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The Story of Edward Wollstonecraft, Crows Nest

Visitors to St Thomas’ Rest Park in West St, Crows Nest, will be familiar with the 4.5 metre high pyramid in a low-walled compound at the centre of the park, which commemorates Edward Wollstonecraft.

By Alec Smart

This is the marker of the final resting place of Edward Wollstonecraft, successful businessman in the early years of British settlement of Sydney, from whom the Lower North Shore suburb Wollstonecraft is named.

Edward’s sister Elizabeth, for whom the pyramid was originally built in 1845, is also buried there.

Pyramid memorial to Edward Wollstonecraft

The pyramid memorial in St Thomas' Rest Park, Crows Nest. Photo: Alec Smart

Edward Wollstonecraft History

The Wollstonecrafts were the nephew and niece, respectively, of feminist author and avowed advocate of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft, and also the cousins of her daughter, Mary Shelly author of Frankenstein (published 1818).

Edward Wollstonecraft’s business partner Alexander Berry, from whom Berrys Bay and Berry Island Reserve in Waverton are named, as well as the NSW town of Berry, is also interred below the stone pyramid. Alexander married Elizabeth Wollstonecraft in Sept 1827.

Alexander Berry had the pyramid built as a memorial to her, during a time when Egyptian-themed architecture, including pyramids and obelisks, often featured throughout the British Empire. Egyptian Revivalism, as it has come to be known, was triggered by the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15), when France and Britain fought to control Egypt and the North African continent.

Origins of Crows Nest

Edward Wollstonecraft died in December 1832, aged just 49, in a cottage he built in 1821 on his 524 acres estate he called Crows Nest – the origin of the suburb’s name.

Crows Nest was part of a greater land grant of 2000 acres that Edward was given by Lachlan Macquarie (the 5th NSW Governor from 1810-1821). The Crows Nest estate extended from present-day St Leonards down to the harbour at Berrys Bay, where ships brought timber and merchant goods for the Berry & Wollstonecraft mercantile company.

Dilapidated jetty of the historic Coal Loader in Berrys Bay, Waverton, Sydney. Photo: Alec Smart

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, “In its early years it dealt in rum and other spirits, supplied medicines to the hospital, employed convict tailors in making slop clothing, and … in 1823 the partners exported coal to Rio de Janeiro.”

A sealing ship venture to Western Australia in 1824 foundered when the vessel, Belinda, was wrecked on the Archipelago of the Recherche, although the crew survived.

Death of Edward Wollstonecraft

After Edward’s early death, Alexander and Elizabeth built a larger stone house at Crows Nest, where the Berrys settled, leaving their Coolangatta estate in Shoalhaven.

After Elizabeth’s passing, large sections of the Crows Nest estate were subdivided, and a section given to the NSW Government for construction of the Milsons Point to Hornsby railway (completed 1893).

Alexander Berry became a recluse, and was eventually laid to rest beneath the pyramid tomb, in Sept 1873, aged 91.

The Crows Nest house was demolished in 1933, although the original entrance gates to the Crows Nest estate are still in use – at the Pacific Highway entrance to North Sydney Demonstration School.

The original gates to Edward Wollstonecraft’s “Crows Nest”

The original gates to Edward Wollstonecraft’s “Crows Nest” estate, now occupied by North Sydney Demonstration School. Pacific Highway, Waverton. Photo: Alec Smart

Edward Wollstonecraft was initially buried in the Brickfield Hill graveyard in the city – later known as Devonshire St Cemetery - which reached capacity in 1867 and from which bodies were exhumed and relocated elsewhere during the construction of Central Station in 1901.

However, Wollstonecraft was disinterred and relocated to St Thomas Park in 1846, many years before the station construction.

This was because in 1845, when Elizabeth Berry, who inherited her brother’s lands, passed away (aged 63), her husband Alexander donated a piece of land to St Thomas’ Anglican Church of North Sydney to repurpose as a graveyard.

So, who were Alexander and Edward?

