The Merchant of Sydney: James Chisholm (1772-1837)


James, among like-minded emigrants, had a vision of a society and a nation that was bigger than being just a gaol on the other side of the world. Coming from an underprivileged background in Scotland James joined the New South Wales Corps and arrived on the Britannia in 1791. After a long career as an NCO he left the army in 1810, and established himself as a merchant with significant landholdings in Sydney. He became one of the leaders in the politics that transformed NSW from a penal settlement into a civil society. A new nation was developing which people would build for their descendants and where they would stay and live for generations, and not just return to the old country after a period of time. These were the very first steps taken towards the maturing of Australia.

This book is aimed at a broad readership interested in early Australian colonial history, economics, agriculture, religion (particularly Presbyterianism), and how the dispossession of the first inhabitants went hand in hand with the development of Sydney and surrounding rural lands. It is particularly relevant to those interested in the New South Wales Corps (the British regiment responsible for the control of the penal settlement until 1810), the development of George Street and the barracks (Wynyard) areas of Sydney, the early settlement of the Cumberland Plain and the Goulburn districts of New South Wales. As well as “discovering” the role of the previously-ignored James Chisholm, the book casts new light on leading characters in the colony, either as individuals or in their relationship with Chisholm, and also on the emergence of the merchants of Sydney as a significant and distinct entity in the years following 1810. Whether you have a general interest in Australian history, or are a student or an academic historian, this book is for you. 

There has been considerable publicity regarding the Chisholm family in Australia since the publication of the bestselling Sheila: the Australian ingenue who bewitched British society, by Robert Wainwright (Allen and Unwin, 2014); The Merchant of Sydney tells the true story of James Chisholm, Sheila’s great-grandfather, and should generate a level of public interest in a pioneering family that once owned 2 million acres of Australia, stretching from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Victoria.

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