State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 68 Spring 2001


Portion of A Map of the County of Cumberland in the Colony of New South Wales


Jean Baptiste Lehimas de Arrieta
The First Spanish Settler?

It was a particularly cold winter day in 1997 when I walked into the La Trobe Library reading room, grateful not only for the warmth but also for the opportunity to embark, once again, on a journey of discovery. I had come in search of documentation on the man who is reputed to be the first free Spanish settler in Australia.1 A fairly straightforward task, I thought at the time, and one which I hoped to complete during my stay in Melbourne. I was not to know then that my research would remain incomplete on my departure four weeks Inter; that it would take me back to London to examine papers held in the Public Record Office and, in particular, the huge files documenting the trial of Queen Caroline of Brunswick; and, most surprising of all, that it would lead me to take up a new research project on foreign convicts transported to Australia, a project that will occupy me for years to come.2
THE SYDNEY Gazette of Saturday, 7 April 1821, announced the arrival in Sydney, via Hobart Town, of Mr. de Arietti [sic] on board the Duchess of York under the command of Captain Collins. Mr. de Arietti was, in fact, Jean Baptiste Lehimas de Arrieta, 3 native of Spain. In my search for the existence of early Spanish settlers in Australia, I had already ascertained that De Arrieta was Spanish from a report published in the ‘History Corner’ of The Crier in 1986.4 The report gave scant but interesting information: that De Arrieta had brought ‘vines, olives and wool sheep’, that he had been given a grant of 2,000 acres of land named ‘Moreton Park’ [sic], that he had married Sophia Spearing in 1828 and had died in 1838. Other additional information related to two clergymen he knew: the Rev. Thomas Reddall of St. Peter's Church, Campbelltown, and — a more famous figure — the Rev. Samuel Marsden at Parramatta. The report also made it clear that De Arrieta had surviving descendants. My curiosity was immediately aroused by the fact that the Spaniard had been awarded the standard maximum grant of land given to free settlers. It is striking that such a large amount should have been awarded to somebody who appears to be of no great consequence. However, the stories surrounding this particular grant of land that I was to gather in my researches make the Spaniard an intriguing figure.
The initial question was: how to find out more about this man? It seemed appropriate to look at any diaries, letters or memoirs written by people in Australia who had been in Spain prior to De Arrieta's arrival, particularly those who had been stationed in the country during the Peninsular Wars. It was now that the real archival research began. The catalogues at the La Trobe Library threw up, almost immediately, Peter Chapman's edition of The Diaries and Letters of G.T.W.B. Boyes 1787–1863. This was to be an invaluable source, as Boyes had spent time in Spain during the Peninsular Wars and had later come out to Australia.5 Boyes had actually met
D'Arrieta, as he calls him, during the Peninsular War and had written about him quite fully in his letters and diaries. Other equally useful texts quickly came to light: James Hassall's In Old Australia, 6 John Fairfax's Historic Roads Around Sydney7 and Charles MacAlistair's Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South.8 However, all these works left me asking: who was this man who called himself Jean Baptiste Lehimas de Arrieta? There were particular questions I now sought to answer. How and why did a Spaniard come to Australia? Could any of the stories surrounding his being granted such a large piece of land be verified? What do the archives in Spain, Britain and Australia actually reveal about the man?
Unfortunately, in the documentation one rarely gets to ‘hear’ De Arrieta's voice; rather we listen to him through the ventriloquism of those who report their meetings with him. Even those letters he did write do not reveal-the man to us. They were couched in the language of official memorials and petitions, written in different hands, but signed by De Arrieta. What we know of his character and life thus comes to us second hand.
According to G.F. Boyes, ‘D'A was born at San Sebastian, spent his boyhood in France, his early manhood in England’.9 However, extensive research has not clarified the facts of De Arrieta's date of birth, his origins and his childhood abode. On his death certificate, registered in 1838, his age is given as 64, which would mean he was born in 1774. Yet the census returns for NSW in 1829 give his age as 48, which would indicate that he was born in 1781. All accounts state that he was born in San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque country, yet he himself always uses the French version of his name, Jean Baptiste, rather than the Spanish: Juan Bautista. On early letters signed by De Arrieta, he uses his full name Jean Baptiste Lehimas de Arrieta. According to Spanish custom Lehimas would be his father's family name and Arrieta his mother's. Lehimas is almost certainly not a Spanish name, while Arrieta could be from Asturias, a region in North-West Spain. De Arrieta, however, subsequently dropped his father's name, and once in Australia signed himself J.B.L de Arrieta, or J.B.L. Arrieta.