The duo met whilst travelling to Spain, Edward Wollstonecraft, a merchant, Alexander Berry also a merchant trader and former ship’s surgeon, and lodged together in Cadiz, coincidentally while French forces were besieging the city.

After forming a business partnership, they relocated to London, Edward first as Alexander’s agent of attorney, where they lived with Edward’s sister Elizabeth from 1815-1819.

In January 1819, they set sail for New South Wales (albeit on separate ships), arriving in July, and established their mercantile partnership in a warehouse on George St in The Rocks. (The three-storey warehouse sat amidst a row of properties on what is now First Fleet Park, a vacant block of land between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Cahill Expressway.)

Berry & Wollstonecraft mercantile company in 1829

George St, The Rocks, 1829, where the Berry & Wollstonecraft mercantile company traded.

Photo: Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

In 1820, whilst Alexander was back in England, Edward received his land grant, whereupon Alexander chartered a ship and returned to Sydney in November 1821 with a range of merchandise to retail in their George St premises.

In 1822, they made several sea voyages down the south coast looking for suitable land on which to set up a farming venture. The new NSW Governor, Thomas Brisbane (1821-25), issued Berry and Wollstonecraft a land grant of 10,000 acres, on condition they utilise 100 convicts.

The land grant, near Shoalhaven Heads, was known as the Coolangatta Estate. To facilitate the movement of ships, the convicts, under the stewardship of explorer Hamilton Hume, were employed to dig a 191 metre canal with hand tools.

Linking the Shoalhaven River to the Crookhaven River, the first navigable canal in Australia, the team dug the channel in twelve days.

Berrys Bay, Shoalhaven

Berrys Bay, Shoalhaven, Coolangatta Mountain in the distance. NSW south coast. Photo: Alec Smart

Edward Wollstonecraft remained in Sydney to oversee the business in George St, while Alexander secured two additional land grands of 4,000 acres apiece, eventually expanding the estate to 32,000 acres in the 1840s (after the early demise of Edward).

Alexander Berry found Coolangatta unsuitable for sheep farming, so he drained the swampland and clear-felled the cedar and blue gum forests for timber before growing a variety of crops, chiefly tobacco.

Edward suffered from ill health, which led to his retreat to Crows Nest and premature death, but in spite of this he was very influential in his lifetime.

He became a magistrate, a director of the Bank of New South Wales and the Bank of Australia, and a chairman of the Chamber of Commerce from where he was instrumental in influencing economic decisions and directing international trade.

He was also secretary of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW and co-founder of the Philosophical Society of Australasia.

However, he reportedly had 'a naturally defective temper', according to his long-term business partner, and the duo employed aggressive business practices that could be described as anti-competitive – which contributed to their success. They also exploited Aboriginal labour, providing food but no wages to the Indigenous residents of Coolangatta, whom Alexander’s brother David later evicted when he inherited custody of the estate.

Alexander Berry 1856

Alexander Berry 1856. Photo: Mitchell Library

In June 2022, it was revealed in The Guardian that Alexander Berry sent the skulls of two Aboriginals - Yuin clan leader Arrawarra and an unidentified woman - to Britain in 1827, probably to the Edinburgh Museum (which had a department that undertook scientific research on the skeletons of natives from around the world).

Previously, in 1820, whilst based in Tasmania, Alexander had sent a Maori person’s head to Edinburgh Museum.

Michael Organ, a former archivist at the University of Wollongong, and Marlene Longbottom, an associate professor at the university (whose family are the clan custodians of Coolangatta/Cullunghutti), uncovered this evidence from Alexander Berry’s historic correspondence.

They revealed that in a letter dated 20 August 1827, Alexander detailed the dispatch of the Aboriginal body parts, which presumably he exhumed from their burial grounds on his Shoalhaven estate.

Berrys Bay, in Crows Nest

Berrys Bay, Shoalhaven, Coolangatta Mountain in the distance. NSW south coast. Photo: Alec Smart



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