Maria Lord

Maria Lord (1780-1859), convict, was born Maria Risley. She was sentenced to seven years transportation at the Surrey Assizes on 9 August 1802 and arrived in Sydney in the Experiment in 1804. Details of her early life are scant. She married Edward Lord, a well-connected officer of the marines, on 8 October 1808. Whether or not Lord chose Maria Risley at the Parramatta Female Factory (as in John Pascoe Fawkner's version), he does appear to have met her in Sydney in 1805 and brought her and her infant daughter Caroline (known in Hobart as Caroline Maria Lord) back with him to Hobart. A daughter was born in 1806 who did not survive but other children followed: Eliza in 1808, John in 1810, Edward Robert in 1812, Corbetta in 1815, William in 1817 and Emma in 1819. All of the children were educated or spent some time during childhood in Britain, though Maria never returned to Britain and never claimed the place in the Lord family in Wales given to her children.

Lord traded in his wife's name while he was still an officer and built up extensive land holdings which he stocked with cattle and sheep. When Lieut-Colonel Collins died in 1810 he took charge of the settlement and applied unsuccessfully to be appointed Collins's successor. In 1812 while in England he resigned his commission, returning with his own ship and 30,000 pounds value of goods. During his increasingly lengthy periods away Maria ran his extensive business ventures and was his agent. The Hobart store was always referred to as hers, whether Edward was in town or not. During 1819-23 when he was often away she extended both his interests and her own, entering into several business partnerships, including one with her brother to buy merino sheep.

Maria's convict background could not be hidden in Hobart, particularly as many of her shipboard companions on the Experiment had arrived there on the Sophia in 1805. Her husband's enemy, the deposed Governor Bligh, was not alone in referring to her as 'a Convict Woman of infamous character', but by 1820 Mrs Lord was established in the colony as the wife of one of its richest men, the hostess at Lord's country properties and at the substantial house (which still stands) in Macquarie St, Hobart. A letterbook of this period reveals a woman, in her own words, 'assiduous in Business', with a keen view of the shape of the market and the importance of 'turning' money in a colony where cash was short. Edward appears more impetuous, less organised, an adventurer whose great success lies in his ability to get land grants and to raise capital through family connections and brother officers.

Her control was said to extend over a third of the resources of the island, and she was alleged to have monopolies in wheat and meat and a share of the lucrative rum trade. Maria, as much as Edward, deserves to be remembered as one of 'the wolves' who brought ruin to the small settlers in the country districts of Van Diemen's Land.

In 1824 Edward Lord successfully charged Charles Rowcroft with 'criminal conversation' with his wife. Maria lost all right to Lord's property though he retained the right to hers. She remained active in business, to 'obtain' as she said in the local press 'a future support for herself and her Children'. Her ventures were on a smaller scale. She operated a trading store in Hobart from 1829 and later a store in Bothwell, where she died in 1859.

Edward never pursued divorce through the British parliament, preferring to set up a second family in Britain without the benefit of legal marriage. In 1859, outliving Maria by a few months, he inherited her Bothwell estate. Maria was not totally banished from colonial society. She fits neither virtuous nor outcast woman stereotype. Her contribution to early colonial society was neither simple nor confined to one sphere. An early entrepreneur, she also helped create forms of social order and domesticity in the new colony.

Kay Daniels