Mary Reiby – Rags to Riches

Perhaps the simplest way to think about the Seven of Pentacles is that it indicates: vision, perseverance, profit, reward and investment, all of which are rewarded by the time the Ten of Pentacles presents itself.

Most Australians will have seen her face but few would know the remarkable story of Mary Reibey and how she came to be on our $20 note. Mary, who was just 15 when she arrived in Australia in 1792 after being deported from England for horse stealing, became one of the most successful entrepreneurs* in the young colony of New South Wales.
Not only did she overcome her convict past to build a wealthy business empire, she also played a key role in the opening of Australia’s first bank, The Bank of New South Wales, in Sydney in 1817.

In the Tarot, the suit of Pentacles (often portrayed as Coins) is associated with matters of security, stability and wealth. Like Americans, Australians have always loved stories that affirm colourful fantasies about achieving the kind of wealth and social mobility depicted in these cards.

Fairy stories such as Cinderella, a bedtime story about a young girl, mistreated by her step-mother and step-sisters, who finds out that dreams really can come true, along with publicity about cultural figures who have ‘made the big time’, help keep alive the dream of being able to dramatically change one’s circumstances.

Of course, what is not always mentioned in these success stories is that the kind of success depicted in the Ten of Pentacles doesn’t usually appear overnight. Such success comes after the vision, hard work, resilience, responsibility and reliability associated with the Seven and Eight of Pentacles in particular.

Given Australia’s history as a penal colony it is not surprising that there are stories about convicts who were able to dramatically turn their lives around. But lets be clear, few achieved this easily. Life in the early colony was very harsh and many perished. The extraordinary story of Mary Reibey is just one success story that captures the imagination.

Mary Reibey (1777-1855), née Haydock, was born on 12 May 1777 in Bury, Lancashire, England. She was convicted of horse stealing at Stafford on 21 July 1790 and sentenced to be transported for seven years. When arrested she was dressed as a boy and went under the name of James Burrow, but at her trial her identity was disclosed. The whole episode which resulted in her conviction as a felon at the age of 13 and transportation to New South Wales was probably no more than a high-spirited escapade attributable to lack of parental control, for her parents were dead and she lived with her grandmother. She arrived in Sydney in the Royal Admiral in October 1792 and was assigned as a nursemaid in the household of Major Francis Grose. On 7 September 1794 she married in Sydney Thomas Reibey, a young Irishman in the service of the East India Co., whom she had met in the transport and who had returned to Sydney in the Britannia that year.

Reibey became a pioneer businesswoman with interests in shipping and property. An enterprising and determined person of strong personality, during her lifetime Reibey earned a reputation as an astute and most successful businesswoman in the colony of New South Wales.