Elizabeth Macarthur: Letters Home

Often when we read the historiography of the founding of New South Wales the writer will concentrate on the statistics – dates, times, places and numbers. Whilst the study of this information is no doubt important, it overlooks the fact that each person who lived in the early colony was an individual – each had their own unique fears, dreams, hopes and aspirations. Unfortunately, most of the early colonialists did not have the means to record and publish their stories, but one lady had descendents who did.

LETTER FROM ELIZABETH MACARTHUR TO HER MOTHER, OCTOBER 8, 1789

In my last letter I informed you, my dear Mother, of my husband’s exchange into a corps destined for New South Wales, from which we have every reasonable expectation of reaping the most material advantages. You will be surprised that even I who appear timid and irresolute should be a warm advocate for this scheme. So it is, and believe me I shall be greatly disappointed if anything happens to impede it. I foresee how terrific and gloomy this will appear to you. To me at first it had the same appearance, while I suffered myself to be blinded by common and vulgar prejudices. I have not now, nor I trust shall ever have one scruple or regret, but what relates to you.

Do but consider that if we must be distant from each other, it is much the same, whether I am two hundred, or far more than as many thousand miles apart from you. The same Providence will watch over and protect us there as here. The sun that shines on you will also afford me the benefit of his cheery rays, and that too in a country where nature hath been so lavish of her bounties, that flowers luxuriantly abound, in the same manner as with culture fruits will do hereafter.

By the last accounts from Port Jackson—where the new settlement is established—we learn that wheat which has been sown, flourished in a manner nearly incredible, and that the settlers are making rapid progress in buildings, so that by the time our corps arrives everything will be made comfortable for their reception.

The new settlement is an immediate object with Government, and every effort will be made to promote its success.

Elizabeth Macarthur holds a truly unique place in the history of New South Wales. Whilst her husband John was promoting the wool industry and engaging in colonial politics, Elizabeth was the Manager of the Macarthur estate. She was a successful business woman and a lot of the credit for the formation of the Australian wool industry belongs to her. Douglas St.Quintin

LETTER FROM ELIZABETH MACARTHUR TO HER MOTHER, NOVEMBER 18, 1791

In June Mr. Macarthur and myself were removed to Rose Hill with Captain Nepean’s Company, at which place we remained until about a fortnight since. Mr. Macarthur was again ordered to Sydney with the command of a detachment of about 60 men.

Rose Hill, now named Parramatta, save only a small piece of rising ground on which the Governor has a house, which still retains the name of Rose Hill, is where every exertion is making to carry on cultivation, and where the principal part of the convicts are placed. But as Sydney has the advantage of the cove, and is nearer to the sea, it will have the convenience of first communicating with such vessels as may arrive, and it will be the most desirable place for an officer’s family for years. In other respects Parramatta may have advantages, particularly to such as wish to cultivate the land, but officers have so little encouragement in this respect, that few will in future attempt it, as evident impediments are thrown in the way to check their undertaking it.

The Governor has said that we shall not again be moved until Major Grose arrives. I hope that may soon take place, as until then we have no prospect of being settled. Captain and Mrs. Paterson were with us after their arrival here but a few days, as they were ordered to Norfolk Island.

Lieut.-Governor King, who commands that settlement, brought out his lady with him. She was born in Devonshire. Her name was Coombe, and she resided many years at Bideford. Pier stay here being very short I saw but little of her, and I had reason to believe her possessed of a great share of good nature and frankness; a pleasant consideration should it be my fortune hereafter to visit Norfolk Island. She expects shortly to be confined. Captain Parker, commander of the Gorgon, brought his wife with him, a very amiable, intelligent woman; we have spent many pleasant days together. One of the agents of Transports has also his wife with him, so that our little circle has been of late quite brilliant. We are constantly making little parties in boats up and down the various inlets of the Harbour, taking refreshments with us and dining out under an awning upon some pleasant point of land or in some of the creeks or coves, in which for twenty miles together, these waters abound. There are so many ladies in the Regiment that I am not likely to feel the want of female society as I at first did.