Significant individuals: Mary Reibey

Topic: The Australian Colonies in the 1800s
Learning Activity
Schools & Teachers
Stage 3
History: Year 5
The founding of British colonies and the development of a colony. Students learn about what life was like for different groups of people in the colonial period. They examine significant events and people, political and economic developments, social structures, and settlement patterns.

Key inquiry question #1

What do we know about the lives of people in Australia's colonial past and how do we know?

Key inquiry question #2

What were the significant events and who were the significant people that shaped Australian colonies?

Featured content

Mary Reibey Letter


Content Summary

The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony; for example, explorers, farmers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, humanitarians, religious and political leaders, and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. (ACHHK097)


  • use a range of sources to investigate the role of a particular man, woman or group and the contributions each made to the shaping of the colony

Background Notes for teachers

Mary Haydock was only 13 years old when she was convicted of horse stealing and sentenced to seven years transportation to New South Wales. Mary dressed as a boy and used the name James Burrow when she committed the crime, but at her trial, her real gender and identity were discovered. She was 15 years old when she arrived in Sydney in 1792. Mary was assigned as a nursemaid to the household of Major Francis Grose.

In 1794 Mary married Thomas Reibey, a merchant and landholder and they had seven children. After Thomas' death in 1811, Mary became a prosperous businesswoman in her own right with interests in trading vessels and property. She died in 1855, a wealthy and respected member of colonial society. You can see a portrait of Mary in her old age on our twenty dollar note. 

Mary was a favourite of Governor Macquarie as he saw her as an example of the value of integrating convicts who had served thier sentence back into society. Macquarie's official encouragement of this was calling his Emancipist policy.

For more information about the life of Mary Reibey investigate her entry in the The Australia Dictionary of Biography 

Note: Mary's last name has been spelled variously as 'Reibey', 'Reiby' and 'Raby' in historical documents.

Student Activities

Analysing sources

Students examine sources relating to the life of Mary Reibey and learn of her journey from convict to celebrated business woman.

Number of set tasks:

Researching Mary Reibey

Students use the Biography Planner to conduct research on the life of Mary Reibey.

Number of set tasks:

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum History K - 10

A student:

  • HT3-1  describes and explains the significance of people, groups, places and events to the development of Australia
  • HT3-2  describes and explains different experiences of people living in Australia over time
  • HT3-5 applies a variety of skills of historical inquiry and communication 


Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts

  • sequence historical people and events (ACHHS098, ACHHS117)
  • use historical terms and concepts (ACHHS099, ACHHS118)


  • identify and pose questions to inform an historical inquiry (ACHHS100, ACHHS119)

Analysis and use of resources

  • locate information relevant to inquiry questions in a range of sources (ACHHS119, ACHHS121)

Perspectives and interpretations

  • identify different points of view in the past and present (ACHHS104, ACHHS123)

Explanation and communication

  • develop historical texts, particularly narratives and descriptions, which incorporate source materials (ACHHS105, ACHHS124)
  • use a range of communication forms (oral, written, graphic) and digital technologies  (ACHHS106, ACHHS125)
  • Significance: the importance of an event, development or individual/group
  • Perspectives: people from the past will have different views and experiences

Learning across the curriculum

  • Language
  • Work and enterprise