In 1819 two London lads were tried for the unlikely crime of stealing bees wax. Found guilty, they got transportation for seven years. The older one was sent to New South Wales. The younger spent a year in the squalid hulks on the Thames, then he was sent to Van Diemen’s Land. Aged fourteen, Henry Reading, convicted criminal, stood at just four feet and six inches, or 137 centimetres. The young lad stepped ashore at Hobart Town in 1821, just a week before Christmas.
When Henry obtained his freedom, the by-now young man travelled the rough road north to begin his adult life. Family story has it that Henry walked the 190 kilometres from Hobart to Launceston, pushing his meagre possessions in a handcart.
Henry Reading was lucky. He established a strong family, marrying a granddaughter of First Fleet convicts Nathaniel Lucas and Olivia Gascoigne. And he made a fortune through prudent investments in property, a fortune frittered away on the very good life enjoyed by his children and grandchildren.
In 1989 Henry's great-grandson Geoff Reading wrote, 'Henry’s will was a 4000-word nine-page parchment document in which, as was the custom in those days, he left the major share, a fifth, to the elder son James. In itself this was a large fortune, which James promptly set about pissing up against the wall… A fourth of the remainder, also a fortune, he left to my grandfather Edwin, the youngest of the family. The rest of Henry’s estate was divided into six parts, one each going to his widow, Ann, and his five daughters. This left all of them rich and the daughters, now nicely cashed up, with one exception rushed off to England, all thoughts of beewax very far from their minds'.
Though in a curious postscript to the story of Henry Reading and beeswax, almost 70 years after his arrival in the Colony, Henry's son-in-law Captain Thomas Blackburn Whittingham went down with his ship, the Lanoma, transporting (among other things) cases of beeswax from Tasmania back to England.
This is the story of Henry Reading and his family.