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Rebecca Oakes (1789–1883)

from Australian Town and Country Journal

Only a few of the Australian people probably have been aware of the fact that till within the last fortnight they had among them a living person connecting the present with the earliest days of the settlement of New South Wales. Now that we are arranging for the celebration of the centenary, and have been boasting, through our representative, before European courts of the vast development of our resources and the acknowledged stability of our finance, who would have thought of searching for a surviving individual that had been a spectator of the whole series of events which form the history of Australia, and seen the tiny grain of mustard grow up into the goodly tree which overshadows this fair domain. Such, nevertheless, has been the rare fortune of the respected lady whose decease we have now to chronicle. Imagination fails to conceive the vast and varied changes which have been crowded within the compass of that one life. The deceased was not a prominent actor in any of the stirring scenes of the past, but had been an intelligent observer of them all. She lived under all the governors from Captain Phillip to Lord Loftus, and had the honour of the personal acquaintance of most of them. Old colonists like the late Captain Johnston, were in the habit of meeting with this venerable representative of the past, when there were sure to follow "lang twa-handed cracks," which were not less enjoyable to others who had the privilege of being present.

The late Mrs. [Rebecca] Oakes was born in the old Government House, at Sydney, on the 22nd September, 1789, being about a year and a half after the settlement of the colony in Port Jackson. She is supposed by many to have been positively the first white female born in Australia, and although this position has been questioned, her claim to the second place is not disputed. Parramatta, under the name of Rosehill, was settled about the time of her birth, and has been the place of Mrs. Oakes's residence during the greater part of her life. The deceased had a family of fourteen children, but it was her misfortune to see the greater part of them pass away before her own time came. The death of her eldest son, the Honourable George Oakes, was particularly afflicting. He had left the Legislative Council late in the evening, and in proceeding homeward was killed by the tram in Elizabeth-street. His lamentable death was a severe shock to his aged mother, but was borne, nevertheless, with great resignation, she having been schooled, as she said, to such trials by the frequent visits of death to the family circle. The surviving members are two sons (William and John) and four daughters (Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. West, Mrs. Muriel, and Mrs. Spreight).

Mrs. Oakes enjoyed the reputation of being an exceedingly virtuous and charitable woman. Her retiring habits caused her to be less generally known than she deserved to be. Although not exempt from the usual infirmities of age, her intellect remained tolerably clear till the close of her life. On the morning of Tuesday week she passed quietly away, and thus was severed the one remaining link which united us to the earliest period of our history. Her remains were interred in the Necropolis on the following Thursday, in the presence of a large concourse of mourners, who desired to pay this last mark of respect to the deceased.

Our engraving contains a group which is of singular interest, as it represents four generations of persons in lineal succession. The lady on the right is Mrs. Oakes, the subject of this brief notice; on the left is her daughter, Mrs. Burns, now deceased; at the head of the group is her grand-daughter, Mrs. Pringle, who occupies the office of matron in the Orphan Asylum at Parramatta; the remaining figure in the group is Miss Pringle, daughter of the last-mentioned lady, and great grand-daughter of the late Mrs. Oakes.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Rebecca Oakes

Citation details

'Oakes, Rebecca (1789–1883)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Small, Rebecca

22 September, 1789
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 January, 1883 (aged 93)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.