Alexander Berry lived from 30 November 1781 to 17 September 1873. He was a merchant and explorer who established the first European colony on the south coast of New South Wales. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Alexander Berry was born at Hilltarvit Mains farm, near Cupar in Fife. He was educated at Cupar Grammar School where a contemporary was David Wilkie, who would go on to become a renowned artist. He then studied medicine at St Andrews University and Edinburgh University before becoming a surgeon's mate on a ship owned by the East India Company.
He soon left the company, deciding that there were better commercial prospects in operating his own ships. In 1806 he chartered the ship, City of Edinburgh and made a series of voyages to South America, Australia and New Zealand. In 1812 his ship was later lost off the Azores, but while passing through Cadiz en route home he met the businessman Edward Wollstonecraft. In 1819 Berry and Wollstonecraft went into partnership to pursue commercial opportunities in New South Wales. On 23 June 1822, while Wollstonecraft looked after the Sydney end of the business, Berry landed on the north bank of the Shoalhaven River on the south coast of New South Wales. He went on to establish the Coolangatta Estate, the first European settlement on this coastline, with the help of a Government grant of a workforce of 100 convicts.
By 1863 the estate had expanded to over 40,000 acres or 16,000 hectares. Berry's brothers and sisters had joined him at Coolangatta early in the estate's development, and on 21 September 1827 he married Elizabeth Wollstonecraft, the sister of his business partner. Berry went on to serve for many years on New South Wales' Legislative Council, and joined the Australian Philosophical Society.
Alexander Berry died on the Coolangatta Estate in 1873 at the age of 92. His will valued his estate at over £1.25m at the time, perhaps more than £70m in today's terms. Amongst his bequests was enough to fund a hopsital in the local town of Berry, named in his honour; and a large sum left to St Andrews University, which continues to provide for the Berry Chair of English Literature.