Navigation for Sunday 4 'til 8

4:07 The Sunday Feature: Esther Abrahams - convict 'first lady'

The life of Esther Abrahams may read like fiction, but these events did, in fact, take place, and are part of the historical record. Today, Esther's story helps to shed new light on life in early colonial Australia.  Aged 15, Esther was convicted of stealing lace and, in 1787, she was transported to NSW with her infant daughter on the Lady Penrhyn, part of The First Fleet (a ship which was derisively coined one of the ‘floating brothels’ to travel to the Australian colony). On board she met Lieutenant George Johnston, and the couple went onto have seven children.  One of the fascinating stories which swirls around Esther’s life in NSW is that she ran a private kosher kitchen from the farm in Annandale, though no material evidence remains about this part of her life. Over time, Esther Abrahams and George Johnston did become substantially wealthy - they owned over 5,000 acres of land, including a farm in the area now occupied by the inner city suburb of Annandale.

In 1808, as commanding officer of the New South Wales Corps, George Johnston was part of the group which toppled Governor William Bligh ( best known as the trigger for the notorious mutiny on the ship, The Bounty). In the wake of Bligh being deposed, George became the Lieutenant-Governor of the colony for six months, making Esther his so-called 'First Lady', a term used now by some for a position that she’s unlikely to have embraced at the time. George Johnston was then sent to Britain to be court-martialled, while Esther stayed behind in Sydney to run their estate, helped by her eldest son. George returned to Sydney, and although stripped of his office, he continued to accumulate land. Finally, in 1814, after twenty-six years together, George Johnston and Esther Abrahams were married..

After George Johnston’s death in 1823, Esther began to drink heavily. In 1829, after a trial, she was declared  'of unsound mind’, and ‘incapable of managing her affairs’. She spent the final years of her life in the home of her third son, David, who had built a substantial property called The Homestead at Georges Hall, in southern Sydney. That building is still standing today, and provides the last extant connection to Esther Abrahams.

See the ABC website for more on this programme or the following books for more information:

Marine Officer, Convict Wife: The Johnstons of Annandale by Alan Roberts Pub: Annandale Urban Research Association in association with Barbara Beckett Publishing (2008) [ISBN- 978-1875891214]

Esther Johnston: the Lieutenant-Governor’s Wife. The Amazing Story of a Jewish Convict Girl by George F. J. Bergman Pub: George F. J. Bergman Publication: Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal and Proceedings, 6 2 1966, p90-122

Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers 1788-1850 by  John S Levi and G F J Bergman Pub: Australian University Press (2002) [ISBN- 978-0522847772]

5:00 The 5 O'Clock Report

A roundup of today's news and sport.

5:12 Spiritual Outlook

Exploring different spiritual, moral and ethical issues and topics (RNZ)

5:40 Te Waonui a Te Manu Korihi

Maori news and interviews from throughout the motu (RNZ)

6:06 Te Ahi Kaa

Exploring issues and events from a tangata whenua perspective (RNZ)

7:06 One In Five

The issues and experience of disability (RNZ)

7:35 Voices

A weekly programme that highlights Asians, Africans, indigenous Americans and more in New Zealand, aimed at promoting a greater understanding of our ethnic minority communities (RNZ)