Alexander Berry

1781-1873

Early life

The complete story of Alexcander Berry is full of adventure and courage. Alexander was born at Cupar in Fifeshire, Scotland on the 30th November 1781. His father wanted him to become a surgeon, so Alexander studied at St Andrews and Edinburgh Universities.

As a young man, Alexander had heard of the exploits of the future hero of Trafalgar, Horatio Nelson. After Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, Alexander, then aged 24, accepted a commission with the East India Company, and joined a number of voyages to India and China.

This was a time when medical procedures were performed wihtout anaesthetic or antiseptic, and the crudeness of medical practices and the practice of flogging the seamen distressed the young Alexander. He resigned his commission and used his savings to charter a ship, The Fly, for a venture with his partner, Francis Shortt, to the Cape of Good Hope.

While they were there, they heard of a food shortage in New South Wales, so they provisioned a ship and headed for the colony of New South Wales.

Many adventures awaited Berry in Australasia and the Pacific. He faced many perils, including near-mutiny, treacherous storms and damage to his vessel. He was almost taken by cannibals in Tonga.

Alexander Berry and Edward Wollstonecraft

Berry met Edward Wollstonecraft in Cadiz. Wollstonecraft became Berry's London agent, and later his partner when they decided to start a business in Sydney.

Berry returned to Sydney in the Admiral Cockburn in 1819, and Wollstonecraft arrived in the Canada later that same year.

Wollstonecraft settled in the north of Sydney in a house he called Crow's Nest. The Sydney suburb of Wollstonecraft is named after him, and the adjoining suburb of Crows Nest is named after his home.

The Coolangatta Story

The date 23 June 1822 is recognised as the first European settlement on the South Coast of NSW. This was the date that partners Alexander Berry and Edward Wollstonecraft settled on the foothills of a mountain named Coolangatta, after obtaining a grant of 10,000 acres and 100 convicts from the NSW Government.

Berry called his estate Coolangatta, from the Aboriginal word meaning "splendid view".

While Wollstonecraft supervised their George Street business, Berry settled and worked on the Estate. Unlike other Sydney merchants who took up land but seem to have kept their mercantile and pastoral activities separate, Berry and Wollstonecraft set out to integrate the two, and during its early years the Shoalhaven estate was the source of much produce sold in the George Street store in Sydney.

Within half a century, the Coolangatta Estate would total nearly 100 square miles (258 ha). The estate was self-contained and self-supporting, with its own mills, workshops, tradesmen and artisans. Ships were built there and buildings were pre-fabricated for erection elsewhere. From here, horses would go to India, cedar to Europe and cattle, hides, tobacco, cheese, butter and wheat to Sydney and beyond.

Berry had married Wollstonecraft's sister, Elizabeth (1782-1845), on 22 September 1827 . After his wife's death in 1845, Berry became a recluse in Crow's Nest House. After his brother, David, took charge of the Shoalhaven estate in 1836 he appears to have visited it rarely, but he poured abuse on his brother for his indolence and mismanagement, and on his tenants for their Methodism, Presbyterianism, drunkenness and desire for local government. In severe pain but still in full possession of his faculties he died at Crow's Nest on 17 September 1873. He had no children and his property passed to his brother David.

David Berry

David Berry was to become a pioneer in his own right, through his work in letting small farms to tenants. When he inherited the estate in 1873, he was landlord to 270 tenant farmers occupying some 15,000 acres.

When David Berry died in 1889, his funeral at the family cemetery at Coolangatta was attended by over 2,000 people.

John Hay

After 1883 the management of the Shoalhaven estate passed increasingly to Berry's cousin, (Sir) John Hay. When David Berry died unmarried at Coolangatta on 23 September 1889 he left an estate valued at £1,250,000. Hay was the principal beneficiary of his will and, with James Norton, an executor of it.