To set the scene, I’m reading my manuscript out loud, to test for clarity and sense. The dog seems nonplussed but the cat is appreciative. I’m also beginning to realise how lazy my pronunciation usually is.

Govvumen. Govvament. Government.

Anyway.

I’m reading the part where it is 1790, Elizabeth has just arrived in New South Wales, and is lonely and bored. It’s the third paragraph (in the second half) where I’d like your opinion – what am I trying to imply? Is it clear enough?

Elizabeth ‘filled up the vacuum of many a Solitary day’ by reading, or by writing long letters in which she complained of having no female friends. None of the other officers were accompanied by their wives. Some of the rank-and-file soldiers had brought wives along, but the class divide rendered any friendships there impossible. Even if Elizabeth was willing to bridge that gap (although nothing suggests that she was), the social habits of a lifetime – reinforced by notions of regimental propriety and proper discipline – prevented the soldiers’ wives from expressing anything beyond mere civilities to the only ‘lady’ in the colony. Reverend Johnson had brought his wife but Elizabeth described her as ‘a person in whose society I could reap neither profit or pleasure.’ The Johnsons were not well-liked – two months after the Second Fleet arrived, the convicts were threatened with the withdrawal of rations unless they attended the Sunday church service. Elizabeth’s antipathy was such that she delayed little Edward’s long overdue baptism for nearly another year.

But Elizabeth’s natural optimism soon asserted itself. Just as she had at the Cape, Elizabeth took the time to look around and appreciate the landscape. ‘Every thing was new to me, every Bird, every insect, Flower, &c in short all was novelty around me, and was noticed with a degree of eager curiosity.’ Elizabeth was herself noticed with a similar degree of eager curiosity by Sydney Cove’s small society of officers, who had endured more than three tedious years of one another’s constant company. Among the officers at least, Elizabeth was instantly, and extraordinarily, popular. They fell over one another to be her friend. Here was a pretty young woman who, protected by her marriage and her child, could converse with freedom and intelligence.

Second Lieutenant Dawes, at twenty-eight only four years older than Elizabeth, was a talented polymath whose skills encompassed engineering, science, surveying, and astronomy. ‘He is so much engaged with the stars,’ wrote Elizabeth, ‘that to Mortal Eyes he is not always visible.’ Elizabeth attempted to learn astronomy from Mr Dawes and he went to great efforts to make models of the solar system for her and to explain the general principles of the heavenly bodies. Elizabeth, though, soon claimed she had mistaken her abilities and she quickly brought an end to her astronomical studies, writing ‘I blush at my error,’ to Bridget and implying that, intellectually, she simply wasn’t up to it. But she may well have been blushing about other things entirely – the evening visits to Dawe’s observatory opened many opportunities for others (including Dawes?) to misinterpret her educational motives. Instead Elizabeth and Dawes sensibly looked to the daytime art of botany and Elizabeth was soon able to class and order common plants.

I then go on with a paragraph about her new friend George Worgan (who gave her a piano), and another about Watkin Tench.

The actual text contains lots of footnotes but they don’t paste neatly in to WordPress. So the sources for all the above are as follows:

  • Elizabeth Macarthur to Bridget Kingdon 7 March 1791.
  • Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, August 1790.
  • Edward Macarthur was baptised at St Phillips, Sydney on 1 April 1791. C. Smee, Born in the English Colony of New South Wales 1788-1800, self published, 2009.

Any and all assistance gratefully received!

Sydney Cove from Dawes Point – painting by Joseph Lycett, 1817. Source: State Library NSW