Early in my research the task of identifying his origins seemed to be of paramount importance. This could only be done in Spain. It proved to be impossible, however, to trace any records for a birth or baptismal certificate. Many of the records have been lost through the various wars on the peninsular in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. One also has to bear in mind that Spain in De Arrieta's time had no centralised registration system of births, marriages and deaths. Not surprising, therefore, that a letter to the Diocese of San Sebastian and subsequent searches of the records in their possession under possible variants of both family and given names have proved negative.
Jean Baptiste de Arrieta first appears in documented evidence in a letter of recommendation from William Morton Pitt, M.P., of Kingston, Dorset (England) to the Reverend Samuel Marsden, dated 16 August 1820.10 Morton Pitt refers to the Spaniard as having ‘long resided in England at different times, formerly as a Prisoner of War for many years and latterly for the purposes of recovering monies claimed by him for services to the British Army in Spain’. Morton Pitt goes on to inform Marsden
that ‘He was a merchant and lost great property during the deplorable wars which the last thirty years have provided. In one instance above 30,000 pounds’; and furthermore, that De Arrieta ‘is engaged to marry a young Welsh lady. Whether this matrimonial arrangement is to take place before his departure or to be postponed till after a residence of sometime in New South Wales, I believe was not quite settled’.11
Morton Pitt depicts De Arrieta as the ideal colonist: industrious, knowledgeable in agricultural and commercial affairs; shortly to marry, thus a family man; and, though a foreigner, reliable, having served with the British in Spain. An excellent introduction. However, the letter is intriguing, posing more questions than it answers. When, where and why did De Arrieta become a prisoner of war? What services had he rendered the British Army and under what circumstances had he lost such a considerable sum as 30,000 pounds? Was De Arrieta finally given his 2000-acre land grant at Cow Pastures as a pay off for these ‘services’ rendered? Furthermore, was calling his property Morton Park, a mark of the esteem and gratitude he felt towards Morton Pitt?
A thorough search of extant Prisoner-of-War rolls in the Public Record Office in London failed to throw up his name. Again, we can only rely on what others tell us in an attempt to resolve the enigmas. In a letter to his wife in 1824, 12 Boyes writes of having renewed his acquaintance with De Arrieta. From him we learn that De Arrieta had ‘during the greater part of the Peninsular War […] accompanied Mr. Wilkinson, the Commissary now residing at Porchester’, but Boyes is vague as to what it was De Arrieta really did during this time, saying only that De Arrieta ‘occasionally dabbled in Merchandize’ and had acted ‘perhaps as a sort of go-between with his patron and the contractors’ in the course of which ‘he had contrived to pick up a few thousands’ before an ‘unfortunate speculation in Commt13 laid him low’. Boyes suggests that De Arrieta failed to place his demands for compensation before the British Government in time but it ‘seemed to be tacitly acknowledged’, as a result of which Lord Bathurst was prevailed upon by Morton Pitt and ‘other people of weight in the Ministry’ to grant the Spaniard 2000 acres at Cow Pastures.14 At no time does Boyes elaborate on the amount that De Arrieta may have lost in rendering his services to Britain, nor on the nature of those services other than as go-between, a post which would hardly allow him to accrue much money, even less lose the stupendous sum of 30,000 pounds that Morton Pitt mentions.
John Fairfax's account, a century later, only serves to complicate the issue of the nature of the British Government's debt to De Arrieta. ‘He was’, Fairfax claims, ‘a witness at the trial of Queen Caroline, 15 and was in Spain during the Peninsular War, helping the British Army with stores and some spying. He went to England and asked for payment, and was promised a grant of land if he came to New South Wales’.16 Fairfax's suggestion seems to be that De Arrieta was an ‘uncomfortable’ presence in England, and thus his recompense was tied to his leaving the country for the furthest destination possible. Extensive research in England has so far revealed no evidence to support Fairfax's story. One could speculate that Morton Pitt's reference in 1821 to ‘services’ rendered could possibly be to the Spaniard's alleged activities as
witness and spy, as Queen Caroline of Brunswick's trial took place between August and November 1820. It seems very unlikely, though. Close scrutiny of the documents on the trial of Queen Caroline of Brunswick certainly does not seem to support Fairfax's suggestion.17
Whatever the reason may have been, De Arrieta's land grant was issued by Sir Thomas Brisbane on 16 August 1821, and ratified in 1822.18 Brisbane is most specific in his description of the land to be given to De Arrieta:
