On this day …….. 19th of January 1954

Laughing children followed Topsy, a one-and-a-half ton circus elephant, aged 9, who escaped from a circus and went a mile-and-a-half walk-about’ through Redfern streets of Sydney. Topsy caused no damage.



John Daniel Cutmore had had 18 convictions recorded against him since 1914. Known as “Snowy” Cutmore, he had also appeared under various aliases, including that of John McLaughlin, John Nolan, John Watson, and John Harris. His longest sentence was 12 months in Sydney in 1923 for thieving. His offences included assaulting the police, shooting with intent to do grevious bodily harm, and thieving. While in gaol in Victoria he gave little trouble to the authorities, but was a source of considerable worry to the detectives, who, while suspicious, were very often unable to obtain convictions. He was said to have usually carried a revolver, and was suspected of more than one “hold-up.” In police circles he was regarded as a dangerous criminal, whose cleverness enabled him to escape the consequences of many crimes. In 1915 Cutmore was suspected of having been associated with the murder of a sailor in Melbourne. He was presented for trial, and was found not guilty. He joined the Australian Imperial Forces, but did not leave Victoria. He gave a great deal of trouble to the military authorities, and served sentences on various occasions in Geelong and other gaols, and also in Langwarrin. In 1927, Cutmore was killed in a gun battle with Squizzy Taylor in Carlton.



Convict Billy Blue’s place and date of birth are uncertain, convict records suggest he was born in Jamaica around 1767. On the 4th of October 1796 he was convicted, at Maidstone, in Kent, of stealing raw sugar and sentenced to seven years transportation. After serving over four years in the convict hulks, he was transported to Botany Bay, Australia, in the convict ship Minorca. He arrived in Sydney in 1801 and served out the remaining two years of his sentence. In 1804, records show him living in ‘the Rocks’, then a very tough part of the city. There he met Elizabeth Williams, a 30-year-old convict from Hampshire, England, who had arrived in June 1804. On the 27th of April 1805, they were married at the old St. Philip’s Anglican church in Sydney, where 5 of their 6 children were later christened. He became a boatman that ferried passengers across Sydney Harbour. He was also made a water bailiff and watched boat traffic on Port Jackson from a special tower. Despite being a bailiff, it seems Billy didn’t do everything by the book. It was said that his law infringements were frequent, but due to his colourful personality, they were looked upon with a “benevolent air” by the authorities.



A Eora warrior named Pemulwuy was felled with seven bullets and taken to a Parramatta hospital. He lapsed in and out of consciousness for many days and his death was thought to be a certainty. Amazingly, Pemulwuy recovered and several weeks later, he somehow escaped into the darkness; his leg-irons still in place. According to the Eora people, his impossible escape was achieved by turning himself into a bird.



On this day …….. 16th of January 1796

The first theatre built in Australia opened on the 16th of January 1796, in Sydney and became incredibly popular. Those who did not have the price of admission stole it. The level of crime increased so dramatically that the governor was forced to take the drastic step of ordering the theatre to be demolished in 1798. Admission to the theatre was paid in cash or goods such as rum, sugar, flour or meat. The price of a seat in the fashionable gallery was one shilling or the equivalent in goods. One crime committed by a theatre lover to get the price of admission was particularly heartless. He killed a fine greyhound belonging to an officer, skinned it and succeeded in palming it’s joins off as kangaroo flesh at the price of ninepence a pound.



Mary Bryant escaped in the Governor’s six oar cutter with her husband, baby son, three year old daughter and five other Convicts. They then rowed to Timor, (5000 Kilometres from Sydney) navigating the uncharted Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. Upon arrival in Timor, they claimed to be ship wreck victims but were soon identified as Convicts and sent back to England for trial. On the return journey, Mary’s husband and son died of fever. Sadly for Australia, the English press found her tale of perseverance quite stirring and so rather than transport her once more, she was freed into the community where she no doubt strengthened the gene pool that had been weakened by the loss of Convicts.



Convict James Squire

Convict James Squire who was transported to Australia, is credited with the first successful cultivation of hops in Australia. Squire is also considered to have founded Australia’s first commercial brewery in 1798, though John Boston appears to have opened a brewery making a form of corn beer two years earlier. Squire was convicted of stealing in 1785 and was transported to Australia as a convict on the First Fleet in 1788. Squire ran a number of successful ventures during his life, including a farm, a popular tavern called The Malting Shovel, a bakery, a butcher shop and a credit union. He also became a town constable in the Eastern Farms district of Sydney. As a testament to the rise of position in society (from shame to fame), his death in 1822 was marked with the biggest funeral ever held in the colony.



Convict Mary Reibey, was born on the 12th of May 1777 in Bury, England. Following the death of her parents, she was reared by a grandmother and sent into service. She ran away, and was arrested for stealing a horse in August 1791. At the time, she was disguised as a man and was going under the name of James Burrow. Sentenced to seven years’ transportation, she arrived in Sydney, on the Royal Admiral in October 1792. On the 7th of September 1794, 17-year-old Mary married Thomas Reibey, after he had proposed to her several times; she finally agreed to marry the junior officer on the store ship Britannia. Reibey also used the surnames Raiby, Reiby and Reibey interchangeably, but the family adopted the spelling Reibey in later years.

