Australian Colonial Dance

Serendipity used to mean flicking through a dictionary and finding interesting and unusual words. But now it means stumbling across fascinating websites.  Like this one: Australian Colonial Dance. It's a lovely little blog about dance and music in colonial Australia, with interesting information and (crucially) bibliographic lists of sources. Of course my favourite post is the one describing Australia's first piano. Surgeon George Worgan, thirty-three, had improbably managed to bring a piano with him on the First Fleet.  In 1790 he gallantly began to tutor Elizabeth Macarthur, telling her [...]

2018-03-24T22:48:58+11:00October 21st, 2015|Colonial History|8 Comments

Marsden Online Archive

Samuel Marsden. Picture source: Wikimedia Commons It still amazes me that I can sit on my couch of an evening (fire crackling, tv blaring, #1 son immersed in the XBox) and yet the miracle that is the Internet means I can read a journal from 1814 in the original. Shall we pause for moment to consider how brilliant that is? The particular journal I found belonged to one Rev Samuel Marsden.  In Australia he was more or less reviled as the flogging parson but apparently he was (and, [...]

What were they thinking? The crazy cargo carried on Australia’s First Fleet

If you and about 1420 of your closest convict, marines and sailor friends were about to set off an expedition to Mars, what do you think you would take? Cpt Arthur Phillip RN Source: wikimedia commons That was the question faced by the British bureaucracy when provisioning the eleven vessels of the First Fleet in the late 1700s, before they set sail for Botany Bay and New South Wales.  A destination, by the way, where Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks, et al had previously spent all of [...]

2018-03-21T14:55:37+11:00June 8th, 2015|Colonial History|0 Comments

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 [...]

Raffles and Marsden

This was going to be the best blog post ever.  Well, best post since the last one anyway. I was going to include some photos of Fort Canning Park, in Singapore, which is near where I'm staying (yes, another work trip). Photo: Adventures in Biography And then I was going to mention how this park in the heart of downtown Singapore is where Raffles' original house was built, on a small hill overlooking the river. I hoped to say something witty about how plain old Thomas Raffles started [...]

2018-03-21T14:55:40+11:00February 10th, 2015|Colonial History, Life|0 Comments

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 - [...]

Transporting Horses Over the Sea

Yesterday was Melbourne Cup Day and so naturally my thoughts turned (yet again) to horses; several of which arrived with the white settlers of the First Fleet.  Horses have continued to arrive on the Australian continent ever since. But how? Those first horses arrived by ship, of course, but pause for a moment and consider the logistics of that exercise.  Each horse was lowered into the hold by way of harness, line, block and tackle, and capstan.  The injury rates associated with this technique - to men as well as [...]

2018-03-21T14:55:42+11:00November 5th, 2014|Colonial History|5 Comments

Cockatoos in Renaissance Art – rethinking what we thought we knew

Still Life: Game, Vegetables, Fruit, Cockatoo. Adriaen van Utrecht. Flemish, 1650. Oil on canvas 46 x 98 1/16 in. This image is available for download, without charge, under the Getty's Open Content Program. This gorgeous still life hangs in the Los Angeles Getty Centre and last week I had the privilege of seeing it in person.* Check the date: it was painted in 1650.  That's 120 years before Cook 'discovered' Australia.  So how on earth did an Australian cockatoo come to find itself featuring in a Renaissance artwork? [...]

News Flash! Sir John Franklin’s 1846 Northwest Passage expedition ship found

Sir John Franklin Photo source: The ABC is today reporting that "the remains of one of two ships used by a former governor of Tasmania on a doomed Arctic mission in 1846 have been found....HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, led by Sir John Franklin, a former governor of Van Diemen's Land, disappeared on a expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the Arctic.  Now Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper has announced that the wreck of one of the [...]

2018-03-21T14:56:15+11:00September 10th, 2014|Colonial History|0 Comments


Esther Stace cleared a record 6'6" at the Sydney Royal Show in Australia in 1915 riding sidesaddle. Photo source: Walcha Historical Society. Elizabeth Macarthur was a horsewoman.She wrote a letter describing riding through the bush on a three day trip to the Hawkesbury.  Governor Macquarie wrote about encountering her on horseback.But that's all I know.  I can't tell you if Elizabeth rode for pleasure, although her friend Betsy Marsden certainly did (Betsy's husband wrote to friends bragging of his wife's riding prowess).  I can't tell you if amongst the [...]

Go to Top