Alexander Berry

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Alexander Berry (November 30, 1781- September 17, 1873) was a Scottish born surgeon, merchant and explorer who in 1822 was given a land grant of 10,000 acres (40 km²) and 100 convicts to establish the first European settlement on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia.

This settlement became known as the Coolangatta Estate and later developed in what is now the town of Berry, named in honour of Alexander and his brother David.

Berry was born, to parents James and Isabel, at Hilltarvit Mains farmhouse, near Cupar in Fife, Scotland during a blinding snow storm on the evening of 30th November 1781 (St Andrew's Day).

He was educated at Cupar Grammar school, where he was a contemporary of the artist Sir David Wilkie, and studied medicine at St Andrews University and Edinburgh University before he became a surgeon's mate for the East India Company. He decided to quit this profession because he hated the whippings he was obliged to attend, and because he was attracted to the commercial possibilities of shipping.

In 1806 he chartered a ship, 'City of Edinburgh', with partner Francis Short, and made several voyages to New South Wales, and also to South America. In 1807 he sailed to New South Wales as supercargo of the ship.

In 1809, while the vessel was loading cargo at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, news came through of the massacre of the crew and passengers of the ship 'Boyd' by native maori tribesman. The ship, with Berry, set sail for Whangaroa where he played a significant role in the aftermath of the massacre, rescuing four survivors and the ship's papers. He punished the two Chiefs responsible for the deaths by releasing them as slaves. His clemency was based on his wish to avoid the bloodshed that would inevitably have followed the Chief's execution.

Shortly after he sailed east but was forced to abandon his vessel off the Azores and make his way to Lisbon, Portugal. It was in Cádiz that he met Edward Wollstonecraft, with whom he formed a partnership in 1819.

The two men returned to Sydney, Australia and sought a land grant. After Berry had investigated the Shoalhaven area, they took up a run there in 1822. The land grant was awarded and Berry set up the Coolangatta Estate while Wollstonecraft stayed in Sydney to look after business there.

Berry's brothers and sisters joined him at Coolangatta. He married Elizabeth, Wollstonecraft's sister in September 21 1827 Berry was a Member of the Old Legislative Council from 1829 to 1856 and a Member of the NSW Legislative Council from 1856 to 1861. He was a member of the Philosophical Society in 1821 and a councillor on the Australian Philosophical Society. He was interested in aborigines and geology.

He died on 30 November, 1873 at Crows Nest House, leaving his estate to his brother David, fourteen years his junior. He had no children.

Some people believe that Berry, possibly Australia's first millionaire, a generous benefactor and founder of the dairy industry in New South Wales, has not received adequate recognition, neither in his native Scotland nor in Australia, for his pioneering and entrepreneurial drive. The magnitude of his achievements in relation to his age and time have been allowed to slip away quietly into the collective historical memory.

Through Alexander Berry's will to his brother David the probate value of the Estate he created was £1,252,975 sterling; an enormous sum by today's standards. (Probably equivalent to £66,407,675.00 in today's 2003 values or in Australian dollars $166,020,000).

Out of this he bequeathed nearly twenty percent to the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and to the town of Berry to found its hospital. In 1887 St Andrews used a huge £100,000 sterling legacy from Berry's will to establish the Berry Chair of English Literature, which still continues today. Berry's bequest is believed to have saved this world famous university, recently attended by Prince William, from financial ruin.

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