In 1788, a young gentlewoman raised in the vicarage of an English village married a handsome, haughty and penniless army officer. In any Jane Austen novel that would be the end of the story, but for the real-life woman who would play an integral part in establishing Australia’s wool industry, it was just the beginning
John Macarthur took credit for establishing the Australian wool industry and would feature on the two-dollar note, but it was practical Elizabeth who managed their holdings—while dealing with the results of John’s manias: duels, quarrels, court cases, a military coup, long absences overseas, grandiose construction projects and, finally, his descent into certified insanity.- goodreads
As soon as I finished reading A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville, I knew that I must read A Life at the Edge of the World. I really wanted to get to know the real Elizabeth, after reading about Kate Grenville’s imagined version.
This is the true story of a strong woman, who was truly a farmer, and not just a farmer’s wife, in the days when women weren’t expected to do much more than socialise and entertain. The Macarthur farming enterprise into Merino Sheep would not have happened or been successful without Elizabeth at the helm. She did the work, but then stood back and allowed her husband to take the credit, without a complaint.
I thought Elizabeth’s life, although priveleged, to be very sad. Her husband was away in London often, and for long periods of time, while Elizabeth stayed home and managed the farm, while caring for a large family of children. Four of her children died, and her boys also spent time away from her, in London.
Michelle Scott Tucker, has captured Elizabeth Macarthur perfectly, due to her meticulous research. This is evident in the bibliography, the notes which contained a huge amount of detail, and the comprehensive index.
I learnt about John Macarthur at school, but knew nothing of his wife Elizabeth. I’m so pleased that I read this book to set that wrong right. Elizabeth Macarthur’s story should be taught in history lessons, along with the story of her husband. Elizabeth was as much a pioneer of the wool industry and of this country, as was her husband.
Quotes From The Book
“As her daughter’s health improved, Elizabeth turned her energies and focus to the farms. That is not to say, with John away, she hadn’t already been working. Apart from a handful of aristocrats, Elizabeth and the other women of her era never stopped working. They worked every day of their lives and worked extraordinarily hard. The so-called ‘farmer and his wife’ were, in reality, both farmers and then, as now, the wife’s labour inside and outside the home was crucial to the running of the farm and the economic wellbeing of the family. Elizabeth Macarthur was no exception. She was, at that time, again, merely one of a number of women who had sole responsibility for their families’ farms”. (p.208)
“Australian history has been, until recently, very much the history of white men working—as farmers, as soldiers, as miners, as explorers. Women and other outsiders were largely written out, as if they were merely peripheral to the real story. In the history of Australian farming, though, women very much were the real story. Elizabeth Macarthur is only one of many women who were—and are—crucial to the family farming enterprise. In her ambition, her fortitude and her love for her family she was just like many other strong and intelligent farm women”. (pp. 329-30)
Star Rating: 4.5 stars
About the Author
Published in 2018 by Text Publishing.
Softcover, 385 pages, including bibliography, notes and index.
All books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library, unless otherwise stated.
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