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ELIZABETH MACARTHUR (1766 - 1850)
THE FIRST EDUCATED LADY TO SET FOOT IN AUSTRALIA
Elizabeth Macarthur was born Elizabeth Veale in the town of Bridgerule in Devon, England on the 14th August 1766. After her mother was widowed when Elizabeth was six years old she went to live with her grandfather John Hatherley. Soon after she was taken into the home of the Rev. John Kingdon, an Oxford scholar and was educated with his daughter Bridget who became a lifelong friend and correspondent after Elizabeth left Englandís shores.
At twenty-two years of age Elizabeth married John Macarthur who had spent some years studying law and farming methods. He met Elizabeth when he was working as a part time teacher at Kilkhampton Grammar where he taught John Kingdon, the son of Rev. Kingdon. After meeting and falling in love with Elizabeth he gave up the idea of law and farming, returning to army service, as he was not a rich man, thus giving him a regular income to enable the couple to wed. Previously, at the age of fifteen, John had joined the army and been part of a Corp that had been formed to fight in the American War of Independence. However the conflict was over before the Corps could sail from England and that force was disbanded.
Elizabeth Macarthur 1766-1850
In March 1798, while accompanying her husband to London by
coach, where he had been called to discuss joining his regiment, they only got as far as Bath before Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, a boy named Edward, at a local Inn. Once arriving in London John, who was not keen on joining his regiment in Gibralter, managed to gain a transfer from the 68th Foot regiment to the newly formed New South Wales Corp which promised an offer of land grants after a three year service in that far away land. Another deciding factor was that soldiers of the New South Wales Corp could take their wives and children with them to Port Jackson, the settlement which had been established by Captain Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet. This was a very attractive proposition for the young couple with a young son and not much money. They had heard that the climate was good plus the idea of land ownership was very exciting.
On the 13th November 1789 Elizabeth, who was unaware at the time that she was pregnant with her second child, boarded the NEPTUNE together with her eight month old son Edward and husband John. The NEPTUNE had been contracted to deport convicts to New South Wales and Johnís Company had been assigned to guard the convicts on the voyage.
It was a miserable time for the Macarthurs who were bundled into quarters on the lower deck that had been divided into two parts. One side for Macarthurs and the other crammed with women convicts. It was an extremely disagreeable situation, not only because of the stink and bad language of the convict women, but the narrow passageway was the only way to reach the open deck above.
The Captain of the ship in a fit of malice after an argument with John Macarthur turned this passageway into a sick bay so it was necessary then for the family to step over the filth and vomit of dying convicts in order to reach the fresh air. Elizabeth refused to leave her cabin and after many days confined therein John demanded that his family be transferred to another of the ships in the fleet while they were becalmed in the doldrums. On the 19th February 1790 they were shifted over to the SCARBOROUGH and although they could not stand upright in the small cabin they had been allotted, at least they could enjoy fresh air on deck.
As the voyage was nearing its end Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter. Unfortunately the wee baby only lived for about an hour and was buried at sea.
The family finally reached Port Jackson on the 28th June 1790, coming ashore at Sydney Cove where Elizabeth, in spite of the indignities and hardships she had suffered on the voyage from England, stepped ashore a dignified lady. Their first home was a wattle and daub hut, but it was a joy for Elizabeth to be off the ship and on terra firma at last. Elizabeth seemed to have gained an inner strength from her hardships at sea and appeared to be ready for anything life in the Colony could throw at her. With no female friends of her class Elizabeth became interested in the unusual flora surrounding Botany Bay which seemed to survive the intense heat of summer, while her vegetable garden shrivelled and died as the temperature sometimes rose to 112į F.
In 1798 when a Captain Waterhouse, who had brought with him pure bred Merino sheep from Spain, was recalled to England by the Admiralty because of the threat of invasion by the French, John Macarthur was allocated two Merino rams and four ewes. So began the most prosperous wool industry in the world.
As well as bearing seven more children, Elizabeth managed the family farm and kept the Merino flock pure during the nine years her husband was exiled to England in 1809 for his alleged part in engineering the rebellion to remove the tyrannical Governor Bligh. Her sons were all in England as well, receiving their education so the only man left to help her occasionally, apart from ex-convict labour, was Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur the twenty-one year old son of James Macarthur, Johnís older brother.
During his exile Johnís letters to his wife showed signs of depression and thoughts of pulling out of the Colony altogether, however Elizabeth hung on and met the expenses incurred by her husband and sons from the sale of the clip of their fine Merino wool in England. She found that by scrubbing the sheep in the river before shearing, a much higher price was paid for the cleaner wool.
After his return to New South Wales John Macarthurís health deteriorated and it was a very trying time for Elizabeth who had worked so hard to hold everything together during his absence. John see-sawed between bursts of great energy and deep depressions leading finally to madness. He accused Elizabeth of adultery and wanton behavior and as a punishment banished her from the family home. Elizabeth hoped this separation was only for a short time, but she never saw John again, he died in 1834 at the age of sixty-seven; his wife was in Sydney assisting her daughter Mary give birth when the news reached her. Elizabeth grieved in private and stoically showed no indication of the pain she must have felt when told her husband never spoke of her again. However, a letter to
her son Edward in England is said to have carried a mark where a tear had fallen.
Camden Park House
Elizabeth died on 9th February 1850 at the age of eighty-four and was buried beside her husband beneath the family monument on a hilltop overlooking Camden Park House which was to be the home of John Macarthur. He died however before the house was completed in 1835, one year after his death. After completion, Camden Park House was occupied by Elizabeth and her two of her sons and decendants of John and Elizabeth Macarthur still reside in the mansion to this day.
Noeleen Kennedy Divorced.
One daughter aged 41.
Have travelled extensively in UK and Europe and love visiting historical sites which fire up my imagination.
Did not start writing until after retiring in 2006.