In a little cottage in Shropshire, a wee girl was born, and then baptised as Mary Jones on January 31st, 1762.
So begins the life of our heroine, Molly Morgan.
Mary, or Molly as she became known, was born the daughter of a ratcatcher and labourer, and lived quietly in the village of Diddlesbury. At 16 she was sent to work as a nursemaid for a local farmer, and some time later bore a child out of wedlock, rumoured to be his. The girl was named Mary, like her mother.
William Morgan, an apprentice wheelwright met Molly Jones and they married on June 25th, 1785, with Molly bringing her daughter Mary to live with them. A son, James, was born in the next year.
One day on a nearby field, some hempen yarn was lying out to be bleached for the local rope making factory. The yarn disappeared, and after a search of the Morgan’s home the yarn was found and both Molly and William were arrested. William escaped, leaving his wife to bear the brunt of the charge and Molly was found guilty sentenced to death. She was lobbied for transportation, and was granted a term of 14 years in one of the British colonies.
Molly was boarded onto the ‘Neptune’, part of the notorious Second Fleet, departing England in January 1790. Conditions on the Neptune were horrendous. Into a space no larger than a tennis court, 500 convicts were packed, mistreated, starved and it is not surprising that one in three died on the voyage and three quarters of the survivors were classed as sick upon arriving to Port Jackson, NSW.
Only five years into her sentence, determined to return to England, Molly escaped the ‘Resolution’, being secreted aboard by the Captain. She arrived back in London safely, collected her children and eventually entered into marriage with Thomas Mare (as William Morgan had finally been caught and transported to Australia himself). However Mare later accused Molly of burning down their house after a domestic squabble, then she was accused again of stealing in 1803 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. Molly, without husband or children was on her way back to NSW.
Molly certainly was a remarkable character; a resourceful, dominant, self-willed personality and a born leader among her class. Quite how she went about winning favours once back in Australia is not known, but she was able to secure unusual privileges.
Molly set up residence with an Officer of the Settlement; was part of a select group settled at Wallis’ Plains; was promised a grant of 159 acres by governor Macquarie; and later had this honoured in 1825. Today this land forms most of Maitland’s CBD – the region’s largest city.
She worked hard developing and acquiring more land, and built a reputation as a woman who could “ride, shoot, build fences, dig drains and construct dams better than any man”. At sixty, she married for a third time to Joseph Hunt – aged 31. It was around this time she acquired the land now known as ‘Molly Morgan Ridge’, and now the site of the vineyard bearing her name. She also received what is believed to be the first liquor licence in NSW, which she and Joe opened up their famed watering hole, Maitland’s ‘Angels Inn’.
In 1827 ‘The Australian’ published a letter praising Molly Hunt (formerly Molly Morgan) for her drive and donations towards the building of the school and church, visiting the sick, running her own home-made hospital, aiding settlers upon their arrival, helping in times of flood and taking a special interest in the welfare of convicts. One account tells of a 61 year old Molly undertaking the arduous horse ride to Sydney to lobby for the lives of convicts accused of theft of some fruit. At the time of her death, aged 73 in 1835, she had become widely respected throughout society and often referred to as “Queen of the Hunter”.
(with excerpts from J. Baker)