Elizabeth Macarthur, although young and newly married, arrived in New South Wales well tempered for her life in the convict colony, practical, and equal to the stresses and the turmoil which that embroiled society and her husband's difficult character generated. Throughout her long life she maintained, in her social relationships and within her family an even tenor and appears never to have forgotten, as the first lady in the colony, her simple, quiet, moral upbringing in the household of a minor country parson, the Reverend John Kingdon.
Elizabeth's marriage to John Macarthur, an ambitious officer on half-pay appears to have been considered disastrous by her friends and family. The marriage, however, developed into a strong and remarkable relationship, surviving long periods of separation, clouded only in later years by Macarthur's insanity, a relationship with particular consequences for the early history of New South Wales.
John Macarthur's experiences on the voyage do not appear to have tempered his rash character. Rather, particularly after his illness, he seems to have become more mettlesome and more quarrelsome.
Although only an ensign from a minor, disbanded Corps of Foot, Macarthur was considered 'too proud and haughty' for the 'humble fortune or expectations' of the parsonage at Brigerule. As one of fourteen children of a Plymouth mercer and draper he had few prospects, no fortune, and only his own sense of superiority to support him while endeavoring, in the five years after the American War of Independence, to obtain another military post.
Spending the years between the ages of sixteen and twenty one in seclusion in rural Devon, he possibly felt cheated of the opportunities which may have presented themselves to him had the American war continued. By his nature he must have been frustrated by his inability to influence events to his own advantage. Throughout the rest of his life, for good or ill, he determined to make his own destiny irrespective of accepted convention or hierarchy. In this, his wife, from loyalty or from love, rather than for her own ambitions, was his constant and invaluable supporter. It was possibly during this period of enforced, premature retirement that Macarthur, still in his youth, and with an enquiring mind, formed those cultural and intellectual interests and aspirations which distinguished him from most of his colonial contemporaries. These pursuits, particularly of literature and architecture, may have been available to young gentlemen of independent fortune, but were unlikely interests of subordinate officers engaged in active service.
A few months before his marriage he secured his full pay again by joining the 68th Regiment, stationed at Gibralter, still an ensign at twenty one as he had been at fifteen.
Rashness and frustration perhaps, ambition certainly, possibly despair of other opportunities, led Macarthur, soon after the birth of his son, to enhance his rank and opportunity by transferring as a lieutenant to the New South Wales Corps, then being enlisted for duty at Botany Bay.
Before he arrived in the colony even before the Neptune had left England, Macarthur had established a reputation in his regiment for discontent and quarrelling, fighting a duel with the first master of the ship on their arrival in Plymouth. Within a month of setting sail he had another disagreement with the captain's successor and transferred to better conditions on the Scarborough. Although Elizabeth took her place among the few respectable women at Sydney Cove, within the restricted society of the convict settlement John Macarthur's haughty disposition and petty quarrelling soon led to a reprimand from Governor Phillip. Macarthur withdrew from the society of Government House. This was the first, and least, of Macarthur's disagreements with the governors of the colony.
With the arrival of Major Francis Grose as Commanding Officer of the New South Wales Corps in February 1792 and the departure of Governor Phillip in December of the same year, Macarthur's fortunes revived. Under Grose's benevolent patronage Macarthur was appointed regimental paymaster, stationed at Parramatta, with his salary greatly increased, and in 1793 Grose, now acting-governor, appointed him inspector of public works. Combined, these appointments gave Macarthur extensive control of the colony's resources of labour and materials.
In February 1793 Macarthur received from Grose the grant of one hundred acres of 'some of the best ground that has been discovered' beside the river near the town of Parrramatta and John and Elizabeth Macarthur began farming. With ample access to convict labour, Macarthur cleared and cultivated fifty acres of virgin land, thus earning a further hundred acres grant, and, with unrestricted access to convict craftsmen, built his house. The Macarthurs, now with three young children, removed to their new house on the estate they named Elizabeth Farm in November 1793.
Macarthur's fortunes increased but the favourable patronage and acquiescence of Grose did not continue under the administration of Governor Hunter, who sought to limit the powers, interests, privileges and financial dealings of the officers of the New South Wales Corps. Hunter accepted, 'without regret', Macarthur's resignation as Inspector of Public Works in February 1796. To Hunter, Macarthur was an upstart officer with a 'restless ambition and litigious disposition'; to Macarthur, Hunter was an incompetent administrator and a threat to his and his fellow officers' commercial and agricultural monopolies and Macarthur successfully campaigned to have Hunter replaced as governor.
Macarthur's motives were clearly those of self-interest. Following Governor King's assumption of office in September 1800 he announced his intention to return to England and offered all his stock and landholdings for sale to the out. The Colonial Secretary, the Duke of Portland, expressed concern that an officer on duty should have been able to engage in farming to such an extent: in seven years Macarthur had acquired colonial estates which he valued at £4000, a considerable sum by contemporary colonial standards.
Elizabeth Farm now extended to nearly three hundred acres, and his total landholdings were nearly 1300 acres. The sale did not proceed and Macarthur remained in the colony, determined to topple King from his position as he had toppled Hunter.
He failed to manipulate the Lieutenant Governor, Colonel Paterson, who challenged him to a duel. Paterson was wounded and, on King's orders, Macarthur was arrested. In November 1801 Macarthur sailed from the colony for court martial in England. With him he took his second and third children, Elizabeth, aged nine, and John, aged seven. His eldest child, Edward, had already returned to England to school at the age of seven, in 1797. Elizabeth Macarthur remained in the colony with her youngest children, Mary, James and William, to manage Macarthur's affairs.
