Forster, Henry and Margaret

Full name:

Forster, Henry and Margaret + 2 grown sons (William and Robert)

Dates recorded for being in Berrima:

1839 -49

Occupation if known and land ownership:

Gaoler (and Matron). Owner of six allotments



Henry Forster and his wife Margaret were comparative late-comers to the township but represent the ex-military personnel who made up a small but influential part of the population. Henry was Berrima’s first gaoler, appointed in June 1839 when the gaol was completed: Margaret was appointed matron in 1843. When they came to Berrima they had two adult sons, William Alexander and Robert Mariner.

Courtesy of the Soldiers of the Gloucester Military Museum and Forster’s obituary in the Goulburn Herald of May 15, we know a lot about Henry’s history. The 28th Regiment of Foot Enlistment Register shows that he had enlisted in 1805 at the age of twenty at Cashel, Ireland after serving three years in the Monaghan Militia.[i] He was born in Ballybay, in the parish of Aghnamullen, County Monaghan, Ireland. He was a Catholic and a weaver by trade, standing 5’ 6¾” tall, with grey eyes, black hair and fresh complexion. Shortly after enlisting Henry moved to England but would later see service in Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, southern France, Ireland, Belgium, Malta, Ionian Islands, Greece and of course New South Wales. He was 12 years in the Ionian Isles and it is there his wife, Margaret, gave birth to their second son, Robert.

For his service in Spain Forster was awarded the Military General Service, Waterloo Medal which is now on display in the Sydney Military Museum (the mis-spelling of his name is acknowledged and will be corrected).[ii]

Henry, Margaret and their boys arrived in New South Wales on the convict ship Marquis of Huntley (4) in July 1835.[iii]

Given his age and military history it is perhaps not surprising that over the next few years Henry spent periods in hospital. In March 1836, at the age of 52, Quartermaster Sergeant Henry Forster was discharged on a pension of 2/5½ pence per day, by today’s standards not over-generous considering his thirty-five years’ service.

It seems likely that given his financial position he and Margaret were pleased he was offered the post of gaoler in Berrima which brought with it a salary of £120, twice that of a skilled tradesman, and accommodation within the gaol.

As a sergeant he had also received £50 to be put towards purchasing land. He used this to buy two allotments immediately south of the Wingecarribee river on the western side of the road and was able to find a further £113 to purchase four adjacent allotments giving him sizeable block of three acres. On this he built a house which between 1844 and 1847 was run as an inn, the Jews Harp. Hyam Phillips was the first licensee and when he left in 1846 Forster advertised the property:[iv]


TO BE LET, for a term of years as may be agreed on, that well known public house, “The Jews’ Harp Inn,” situate in the town of Berrima, containing two parlours, eight bed-rooms, tap-room and bar, detached kitchen, coach house and seven stalled stable, all in a complete state of repair, about three quarters of an acre of land for yard, &c., and every other desirable convenience.

Immediately in the rear of the kitchen is a beautiful spring of water, constantly running in the driest season. In the front of the house is a government reserve to the river, where horse and bullock teams encamp and water their cattle.

With the house may also be had a garden, consisting of about two and a half acres of ground, and containing apple, pear, plum, peach, nectarine, cherry, and other trees, grape vine, &c.; together with a five stalled stable, two huts, one containing three room, the other four and two large shades.

Possession can be given on the first of July next.

For further particulars apply to H FORSTER, Berrima Feb 21

The property was advertised again in 1847 after the next licensee Henry Burke left and it possibly became the home of Henry’s son Robert Mariner Forster who was recently married.[v]

While in Berrima there are some hints that Forster may have clashed with the police magistrate George Meares Countess Bowen, also ex-military but an ex-lieutenant and a member of the land-owning class. Until 1840 the gaol had been used by both men, the one to house prisoners, the other as a base for his police force and lock-up. But in November 1840 Bowen was ordered to remove his police and lock-up from inside the gaol, an order Bowen made clear he did not like and which had not been made at his request. But whether it had been precipitated by a disagreement between the two men or was simply necessary to make more room in the gaol is not known.

In 1847 when Berrima’s gaol closed the Forsters were re-assigned to Goulburn gaol. Henry was now 62.

In Goulburn the family were housed within the gaol with Margaret acting as matron until around 1856 when they may have moved out onto one of the allotments they had purchased.

Henry was still working as the gaoler when he died in 1861, aged 76. Margaret died in 1869, her death notice summing up the family history:

FORSTER—May 21st, at Goulburn, at the age of 76, Mrs. Margaret Forster, relict of the late Mr. Henry Forster, formerly of the 28th Regiment, and mother of Mr. Robert Forster of Sydney, and Mr. William Forster, of Goulburn.

Both are buried in Goulburn Old General Cemetery. While funerals and obituaries can gloss over reality it is worth noting that at his funeral in 1861 in Goulburn Henry was given full military honours and his obituary closes with the words that ‘in his capacity of head of the gaol his bearing to the prisoners under his charge was uniformly kind’, the nature of the statement suggesting it veracity.

Of their sons, there is little information available on William but more on Robert. William, the elder of the two and was in Berrima with his parents in 1847 when he donated to the fund for the building of a Catholic church. At the time of Margaret’s death in 1869 he was a miller, store keeper and postmaster at Laggan, north of Goulburn.[vi] A lot more is known of the younger son, who rose to become a member of the NSW Legislative Council. A summary biography is included on this web site as a separate document


[i] Goulburn Herald, 15 May 1861

[ii] Photo courtesy of Bill Brodie of Goulburn

[iii] Her headstone shows Margaret was born in 1793

[iv] Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1846

[v] Sydney Morning Herald 18 August 1847

[vi] Sydney Chronicle, 18 June 1847 and Sydney Morning Herald, 16 June 1869