I took the opportunity, late last year, to visit Elizabeth Macarthur’s grave.
The Macarthur family graveyard is on a quiet hill, about a mile away from and opposite the family home at Camden Park House (about 70kms south west of the Sydney CBD). Elizabeth’s son William, passionate about botany, planted the site with exotic palms, which no doubt quickly grew tall enough to be seen from the house, but most of the site is now sheltered by native trees.
In all my years of researching, I never did find a picture of John or Elizabeth’s gravesites, or any information about them. So, for any researchers in future, here is what little I know.
Elizabeth’s husband John was the first to buried in the family plot, then her adult daughter Elizabeth, then Elizabeth herself. Now the site is a memorial to many generations of Macarthurs, included those who died and were buried elsewhere. The site itself was sold to the NSW Government in 1984, and is now (I believe) administered as part of the historic Belgenny Farm complex, with the proviso that the family will always have access.
Elizabeth’s grave is, actually, a family tomb. There’s no telling who is specifically buried where. The combined graves are marked by a large, rectangular plinth topped by an urn. The plinth was about as tall as me (5’6″ or 168cms, as you prefer), and the urn was another metre or so tall. There are other, separate, graves nearby, of other, more recent family members.
Each side of the plinth has a memorial stone, remembering Elizabeth and John’s children and some of their descendants. The son Elizabeth lost at 11 months of age is remembered here, but not the daughter who was born and died at sea. Elizabeth and John’s memorial is at the front of the plinth. The gilt has long since worn off Elizabeth’s words and, carved into pale stone, they are now very hard to read (and even harder to photograph – sorry).
THE MORTAL REMAINS OF
JOHN MACARTHUR ESQ
WHO DEPARTED THIS EARTH
APRIL 10 1834
HIS WIFE, OF BRIDGERULE DEVON
WHO LANDED WITH HIM
IN PORT JACKSON JUNE 1790
AND DIED 1OTH FEBRUARY 1850
AT ELIZABETH FARM PARRAMATTA
Beach at Bude, UK, 2014.
Source: Adventures in Biography
Not very much, is it?
And Elizabeth actually died on the 9th of February, at Watson’s Bay (the death notice placed by the family a week later can be seen here) but perhaps the descendants who organised the memorial many years (and possibly generations) later, didn’t know any of that. I have a friend, a heritage architect by trade, who tells me memorials and tombstones are, notoriously, often incorrect.
As a young woman, Elizabeth had written from Sydney to her friend Bridget Kingdon, in Bridgerule, about ‘a Bay near the Harbour’s mouth’ where she and her new Sydney acquaintances ‘passed the day in Walking among the Rocks, and upon the sands very agreeably’. Elizabeth spent time that long-ago day remembering her friend and ‘I looked carefully for some shells for you’, but she could find none better than Bridget might find herself on the English beaches at Bude, not five miles from her father’s vicarage. (Elizabeth Macarthur to Bridget Kingdon, 7 March 1791.)
When I visited Bridgerule, in 2014, I actually stayed in a B&B at nearby Bude and spent some happy hours wandering about. I collected a couple of shells from the beach – both small, poor specimens. I pocketed them, and brought them home to Australia with me. Last year, when I finally visited Elizabeth’s grave, I left those little shells on her memorial plinth.
I’m not a believer in any sort of afterlife, or in ghosts, or spirits. It was pleasant up on the hill with the graves, but I didn’t feel Elizabeth’s ‘presence’, if that’s what you’re wondering. But I did feel the sense of an ending, that my long adventure with Elizabeth was nearly done.
If you’d like to visit the Macarthur family graveyard, contact Belgenny Farm (email@example.com) to arrange an appointment.