Category Archives: Elizabeth Macarthur

Elizabeth Macarthur – The Cover!



For release in April 2018. I know – too soon and not nearly soon enough! And yes, the farm in the painting is Elizabeth Farm, where Elizabeth Macarthur lived for most of her life.

For more info see The Text Publishing 2018 catalogue (page 28).


My Writing Day


Her name is Winter. She’s a Scottish Deerhound. Yes, she’s very tall. Saves bending over to give her pats – she’s already at just the right height.

One day a week. That’s all I have for my own writing. And when I say ‘day’ I don’t mean a whole day, I mean a school day, between about 9:30 and 3:00pm.

Also minus the school holidays. And minus time spent hanging out the washing, catching up on my day job, making cups of tea and procrastinating by playing Tetris. I’m now very good at Tetris.

My routine, on my writing day, is to take the dog for a walk after I’ve dropped the kids at school. Apart from the many therapeutic benefits of the forest, I use the time to decide exactly what it is that I plan to work on that day. I’ve learnt the hard way that if I don’t decide before I sit down at my desk, then I invariably fritter my time away hanging out the washing, catching up on my day job, making cups of tea and procrastinating by playing Tetris. Did I mention that I’m very good at Tetris?

You’d think it would be easy to decide, each day, what to work on next. Maybe it is, if you have the privilege of working on the same thing for multiple days in a row. But when it’s been a week, or more, since I last looked at the manuscript, I find it valuable to be very clear about the task at hand. It’s not at all simply a matter of writing about ‘what happened next’. If only!

Maybe, for example, I want to Read the rest of this entry

Done! For now at least…


With apologies to those who already know, via Facebook and Twitter – I sent the draft manuscript to my editor at Text Publishing late last week.

Very happy.

Subsequently spent a relaxing weekend in the garden, and celebrating Mother’s Day with my gorgeous kids.

No deadlines, no pressure – bliss.

Next steps? The editor edits the manuscript, sends it back covered in comments and I go back to working on it. And in the meantime I keep following up and trying to source all the images I need.

And yes, the champagne was delicious.

How to finish a manuscript


Young Woman Writing a Letter (detail), from a poster for Encre Marquet by Eugene Grasset, 1892. Image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Well, by not spending time writing blog posts, obviously.

The manuscript must go to the publisher (for editing) in about week, so the last little while has been just a teensy bit frantic.

I kind of finished working on the text a few weeks ago, and since then I have:

  • drawn up a Macarthur family tree (thank you PowerPoint),
  • included a list of NSW Governors from 1788-1855 (eg, in Elizabeth Macarthur’s lifetime),
  • written an epilogue in which I discuss Elizabeth Macarthur’s legacy and her importance to Australia’s historical view of itself (including very brief biographies for each of her children and grandchildren – a sort of ‘what happened next’, if you like), and
  • tidied up and made consistent all the footnotes (now endnotes) and the bibliography.

I’ve also been sourcing images. Naively, I learned upon signing with the publisher that all the images (including copyright permissions, if relevant) have to be sourced and, where necessary, paid for by me. Much daunted, I duly compiled a very long list of all the images I’d quite like to include and then discovered that some institutions are likely to charge me as much as $150 per image. My image list quickly became shorter! Others charge $45.  And still others, like the State Library of NSW, charge nothing for digitised images that are out of copyright. Guess where most of my images will be sourced from…

For those of you who enjoy meaningless statistics, the draft manuscript currently has:

  • 22 chapters
  • 257 pages
  • 121,791 words
  • 842 endnotes
  • 119 works/sources listed in the bibliography
  • and a partridge in a pear tree (not really)

And of course, now that I’ve stepped back from the text, I keep thinking of things to add to it. My haphazard To Do list reads roughly as follows:

  • acknowledgements
  • psychiatrist’s opinion of John Macarthur’s being bipolar (done)
  • rum rebellion – more depth
  • Elizabeth Farm renovation, add letter from EM to her son. ‘The important improvements your dear father mentions’, Elizabeth explained in a letter to Edward, ‘are little other than delusions.’ (done)
  • ‘Quarrels’ chapter – fix it.
  • Banks of Parramatta River – no mangroves! (done)
  • ending, add EM’s comments about collecting sea shells at Bude and her comments re memories of Bridgerule.

Then all I need do is step back and look at the manuscript as a whole and completely revise and … who am I kidding? As a long time promoter of the saying that finished is better than perfect, perhaps I should start practicing what I preach. And I don’t quite have the chutzpah to imagine that I’ll ever achieve ‘perfect’ anyway, so best get the jolly thing off the editor to see what she thinks of it all.