Thomas Reibey was granted land on the Hawkesbury River, where he and Mary lived and farmed following their marriage. They built a farmhouse called Reibycroft, which is now listed on the Register of the National Estate. Thomas Reibey (1769-1811) commenced a cargo business along the Hawkesbury River to Sydney, and later moved to Sydney. Thomas Reibey’s business undertakings prospered, enabling him in 1804 to build a substantial stone residence on a further grant of land near Macquarie Place. He acquired several farms on the Hawkesbury River, and traded in coal, cedar, furs and skins. He entered into a partnership with Edward Wills, and trading activities were extended to Bass Strait, the Pacific Islands and, from 1809, to China and India.

When Thomas Reibey died on 5 April 1811, Mary assumed sole responsibility for the care of seven children and the control of numerous business enterprises. She was no stranger to this task, having managed her husband’s affairs during his frequent absences from Sydney. Now a woman of considerable wealth by her husband’s businesses, Mary Reibey continued to expand her business interests. In 1812 she opened a new warehouse in George Street and in 1817 extended her shipping operations with the purchase of further vessels. In the same year, the Bank of New South Wales was founded in her house in Macquarie Place. By 1828, when she gradually retired from active involvement in commerce, she had acquired extensive property holdings in the city. Like many others, however, she was on occasions somewhat economical with the truth. In March 1820 she had returned to England with her daughters to visit her native village, and came back to Sydney the next year. So in the 1828 census, when asked to describe her condition, she declared that she “came free in 1821”. In the emancipist society of New South Wales, she gained respect for her charitable works and her interest in the church and education. She was appointed one of the Governors of the Free Grammar School in 1825. Reibey built a cottage in the suburb of Hunters Hill circa 1836, where she lived for some time. The cottage, situated on the shores of the Lane Cove River, was later acquired by the Joubert brothers, who enlarged it. It is now known as Fig Tree House and is listed on the Register of the National Estate. On her retirement, she built a house at Newtown, Sydney, where she lived until her death on 30 May 1855. Five of her seven children had predeceased her.

An enterprising and determined person of strong personality, during her lifetime Mary Reibey earned a reputation as an astute and successful business woman in the colony of New South Wales. She is featured on the Australian twenty-dollar notes printed since 1994.



In October 1861, Frederick Ward was arrested for horse theft and imprisoned on Cockatoo Island. The Island was said to be impossible to escape from as the men were chained and the harbour was inhabited by man eating sharks! Despite the danger, Ward’s girlfriend, Mary-Anne Bugg, swam to the island with a file for Ward to cut through his chains. After freeing himself, Ward swam to Balmain and with Mary, moved to the Hunter Valley.



Life in Coal river (Newcastle) and Macquarie Harbour (Tasmania) was hell on earth and many Convicts felt that death was their only hope of escape. Unfortunately, many of the Irish Convicts were catholic and feared that suicide (an unforgivable sin) would send them to an eternal hell. To solve this dilemma, they devised a plan based on teamwork. Four Convicts would draw straws; one to be murdered, one to be the murderer and two to act as witnesses at the murder trial so as to ensure a conviction. The plan was win win all round. The victim would escape life without fear of going to hell. The murderer would be executed and also escape life. As for the witnesses, they would have to testify at a trial in either Sydney or Hobart and thus have a holiday.



Convict Francis Greenway was born near the English city of Bristol, where he became an architect. In 1809 he became bankrupt and in 1812 he pleaded guilty “under the advice of his friends”, to forging a financial document and was sentenced to death; this sentence was later commuted to 14 years transportation. Why he pleaded guilty is unknown; he may have been told it was the only way to save his life. Whilst awaiting deportation to Sydney, Greenway spent time in Newgate Prison where he completed paintings depicting trials and scenes within the prison. Greenway arrived in Sydney, New South Wales on the transport General Hewitt in February 1814 to serve his sentence. On board the ship was the surgeon Dr. John Harris who was to give Greenway his first private commission in the colony which involved extending his residence on his Ultimo estate. Between 1816 and 1818, while still a convict, Greenway was responsible for the design and construction of the Macquarie Lighthouse on the South Head at the entrance to Port Jackson. After the success of this project he was emancipated by the governor Lachlan Macquarie, and in the role of Acting Civil Architect and Assistant Engineer, went on to build many significant buildings in New South Wales. Greenway’s works include Hyde Park Barracks, the Government House and what is considered to be his masterpiece; St James’ Church, Sydney. There are still 49 buildings in central Sydney attributed to Greenway’s designs. Greenway died of typhoid near Newcastle in 1837, aged 59. The exact date of his death is not known. He was buried in the Glebe Cemetery at East Maitland on the 25th of September 1837, but his grave is unmarked.

Francis Greenway was on the old $10 note.



A group of Convicts got the idea that China was across some river just north of Sydney. Comforted by this knowledge, 20 male Convicts and a pregnant female set off on foot to build a new life in China. One died of exhaustion, four were speared by Aborigines and the remainders stumbled back into Sydney a week later.