The consequences of Macarthur's return to London went far beyond his censure by the authorities, who found it impossible to court martial him in England and ordered his return to the colony. Macarthur saw the advantage of promoting the colonial wool industry and he pursued it. To his and the colony's benefit he set about arousing English interest in New South Wales wool at a time when there was a crisis of supply in the British wool market. He prepared, in 1803, a Statement of the Improvement and Progress of the Breed of Fine Woolled Sheep in New South Wales for the Government and, in a remarkable exercise in self-promotion, established himself as the colony's representative of the industry and the most worthy recipient of preferential support for its development. Leaving the colony under arrest, Macarthur returned four years later, having received permission from Lord Camden the Secretary of State for War & Colonies to resign from the army, with official encouragement to develop the colony's wool industry with a recommended grant for five thousand acres of the best pasture land in the colony, the promise of a further five thousand acres and with Spanish sheep purchased for export, by special permission, from the Royal flocks. Not without cause were the five thousand acres selected at the Cowpastures, rich pastoral land to the southwest of Sydney, named Camden in honour of the Secretary of State.
Governor King had no choice but to accept Macarthur's coup in monopolising the wool industry and left it to Bligh, his successor, to deal with 'the Perturbator's' further demands.
Bligh was not the man to submit to Macarthur's personality or influence, and Macarthur was not to be rebuffed. However it was not Macarthur's pastoral ambitions but his mercantile interests and those of the officers of the New South Wales Corps which brought about the ultimate clash between the two, the Rum Rebellion, in January 1808, which resulted in Bligh's deposition and Macarthur's virtual control of the colony for six months. Once again, as a result of Bligh's illegal arrest, Macarthur left the colony. He sailed to England in March 1809 in order to support Major George Johnston at his court martial for his role in the rebellion. No longer an officer in the corps, Macarthur could not be court martialled. Once again he offered his lands and stock for sale, without result, and once again he left his wife in charge of his vastly expanded pastoral and trading affairs taking two of his children with him to England for their schooling.
In England Macarthur expanded his mercantile speculations. These did not achieve the success of his colonial dealings and by 1812 he was considerably in debt. The Johnston court martial was over, with Johnston having been cashiered, and the new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, received instructions from Camden's successor, Lord Castlereagh, that 'as Gov'r Bligh has represented that Mr McArthur has been the leading Promoter and Instigator of the mutinous Measures... you will, if Examinations be sworn against him... have him arrested thereupon and brought to Trial before the Criminal Court of the Settlement.' Macarthur, believing that he was being persecuted 'as a solitary victim from an almost entire population', had little option but to remain in England.
An exile from the colony, campaigning to have Castlereagh's orders revoked, Macarthur continued to promote the sale of colonial wool and assert his own pre-eminence in the industry; he toured on the continent in 1815-16 to investigate agriculture and the wine industry and he returned to speculations in trade.
Elizabeth Macarthur, assisted by her husband's nephew, Hannibal Macarthur, continued to manage Elizabeth Farm, Camden and his other holdings. She bore the criticisms in his letters of her management of the estates as composedly, it appears, as she received the tendernesses which interposed them. Through her husband's letters, alternately optimistic and depressed, she witnessed not only the progress of his political lobbying for his return to the colony but also, beneath all, the barely disguised signs of his incipient madness.
At last, in 1817, after eight and a half years abroad, Macarthur received permission to return to New South Wales on condition that he should not associate in public affairs. With his sons, William and James, he reached Sydney in September 1817.
For Macarthur, retirement at Parramatta or at Camden was impossible. Very soon, having refused to grant him more land in exchange for a monopolistic supply of pure bred sheep, Governor Macquarie, like his predecessors, became the victim of Macarthur's vindictiveness.
He cultivated the friendship of the Commissioner of Enquiry, John Thomas Bigge, who had been sent to the colony to investigate Macquarie's administration. Through him Macarthur looked forward to Macquarie's destruction and the realisation of his dream of a colonial aristocracy founded on pastoral wealth. In Bigge, Macarthur found a sympathetic, influential supporter with similar opinions on the colony's future.
The early 1820s were years of success and optimism for Macarthur. Macquarie's resignation was followed by unprecedented prices for Macarthur wool in London. The Society of Arts awarded him three gold medals, two in 1822 and one in 1824, for the quality and quantity of his exported wool and Macarthur successfully pressed his claim to the further grant of five thousand acres promised in 1804. With the fortune of his family established, he sought the accompaniments of wealth. He began the house building and house planning which were to continue for the rest of his life.
The remodelling of Elizabeth Farm and his house in Sydney, the building of Hambledon to supplement the accommodation at Parramatta and the replacing of the old hut with a new cottage at Camden were followed by scheme after scheme, unrealised, for the building of 'Family Mansions' at Sydney and at Camden. In 1826 he began the final, ambitious, almost total remodelling of Elizabeth Farm, which was left, still unfinished, at his death. Periods of optimistic planning and frenzied building were followed by periods of depression when plans and schemes were abandoned. Elizabeth Macarthur was ordered from the house and instructed not to return until renovations were completed.
At Parramatta he became concerned for the affairs of the Australian Agricultural Company which he had been instrumental in establishing, against much colonial opposition. Dismayed and threatened by the company's success, and intent on safeguarding his own interests at its expense, Macarthur asserted control of the company in New South Wales. He abandoned the unfinished works at Elizabeth Farm in 1828, and proceeded to the company's headquarters, at Port Stephens, to administer its affairs. Macarthur returned from Port Stephens after several months, again in a state of deep depression. In the following year he was appointed to the Legislative Council but his sanity was precarious.
