Reuben Uther, hat maker

The notable Colonial merchant Reuben Uther was born in England in 1791. He arrived free aged 16 in Sydney in 1807 as an indentured clerk to Simeon Lord, and in 1812 he was granted 400 acres of land by Governor Macquarie, a property later known as the Gilead Estate. In 1815 he established a hat factory, and he ended up with an effective monopoly in this particular trade. He acquired a retail business in George Street, Sydney in 1833, and at the time of his death in 1880 at the advanced age of 89, his estate included the Imperial Arcade.

This document reveals how the convict assignment system could work to the benefit of both government and settlers. The authorities were relieved of the cost of maintaining transportees, while private employers obtained relatively cheap labour. As sole supplier of hats in the colony, Uther was able to take virtually all convicts of this occupation as assigned servants.

Source: NRS 905 Colonial Secretary; Main series of letters received, 1826-1982 Letter No. 36/5755 [4/2323.4]


Sydney 12 July 1836
I haven (sic) the liberty of enclosing
to you the within Memorial and respectfully
beg you will be pleased to lay it before His
Excellency at a convenient opportunity
I have the honor to be
Your most obedt Servant
Reuben Uther
To The Honorable Alexr McLeay
Colonial Secretary
To His Excellency Sir Richard Bourke
Captain General and Governor
36/5755 in Chief in and over His
Majestys Territory of New
South Wales
etc etc etc
The Humble Memorial of Reuben Uther
Most respectfully sheweth
That your memst (memorialist) is a Hat Manufacturer
and has had a Manufactory established in
this Colony since the year 1812 during which
period he has supplied the Inhabitants with
a large number of his Manufacture, made
principally from Materials, the produce of
of the Colony, amounting of late years to
between 5 and 6000 Annually:-
That your Memorialist to enable him
to prosecute so useful a Manufacture, has
hitherto been much indebted to the kind
assistance of Government in allowing him
what Convict Servants of this profession
arrived in the Colony, inasmuch as
a very few of this trade come here as convicts
the Number assigned has never been too
many to meet the demands of the Colony
varying from 8 to 14 assigned Hatters
That your Memorialist has never been
under the least censure at anytime from
Magistrates for not taking due care of his assigned
Servants but has at all times been deligent in
maintaining good discipline in the management
of his assigned servants finding that to encourage
them in Industry and well doing has generally
kept them from misbehaviour
That Your Memorialist has not had any
Men assigned to him these last two years, in
consequence of which his Number now is only
five assigned servants, having been gradually
decreased by some obtaining Tickets of Leave
and two sent away for crime
That Your Memorialist in consequence of
the decreased Number of his assigned servants
and the impossibility of obtaining sufficient Free
Men of this trade is not able to meet the
increasing demands of the Colony, and being
anxious to obtain assistance, applied to Mr
Slade of the Land Board to know the reason of his
repeated applications not being complied with
when Your Memst received for Answer that
having already a greater Number than four,
no more would be assigned until that Number
had become reduced, and that Your Memst
was not to expect more than other Individuals
who were not engaged as manufacturers
namely 4 domestic servants
That Your Memorialist feels the Utmost
in Your Excellency’s constant disposition to encourage
the deserving efforts of industrious Individuals
more especially when engaged in pursuits so
necessary and useful to the Colony, and that
Your Excellency will be pleased to take Your
Memorialists representation into your gracious
consideration and Your Memorialist will
feel grateful for any Number of assigned
Hatters Your Excellency may be pleased to
allow him for his Manufactory, exclusive
of the four domestic Servants.
And Your Memorialist
Will every pray
Etc etc etc
Reuben Uther
Sydney 12 July 1836
Mr Slade
To report on
this, it appearing
that there is some
mistake as there
is no restriction as to the
number of Hatters when
assigned to a manufacturer
Commissioners for the ass(ignment) of convicts 23 Augt 36
Mr Slade has the honor to report that it has been the practice of the
Board not to assign more than four convicts, to Mechanics and tradesmen
in Sydney including the Domestic Servants, as well as those of the same trade.
As the assignee to whom they are assigned; and on the reference to Mr Uthers
application dated July 1835 for two Hatters it appears that he has seven
assigned servants in his employ and was noted accordingly as being oversupplied
Assignt Office
3 Sepr 1836
It is to be observed that Mr Uther is the only manufacturer
of Hats in the Colony
The practise of the Board described by the Commr is
not exactly authorized by a written regulation but seems
founded on that of the 15 Octr 1835 No 7. It is
however quite necessary to prevent an accumulation
of Prisoners of the Crown in Sydney and I therefore
approve of the course hitherto adopted and
direct its continuance
Sept 7

Previous Home Next