Of the 12 people who were granted small plots of land to farm in the area known as Wallis Plains in 1818, we know by far the most about Molly Morgan. Born in Corfton, Shropshire, in the western Midlands of England about 1762 to William and Margaret Jones, she was to become a major figure in early Maitland. Her pioneering contribution was enormous.
Molly's father was a labourer and rat-catcher, perhaps also a fox-catcher. His daughter learned to read, write and develop needlework skills, becoming a dress-maker. She had a child at 21 before marrying William Morgan and having two children with him.
In 1789 disaster struck when she and her husband were arrested for stealing hemp yarn: he absconded, she tried to commit suicide by cutting her throat but was treated for her injuries, tried, found guilty of theft and sentenced to death. Fortunately her punishment was commuted to transportation to NSW for 14 years.
Her voyage was on the Second Fleet's Neptune with more than 500 others. Most were convicts, nearly a third of whom perished: their vessel was a true "hellship" with a tyrannical captain.
Molly survived in relatively good shape, arrived in Sydney in mid-1790 and was sent to Parramatta. There she was eventually reunited with William who had been caught, tried and sentenced to transportation after her.
The pair possibly operated a shop for a time, but she sought a means of returning to England. She achieved this in 1794, probably by becoming the mistress of a ship's captain bound for home.
Back in England and reunited with her children, Molly set up as a dressmaker in Plymouth, Devon, and in 1797 she married businessman Thomas Mears. She and Thomas quarrelled, their house was burnt down and she was blamed.
Separately she was accused of theft of a petticoat, handkerchief and napkin, tried and found guilty and transported to NSW once more.
Her ship, Experiment, arrived in Sydney in mid-1804 and she was sent to the Female Factory at Parramatta. Soon she had a "protector", probably a soldier, and they were given some land nearby and a few cattle. Now in her mid-40s, Molly had become a farmer.
But her troubles were not over. Found guilty of stealing and rebranding government cattle, she was transported to Newcastle's penal camp for repeat offenders.
In 1818, at 56, Molly's luck changed. Governor Lachlan Macquarie established a farming colony based on "well-behaved" ex-convicts at Wallis Plains and she was granted land on Horseshoe Bend.
There, with assigned convict help, she built a hut and grazed cattle. She also established a shanty to sell rum and wine and accommodate travellers moving up and down the Hunter Valley.
In 1823 she was granted another holding, straddling what became High St, in exchange for her original one which was resumed for governmental purposes when the holdings that had been granted in 1818 were surveyed.
As before Molly had the land cleared, and she built a more substantial pub (the Angel Inn) near the site of the present Maitland Post Office. By now she was free, a successful businesswoman and a pillar of the local community.
More of Molly's story next week.