In September 1831 he received news of the death in London of his son, John, and his condition worsened. By the middle of 1832 it was necessary to confine him to his old bedroom which, remodelled, he now called his library. In September of that year he was pronounced a lunatic. Early in the next year he was removed to Camden. Here, in his more lucid moments, during the last year of his life, he was pleased to see building Camden Park, the mansion of which he had dreamt, which he had planned and replanned to how many different designs. He showed no interest at all in the Camden flocks. 'King John' soldier, entrepreneur and pastoralist, died at Camden on the 10th April 1834 and was buried there.
The wool industry in New South Wales would have developed without Macarthur's endeavours, but without his keen and self-interested promotion of it, it would have developed less quickly and less surely. However the rich pastoralists, riding the wave of success in the early 1830s, judged Macarthur less flatteringly than popular history has done. No memorials were drawn up and his death was scarcely noted in the Sydney papers. His only obituary was in the Sydney Gazette, 15 April 1834.
At the time of his declared lunacy Macarthur possessed 24,380 acres of land, held mortgages on a further 13,000 acres, possessed stock valued at £30000, and household plate, furniture and books valued at £1750.
Elizabeth Farm was inherited by Edward Macarthur, but Elizabeth Macarthur had use of the estate for her lifetime. She maintained Elizabeth Farm, as her home until her death, changing little that her husband had created. Mrs Macarthur had never been the creative partner, and now she was also old. There she lived, quietly a respected matriarch rather than a grieving widow. She maintained her keen interest in reading, gossip, her garden and her family, and a passive interest in colonial politics and her family's estates. With her lived her daughters, Elizabeth, who died unmarried in 1842, and Emmeline, her youngest child, who, in 1843, against her mother's wishes, married Henry Parker, private secretary to the governor, Sir George Gipps. The Parkers lived at Elizabeth Farm after their marriage, spending their summers at Clovelly, a house built by Hannibal Macarthur at Watson's Bay, now demolished. It was while staying with them at Clovelly that Elizabeth Macarthur died, on the 9th February 1850, at the age of eighty three.
Life at Elizabeth Farm
Elizabeth Farm was never an estate isolated in the wilds of the colony. Although it was largely self-sufficient, and although it was established when the whole, tiny colony was a pioneering settlement, Elizabeth Farm was never more than a half-day's journey by water from Sydney and a few minutes walk or ride from the second town in the colony, Parramatta. John Macarthur chose its situation so that he could be near his regiment stationed there. Elizabeth Farm developed as the colony developed, increasing in prosperity, ambition and sophistication, untrammeled by the rough roads or by the difficulties of supply of labour or materials which affected more distant establishments.
At first there were hardships, and shortages generally but the Macarthurs occupied a privileged position in the nascent settlement, and, through their determined efforts, an enviable position.
Within a year of building at Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur wrote:
I thank God we enjoy all the comfort we could desire, but to give you a clearer idea of our present situation I shall make free to transcribe a Paragraph out of a Letter of Mr. Macarthur's addressed to his Brother, which is now before me.
The changes that we have undergone since the departure of Governor Phillip are so great and extraordinary that to recite them all might create some suspicion of their Truth. From a state of desponding Poverty; and threatening Famine, that this Settlement should be raised to its present aspect, in so short a Time is scarcely credible. As to myself - I have a Farm containing nearly 250 Acres, of which upwards of 100 are under cultivation, & the greater part of the remainder is cleared of the Timber which grows upon it. Of this years produce I have sold £400 worth, I have now remaining in my Granaries upwards of 1800 Bushels of Corn. I have at this Moment 20 Acres of very fine wheat growing, & 80 Acres prepared for Indian Corn and Potatoes, with which it will be planted in less than a Month.
My stock consists of a Horse, two Mares, Two Cows, 130 Goats, & upwards of 100 Hogs. Poultry of all kinds I have in the greatest abundance.
I have received no stock from Government, but one Cow, the rest I have either purchased or bred. With the assistance of One Man & Half a dozen greyhounds, which I keep, my Table is constantly supplied with Wild Ducks or Kangaroos averaging one week with another, these Dogs do not kill less than three hundred pounds weight ... The House is surrounded by a Vineyard and Garden of about three acres. The former full of vine & Fruit Trees, and the latter abounding with most excellent vegetables.
and again, anxious to apprise her friends and family in England of her and her husband's successful progress in the colony she wrote:
This Country possesses numerous advantages to Persons holding appointments under Government; It seems the only part of the Globe where quiet is to be expected. We enjoy here one of the finest Climates in the world. The necessaries of life are abundant, and a fruitful soil affords us many luxuries. Nothing induces me to wish for a change but the difficulty of educating our Children, and were it otherwise it would be unjust towards them to confine them to so narrow a Society ... Our Farm, which contains from four to five hundred Acres, is bounded on three sides by water. This is particularly convenient. We have at this time, about one hundred and twenty Acres in Wheat, all in a promising state. Our Gardens, with Fruit and Vegetables are extensive and produce abundantly It is now Spring & the Eye is delighted with a most beautiful variegated Landscape. Almonds, Apricots, Pear and Apple Trees are in full bloom. The native shrubs are also in flower & the whole Country gives a grateful perfume. There is a very good Carriage road new made from hence to Sydney, which by land is distant about fourteen miles; and another from this to the river Hawkesbury, which is about twenty miles from hence in a direct line across the Country. Parramatta is a central position between both.
... Mr. Macarthur has frequently in his employment thirty or forty people whom we pay weekly for their labour Eight are employed as Stock-Keepers, in the Garden, Stables and House & five more, besides women servants; these we both feed & clothe, or at least we furnish them with the means of providing clothes for themselves.
