Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Robert Forrester's Love Life

The following Valentine's Day 'cameo' of Robert Forrester was published in the Hawkesbury Gazette on 15 Feb 2012, p 12:

On Valentine’s Day 185 years ago a man of undeserved notoriety died at Cornwallis.

This was the First Fleeter Robert Forrester, implicated in a scam in London involving the sum of six guineas, for which he was tried at the Old Bailey in 1783. The true culprit was likely to have been his co-accused.

In Sydney, Forrester was found guilty of drunkenness and insolence to Corporal Brixey in December 1790. In fact, as a member of the night watch, Forrester was one of Governor Phillip’s trusted convicts, and his offence in a class-conscious society was that a convict gave an order to a soldier.

In 1794 Forrester was the first man ever to appear before an official enquiry into the murder of an aborigine. John Macarthur was his inquisitor. One historian has even gone so far as to heap all the blame for starting the frontier war at the Hawkesbury onto this incident, but Forrester’s biographer strongly disagrees.

On the plus side, Forrester obviously possessed that mysterious ‘X-factor’. In the infant colony, where women were very scarce and many men never attracted a partner, three women chose to be with Robert. Mary Frost married him in 1791 and accompanied him to Norfolk Island, where she disappeared from the records. Young Isabella Ramsay abandoned her husband and bore Robert nine children at the Hawkesbury from 1794 to 1806. After Isabella’s death around 1807 his neighbour’s wife Jane Metcalfe also abandoned her husband and helped Robert raise his younger children. Jane remained with Robert and his family until long after his death in 1827. She died in Windsor in 1854, aged 98.

His children loved him too - his headstone at St Matthew’s is inscribed Sleep on dear father in this grave, Let not our sigh awake you, We only wait untill [sic] our turn, Then we all shall overtake you.

His story also encompassed another love – a new love for this ancient land. Forrester was one of the first convicts who elected, in 1791, to settle here and make a new life. Governor Phillip trusted him with a land grant at Norfolk Island. Forrester then joined the first 70 settlers at the Hawkesbury in 1794, choosing the block alongside today’s Deerubbun Park. How could he resist the beauty of this spot? It remained special to him until his death, despite the floods which ruined him financially.

On the frontier of settlement, his struggle was the Australian version of ‘how the west was won’, demonstrating the economic impact on an individual of floods, fire, drought and the NSW Corps. He did not give up his supreme effort at the Hawkesbury, as others did. William Cox testified that Forrester raised his family to 'habits of industry’.

Arguably, Robert like a few of his contemporaries pioneered the archetype of the ‘Aussie battler. Unbelievably, he is commemorated at the Hawkesbury only by his headstone, his name on Windsor's Pioneer Memorial and the large family he founded.

No comments:

Post a Comment