Tag Archives: Elizabeth Macarthur

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 died today


Not actually today, obviously.

Elizabeth Macarthur the woman died almost 167 years ago, on 9 February 1850. She was eighty-three years old.

But today I wrote the paragraph in which Elizabeth dies, the final paragraph of the book really, and I felt strangely sad.

It’s been my job to make her come to life on the page and I’ve been working to do so for more years than I care to admit. Yet there she was, having a stroke and quietly dying at Watson’s Bay in the company of Emmeline, her youngest daughter and Dr Anderson, a long-time family friend. It was sad and I hope I can make my readers feel that same soft pang.

The other part of my sadness, though, was less easy to articulate.

For months I’ve been looking forward to reaching this point: to be able to write “and then she died. The End.” Which is not what I actually wrote, of course, but you see my point. It is The End. The end of the research (almost), the end of the first draft, the end of laying down the facts of Elizabeth’s long and interesting life.  Did you know Read the rest of this entry

Camden Park House


Camden Park House Source: Adventures in Biography

Took my family to Sydney for the weekend, ostensibly for a quick sightseeing stopover but actually so that we could attend the annual open day at Camden Park House.

We were lucky with the rain, and managed to explore the house and extensive gardens before it poured.

* * * * *

During the first week of June 1805 the signal was made at Sydney Harbour’s South Head and Elizabeth’s prayers were answered. John Macarthur, having left NSW for England in 1801 under the cloud of a pending court-martial, triumphantly sailed up the harbour in a ship he part-owned, unsubtly named Argo. Its figurehead was, equally unsubtly, a golden fleece.

During his enforced English sojourn (this was the first, the second time was after the Rum Rebellion of 1808) John had gained an important friend in Sir Walter Farquhar, avoided sanction for duelling with his commanding officer, sold his military commission, convinced the government that the future of New South Wales rested with him, and wrangled the purchase of seven rare and prized Spanish rams.  He even managed to bring five of them home alive. There is luck here, certainly, but also a canny ability to spot an opportunity and to capitalise upon it.

John also brought home his Read the rest of this entry

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.











Australian Colonial Dance


Serendipity used to mean flicking through a dictionary and finding interesting and unusual words.

But now it means stumbling across fascinating websites.  Like this one: Australian Colonial Dance.

It’s a lovely little blog about dance and music in colonial Australia, with interesting information and (crucially) bibliographic lists of sources.

Of course my favourite post is the one describing Australia’s first piano.

Surgeon George Worgan, thirty-three, had improbably managed to bring a piano with him on the First Fleet.  In 1790 he gallantly began to tutor Elizabeth Macarthur, telling her she’d ‘done wonders in being able to play off God save the King and Foots Minuet’ and that she was ‘reading the Notes with great facility.’  Worgan went so far as to make Elizabeth a gift of the pianoforte upon his departure in 1791.

I’d always imagined that piano as a modern upright but now I learn it probably looked like this one, in the photo. And, oh frabjous day, there is a link to Foote’s Minuet – to the sheet music and to an MP3 recording.  Thank you!

Other interesting posts include:

No, I don’t know the people behind the Australian Colonial Dance website.  But I’m very grateful to them for sharing.

Catchy Titles are Crucial

Original Illustration by ColinThompson - find out more at www.colinthompson.com

Original Illustration by ColinThompson – find out more at http://www.colinthompson.com

What is it about a catchy book title?  What makes us pick up this book, instead of that one?  I don’t think it’s just the title but it’s not nothing, either.

Off the top of my head, some of my favourite Australian titles (not my favourite books, just the titles) include:

  • Monkey Grip (surely the best title in the history of the world?)
  • The Tyranny of Distance
  • Possum Magic
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began
  • Power Without Glory
  • Cloudstreet (Why not Cloud Street, I wonder?)

But it’s difficult to judge the title independently, once you know the book.

Different kinds of titles seem to go in and out of fashion.  On the Australian fiction shelf in the last few years we’ve had:

  • What Was Left
  • What Came Before
  • What Alice Forgot

Then there is the fashion for titles with randomly juxtaposed words.  Intriguing or just silly?

  • The Ravenous Hyenas and the Wounded Sun
  • Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness:  A Dictionarrative (No, of course I don’t know what a dictionarrative is. Neither does anyone else.  That’s probably why there is a book about it.)
  • Wild Ducks Flying Backward
  • So Long and Thanks For All the Fish  (Proving that once they become best sellers, these sorts of titles in fact make perfect sense.)

