Corruption and Skullduggery
Edward Lord, Maria Riseley and Hobart’s tempestuous beginnings
The fascinating story of the officer and the convict, Edward Lord and Maria Riseley, who made a fortune in early Hobart by their business and networking skills – only to throw it away in the 1820s by extravagance and financial incompetence (Edward) and sexual infidelity (Maria).
This is also the real story of early Hobart, not whitewashed as it usually is to show our glorious beginnings or because the gullible historian actually believes the official sources. Glossing over embarrassing scandals was the least of it. No one in Van Diemen’s Land wanted to be there: they were all either sent there (convicts, guards, officials) or, as convicts claimed and was all too often the case, they fled from Britain only one step ahead of the law (free settlers).
Everyone wanted to make a fortune, and they weren’t too scrupulous about how they did it. Fleecing the British government was the most popular way, but they also fleeced each other, exploited, embezzled, stole … Almost no one in Hobart’s first twenty years has a creditable record. (Don’t gloat, Launcestonians: your story is even worse, just not yet told.) Oddly, convicts come out better than the rest, though possibly only because they lacked opportunity. However, Maria Riseley, the ex-convict, seems to have been one of the few business people who was not corrupt. Tough yes, corrupt no (or else she hid it much better than anyone else).
I adored researching and writing this book. There was always some new scandal appearing, some fresh appalling scam. You had to admire their ingenuity, thinking them up. Sometimes, reading the documents, I gasped out loud.
I also loved meeting some of Edward and Maria’s many descendants, particularly their great-granddaughter, Louisa Smith, who provided a huge amount of excellent material and is the subject of the final chapter, to bring the Lord story up to the present day.
Allen & Unwin thought a book about Hobart’s first twenty years wouldn’t sell – fair enough, from their point of view – so I had a wonderful time publishing this myself. Julie Hawkins of In Graphic Detail did a fantastic job with the design, and we included many illustrations: where printed books can really score over ebooks is by being beautiful. My husband James and I, as well as my niece Rebecca and friend Stuart, had a great time taking photos of modern-day Tasmania which look much the same as they did in the Lords’ day – it’s surprisingly doable. Let’s see if Allen & Unwin were right.