Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History and Politics


Alexander Berry arrived in Sydney in 1819 a penniless merchant adventurer with a shipload of goods on credit and a partner, Edward Wollstonecraft, whose strengths and weaknesses were complementary to his own. Berry's great achievement was development at Shoalhaven of what his contemporaries deemed the finest estate in New South Wales and possibly the Empire. He sat in the Legislative Council for thirty-three years. He was the most forthright advocate for large-landowner hegemony, the first to articulate the case for protection, was for some years spokesman for Church of Scotland loyalists, resisted movement to democracy and opposed the spread of municipal institutions. John Dunmore Lang's 'Shoalhaven Incubus' libels and Berry's resistance to vindictive and illegal misuse of the Municipalities Act against him led to his being reviled Colony-wide as the symbol of selfish land monopolisation and champion of an outdated and oppressive aristocratic ideal.

My thesis is that the key to Berry's career is his life-long adherence to the values imposed in his formative years in Scotland under the Dundas 'System'. Landowners monopolised political rights on the ground that they alone had a fixed stake in the country. The dominant group preserved its position through control of all Scotland's Parliamentary seats, patronage, the courts euid the Church. 'Stability' was the watchword, any change being suspect as prospectively harmful. The Church repressed questioning of doctrine, emphasised the duty of social harmony and reinforced paternalistic responsibility, but its efforts to inculcate high standards of morality contrasted with the elite's amoral use and defence of its power. Scots valued education and scientific and technological advances. Berry never confronted the contradictions in these forces which were reflected in his own conduct- Berry was prepared to put his scruples to one side in order to succeed but was anxious then to restore harmony between his conduct and principles. He was politically reactionary but a progressive farmer and eager to embrace new technology. He built schools and a library for his tenants but would hedge in their personal independence. Berry treated the values of his upbringing as eternally valid while they became increasingly anachronistic.