his horse. The loss of two husbands in similar circumstances may explain Jemima's later repeated prosecutions of her coachmen for careless driving.

Jenkins left Jemima with unrestricted guardianship of their two sons and control of his mercantile affairs and property. From her first marriage she owned 'Swilly Farm' at Richmond and from Jenkins, 404 ha at Lake Illawarra, granted in 1817. Jemima expanded from this base. Between 1822-24 on tickets of occupations she acquired over 4444 ha at the Illawarra, the Shoalhaven and in the south-western counties of Argyle and St Vincent to graze cattle, 'the chief support of her self and family'. As the spread of settlement threatened to encroach on her runs she protected her stockyards by the purchase of substantial areas. In the 1828 census she appeared as holding 9075 acres with 2000 cattle and 320 sheep. She employed a nephew, William Pitt Faithful, as her pastoral superintendent.

She owned property in Sydney, on the Cook's River and at Parramatta, most of it acquired by Robert Jenkins before his death. From her home in O'Connell St, she supervised a store in George St selling wine and glassware, interviewed tenants and conducted her business correspondence. She sold her George St premises in 1828 for 4000 pounds and leased her O'Connell St house. She moved to 'Eagle Vale', a 607 ha estate near Campbelltown, which she had recently purchased. 'Eagle Vale' had several advantages: being near the junction of the roads to the Illawarra and the south-west, it was closer to her pastoral properties yet accessible to Sydney and it was fine farming country. Also the local clergyman was Thomas Reddall, a classical scholar, to whom her sons went to continue an education commenced at Sydney Grammar School. Lucy Wood, a widowed sister, lived with her, relieving her of domestic responsibilities.

In the 1830s she had cottages built in Sydney for leasing. When her sons came of age, Robert Pitt in 1835 and William Warren in 1837, they assumed management of extensive enterprises enriched by their mother's experience. She died on 22 March 1842 at 'Eagle Vale'. Though Sarah Mathew, who met her in 1833, called her 'a disagreeable, vulgar woman', others praised her 'good and useful life', her management skills, her charity and generosity.

Carol Liston