Fluabert’s Parrot launched a fashion for apostrophised titles (a trend lampooned in Bridget Jones’s Diary when she attends the launch of Kafka’s Motorbike):

  • Foucault’s Pendulum,
  • Lempriere’s Dictionary
  • Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
  • Nathaniel’s Nutmeg
  • Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
  • Stalin’s Nose
  • Voltaire’s Coconuts
  • The Pope’s Rhinoceros

Non-fiction titles seem to need a title plus an explanatory strap line:

  • True North: the story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack
  • The Floating Brothel: The extraordinary story of the Lady Julian and its cargo of female convicts bound for Botany Bay
  • Far From a Still Life: Margaret Olley
  • Georgiana: a biography of Georgiana McCrae, painter, diarist, pioneer

Unless, of course, the subject matter is self-evident:

  • Kokoda
  • The Joy of Sex
  • How to be a Woman

In that vein, I’d quite like to call my book Elizabeth Macarthur, and simply leave it at that.  But people who know more about these things have suggested that I need to do better.  So I compiled the following list (and I might have had some fun with it along the way)

  • Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world.
  • A Woman Alone: the real story of Elizabeth Macarthur.  Which implies there might be a fake story somewhere, so best hurry out to buy this one if you want the real deal…
  • Elizabeth Macarthur: the real life Jane Austen heroine who married unwisely, sailed to Botany Bay and made her family’s fortune. See how I’m cunningly cashing in on the Jane Austen fans with this one?  Subtle, I know.
  • Merino Queen: how Elizabeth Macarthur overcame her husband’s wilder gaffes and made a fortune in the wilderness.  I did toy with the idea of Sheep and Shitfights but Merino Queen is way classier.  Am I right?
  • Elizabeth Macarthur: More than a farmer’s wife.  But not too much more.

Think you can do better? Any and all suggestions gratefully received!

And, if you’re up for a laugh, try this list of the 15 most ridiculous titles ever from the Huffington Post.  They’re not wrong!

Marsden Online Archive

Samuel Marsden.  Picture source: WIkimedia Commons

Samuel Marsden. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons

It still amazes me that I can sit on my couch of an evening (fire crackling, tv blaring, #1 son immersed in the XBox) and yet the miracle that is the Internet means I can read a journal from 1814 in the original.

Shall we pause for moment to consider how brilliant that is?

The particular journal I found belonged to one Rev Samuel Marsden.  In Australia he was more or less reviled as the flogging parson but apparently he was (and, historically speaking, is) pretty big in New Zealand.  As a result, the University of Otago Library has established the Marsden Online Archive.  And what a treasure it is.

Reverend Samuel Marsden (1765-1838), Chaplain to New South Wales, was the driving force behind the establishment of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand in the early nineteenth century. His relationships of trust with Māori chiefs paved the way for the introduction of Christianity in New Zealand. The missionary settlers brought agriculture and European technology to New Zealand. They also began documenting Te Reo Māori and created the first books in Māori. Their work paved the way for the acceptance of an official Crown presence in New Zealand.

Marsden’s letters and journals, as well as the papers of other early NZ missionaries, are held in the Hocken Collections at the University of Otago Library. 599 of these letters and journals have been made available on the Marsden Online Archive to date.

The item that was of particular interest to me was in fact simply a passing reference within the lengthy and detailed journals.  Marsden was in New Zealand, wanting to establish a mission and wondering how to gain the trust of the relevant Maori Chief.  He watched a war canoe leaping across the water and, as it came closer, was astounded to recognise one of the passengers.

One of the principal Chiefs was in the war Canoe with a number of his attendants, and a young Otaheitian known to Europeans by the name of Jem, whom I had known some years before, as he had resided a considerable time with Mr. McArthur at Parramatta: this Otaheitian had married the Chief’s daughter, and his wife was in the Canoe.— He was much surprised to see me, and I was no less so to meet him there, so very unexpectedly.   He had been in the habit of calling at my house, when at Parramatta, and was well acquainted with my Situation in New South Wales, and he could speak English exceedingly well.

Suddenly Marsden had a conduit straight to the Chief’s ear.

I’m not very surprised that the Macarthurs would have a Tahitian boy living with them.  John and Elizabeth Macarthur were in fact quite open-minded in their hospitality.

  • An aboriginal boy lived with them for a time who, even as an adult, remained devoted to John.
  • A Maori Chief, Te Pahi, visited with the Macarthurs to learn about wool.
  • There is a rumour that the very first Chinese man to live in New South Wales was engaged as a gardener by the Macarthurs.
  • A royalist French Catholic, a refugee from revolutionary France, was tutor to the Macarthurs’ youngest sons.
  • The 1828 census lists 13 servants at Elizabeth Farm: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, 2 grooms, a cook, 4 labourers, 2 maidservants and a footman. All but 2 were convicts with conditional pardons or tickets-of-leave.   According the Historic Houses Trust of NSW in the early 1820s there was an Irish stonemason, a Chinese carpenter,a Chinese cook and another Chinese servant. The footman was a ‘mussalman’ (a Mohammedan, or Muslim).

All this without leaving the house.  Fantastic.



Reverend Samuel Marsden, Journal: Reverend Samuel Marsden’s First Visit to New Zealand in December 1814, Marsden Online Archive, last modified October 3, 2014, http://www.marsdenarchive.otago.ac.nz/MS_0176_001.

Braodbent, James.  Elizabeth Farm: a history and a guide.  Historical Houses Trust of NSW.