Elizabeth Macarthur’s Quilt at the National Gallery of Victoria


The gallery had sold out of the glossy, colour catalogue for Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 by the time I saw the exhibition last week. But I had a terrific chat with the young woman serving at the museum shop while I placed an order to have the catalogue mailed out (at a discounted rate, no less).

“Isn’t it interesting,” she said, “how contemporary some of those quilt designs are. It’s amazing to think they predated modernism by decades.  But not acknowledged, of course.” She gave me a gorgeous, wry smile. “Why would women’s sewing be acknowledged as art?”

Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 is a wonderful and important exhibition now showing at NGV Australia (the gallery at Federation Square, in the heart of Melbourne). Over eighty works are on display – mainly quilts and bedcovers – and they are variously beautiful, historically significant, poignant, charming and fascinating. Intricate quilts stitched by convict women en route to Australia. Depression-era blankets (called waggas) made in desperation from scrounged bits and pieces. Delicate embroidery commemorating the jubilee of Queen Victoria.

But you know there was only one quilt that I really wanted to see. EM QuiltThis hexagon quilt, pictured above, is attributed to Elizabeth Macarthur. Her descendents believe she started it sometime around 1840 and her daughters (and/or grand-daughter) finished it. By the 1840s Elizabeth was in her seventies, with fading eyesight and prone to headaches. If she did begin it, I do wonder how much is actually hers…

The colours have faded with time, of course, and some of the fabrics have started to perish. But if you look closely below you can see the individual stitches – perhaps made with Elizabeth’s own hand. I’m a (sometime) quilter myself and I can assure you that those stitches are impressively tiny!

EM Hexagon StitchesLady Mary Fitzroy, the wife of the NSW Governor, was making a similar quilt at around the same time. But in 1847 she was killed in an accident (she was handed into the carriage but before her husband could take the reins the horses bolted, took a downhill corner too fast and her carriage tipped over and hit a tree). She’d attended a Macarthur wedding only three days earlier.

The coverlet Lady Fitzroy was working on remains unfinished to this day – the colours of her hexagons a little brighter for having spent a century and more tucked in her sewing bag (see photo below).

Lady Fitzroy Sewing Bag and HexagonsLady Fitzroy evidently had a better eye for design than the Macarthur women. She practiced what today we would call ‘fussy cutting’ – deliberately selecting and then cutting fabrics in such a way that a secondary design is created once the hexagon was pieced together (see photo below).

Lady Fitzroy Single HexagonBut Lady Fitzroy and the Macarthur women used the same technique to ensure the consistency of each hexagonal piece: paper piecing. Hundreds of paper templates were cut, then the fabric was basted on top of the paper, then each hexagon was whip-stitched (with those tiny stitches we’ve already seen) to those adjacent. It’s a technique still very much in use today.

One of the quilts in the exhibition was displayed with the wrong side showing (below).

Hexagon quilt - reverseUsually a quilter will pull out all the papers once the quilt top is finished but historians are often very grateful if the quilt-maker didn’t manage to get around to it!

Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 is open until 6 November 2016.  The adult entry fee is $15 (concessions are available). The curators have done an excellent job of selecting and displaying the works and it’s an exhibition well worth a visit. I can’t wait for my catalogue to arrive so I can enjoy it all over again.











Mrs Macquarie and the tragic accident

Veale Headstone

Headstone of Grace and Richard Veale, Elizabeth Macarthur’s sister and father. St Bridget’s churchyard, Bridgerule. Source: Adventures in Biography

One of the problems of being a researcher of women’s history is all the dead children.

Over and over again the archives yield stories of families broken by illness, accident and disease – so many stories that they are in danger of seeming commonplace. But of course the death of each child was, to his or her own family, an occasion of enormous tragedy.

Elizabeth Macarthur lost two of her nine children as babies – one daughter born prematurely who ‘lived but an hour’ and a little boy who died at the age of ten months from ‘teething’. Elizabeth was not yet six when her younger sister Grace died aged two years and nine months. Her father died a month or so later.

Elizabeth’s girlhood best friend Bridget Kingdon lost a younger sister too. When the friends were twenty years old, little five year old Griselda Kingdon drowned in a sudden flood of the Tamar while riding her pony across the ford at the Bridgerule Bridge.

As far as I can tell few, if any of Elizabeth’s New South Wales friends managed to raise every one of their own children to adulthood. But some lost their children in particularly awful circumstances.

In August 1801 Elizabeth’s friend and neighbour Betsy Marsden was involved in an accident. Not twenty yards from the Marsden farm gate Mrs Marsden’s chaise overturned, spilling out a pregnant Betsy and her three year old son Charles. The little boy subsequently died in his mother’s arms. Two months later Betsy gave birth to another boy, John, but heartbreak and depression kept her from writing to friends in England for more than a year.

