Elizabeth Macarthur and Her World

Author: Hazel King


Elizabeth Macarthur, with her husband John and their infant son, left England in the notorious Second Fleet and arrived in Sydney in 1790. When she first arrived, conditions were primitive, the food supply uncertain and little was known of the country beyond the tiny settlement, by 1850 when she died, settlement had spread over much of the colony of New South Wales and the staple export, wool, was well established. She, her husband and sons made significant contributions to the latter development. John Macarthur’s experiments in wool production were still in their early stages when he was sent to England in 1801 for court martial, having wounded his senior officer in a duel. Until his return in 1805, his wife ran Elizabeth Farm and his other properties, carried on his experiments in sheep breeding, and handled his business affairs. Again, between 1809 and 1817 when, after his involvement in the “Rum Rebellion“, her quarrelsome husband had to stay away from the colony, Elizabeth managed his greatly expanded land holdings, his enlarged flocks and herds, and his trading ventures. An opportunity to use her abilities had thus been thrust upon her which came to few women at that time. But it was not of her seeking, and when her husband returned she relinquished the management of his affairs without regret.

Because her love for her husband and children was the center of her life and thoughts, the book deals in part with their activities overseas and at home. It tells also of her long widowhood, and of the economic depression of the 1840s, which threatened to erode the family’s prosperity which she had striven to secure.

SOURCE: Inside cover of the book


Dr Hazel King, at the age of 40, after her aged parent died, decided to become part of the “world of learning”. From that time to the end of her productive life in 1997 she dedicated herself to the telling of history, the recording of history, the accuracy of history.

She lectured in Early Modern European History at Sydney University and found time to publish several of her projects, in particular the Biography of Richard Bourke and Elizabeth Macarthur. Along with a substantial contribution to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

She was President and Fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society and she edited their Journal for 26 years. She believed that whether an author of the Journal articles was a young university student, a keen local historian or an accepted authority, the articles in the Journal had to conform to the same standards of scholarship and presentation.

Her contribution to the genre of Australian Colonial History can be measured in her achievements both in her published work and her involvement in the academic community. Her efforts were rewarded when she was made a member of the Order of Australia and a Fellow of the Royal Australian Historical Society.

SOURCE – Adapted from:
“Alice Hazel Kelso King 1908-1997: An Obituary” June 1998
by Kenneth J Cable
from the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
ISSN 0035-8762