From Sarah Wills Howe to Thomas Wentworth Wills: An Australian Family Biography

From Sarah Wills Howe to Thomas Wentworth Wills is a biographical study of the remarkable colonial family of Sarah Wills and her convict husband Edward, from transportation to federation. In three generations, from the business acumen of its matriarch to the restless adventuring of her third son Horatio Wills and the suicide of her grandson, the sublimely gifted sportsman Thomas Wentworth Wills, this family biography is also a story of Australian colonisation and dispossession.


Women, land, power: forgotten colonial histories

Sarah Wills Howe is a forgotten woman. A successful entrepreneur whose commercial and business skills rivalled those of her friend and sometime business partner, the former convict Mary Reibey, Sarah Wills accrued a personal fortune in colonial New South Wales through a mix of land acquisition, ruthless profiteering, liquor sales and canny investments. From her … Continue reading Women, land, power: forgotten colonial histories

Early colonial press: agitators against authority

Sarah Wills’ second marriage to the hopeless and perennially insolvent government printer of the Sydney Gazette, George Howe, soon saw the new Wills-Howe family bitterly divided over money, inheritance, colonial politics and the rising power of the first generation or ‘native born’ Australians – largely the children of convicts. The political significance of the colonial … Continue reading Early colonial press: agitators against authority

Politics, rights, democracy: eradicating the ‘convict stain’

As New South Wales emerged from its restrictive penal colony origins and moved towards self-government, the simple contours of its convict-era politics changed dramatically. Members of the extended Wills family were intensely committed to the movement to recognise the legal and civil rights of former convicts – ‘emancipists’ and their children – against the entrenched … Continue reading Politics, rights, democracy: eradicating the ‘convict stain’

Complex relationships and cultural ‘collisions’

A critical theme in this cross-generational biographical study is the impact of European settlement on Indigenous communities. In the Gariwerd (Grampians) region of Port Philip this impact was violent, immediate and utterly devastating. Within a decade of Horatio Wills’ arrival in 1842 Aboriginal populations were decimated, while the European settler population had grown exponentially. This is a developing theme and further details will be provided.

Research Team

Professor Jenny Hocking

Chief Investigator

Professor Jenny Hocking is Research Professor and ARC Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) Fellow in the National Centre for Australian Studies. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and a well-known biographer and script-writer and a highly regarded scholar and commentator on Australian politics and history, political biography, counter-terrorism and security matters.
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Dr Liz Rushen

Senior Research Associate

Initially trained as a teacher, Liz Rushen practised and lectured in business communications and office management in Australia and overseas. After completing a PhD in history in 1999 at Monash University, Liz was appointed the Executive Director of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. Liz has published widely in the field of office practice and business communications, as well as a social history of Bishopscourt, Melbourne, Mosaic Publications, (2013) and many books on immigration history. Continue reading…

Nell Reidy

Research Assistant

Having completed an Honours thesis with the Monash Indigenous Centre (MIC) in 2014, Nell is currently working with MIC as a tutor and Research Assistant. Since 2013, Nell has worked as production manager on a documentary about a grassroots project in an Aboriginal community in Western Australia. Nell is responsible for a specific aspect of this research project, that of Indigenous and Settler relations at the earliest period of settlement in the Victorian/Port Phillip region.

Laura Donati

PhD Scholar

Laura Donati has a long association with history. Having completed a MA (Public History) at the University of Melbourne in 2002, she commenced a career as a freelance professional historian which resulted in the publication of six books, a number of assessment reports detailing the significance of local history collections and countless land histories. In 2014 she was the lucky recipient of a three year scholarship at Monash University
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Conferences and Publications

Findings on links between the indigenous football game of marngrook, Tom Wills and Australian rules football

Professor Jenny Hocking’s recent research findings on links between the indigenous football game of marngrook, Tom Wills and Australian rules football has featured on ABC news.

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Forthcoming Publication in the Journal of the European Association for Studies on Australia.

Professor Jenny Hocking and Laura Donati’s paper ‘Obscured but not Obscure: How History Ignored the Remarkable Story of Sarah Wills Howe’ has been accepted for publication in the 2017 issue of the peer reviewed international Journal of the European Association for Studies on Australia (JEASA). 

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Leather Poisoning exhibition at the Counihan Gallery, Brunswick

Professor Jenny Hocking will speak about her research on Tom Wills and the contentious issue of the influence of the indigenous game of marngrook on the development of Australian football, on Wednesday 15 March at 6.30pm at the Counihan Gallery…

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Maritime Conference at Murdoch University

  Dr Liz Rushen, Senior Research Associate with NCAS working with Professor Jenny Hocking on the Wills family project, will present a paper at the 7th  International Congress of Maritime History, to be held at Murdoch University 27 June – 1 July 2016: Old Worlds, New Worlds? Emerging themes in maritime history. Liz’s paper, ‘John Marshall … Continue reading Maritime Conference at Murdoch University

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EASA13 ‘Australia as Topos: The Transformation of Australian Studies’

Professor Jenny Hocking and Laura Donati co-wrote the first paper from the Wills biographical project, ‘Obscured but not Obscure: How History Ignored the Remarkable Story of Sarah Wills Howe’.

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Free Wives of Convicts Under the Gaze of Micro-History: A New Approach to Australian History

Laura Donati, PhD scholar with the Wills family project, will present a paper at the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association’s conference, Uncharted Terrain: The Challenge of Re-Imagining Travelling to the Past, in Hawaii in August 2016.

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Contact Us

Professor Jenny Hocking

National Centre for Australian Studies
Monash University
Level 5, Building H, Caulfield Campus
900 Dandenong Road
Caulfield East VIC 3145
T: +61 3 990 34309