Especially for Stage 2 students
Elizabeth’s husband John was a very important man in the early days of the colony. He is often called “The Father of the Wool Industry” but the role of Elizabeth is often forgotten.
Elizabeth was born on 14 October 1766 in England to a wealthy family. Elizabeth received a good education as in those times many children, especially girls, received little or no formal education. She married John Macarthur in 1788 and in 1789 John took his wife and baby son Edward, to New South Wales to give them a better life.
By 1794 the Macarthur’s had their own house at Parramatta called Elizabeth Farm. The home they built was one of the most luxurious in the colony. The land was cleared for farming. In 1796, Macarthur bought his first merino sheep from a flock of Spanish merinos raised in South Africa. At that time merinos were used for meat and wool but the quality of the wool was poor. Macarthur worked to develop a thick, fine fleece that would be suitable for spinning and weaving into a fibre that would be good for making clothes. He began to sell this overseas and this was the start of the Australian wool export industry.
As the first woman of education and society to reach the colony, Elizabeth held a special place in colonial life. She was well liked and people rarely said anything bad about her. However, her husband was not well liked and was often in trouble with the Governor.
At times John had to return to England to face charges about some of his behaviour in the colony. As a result, Elizabeth was left the responsibility of caring for the merino flocks, the Camden Park estate and managing the convict labourers. She worked very hard to keep the business going. She was busy raising the sheep, supervising the shearing, sorting, cleaning and baling the wool.
She died on 9 February 1850.