Australian pioneer John Macarthur once graced the $2 note in acknowledgement of his role in developing the early wool industry, but the role his wife Elizabeth played has sometimes been overlooked.
She married the English army officer in 1788 and they migrated to the new colony of NSW in 1790 on the second fleet; she was the first wife of an officer to make the voyage.
While John Macarthur took credit for establishing the Australian wool industry, it was practical Elizabeth who managed their holdings while dealing with the results of John’s manias: duels, quarrels, court cases, a military coup, long absences overseas, grandiose construction projects and, finally, his descent into certified insanity.
Writer Michelle Scott Tucker researched Elizabeth’s role in the fledgeling industry and uncovered a fascinating story which has been historically glossed over.
Elizabeth Macarthur endured privations and hardships, including the loss of an infant baby on the voyage to NSW, long periods of her husband’s absence from the farm, threats from an uprising in the colony, famine and a patriarchal society which gave a woman little authority.
The property established at Camden (formerly Cowpastures) still operates as a farm today.
Michelle Scott Tucker’s book Elizabeth Macarthur — a Life at the Edge of the World is from Text Publishing and is available now.
Michelle Scott Tucker