Ginger beer bottle, stoneware, Jonathan Leak, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, [c. 1820]
The pottery surving from Thomas Leak's pottery at Brickfield Hill constitute the earliest surviving marked examples of pottery made in Australia. While the earthenware production of Samuel Skinner active on Pitt Street Sydney was older (as documented in an advertisment in the Sydney Gazette, 9 October 1803), no pieces of Skinner's pottery have survived.
Geoff Ford, 'Australian Pottery: The First 100 Years', Salt Glaze Press, 1995 pp12-14.
Jonathan Leak was born in 1779 in Burslem, England. He was deported to Australian in 1819 after he and two friends burgled the home of Mrs Chatterly of Shelton on the 20th December, 1818. On the 31st July, 1819 at the age of 42, Leak sailed on board the Recovery to Sydney Cove, Australia. Upon arrival they were put into Carters Barracks, a brick and stone building specifically built to house convicts at Brickfield Hill, one mile from Sydney Cove.
All the prisoners had to do useful work, and Leaks talents as a potter were quickly realised by Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales, who immediately put him to paid work in the adjacent Government Pottery. This had been built in about 1790 on the site of a large deposit of high quality pipe and potters clay. He made many improvements to the pottery making processes and in consequence of this and his good conduct, he was granted a ticket of leave in September 1822 and permitted to do the best he could for himself. He no longer had to work as an assigned man for a master and he was able to spend the rest of his sentence working for himself wherever he pleased provided he stayed within the colony. He still had restrictions placed on him and had to ensure good behaviour and the ticket of leave could be revoked at any time.
While working in the Government Pottery, Leak realised the potential for setting up his own business and this was soon granted. He wrote to his wife Mary suggesting that she and the children come to join him. She and four of the children, Stephen aged 14, Ann aged 11, Elijah aged 6 and Kitty aged 3 were given free passages and they arrived on the ship Mary Ann early in 1822. In April of that year, Leak wrote to the new Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, for permission for his other two sons to join them. It was not until July 1826 that Lewis, then aged 22, arrived on the ship Fairfield, the other son having died. Lewis brought with him a considerable quantity of moulds for the purpose of carrying on the Wedgwood manufacturing in the Colony.
In July 1823 Leak successfully obtained two land grants, close to the Government Pottery, which enabled him to establish his own pottery. By 1828, Leak's pottery was employing over twenty free men. He was the only potter operating in the colony and two short articles in 1828 in 'The Australian' newspaper reported the production of 40,000 bricks weekly. Several advertisements in the newspaper appeared offering the sale of malt kiln tiles, oven tiles, common bricks, ginger beer and other bottles, stone jars for pickling and preserving, and earthenware of all sorts. Unfortunately, by February 1828, his health had deteriorated and in a letter to the Governor, he wrote that he was in a very weakly state; furthermore, his wife had been for some time confined to a bed of sickness. His two sons, Lewis and Stephen, took over the day-to-day running of the pottery. That same year, Jonathan petitioned the Governor for a conditional pardon, which will enable him to support his family with credit and educate them in the paths of rectitude. The conditional pardon was granted and it gave him citizenship of the colony but no right to return to England.
Information compiled by descendent Rebecca Evans and sourced from: http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/bsparcs/biogs/P003713b.htm
Additions from Geoff Ford, 'Australian Pottery: The First 100 Years', Salt Glaze Press, 1995