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Prominent early migrant to Australia, Elizabeth Macarthur (1766-1850), was in kinship care and foster care as a child.

Elizabeth Veale was born in Bridgerule, a village in Devon, England. When her father, Richard, died when Elizabeth was around five years of age, Elizabeth and her mother, Grace, moved into her grandfather’s house. When Grace remarried, Elizabeth stayed on with her grandfather, until she was sent to live with the local clergy, Reverend Kingdon, his wife, and Elizabeth’s best friend, Bridie Kingdon. Elizabeth was 12 when she went into foster care.

Elizabeth married John Macarthur in 1788 and the two sailed to New South Wales, arriving in Sydney Cove on 28 June 1790. The couple’s eldest son, Edward, arrived with them but a daughter born during the long voyage did not survive.

Elizabeth Macarthur held a privileged position in the new colony. She was the “first woman of education and sensitivity” to arrive and she held regular gatherings with the military, naval and administration officers. Between 1792 and 1808, Elizabeth gave birth to three daughters and four more sons.

Four years after their arrival, John Macarthur was given land at Parramatta and called their home, Elizabeth Farm.

The children received careful and painstaking education, both secular and religious and the style of life was as near as possible that of minor country gentry as they had known it in England (Conway).

John Macarthur spent many years travelling to and from England, during which time Elizabeth ran their wool-growing operation. From 1817, when John was back in New South Wales, Elizabeth became less involved with the business operations and spent more time with her children and friends.

Elizabeth Macarthur has recently been the subject of a novel by significant Australian writer, Kate Grenville. In A Room Made of Leaves, Grenville has imagined what Elizabeth might have written in her journal and letters had she been free to tell how life really was.


Conway, Jill (1967) Macarthur, Elizabeth (1766-1850), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.

Grenville, Kate (2020) A Room Made of Leaves. Melbourne: Text Publishing

Mackey, Nola – Family History (2018) Framing History – Elizabeth Macarthur, Descendant of Devonshire Landed Gentry-3.

Image available here.