Two thousand acres of land situate lying and being in the County of Camden and District of Camden. Bounded on the South by a line bearing west fifteen chains (commencing near the head of Harris Creek) On the West by a line bearing East to the Nepean River, and on all other sides by that River and Harris Creek to be called Morton Park
De Arrieta was, on Brisbane's orders, to be given 20 convicts off government stores, and was to reserve ‘to the Government the right of a highway’ through the property as well as ‘such timber as may be deemed fit for Naval purposes’.
What rumours and myths circulated regarding De Arrieta in Australia? Between Morton Pitt's letter inl821, that by Boyes in 1824, and the publication of Fairfax's text in 1937, De Arrieta has metamorphosed from having rendered services to Britain, to being go-between for the Commissariat, to finally become a spy and witness at one of the most notorious trials in English history. With regards to De Arrieta's life prior to his arrival in Australia, we can only really speculate at this juncture. In all probability, he was an adjunct to the Commissariat during the Peninsular campaign. No documentation has yet come to light regarding any of the other asseverations made about De Arrieta, and his background remains obscure.
Boyes, however, gives a vivid impression of the Spaniard's personality and his life as a settler in early New South Wales, recording his 1824 visit to Morton Park and its eccentric owner in some detail. The land itself he describes in almost lyrical terms, which suggest that De Arrieta was fortunate in his land grant:
The country about Morton Park is very beautiful — you ride over a succession of hills that are neither high nor steep — covered with loads of grass — and the trees are never thick enough to impede your way. The whole of the ride is very like a Park in England — from the summits of the hills you get occasional peeps over a great extent of country, and when mellowed into the distance the external woods loose their monotonous effects.19
Of Morton Park's owner he remarks that De Arrieta's temperament has undergone a dramatic change, having become ‘soured by disappointment and pecuniary troubles’ which has ‘encreased [sic] the irritability of a temper originally warm and hasty till it has become a disease, and the gay, warm, easy open hearted man of thirty’ has become, eighteen years later, ‘…envious, suspicious, gloomy and irritable’.20 The Englishman also finds him boring in the extreme, if only because his topics of conversation do not extend beyond his problems on the property, and that in a range
of vocabulary which ‘did not include above fifty words!’. Boyes regards his host satirically, frequently reproducing the Spaniard's clumsy English in passages such as ‘I can't stand my head, dat's de ting — tis too hot — de sun, or else I should be beezy wid my tobacco now’, tobacco being one of De Arrieta's several failed agricultural experiments.21 De Arrieta's egocentricity and disregard for the plight of those working for him shows up alarmingly in Boyes's account of how a gardener on the property had blasted his hand away while attempting to shoot a hawk. The man was left lying prostrate in a cart which had been assigned to take him to Liverpool, De Arrieta's preoccupation being what to do without a gardener: ‘Nobody shall tell what much I loose. Oh, my Tobacco, who will take care of my tobacco. Any oder time had no been so great loss to me. Noting can make up to me for so great loss’. Boyes comments that De Arrieta, ‘Not caring a fig for the poor wretch who had actually sustained an irreparable loss, and thinking only of himself’, had the gardener sent off on a nine-hour journey in the cart when there was a perfectly good chaise available which would have shortened the injured man's journey by six hours!22 To another visitor, however, the owner of Morton Park was ‘a happy, good-humoured, hospitable Spanish gentleman’.23 However, this visitor's attention was drawn to the Spaniard's peculiar security arrangements, having ‘by way of protection from burglars and bushrangers, drawn a regular chain of videttes around [the homestead] in the shape of fierce growling devils of dogs, pegged down to the ground at such exact mathematical distances, that two can just meet to lick each other's faces, and pinch a mouthful out of any intruder's hip’.24 De Arrieta seems to have always had a strong instinct to safeguard property and person. A report in the Sydney Gazette, 18 months after his arrival in the colony, describes him courageously defending a lady companion, a small girl and himself from the villainous intentions of a bushranger: ‘The man was about to fire […] Mr D kicked the pistol against the villain's face and by the blow, threw him against the wheel of the chaise’. ‘Mr D’ seems to have been well prepared for the dangers of the road, having ‘three loaded pistols’, but fires only a single shot preferring to escape ‘fearing the horses would run away and endanger the life of the lady’.25 The Reverend James Hassall suggests that De Arrieta's paranoid protection of his property was probably to prevent robbery, but introduces another factor by alluding to hearsay about the ‘old Spaniard who, it was said, had a pretty wife of whom he was very jealous’.26 His wife was not, however, the Welsh fiancée mentioned in Morton Pitt's letter.