Edward's leaving the colony for school in England, at the age of eight, was the first of the family disruptions which continued throughout Mrs Macarthur's married life. Through the absences of her children and her husband she remained at Elizabeth Farm, accepting them, it appears, with an extraordinary equanimity. Edward Macarthur returned to the colony for only two brief visits during his mother's lifetime; her son, John whom she farewelled as a child of seven, she never saw again and for twelve years of the forty-six years of her married life she was separated from her husband.
She had, in all, nine children, seven of whom survived infancy, but never was this family gathered together at one time. Despite their constant correspondence, the elder brothers grew up physical strangers to their mother and to their younger sisters who remained in the colony schooled by their governess, Miss Lucas.For long periods, during John Macarthur's exile in England, and after his death, Elizabeth Farm was a household of women, managing the estate or the domestic arrangements and conducting their lives with an unforced gentility. For Elizabeth Macarthur, but especially for her daughters Mary, Elizabeth and Emmeline, life was not of hardship, but neither was it of leisured idleness. Their household duties were not arduous, and Emmeline could lament to her brother over 'the stupid monotonous life we lead', but supervising the gardens and plain sewing were not disdained among the more polite female pastimes of a family of affluence - visiting, fancy needlework, the piano, the taking of tea and the reading of novels.
Elizabeth Macarthur learnt to play the piano in her first years in the colony, on the little instrument that the surgeon, George Worgan, had brought with him on the First Fleet and gave to her on his return to England.
This appears to have been replaced in 1810 by a finer instrument, most probably an upright grand piano, purchased at auction in Sydney from the estate of Thomas Laycock for the substantial sum of £85, and in 1836 Edward purchased in London, from Broadwood's, a piano for Emmeline for £126.17.0. At her request he also obtained German coloured wools, canvas and patterns for Berlin woolwork which, in the late 1830s, was coming into vogue. The house was well supplied with books, periodicals and albums from England: edifying and political works, sermons and the Edinburgh Review. There were Sir Walter Scott's novels, but also for their amusement John and Edward sent out romans-a-clef and works by fashionable 'silver fork' novelists: Robert Plumer Ward's Tremaine and Lytton Bulwer's England and the English
Except in the most heated periods of Macarthur's political intrigue, Mrs Macarthur seems to have maintained polite, if not always easy, social relationships with the colony's administrators. She appears to have been accepted in spite of her husband's actions and attitudes. Thus she was on cordial terms with the wives of the early governors, but it was not until after her husband's death that extended periods of familiarity between the vice-regal families at Parramatta and the occupants of Elizabeth Farm developed. Emmeline married Henry Parker, cousin to Lady Gipps; and Lady Mary FitzRoy became a frequent visitor. In 1840 Mrs. Macarthur had written that it was 'now quite the fashion to admire [the old house] as an antiquity' and here, in old age, she received the respects of the colony's establishment.
The household was at its grandest during the last years of John Macarthur's life. After the founding of his fortune in the first two decades of the colony, after its consolidation during the Macquarie's governorship, in the 1820s Macarthur determined to display his success and wealth in a material way: in his houses, in his plate and furniture,. in his equipages and menial household. Unlike many of the high-flying 'Pure Merinos' who came after him in the 1830s, who rode the wave of pastoral prosperity which he largely helped create, Macarthur, although grand, was never vulgar. When other families' newly acquired wealth resulted in flashy opulence, the Macarthurs were, in the colony, 'of the best polish'.
The 1828 census listed thirteen servants at Elizabeth Farm: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, two grooms, a cook, four labourers, two maidservants and a footman. All but two of these are listed as convicts, as having conditional pardons or tickets-of-leave. Many of the Macarthurs' servants lived in their own cottages on the estate and farm workers travelled frequently between Camden and Parramatta during harvesting and shearing.
In the still-unfinished cottage the liveried servants, in gold-buttoned blue serge, must have been an odd sight, but more striking still perhaps to our conception of a colony comprised of willing or unwilling British emigrants, was the cosmopolitan composition of the Elizabeth Farm servants during these years. In the early 1820s there was an Irish stonemason and a Chinese carpenter; there was a Chinese cook and another servant. The free gardener was Scottish, helped in the early 1830s by transported 'Greek Pirates' and the coloured footman was a 'Mussalman' (Mohammedan).
In its furnishings, at least from the early years of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Farm appears to have been comfortably and elegantly fitted out, with fine china and glass and silver, bought by Macarthur in England and Europe, and presumably Mrs Macarthur used here some of the printed 'plate furniture' or chintzes - not costly, but in the economically produced 'drab style' of the early nineteenth century - which Macarthur purchased for resale in the colony: in green and blue, in black and yellow, or in yellow and scarlet. And she possibly chose from the Marcella quilts, the muslins, the camlets, the dimitys, the hollands and the fringes, all imported for resale. The simple, graceful colonial tables and desk, still owned by descendants, were probably made for the house after it had been transformed into a cottage orne in the early 1820s, while with Macarthur's more ambitious remodelling of the house in 1826 came more luxurious appointments: marble chimney pieces and polished grates, ornamental lamps and Indian carpets. Elizabeth Farm, however, never became opulent in its furnishing -possibly owing to Macarthur's taste, possibly to his wife's good sense, possibly owing to the intervention of his madness and death.
In the 1830s, again a household of women, Elizabeth Farm changed little. After the 'sad experience' and 'bustle and confusion'' of Macarthur's last years. Mrs Macarthur, with her daughters Elizabeth and Emmeline, lived an active, but circumspect life in the now finished house.