Two years later tragedy struck again. Little John Marsden, the baby born two months after his mother was flung from the chaise, died from a scalding received in his mother’s kitchen.  Betsy never really regained her equilibrium and forever after considered August a fearful month, a time when she could hardly bear to let her other children out of sight.

I only recently learned that Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth lost a ‘dear angelic girl’ in 1808, not long before they departed for New South Wales. The girl Jane, their first child, was only twelve weeks old when she died. Between then and 1814, when Elizabeth Macquarie was finally delivered of a healthy boy, Mrs Macquarie endured seven miscarriages ‘and some of these,’ wrote her husband to his brother, ‘very bad and dangerous ones.’ Unsurprisingly, she was subsequently something of a helicopter parent to her son, the couple’s only surviving child.

Too often, I think, historians forget that fathers grieve for their lost children too. The ADB entry for Lachlan Macquarie, noting the death of little Jane, describes the decision to transfer his regiment to New South Wales as a ‘dramatic distraction from grief.’  Really? Could he truly be so easily distracted? And what was the impact of all that worry and grief surrounding each miscarriage on Macquarie’s governorship, I wonder? At least the ADB entry notes that he was a doting father to his son.

Not long after the birth of her son, Elizabeth Macquarie was witness to yet another childhood tragedy. She subsequently suffered a nervous collapse and was confined to her bed for weeks. On 6 October 1814 Private William Thomas, a Light Horseman in Governor Macquarie’s personal bodyguard, was on duty, riding alongside the Governor’s carriage. The carriage, with Mrs Macquarie inside, passed along the road in front of Private Thomas’ own home. What happened next was related many years later by Private Thomas’ eldest son, William.

Shortly after the McQuarries came to Sydney, my little brother’s third birthday came round, and my mother put him in knickerbockers. In the afternoon Charlie rushed into the road to meet my father and show him a set of whistling bells that Lady King had sent him. Just as he reached the road Lady McQuarrie’s carriage dashed round a corner. People shouted to the coachman but he paid no heed, and before any of the onlookers could reach the child the foremost horse had knocked him down and two wheels passed over his body.

My father couldn’t even pick up his own child – it was all he could do to protect the coachman, as the crowd were mobbing him. They would have killed him if they could; but my father told them they would be doing him the greatest kindness if they went away quietly, as he couldn’t go while they were likely to molest the coachman, who, as it happened, was drunk, so the people contented themselves by letting loose the horses and dragging the carriage to Government House.

In her own wordsMeanwhile Lady McQuarrie had picked Charlie up and carried him in to mother, who, when she saw him, fainted. And then I remember that the doctor came and said that death had been instantaneous, and a few days afterwards I remember going to the funeral and standing by the open grave holding my father’s hand.

Years afterwards when we lived in Hobart Town Lady Macquarrie often came to see my mother, and she always used to cry and blame herself for my brother’s death. She was a very good woman, and most kind. Everybody liked her.

Elizabeth Macarthur, in a letter to her god-daughter, called Mrs Macquarie a ‘very good woman’ too.

I found the story above, and much much more, in a beautifully produced book called In Her Own Words: The Writings of Elizabeth Macquarie. The book was published by Macquarie University and edited by Robin Walsh, the curator of the Lachlan Macquarie Room in the Macquarie University Library and the man behind the digital Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive (LEMA).

An earlier post about Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie can be found here.

Offers from publishers


Walking into sunriseRight now I have written offers from six different publishers (so far).

Yes, six.

Yes, all of them well-known publishing houses.

I know, I’m gobsmacked too.

I’ve spent the last few weeks talking with each of them, on the phone and face-to-face – wonderful and lengthy conversations about writing, editing, history and Elizabeth Macarthur.

I must say that everyone I’ve spoken with has been incredibly friendly and nice.  And all very keen to win me over. I’ve never heard so many people say so many lovely things about my writing!

The offers are more complicated than I naively expected, too. They all differ in terms of advances (and how the advance will be paid – often in installments); royalties (and at how many books sold the royalty percentage rises); marketing plans; rights management; e-books; second books; and a whole heap of other things I really don’t understand. Very glad to have my agent Jacinta di Mase in my corner, fielding the publisher’s emails and encouraging them to up their offers!

While the financial aspects will certainly be a factor in my decision-making, I’m in the very privileged position of being able to choose which publisher will be best for what I hope to achieve.

It’s all so much more than I dared hope for.

Jacinta and I will meet next week to discuss the offers.  Until then I guess I’ll continue to wander about in a daze, all distracted and grinning.