The Merchant of Sydney
by Chis Maxwell and Alex Pugh
In 1791, a young Scottish soldier named James Chisholm travelled to the new British colony of New South Wales to take up a position with the Rum Corps. Within three decades, he had transformed himself into a wealthy merchant and landowner who helped lay the foundations of colonial Australia.
Chisholm’s “rags to riches” story is told for the first time in a long overdue history of this important pioneer that also enriches our knowledge of the colony during a dynamic period.
In The Merchant of Sydney, Chis Maxwell and Alex Pugh detail Chisholm’s extensive business dealings, landholdings, and the influential positions he held, including as a Director of the Bank of NSW. He was the sixth largest landholder and stockholder in the colony in 1828, owning vast rural holdings (nearly 23,000 acres) as well as significant properties in central Sydney. In a life characterised by faith, loyalty, family and self-improvement, this gruff but quietly spoken Scot commanded wide respect and made his mark on a new society.
Chis Maxwell, the great-great-great grandson of James Chisholm, said following his life from a humble soldier to an eminent businessman had also revealed new information about early New South Wales.
“We have covered the history of the Colony from 1791 -- when it was little more than a military-run jail of 2,100 British soldiers and convicts -- to the 1830s, when it was emerging as a mercantile agrarian economy, based on free emigration, with a non-indigenous population of nearly 80,000,” he said.
“James Chisholm was an important pioneer of colonial Australia, contributing to its business and banking, democratic processes and pastoral industry, yet historians have ignored him for two hundred years.”
Chis Maxwell and Alex Pugh spent four years researching the book. Their investigations took them from the Chisholm family’s document collection to archives held in the National Library of Australia and the Mitchell Library, and the National Archives of the United Kingdom and Scotland.
Brian Fletcher, Emeritus Professor of Australian History at the University of Sydney, who wrote the Foreword to the book, said: “His was a ‘rags to riches’ story that the authors handle in absorbing detail, in the process adding to our understanding of the dynamics of the colony during a transformational period ... [Maxwell and Pugh] have not only brought to life a fascinating figure but have also filled an important gap in the history of New South Wales.”
Australian Scholarly Publishing
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