On 12 February 1828 at Morton Park the Reverend Thomas Redall officiated at the marriage of De Arrieta, then in his mid-40s, to 18-year-old Sophia Spearing.27 The November census for the same year records a daughter aged five months. On at least one occasion, De Arrieta had petitioned to have female convicts assigned to his property ‘where females might wash for me, and do various other Offices, which men are so ill calculated for … my Situation is thus rendered most sensibly uncomfortable’.28 It is, however, a petition by Samuel McCrea which alerts us to a dubious side to the Spaniard's personality. McCrea petitions the Colonial Secretary ‘in consequence of some private motives Mr. D'Arrieta took advantage of Petitiner [sic] in order to
separate him from his wife’.29 Is the Spaniard a sexual predator? He certainly seems to have targeted women, as McCrea suggests. In 1829, a young Spanish woman, Adelaide de la Thoreza, was transported to New South Wales. De Arrieta loses no time and writes to the Sydney Harbour Master in the following terms: ‘When I was in Town last you mentioned to me something about a Spanish woman and I expressed a wish at the time to have her in my family, when you promised to endeavour to get her assigned to me’, and uses his well-worn argument ‘if she is not already assigned to any person I should like very much to have her as at present I am destitute of female servant in my House’.30 De Arrieta may well have wished to have a compatriot with whom to converse in his native tongue. Whatever his motives, Adelaide was pregnant 10 months after being assigned to De Arrieta, ostensibly by a fellow servant, one John Smith.31 Not surprisingly, she was quickly removed from the Spaniard's property to the Female Factory at Parramatta, where she gave birth to a son, Alfred Smith. Adelaide disappears from the narrative of De Arrieta's life, never to return. She will eventually tell her own story of how a Spanish woman came to be transported to Botany Bay.
De Arrieta, however, leaves no ‘official biography’ behind him. The rest of his life is spent in much the same way as when Boyes visited him: in financial difficulty and struggling to maintain his property. Of De Arrieta's difficulties we know something more, thanks to a document written by Macarthur in February 1823, part of which is headed ‘Memorandum respecting Land at Cowpastures’.32 ‘The grants of the two “cowpars” — “Cavanagh” and “Crawford” are scarce worth accepting, of which the owners are, I believe, now aware. “Douglass” is good land but badly watered. “D'Ariettas” [sic] is an excellent Grant — but the unfortunate man is without money — indeed it is well known the celebrated “J.W. Terry” has made him large advances and will most probably be put into properties of the estate’. After naming other estates which are, as Macarthur says, ‘Promised and occupied’, he comments sourly: ‘the remainder is rocky, barren and almost inaccessible similar to the land offered to me […]’. Further investigation reveals that that Morton Park was indeed mortgaged to Samuel Terry in 1825 and eventually sold to him in 1831.33 The gist of Macarthur's document seems to suggest that he had his eye on Morton Park which adjoined his own property, Camden Park. Whatever lay behind Macarthur's remarks, the only evidence that now remains of the Spaniard's presence in the area is in the name ‘Spaniard's Hill’, still in use, situated north of Douglass Park. In the light of De Arrieta's failure as an agriculturalist, it is somehow ironic to find Macarthur's son writing to Captain Piper, in 1820, to say that De Arrieta will arrive in New South Wales carrying letters of introduction for the Spaniard to give to his father, further commenting: ‘I trust his knowledge of agricultural affairs will make him a valuable addition to your community’.34 Equally ironic is the fact that while De Arrieta struggled to grow tobacco and vines on his property, Macarthur at Camden Park was successfully grazing his herds of Spanish Merino sheep!35
As a figure, Arrieta remains nebulous, slippery, moving behind the lines of those who write about him. Merchant, agriculturalist, prisoner-of-war, creditor for services to the British Government, an Anglophile, a family man, he finally remains elusive.
Whether or not De Arrieta was the father of the child borne by Adelaide de la Thoreza remains unproven, but it was while I was beginning to research his story in the La Trobe Library that her story came to light. As is often the case, one subject of research leads to another. Could Adelaide have been the only Spanish convict? Surely there might have been others. And there were — an amazing number of convicts of both Spanish and Portuguese origin. So what was intended to be a fairly minor incursion into the documentary evidence to reconstruct Arrieta's life as far as was possible, has blossomed into a full-scale research project involving the retrieval of archival documentation and the reconstruction of the individual narratives of these long-ignored foreign convicts. Ahead lie hours of foraging among the archives of many libraries, an exciting adventure of discovery which, I hope, will add another chapter to the existing convict history of Australia.
[I wish to acknowledge the help received from Elizabeth Disney, Jean Smith, Jeanne Waugh and Jacqueline Wheeler.]
Susan Ballyn


