Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World

Michelle Scott Tucker published Elizabeth Macarthur: Life at the Edge of the World in April 2018. Soon after, I borrowed it from a family member and had a read of it myself. Here are a few of my reflections on the book….

  • I really enjoyed reading this biography. It has an engaging conversational style so I devoured it quite quickly!
  • If you’d like to improve your knowledge of the Macarthurs and Australian colonial history then this book is for you. I loved learning about Elizabeth’s experiences as the first ‘lady’ of colonial NSW, about her family, and John’s interactions with the governors.
  • Scott Tucker uses the Macarthur family letter collection extensively in her book and it’s rather nice when she includes short snippets. Reading what Elizabeth herself wrote connects you more closely with her.
  • I mentioned before that the book has a very conversational style. Yes, that makes this book very easy to read, but this style lends itself to a certain amount of sensationalism! For example; “Once again, John’s actions resulted in nothing but heartache and hard work for Elizabeth” (chapter 14, p. 193), “Elizabeth was a real-life Elizabeth Bennet who married a Whickham instead of a Darcy…” (chapter 22, p. 330), and “It was one more coal to add to her smouldering resentment of John…” (chapter 17, p. 237). And yet, the family letters show that John and Elizabeth had a very fond and devoted relationship from start to finish.
  • Scott Tucker is very pro-Elizabeth. I am absolutely fascinated by what Elizabeth achieved, alone, in a new colony and in a time where men had many more rights than did a woman. However, I think Scott Tucker’s enthusiasm for Elizabeth throws John into a darker light than he deserves. I believe that, working as a team, John and Elizabeth, and later their family, succeeded in their ventures together.

Summary

I loved this book. It contains a great overview of Elizabeth’s life and experiences and also touches on many events that effected the early colony of NSW. It’s a great read, just be sure to watch out for comments that seem to stray from the historical evidence we have available.

If you’d like to find out more about Elizabeth and John Macarthur and their family, many family letters can be found online at Project Gutenberg Australia. Also, you can visit Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta; the house John had built for her and their family in 1793, and the place where she lived for the majority of her life. Or, read other reviews of this book at Dictionary of Sydney or by blogger Lisa Hill.

Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth Macarthur: Life at the Edge of the World, (2018), Text Publishing Melbourne Australia.

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