Although still the centre of a large, but generally unproductive estate, Elizabeth Farm was managed now by her sons, and for Mrs Macarthur and her daughters living there life was little different, it appears, than it would have been if they were living in a surburban villa - despite its advantages of a three mile drive through their own woods and fields and the extent of its gardens.
In 1842 her eldest, unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, died and the great depression of the early forties, which ruined her son-in-law, James Bowman, and bankrupted her nephew, Hannibal Macarthur, brought financial restrictions on the household.
Against her mother's wishes Emmeline, 'the youngest & most cherished & indulged' daughter, married and in time Mrs Macarthur accepted and became fond of her son-in-law. Apart from the paying of visits and family celebrations - fireworks on the lawn and the entertainment of grandchildren - life ended quietly for Elizabeth Macarthur. She was troubled by little other than the petty quarrelling of her married children, attending church each Sunday when the weather was fine, joining her daughter and son-in-law, the servants, workman and cottagers on the estate (many of whom were by now second or even third generation servants) for prayers in the dining room of a Sunday evening, and still taking a keen but passive interest in the shearing of the family's flocks.
She enjoyed her last summers at Watsons Bay with Emmeline and Henry Parker, and she visited her sons and daughter-in-law at Camden, but it was to Elizabeth Farm she looked forward to returning. Despite the entreaties of James and his wife, and of William, she preferred to keep her own house: 'that home endeared to me by its having been my abode for so many years and under a variety of circumstances - some indeed of a very painful nature - and others of serene happiness.'Elizabeth Farm was never a centre of social life in the colony. At least in his personal relationships Macarthur maintained his hauteur; he formed his library 'for the reception of State Visitors' - but they never came nor did he entertain lavishly and indiscriminately, like his contemporaries Captain Piper, at Henrietta Villa, and Sir John Jamison, at Regenwille. Helenus Scott observed in 1824: '. . . the Macarthurs are the best educated and keep themselves more clear of the mob than any family in the colony'.
After Elizabeth Macarthur's death in 1850 her daughter and son-in-law, Emmeline and Henry Parker, continued to live at Elizabeth Farm for four years. Edward Macarthur, who had inherited the estate on his father's death, lived in England. In the early 1850s he appointed as his agent Henry' Curzon AlIport. William AIlport succeeded his father as agent in 1854 and the AIlport family then lived in the house until 1863, when William Allport was dismissed and Edward Macarthur's nephew, James Macarthur Bowman, became his agent.
In 1865, Edward Macarthur decided to lease the estate and the house which had deteriorated. He gave his brothers and sisters the opportunity of purchasing items of furniture from the house and decided that the remaining contents should be disposed of at auction. Before the leasing the estate in 1866 essential repairs were made to the house. These included repainting and, sadly, the replacement of all of the verandah columns and treillage by common cast iron posts.
The first lessee of Elizabeth Farm was Thomas Icely M.L.C.. An old colonist and respected landholder and grazier, Icely lived at Elizabeth Farm with his family until his death in 1874.
The next lessee of the estate was the some-time Crown Solicitor of N.S.W. William Billyard, who remained there from 1875 until 1883.
In 1872 Edward Macarthur died, leaving Elizabeth Farm to his niece, Elizabeth Macarthur, the daughter of his brother James, but allowing his wife, Sarah, a lifetime interest in it. Leasing the estate had not improved its condition and it was, by the late 1870s, seriously dilapidated. Fences were broken, pastures ruined or returning to scrub and the roads unkept. The house, too, was in need of repair: the wooden shingled roof was no longer weathertight and termite damage was severe. Shining galvanized iron was placed over the old shingles thus, inadvertantly preserving them for posterity. Possibly at this time the very ordinary Victorian front door replaced John Macarthur's distinctive French doors, turning the light, airy lobby back into a formal hall.
With these repairs undertaken the Macarthur family offered the whole property; then standing at one thousand one hundred acres, for sale. After eighty eight years of Macarthur ownership Elizabeth Farm was sold in 1881 for £50000 to Septimus Alfred Stephen, who subdivided the land and put the house block up for auction in 1883.
No longer the centre of an agricultural estate, or even a self-supporting farm, unfashionable in appearance and unregarded, Elizabeth Farm, despite its recent renovation, continued to deteriorate. J. W Cliff became the new owner of Elizabeth Farm, purchasing it for £6000. In 1887 Cliff leased the house to C W Lloyd and in 1891 Mrs Currie and her daughter became tenants, running the house as a boarding house. In 1898 F. A. Artlett leased the house and set up a glue factory in the kitchen office.
By 1903 Cliff was in financial difficulties and Elizabeth Farm was mortgaged with the London Bank of Australia, which foreclosed, and sold td E.K. Bowden and A.L. McCredie. Decaying and neglected, the house was offered for sale again. In January 1904, William Swann purchased it, with six acres of land, for £600. Swann, who purchased Elizabeth Farm for the price of the land only, set about repairing the house. Shutters were re-set, or where beyond repair, removed; broken glass replaced, the house repainted and the garden refenced and tended. In December 1905 the Swann family moved in.
It is to William Swann and his wife, Elizabeth, and to his daughters, that the greatest credit must be given for saving and conserving Elizabeth Farm. Although the recent vigorous restoration has ensured the house's survival for years to come, it has been undertaken by governmental authorities, with public money and as the result of public opinion. William Swann and his family had the extraordinary foresight and remarkable magnanimity to preserve this house in the face of public opinion and governmental neglect of the country's heritage. The Swanns lived in, and cared for, Elizabeth Farm for longer than the Macarthur family.