Surprisingly little work has been done on the presence of very early Spanish settlers in Australia. Notable figures such as Parer have been the subject of study, but one wonders about the wealth of stories that must lie behind the presence of Spaniards in Australia from 1788 onwards.


This research is now well under way as a joint project with Prof. Lucy Frost at the University of Tasmania and within the International Centre for Convict Studies at the university.


The name appears in varying spellings. For the sake of clarity I shall use ‘De Arrieta’, unless quoting from another author.


The Crier, 8 October 1986, p. 61.


Peter Chapman ed., The Diaries and Letters of G.T.W.B. Boyes 1787–1863, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1985.


Reverend James Hassall, In Old Australia [1902], North Sydney, Library of Australia History, 1981.


John Fairfax, Historic Roads Around Sydney, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1951. First published as Then and Now in 1937.


Charles MacAlistair, Old Pioneering Days in the Sunny South, North Sydney, Library of Australian History, 1977. First published Goulburn, Charles MacAlistair Book Publication Committee, 1907.


Chapman, p. 176.


According to Boyes [Chapman p. 175], Morton Pitt was ‘an early friend’ of De Arrieta's.


Mitchell Library, MSS a/1992 pp. 334–37.


The letter is dated 12 April 1824. [Chapman p. 172]




Chapman, p. 175.


This is Queen Caroline of Brunswick.


Fairfax, p. 150.


See Flora Fraser, The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline, London, Macmillan, 1996. Research for this paper also included examining the records prior to, during and after Queen Caroline's trial, which are held at the Public Records Office in London.


New South Wales Record Office 2548 C.S. Land Grants and Leases, 9/452 -7/459.


Chapman, p. 138.


Ibid, p. 17.


Ibid, p. 181. Boyes does, however, tell his wife (p. 181) that his sketches were ‘for my own amusement and not made with the intention of being exhibited even to you. I have only played with the light and absurd parts of his character — reserving what I have to say on the other side for the first man who speaks ill of my unfortunate but friendly protegé’.


Ibid, p. 179.


Peter Cunningham, Two Years in New South Wales, London, Henry Colburn, 1828, vol. 1, pp. 113–14.


Ibid. The reader will notice the extraordinary similarity between De Arrieta's security arrangements and those at Eagle Hawk Neck, near Port Arthur. Boyes (p. 182) comments on the incessant noise at Morton Park, including the barking of dogs.


Sydney Gazette, Friday, 18 October, 1822.


Hassall, p. 43.


In his journal for 37 July 1834 the visiting botanist, Baron von Hügel, recorded what he had been told of De Arrieta, including ‘the not exactly edifying’ story of his wife: ‘She was the natural daughter of a Mr [James Stares] Spearing of [Paul's Grove] Wollongong, who gave her no education whatever and ill-used her in many ways, until she ran away with his groom and later lived with Mr D'Arrietta, who eventually married her.’ Baron Charles von Hügel, New Holland Journal November 1833–October 1834, trans. and ed. by Dymphna Clark, Melbourne University Press/State Library of New South Wales, 1994, p. 399.


State Archives of New South Wales, Reel 2171, p. 75, 4/1761; correspondence 3 July 1822 for female domestics.


Petition of Samuel McCrea, 21 December 1825, Colonial Secretary's Office, Letters & Petitions Received, 4/1791, AO NSW.


Archives Office New South Wales, 4/2062. Correspondence to Colonial Secretary, unregistered annual letters 1826–1831, Letter to John Nicholson, Master Attendant and Harbour Master, 18 December 1829.


All efforts to trace John Smith, reputedly drowned, have failed.


Macarthur Papers, Mitchell Library, vol. 66, p. 119, A 2962.


Gwyneth Dow, Samuel Terry: The Botany Bay Rothschild, Sydney, Sydney University Press, 1974, p. 141.


Piper Papers vol. VI, Mitchell Library, pp. 489–91, A 254. The letter is just signed ‘Macarthur’ but is clearly from either Edward or James Macarthur.


It is generally believed that Merino sheep are Spanish in origin, but in fact they were brought to Spain from North Africa.