Richard Brooks: From Convict Ship Captain to Pillar of Early Colonial Australia

I became aware of this book quite recently, and promptly added it to my reading list.  I’m reading as much early colonial history of Australia as I can at the moment,connected with recent visits to areas in and around Sydney.  Captain Richard Brooks had a huge impact – not all positive – from his connections with Australia.  His name is attached to a great many places in the region.

Richard Brooks: From Convict Ship Captain to Pillar of Early Colonial Australia

‘Captain Richard Brooks (1765 – 1833) made six voyages to Australia between 1801 and 1814.’

The first voyage to Australia by Captain Richard Brooks was as the master of the convict transport Atlas.  The voyage of the Atlas was infamous: it departed Cork in late 1801, but by the time it arrived in Sydney in July 1802, 65 of the 179 convicts transported had died.  Another 4 convicts died shortly after the Atlas arrived in Sydney.  Brooks was censured by Governor King for this high death rate, which was attributed to negligence and the overcrowding caused by the large cargo Brooks shipped as well.  Although he was threatened with prosecution by the transport commissioners, Brooks escaped punishment.

Captain Brooks made five more voyages to Australia (one more trip transporting convicts on the Alexander, followed by four trading trips) before settling in the colony in 1814.

Brooks went on to be a leading merchant, was appointed a magistrate by Governor Macquarie, and became a prosperous landholder.  Of the 22 Brooks place names in New South Wales, 21 are associated with Richard Brooks.  These places include Brooks Hill and Brooks Creek at Lake George, Brooks Plateau in the Kangaroo Valley, Brooks Point at Appin, Brooks Reach at Horsley and Brooks Road on the Monaro.

I found this book fascinating.  In part because I’ve been to many of the places mentioned, but mostly because Ms Maher paints such a clear picture of Captain Brooks.  Here is a man, energetic, flawed, and definitely self-interested who shaped the colony on a number of different levels.  Brooks was the first white settler south of Lake George and his illegitimate son Richard Brooks Jnr is generally regarded as the pioneer white settler of the Monaro region.

I had not previously known much about Richard Brooks, and his place in Australian history. While I admire his energy, it’s hard to overlook the tragic voyage of the Atlas.  Ms Maher does a wonderful job of describing the historical context within which Richard Brooks made his mark.  If you are interested in Australia’s colonial history, then this book is well worth reading.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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