Remarkable too is the sensitivity which the Swanns showed in their maintenance of the house. When the Misses Swann finally sold the house to the Elizabeth Farm Museum Trust in 1968 it was still very much the house that Elizabeth Macarthur knew, patched and mended, in precarious condition in parts perhaps, but original and intact. At a time when restoration meant, and often still means 'the most total destruction which a building can suffer,' Elizabeth Farm was fortunate in being held in trust for us by the Swanns.
Perhaps it is to be regretted that most evidence of the Swanns' occupation of the house has now been expunged, but their significance was not, like the Macarthurs; in what they built and what they contributed, but in how they preserved this house. The Swanns regarded themselves as custodians of a place they believed important, when few others did, and, as a result, their own contributions to the building were minimal. They cherished the house, lived in it, but changed little.
The Misses Swann became an institution in Parramatta, genteel and hospitable, and are fondly remembered by many local residents for their contributions to the cultural life of the community. It is unfortunate that Elizabeth Farm could not have continued to be lived in as the Swanns lived in it, for inevitably, under public ownership and with rigorous restoration, much of the soul of a house is lost. But sadly, with their old age, a new life had to begin for Elizabeth Farm. It could no longer continue to be maintained as a private house and they sold it to the trust set up for its preservation.
After restoration commenced, the State Planning Authority assumed control of the house and it later passed to the Heritage Council of New South Wales. The restoration was completed by the New South Wales Government Architect.
Elizabeth Farm is now maintained as a house museum by the Historic Houses Trust.
Deliberately, its interiors have been contrived as a theatre set: the furnishing is all pretence. But it is hoped that, out of this, visitors may gain more knowledge and more enjoyment of it: to feel what it was like to read or write, as Mrs Macarthur wrote, on a spring day in the drawing room closet, with French doors open into the verandah; to sit in winter in the dimly lit library-bedroom, as Macarthur must have done at the end of his life, brooding, or to feel the stifling heat of the kitchen range burning throughout a hot February day.
Thus the house has been preserved so that it may be appreciated as fully as possible by every one, not just by viewing passively and rebuked by ropes and showcases, with precious objects withheld beyond reach, but by giving everyone the opportunity if only in a brief and fragmentary was of experiencing or imagining what it may have been like to have occupied these still, once lived-in rooms.
A Guide to the House
Elizabeth Farm has been furnished very simply to give visitors more access to the rooms than is normally possible in house museums. This deliberately sparse furnishing is like that of a theatre set; it is not intended to be a full or literal recreation of John and Elizabeth Macarthur's furnishings (although it is based on very detailed research of the Macarthur family's archives and contemporary documentation). Rather, it is intended to suggest how the rooms were used during their occupancy of the house in the second quarter of the nineteenth century; to create a mood, to encourage the viewer's response and to stimulate the imagination.
This allows not only a closer inspection of the house and its details, but also enables the visitor to experience the house in a way that is not possible in house museums fully furnished with intrinsically valuable objects.
The most important objects in the house are modern replicas, accurate copies of furniture, portraits and objects belonging to John and Elizabeth Macarthur. These have been emphasised in the furnishing of the rooms. Other furnishings have been reduced, where possible, to their simplest forms or shapes, for example by using cloths on the tables and fining chairs and couches with loose covers. Where this has not been possible, for pieces of furniture such as chests of drawers or wardrobes, and research has failed to locate pieces with an Elizabeth Farm provenance, they have been omitted altogether. Only the patterns of fabrics and the variety of soft furnishings and flowers and plants - the generally transient components of furnishing schemes - have been retained, in the absence of other detail, in order to create an appropriate ambience for each room.
The furnishing of the rooms has been devised to complement, subtly, their architectural character and historical significance. The furnishings have no intrinsic historical value, but it is hoped that by means of these simple props the visitor may become more aware, may more fully appreciate, the importance of this house and its historical associations.
John Macarthur appears to have added a verandah to his cottage shortly after it was built, possibly in 1794. The verandah was altered, perhaps, in 1821, and it was reconstructed during the rebuilding of the house in 1826 with stout, wooden, baseless Doric columns and a coved ceiling, similar to the verandah ceilings at Hambledon, with delicate moulded plaster decoration along its edges. These mouldings have since been removed and the columns were taken down in the late 1860s and replaced by the present iron posts, cast in Sydney by the ironfounders, Bubb and Son.
The original windows appear to have been replaced in 1821 by French doors, protected by wide-bladed shutters. Macarthur also made the unusual and delightful alteration of changing the front door to French doors, but these were again replaced by the present panelled door and sidelights in about 1880. It is unfortunate that with the removal of the columns and the installation of the commonplace Victorian front door Macarthur's sophisticated, idiosyncratic but enjoyable architectural concept was lost.
Between 1826 and his death in 1834 John Macarthur substantially rebuilt Elizabeth Farm. The present hall, drawing and dining rooms were remodelled from the main three rooms of the original house, built in 1793. Of this house only the roof structure remains intact, for most of the walls were rebuilt. Even the floors were lowered by approximately one foot to make the rooms more spacious. Beneath the entrance hall floor is the cellar of the original house, disused and blocked off since this later remodelling. Except for the late nineteenth century front door, the architectural detailing in the entrance hall dates from the late 1820s or early 183Os. The cedar joinery is largely original but the plaster cornice is modern, adapted from the cornice in the library-bedroom. The room has been largely replastered and the ironbark flooring is modern. The wall colour approximates the wall colour of the early 1830s.
