A Berry good story!
How many folk have heard of Alexander Berry? He was born at Hilltarvit Mains just outside Cupar on the 30th November 1781. As part of our Cupar’s Year of Stories 2022 project, we caught up with the team at Cupar Museum & Heritage Centre to discover more …
Alexander was one of nine children born to James and Isable Berry. Educated at the town’s Grammar School – where he was a contemporary of artist, Sir David Wilkie – he went on to study medicine at St Andrews and Edinburgh universities, qualifying to become a ship’s surgeon working for the East India Company. This allowed him to take cargo onboard – and he profited from his voyages to the far east.
Life at sea was tough and he loathed the corporal punishment that he witnessed, but Alexander recognised the commercial opportunities of the shipping trade. He quit his surgeon’s role and, in 1806, traveled to the Cape of Good Hope …
On this trip – at the peak of colonial battles between the British, French and Dutch over control of Cape Town – he heard news that the colonies in New South Wales required provisions. He purchased the ship, The City of Edinburgh, and the next few years saw Alexander cutting his teeth on the highs and lows of nineteenth century international trade.
He encountered damaging storms that put pay to his New South Wales ambitions – instead, being forced to sell most of his cargo in Tasmania. His interest then turned to Fiji and New Zealand – where he rescued the survivors of a massacre from the ship, The Boyd. His travels took him further east – to Chile and Peru – and then Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro which turned out to be his last port of call in The City of Edinburgh. Bound for Cadiz in Spain, he had to abandon ship in the Atlantic … making his way to Lisbon in Portugal.
When he finally made it to Cadiz, he met Edward Wollstonecraft – who became Alexander’s shipping agent – and their working partnership flourished. In 1819, they set sail for Sydney in Australia and established their merchants’ business on George Street. They had plans for expansion and after exploring the New South Wales coast in 1822, the Berry-Wollstonecraft partnership was granted some 10,000 acres with only one condition: they provided for 100 convicts. Alexander established the Coolangatta Estate and his partner stayed in Sydney to oversee their business interests. By 1840, the estate had grown to 32,000 acres.
The two men’s business partnership became a family affair on the 21st September 1827 when Alexander married Edward’s sister – Elizabeth. Five years later, Edward died and the entire estate passed to Alexander. In 1836, three of his brothers and two of his sisters made the move from Scotland to Coolangatta. Alexander Berry moved to Sydney.
In less than 50 years, the Coolangatta Estate – totaling close to 100 square miles – became self-sufficient. It had its own mills, workshops, ship yards, tradesmen and artisans. The estate exported horses to India, cedar to Europe and cattle, hides, tobacco, cheese, butter and wheat to Sydney – and beyond.
Alexander’s life and work is commemorated in a monument that was unveiled on the anniversary of his birth: it is located in the town of Berry in New South Wales – named after Cupar’s well-traveled son!
The inscription on the plaque reads …
Alexander Berry 1781 – 1873
This memorial honours his achievements as a surgeon, explorer, merchant adventurer and first European settler of the Shoalhaven in 1822.
A great Scottish humanitarian, he provided for the David Berry Hospital and Chair of English Literature in the University of St. Andrews.
His determination to create mixed farming and associated industries to replace bush and swamp succeeded in laying the foundations of the thriving Shoalhaven District as we know and enjoy it today.
Aien Apieteyein – Ever To Be The Best
Unveiled on November 30th 2009, the anniversary of Alexander Berry`s birth, by Gareth Ward, Deputy Mayor of Shoalhaven City Council
When Elizabeth died in 1845, Alexander became a recluse. In severe pain but still in full possession of his faculties he died at the age of 91 on 17 September 1873. He had no children and his property passed to his brother David. David had taken charge of the estate in 1836 and was to become a pioneer in his own right, through his work in letting small farms to tenants. When he inherited the estate, he was landlord to 270 tenant farmers occupying some 15,000 acres. When he died in 1889, his funeral at the family cemetery at Coolangatta was attended by over 2,000 people.
You can read more on the monument to the memory of Alexander Berry via this link.
Thank you to Cupar Museum & Heritage Centre for the information featured in this short story: it is one of a series that we will publish as part of Cupar’s Year of Stories – in support of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022. And thank you to Monument Australia and the Berry Museum for the further information we have incorporated in this story.
Share your story …
Cupar’s Year of Stories is encouraging all to share stories on Cupar and our district – stories that may be from an individual, a company or organisation. They can feature the past, present … or the future. As long as they are linked with Cupar, we’d love to see them! You can click on the image below to submit your story. Once reviewed, we will publish on our Blog so they create an archive for the project.
Don’t miss out …