Home/Elizabeth Macarthur

Done! For now at least…

With apologies to those who already know, via Facebook and Twitter - I sent the draft manuscript to my editor at Text Publishing late last week. Very happy. Subsequently spent a relaxing weekend in the garden, and celebrating Mother's Day with my gorgeous kids. No deadlines, no pressure - bliss. Next steps? The editor edits the manuscript, sends it back covered in comments and I go back to working on it. And in the meantime I keep following up and trying to source all the images I need. And yes, [...]

How to finish a manuscript

Young Woman Writing a Letter (detail), from a poster for Encre Marquet by Eugene Grasset, 1892. Image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Well, by not spending time writing blog posts, obviously. The manuscript must go to the publisher (for editing) in about week, so the last little while has been just a teensy bit frantic. I kind of finished working on the text a few weeks ago, and since then I have: drawn up a Macarthur family tree (thank you PowerPoint), included a list of [...]

Elizabeth Macarthur died today

Elizabeth Macarthur in old age. Source: http://blogs.hht.net.au/cook/happy-birthday-elizabeth-macarthur/ Not actually today, obviously. Elizabeth Macarthur the woman died almost 167 years ago, on 9 February 1850. She was eighty-three years old. But today I wrote the paragraph in which Elizabeth dies, the final paragraph of the book really, and I felt strangely sad. It’s been my job to make her come to life on the page and I’ve been working to do so for more years than I care to admit. Yet there she was, having a stroke and quietly [...]

Elizabeth Macarthur’s Quilt at the National Gallery of Victoria

The gallery had sold out of the glossy, colour catalogue for Making the Australian Quilt: 1800–1950 by the time I saw the exhibition last week. But I had a terrific chat with the young woman serving at the museum shop while I placed an order to have the catalogue mailed out (at a discounted rate, no less). "Isn't it interesting," she said, "how contemporary some of those quilt designs are. It's amazing to think they predated modernism by decades.  But not acknowledged, of course." She gave me a gorgeous, wry [...]

Mrs Macquarie and the tragic accident

Headstone of Grace and Richard Veale, Elizabeth Macarthur's sister and father. St Bridget's churchyard, Bridgerule. Source: Adventures in Biography One of the problems of being a researcher of women's history is all the dead children. Over and over again the archives yield stories of families broken by illness, accident and disease - so many stories that they are in danger of seeming commonplace. But of course the death of each child was, to his or her own family, an occasion of enormous tragedy. Elizabeth Macarthur lost [...]

Offers from publishers

Right now I have written offers from six different publishers (so far). Yes, six. Yes, all of them well-known publishing houses. I know, I'm gobsmacked too. I've spent the last few weeks talking with each of them, on the phone and face-to-face - wonderful and lengthy conversations about writing, editing, history and Elizabeth Macarthur. I must say that everyone I've spoken with has been incredibly friendly and nice.  And all very keen to win me over. I've never heard so many people say so many lovely things about my writing! [...]

Maligning Mr Leach – the gaps are where the mysteries lie

Someone asked me the other day if the biography I'm working on will contain any fictional elements. Um, no. If it did it, wouldn't it be a work of historical fiction, and not a biography? And yet, I do confess, the temptation to create fiction - to fill in the gaps - is strong. Occasionally within the text of my manuscript I offer some brief conjecture.  But I'm careful to make it very clear that conjecture and guess-work (albeit educated guess-work) is all that it is.  However sometimes my conjecture [...]

Saying Goodbye to your Children

This week I waved my son off to camp - he'll be away for nine days.  Elizabeth Macarthur waved her young sons off too, to be educated in England, for years at a time.  I don't think I can imagine how she felt.  Or can I? Inga Clendinnen explored the problem at length in The History Question: Who owns the past? (Quarterly Essay, Issue 23) We cannot post ourselves back in time. People really did think differently then – or at least we must proceed on that assumption...It is true that [...]

Never just a farmer’s wife

I'm often asked what sparked my interest in Elizabeth Macarthur. Harriett Pettifore Brims (1864-1939), Harriett Brims' photographic studio and residence, Ingham, Queensland, ca. 1894-1900. Image courtesy of John Oxley Library through Picture Queensland: 146939. Many years ago I managed a government grants program and had the privilege to work with some grant applicants from outback Queensland - including a group of women farmers.  I was very green and the farmers were very kind.  They took the time to explain to me that there was no such thing - [...]

Paleography – transcribing old letters

Transcribing Elizabeth Macarthur's letters is at once illuminating and frustrating. I'm currently working on one that Elizabeth sent to Captain John Piper, in 1804.  The original is held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.  John Macarthur was away in England at the time and Captain Piper, a good friend to both Elizabeth and John, was stationed at Norfolk Island (a secondary penal colony, some 1600kms northeast of Sydney). The letter is a crucial one because in it Elizabeth describes how she and her children fled  from their farm in Parramatta to [...]