This room was probably the bedroom of the first cottage, but it appears to have been used as a dining room for many years before Macarthur extended it, by adding the alcove, in 1826. The marble chimney piece is not original. It was possibly installed in the late nineteenth century. Much of the cedar joinery is modern, replacing termite-damaged wood. Only a small section of the ceiling cornice on the entrance hall wall is original. The wall colour approximates the room's colour in the early 1830s.
Dining Room Closet
The small rooms at either end of the front verandah are not shown in the first sketch plan for remodelling the house, but they had been constructed by September 1826 when John Macarthur, in a letter to his son, Edward, refers to the 'pretty conservatory or plant room nine feet square' which he had built adjoining the drawing room.
In the 1854 inventory these rooms were described as the 'Dining Room Library' and the 'Drawing Room Library'. They were used, it seems, not only for plants but as small sitting rooms, or closets, for reading or writing.
As the shape of the western window shows, this room has had severe structural problems. Much of its joinery is modern. The blue distempered walls approximate the original paint finish.
Dining Room Lobby
This room also forms part of the 1826 remodelling of the house. It was probably used as a servery to the dining room. The window, with two-light sashes, is a late nineteenth or early twentieth century alteration.
Like the dining room this room originally extended only as far as the arch of the alcove. With its floor a foot higher, with sash windows instead of French doors, with a less elaborate chimney piece and architraves, a chair rail around the walls and probably no cornice at all, it was the simple parlour of Macarthur's first cottage. None of this eighteenth century detailing survived the remodelling of the house in the late 1820s.
Wearying of her husband's erratic building works, Mrs Macarthur, in 1832, wrote of the grey marble chimney piece ' … it is much too large for the apartment but being put up I am as well pleased it has been allowed to remain instead of being laid about from place to place.' It was originally fitted with a cast iron grate. The detailing of the room appears to date from this time, but it is puzzling that during restoration a later wallpaper was discovered beneath one of the French door architraves, suggesting that perhaps the fitting out of the room was not fully finished until years later. The cornice and floor are modern and the wall colour approximates the colour it was painted in the early 1830s.
Drawing Room Closet
Like the dining room closet, this room was formed in 1826. Its ceiling, which is original, is more decoratively detailed than its dining room counterpart. It is one of the most delightful rooms in any colonial house in New South Wales, with French doors leading into both the northern and eastern verandahs, and well suited to its use as a room for plants, for writing or for reading. Mrs Macarthur appears to have used it for writing in and it was probably she who introduced into it the books which were recorded in the inventory of 1854.
On the writing table are copies of letters written by her or to her, and around it are the kinds of flowers and plants she grew. Finely edged Indian muslin curtains hang on the French doors and casement window and on the floor are oil cloths, alternatively of a vermiculated pattern, typical of the 1830s, or of a tiled design.
A verandah existed on the eastern side of the house before the rebuilding of Elizabeth Farm in the late 1820s, but this was incorporated into the house during its remodelling and this new verandah built further out.
In contrast to the heavily columned front verandah, this verandah, with a curved canopy- like roof was supported on decorative panels of trellis-work connected by light arches of timber lathes. Originally its roof was of painted canvas over the ceiling lining.
In 1826, by adding the alcove where formerly there was a verandah, and by lowering the floor, Macarthur remodelled and enlarged his earlier bedroom (itself a late eighteenth or very early nineteenth century addition to the house) to form a 'handsome library', the third room of his impressive suite of reception rooms. These rooms were to be complimented by a new bedroom wing built onto the south-east corner of the house, extending into the flower garden. Owing to his increasing insanity and although foundations were prepared, this wing did not rise above ground level and the house has remained with very few bedrooms.
Macarthur slept in this room, and in the darkening days of his insanity; was confined here, cared for by his menservants. He called it his library-bedroom; it became his bedroom-prison, until, too ill to be kept here, and possibly to allow his wife and daughters to return to Elizabeth Farm to live, he was removed to Camden where, in April 1834, he died. Since then it has always been used as a bedroom.
This room bore silent witness to Macarthur's tragic decline into certifiable insantiy; it still shows eloquent evidence of his sophisticated taste. By association alone this room assumes an importance above any other in the house. It was here he broooded, that he grieved for his dead son, that he was tormented by unfounded and unjust delusions about his wife's fidelity, and it was in this room possibly that he planned his architectural schemes for wings of bedrooms never to be built, reviewing and directing designs by his amanuenses, by Cooper, by Verge. 'I know not how many artists consulted and partly employed' wrote Elizabeth Macarthur.
This room is also the most intact of Macarthur's planned reception rooms. The ceiling and cornice and the ironbark floor are largely original, as is the white marble chimneypiece, brought out to the colony by his son, James, in 1831, although its cast iron grate is probably a mid nineteenth century replacement of the original. The small lobby between this room and the drawing room occupies the residual space, left by the alcove and provided extra privacy for the library when both doors were closed.
The Pink Bedroom
Replacing an earlier skilling room used by Macarthur's sons, this room is also part of his post 1826 remodelling of the house. Its position, between the library and the intended wing of bedrooms, and its decorative coved ceiling, suggest that it may have been intended eventually as a vestibule rather than a bedroom, but a bedroom it has always been. These back rooms were repaired and redecorated for Elizabeth Macarthur in 1845 and were probably occupied at that time by her daughter and son-in-law, Emmeline and Henry Parker. In the tradesman's bill for this redecorating it is recorded that this room was painted with 'peach blossom' distemper, and it is this colour which has been used in its restoration.
Like the pink bedroom this room is also probably a rebuild of an earlier skilling bedroom. Although rebuilt as a dressing room, in 1854 it was described as the 'spare room library'. Like the pink bedroom it also has been restored to its 1845 colour scheme, using light blue distemper.
