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Robert Ferdinand Pries (1821–1905)

  • his father, Johann Friedrich Pries (1776-1832) was a professor of theology at the University of Rostock. He lectured on the history of fine arts, poetry, philosophy, and English classics, especially Shakespeare.
  • Robert Pries worked as a clerk in two mercantile companies after migrating to London, England, in 1844, before starting his own business on 1 January 1848. His business was disrupted as a result of the blockade during the Danish War. He claimed this led him into a speculation in grain which led to a loss he couldn't sustain, and led him to further unsustainable speculations. He ultimately deposited forged transferences and bills of trading as collateral securities for advances of cash. He used all the money to keep his business afloat rather than on personal luxuries, and eventually became bankrupt. He sought a ticket of leave or a conditional pardon saying the he 'deeply and sincerely repents ... his former offence'.
  • on 21 February 1853 the official receivers of Pries' estate wanted him to stay at Newgate Gaol until he wrote up his books and making discovery of his estate in order to wind up his affairs and proceed with his bankruptcy.
  • his wife wrote to Viscount Palmerston, Secretary of State for Home Department, on 3 July 1854 requesting that Pries, whose health had been affected by his confinement at Newgate and Millbank gaols be sent 'abroad, to Australia as the only course to preserve his life'.
  • petition to Lord Palmerston on 27 February 1953 from the Minister of the Netherlands, Baron Bentinck, writing on behalf of some merchants from Amsterdam, who lost £50,000 of cargo in dealing with him) and who wish him to remain in the England until his bankruptcy matters have been finalised. Note on the letter says 'This is reasonable I think. To be done.'
  • 25 October 1853 Consul-general of Mecklenburg sent a petition seeking that he be released on condition of quitting England.
  • According to his convict record, Pries was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with brown hair, hazel eyes, a sallow complexion, and a middling stout appearance. His trade was given as merchant.
  • Pries' mother sent a petition to Queen Victoria stating that her son 'in spite of his heavy guilt, is not a reprobate, a cold hardened villain, but a poor deluded strayer that longs to return, and gives every promise, by God's mercy, in future to keep to the path of virtue and honor." When he was going to settle in London, and marry a woman 'of a poor, though respectable family' his mother gave him most of her savings to help him start up his business. he started off well but then an enterprise failed and he lost not only his own capital but also his mother's. He could not bear to declare himself insolvent and bring disrepute upon his wife and mother. he made new efforts to extract himself from financial ruin which brought him further disaster. He lived humbly and did not use any moneys unwisely. She requests that he be sent to a colony where he might be able to pursue a career by honest industry to atone for his guilt and to support his family.  Family members of Mrs Pries and magistrates of Rostock signed a supporting petition (25 July 1853)
  • his wife wrote to the authorities on 4 September 1859 seeking a conditional pardon for her husband, saying that his conduct since his sentence has been 'irreproachable, & the punishment he has already suffered has been very severe, looking to the previously high & respectable position he enjoyed in society.'
  • Pries, his wife, daughter Amelia, and sons Arthur Robert and Edward Adolphus, collected plant specimens for Baron Ferdinand von Mueller.
  • lived at 'Prospect Villa', Busselton.
  • announced in an advertisement in the Perth Gazette on 1 June 1860 that he was opening a general store at Busselton. Later in the month he advertised that he was also a commission agent and that 'orders for goods, &c, from England or elsewhere promptly attended to'.

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Pries, Robert Ferdinand (1821–1905)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Preis, Robert Ferdinand

26 July, 1821
Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany


20 March, 1905 (aged 83)
Busselton, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

general debility

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.

Passenger Ship
Key Events
Convict Record

Crime: forgery
Sentence: life
Court: Old Bailey, London
Trial Date: 31 January 1853


Occupation: general merchant
Married: Yes
Children: Yes (2)