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Captain Richard Brooks, master of the convict transport Atlas sailed from Cork in late 1801 carrying 151 Irish male convicts and 28 females. By the time he disembarked in Sydney in July 1802, sixty-five convicts or over a third of his charges had died. Another four men died shortly after she made port.

The voyage of the Atlas was the single worst incident in the history of transportation to Australia. Undeterred, Captain Brooks made five more voyages to the colony before settling in 1814. A former privateer, his ship Rose was impounded by the rebels as an illicit trader during the ‘Rum Rebellion’.

Friend or foe to six governors, Brooks, a Macquarie magistrate and leading merchant, made a fortune as a rum trader and convict shipping contractor while carving out the colony’s first cattle empire. He was part of a group who helped transform the squalid penal outpost of 1788 into the thriving community of the 1820s, underpinned by generous land grants, cheap convict labour and wealth derived from the growing demand for pastoral products such as wool and cattle.

Richard Brooks by Christine Mayer

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