The Blue Bedroom
Between the back corridor, with its oil cloth runner, and the stone flagged back hall is a remarkably detailed little room, a sometime bedroom, which may have been used at the end of Mrs Macarthur's life as a servants' sitting room. Thus it was described in 1854 and contained '1 Cupboard; 1 Table - broken; 1 Couch'.
Like the second bedroom and dressing room this room was also formed after 1826, possibly replacing an earlier skilling room or verandah. It is possible Macarthur directed John Verge to detail this and the second bedroom, although they were planned before Verge came to the colony.
The Back Hall and the Pantry
Both of these rooms date from the remodelling of the house after 1826. The cedar hall cupboard and the fittings in the pantry appear to be original. James Macarthur writing to his brother John, in 1827 commented that 'the dining room and pantries are now nearly finished'.
In the 1854 inventory of furnishings at Elizabeth Farm the back hall contained a cupboard and a table. The back hall is now furnished with a reproduction cedar table, covered with oil cloth, and there is an oil cloth runner on the flagged floor.
Outside, above the back door is a set of five servants' bells, similar to the originals stolen several years ago. The bell, each of a different tone, connected with pulls at the front door and in the four principal rooms.
The kitchen at Elizabeth Farm, as in most early colonial houses, is detached from the main house. The reasons for this may be summarised as heat, flies and convict servants.
It was necessary to keep a fire going in the kitchen throughout the day In the heat and dryness of the colonial summer this could be dangerous as well as uncomfortable. In 1805 the first kitchen at Elizabeth Farm, possibly a wooden slab-built structure, took fire and was destroyed. The present kitchen was not built until after 1826 and appears to have been known as the 'new' kitchen.
The Oak Tree Courtyard
Some of the most attractive parts of Elizabeth Farm are the irregular verandah-bordered spaces between the house and the two blocks of service rooms. Unlike the main house and its interiors they are not the result of Macarthur's eccentric planning but have evolved as use dictated. In front of the two storeyed block, and to the west of the house, is a stone walled courtyard known as the oak tree courtyard.
It was originally open to the front drive but in the mid-nineteenth century, possibly at the suggestion of the architect J. F. Hilly, who prepared plans for enlarging the house by adding a second storey, the screen of cast iron pickets was erected between the impressive, rusticated stone piers. In the north west corner the absence of brick paving shows where a small room, known as the smoking room, once stood.
The brick paving, largely replaced during restoration, is of late 19th century origin although the stone sump at the centre of the court is perhaps earlier. As part of the restoration of the garden a sapling English oak tree has been planted to substitute for the one which shaded the area throughout the Macarthurs' ownership of the house.
Little remains of the garden that John and Elizabeth Macarthur planted. The estate, which they developed from an initial grant of one hundred acres, increasing to over eight hundred acres, was sold in 1881 and subsequently subdivided.
The house now stands on little more than one acre of land. The view from the front of the house, once over Clay Cliff Creek, across cultivated fields to the Parramatta River, with Hambledon, Macarthur's 'Cottage on the plain' to the left, his orchard and vegetable gardens to the right, is now lost, the creek canalised and reduced to a storm water drain, the fields and orchards built over, the river hidden by suburban development. Hambledon is distinguished only by the spiry forms of its araucarias. It is now difficult to visualise Elizabeth Farm as Conrad Martens painted it, proudly and comfortably sited on its hill, surveying a fine agricultural estate.
In front of the house the two hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii) which Conrad Martens painted still survive and the grey-leaved fruiting olives (Olea europea), possibly planted by Macarthur in 1805, are among the oldest surviving exotic trees in Australia. The kurrajongs (Brachychiton rupestre), bunya pines (Araucaria bidwillii) and perhaps the Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) are also vestiges of the Macarthurs' planting. The cypress near the corner of the oak tree court is shown as a young tree in 1865, when Elizabeth Macarthur sketched the house and garden.
The original garden at Elizabeth Farm was probably no more than a small square plot before the house. There was no carriage loop-for there were few carriages in the colony when this house was first built- but with the expansion and development of the estate, the house and the colony, the garden layout which survives today in fragmentary form evolved.
The main approach was from the north-east, past the orchard and vegetable garden, past the road to the stables on the left through the shrubbery, to the house with, before it, a large irregular oval carriage loop enclosing a rough-mown lawn dotted with shrubs and trees. In the centre of this lawn is planted, as there was in the l850s, a clump of pampas-grass.
By using pictorial and written documentation the surviving fragments of the mid-nineteenth century garden are being restored and replanted.
Following archaeological evidence the drive to the east of the house, which probably led to the stables and to the Parramatta Road, has been reformed and between this and the garden front of the house the shrubbery has been replanted.
After Alice Street was formed in circa 1908, cutting through the back yard and separating the stables and other outbuildings (now demolished) from the house, a new entrance drive was formed beside the eastern verandah, obscuring Macarthur's sophisticated architectural concept of the house having a garden front, with French doors glazed to the floor, leading into the verandah and into the garden. This drive has now been restored to a grass terrace, as it was when Conrad Martens sketched the shrubbery from the verandah, noting as he drew several of the plants growing there and recording the simple garden seat, now reconstructed. From evidence such as this the pink China roses, the bay tree, the lilies and the river gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis) have been replanted, but although Marten's sketch suggests a garden with intersecting walks, no details of its plan are known and its reconstruction is hypothetical. In deliberate contrast to the rough cut grass elsewhere, the grass here is closely mown.
The small plot of vegetables behind the house is only a token recognition of the large vegetable and fruit garden which once supplied the Elizabeth Farm estate.