Raby, a Farm Belonging to Alexander Riley Esq., New South Wales.

Rare aquatint view by Joseph Lycett of Alexander Riley (1778-1833) Raby farm. Riley was granted 3,000 acres in 1809 and called his estate Raby in honour of his mother, who had been Miss Margaret Raby. The property was used primarily … Read Full Description


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Full Title:

Raby, a Farm Belonging to Alexander Riley Esq., New South Wales.




In good condition.


Hand coloured lithograph aquatint

Image Size: 

x 170mm

Paper Size: 

x 258mm
Raby, a Farm Belonging to Alexander Riley Esq., New South Wales. - Antique View from 1824

Genuine antique



Rare aquatint view by Joseph Lycett of Alexander Riley (1778-1833) Raby farm. Riley was granted 3,000 acres in 1809 and called his estate Raby in honour of his mother, who had been Miss Margaret Raby. The property was used primarily for breeding “fine-woolled” sheep and formed the basis of the most important merino strain in the development of the Australian merino and their importance to the Australian pastoral industry is probably greater than that of any other single flock.

Alexander Riley (1778?-1833), merchant and pastoralist, was born in London, the son of George Riley, a London book-seller of some education and prosperity, and his wife Margaret, née Raby. The family was from County Cavan and had a deep attachment to its Irish roots. Alexander’s two sisters married Captain Ralph Wilson and Anthony Kemp of the New South Wales Corps, and it was their departure with their husbands for New South Wales which set Alexander thinking of emigrating himself. On 30 November 1803 he secured from the Colonial Office permission to go out and a recommendation to the local administration.

Although he acquired a farm at the Hawkesbury in August he was appointed store-keeper and magistrate at Port Dalrymple, where his sisters and their families were settled; he quickly found favour with Colonel William Paterson, in 1805 became deputy-commissary there and rapidly grasped the economic possibilities of colonial trading and land cultivation. When Paterson was faced with assuming command of New South Wales after the deposition of William Bligh, he asked Riley to go with him as secretary to the colony. Riley accepted, and reached Sydney in January 1809, but with a shrewd estimate of the eventual outcome of the rebellion he soon resigned and began to devote attention to his generous grant of land located at Liverpool. This he named Raby, and on it he began in a haphazard fashion to raise sheep.

He had at this time little farming experience but an excellent training in mercantile affairs, and it was in trade that he first began to prosper in the colony. His partner in New South Wales was Richard Jones and together they developed trading relations with Riley’s younger brother, Edward, in Calcutta, and with Walter Davidson in Canton. The partnership of Jones & Riley continued until the 1820s, and they were the first to begin marine insurance in New South Wales. Riley was also one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales in 1816, and briefly one of the original directors in 1817; but he had become a little disillusioned with colonial trade after the losses he incurred in the building of the Rum Hospital, and from 1812 onwards he had become more and more involved in the development of the pastoral industry and the wool trade. He purchased wool from settlers for export and developed his own flocks at Raby. His sheep had only the merest traces of merino blood, but in the inflated wool markets of war-time England their wool secured an extremely profitable price of 69d. a pound. Apart from the profit he liked life on the land. Years after he left the colony he wrote about his first sight of Raby with great emotion. Unlike other settlers who found the colonial landscape ugly and alien, Riley was deeply moved by the ownership of his land and by the beauty of its situation.

Suddenly in 1817 he decided to take his family home to England. He gave no explicit reasons for leaving, but they came in large part from the frustrations which all his ventures had met in the colony. He found the China trade difficult, the enforcement of the East India Co.’s monopoly seriously hampered his interests in whaling and sealing, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s new port dues threatened to reduce his margin of profit. His investments in wool had suffered from the collapse of the British wool market in the post-war depression. The advantage seemed to lie with colonial traders in London, and he planned to join them. He leased his land at Liverpool, left his commercial affairs in the colony to the direction of his brother Edward who had moved from Calcutta to New South Wales, bought the Harriet, and on 22 December 1817 sailed in her from Sydney Cove.

He joined the firm of Donaldson, Wilkinson & Co., agents for the colonial trade, a successful and highly respected business with connexions in South Africa, India and more recently New South Wales; but he had not been in his new position long before he began to realise the future value of his land in New South Wales and to understand the most efficient methods by which colonial wool production might be developed. In collaboration with Edward he undertook to import into New South Wales an entire flock of Saxon merino sheep, a breed which had the most highly developed fleeces in Europe, with wool better than that of the Spanish merinos then in the colony and more adapted to what Riley correctly guessed would be the future technological developments of the British cloth trade; he expected them to flourish in the mild colonial climate and produce wool at a fraction of the cost of European competitors. Despite these expert insights the venture was highly speculative. The flock cost between £10 and £11 a head; transport was expensive and very risky. However, he chartered the Sir George Osborne in August 1825, and the sheep, better housed on the journey than many of the human passengers, reached New South Wales in excellent condition. Riley’s nephew Edward (b.1806) had supervised them on the voyage and it was intended that he would hand over the direction of the venture to his father, Edward Riley senior; but since they arrived after the father’s death they remained in the care of his young and inexperienced son. As a result the direction exercised by Alexander Riley from London was of crucial importance, and he spent great energy in writing detailed instructions on their care and management, fulfilling a role in their development similar to that played by John Macarthur in the improvement of his merinos some years before.

During the depression of the mid-1820s he strained every source of credit to launch the pastoral venture than the financial collapse and the decline of the wool market made it seem unwarranted, and serious droughts in 1826-28 threatened the entire plan. However, by 1830 the design had been carried through to success and the Raby Saxon merino flocks were returning a handsome profit for their owners, Alexander and his young son.

From Lycett, Joseph; Views in Australia; or New South Wales & Van Diemen’s Land delineated. London.


Ferguson, J. A. Bibliography of Australia Volumes 1-8, Canberra 1976: 974.
Wantrup, J. Australian Rare Books. Sydney 1987: 218b.
Abbey, J.R. Travel in Aquatint and Lithography 1770-1860. London 1972: 570.

National Gallery Victoria: 2008.251
National Gallery Australia: 84.125.8
Art Gallery of Western Australia: 2010/0073
State Library New South Wales: MRB/F980.1/L
State Library Victoria: RARELTEF 919.402 L98V

Joseph Lycett (1777 - 1828)

Painter & forger convicted in 1811 & transported to Botany Bay. On arrival he was given his ticket of leave but soon was reconvicted for forgery and sent to the penal settlement of Newcastle. Again in 1821 he received a pardon and returned to England armed with a portfolio of colonial views. In 1824 John published “Views in Australia” dedicated to the Earl of Bathurst. Lycett is acknowledged as being one the most important colonial artists to record the progress of the colony.

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