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Celebrity author at Camden Museum

 

The Camden Museum hosted celebrity author Michelle Scott Tucker recently at a local book launch. The event attracted an enthusiastic audience of 50 members and guests to an engrossing talk from Tucker, the author of Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World.

Camden Museum MSTucker talking BookLaunch 2018Jun13
Michelle Scott Tucker spoke about her new book Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World at the Camden Museum. She had the large audience sitting on the edge of their seats as she told the story of Elizabeth and her life in colonial New South Wales. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (I Willis, 2018)

 

Michelle delivered an eloquent and gripping lesson on Elizabeth Macarthur to an audience sitting on the edge of their seats. Tucker spoke for 40 minutes without notes and then handled a number of penetrating questions. Earlier in the day she had been interviewed on ABC Sydney Local Radio by James Valentine in wide ranging conversation about Macarthur that clearly impressed him. Tucker is an impressive media performer telling an engrossing story about her hidden subject of Elizabeth.

 

After the Museum talk there was a long line of those who had purchased books to have them signed by the author.  The most excited person in room was Camden Historical Society secretary Lee Stratton who drove into Surry Hills to pick up Michelle and then returned her to the city after the launch. Lee is a devoted fan and was not phased at all by her providing this generous effort.

Camden Museum MichelleScottTucker BookSigning 2018Jun13
Michelle Scott Tucker signing a copy of her new work Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World at the Camden Museum. There was a long queue for book signing from the large audience of members and friends on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (I Willis, 2018)

 

Michelle Scott Tucker writes in an engaging and open style that is easily accessible by anyone interested in colonial Australia, women’s biography or just a great yarn. She takes a fresh look at an old story from a woman’s perspective, from the other side.

 

In the early 19th century the world was divided into the women’s private sphere and the public world inhabited by men.  Michelle Scott Tucker takes a look from the domestic private world of women. It is a form of radical history.

Book Elizabeth Macarthur 2018 Cover TextPub
The cover of Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. The book was launched in Camden at the Camden Museum to a large and enthusiatic crowd of readers on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (Text Publishing)

 

Michelle’s analogy of her approach to the story is looking at the stitching on the back of tapestry, and inspecting the intricate nature of the threads. This gives you an insight into how the whole work is kept together from the hidden and dark shadows of the work. Without the stitching the work would fall apart, and so it was the Macarthur family enterprises in colonial New South Wales. Tucker draws the stitches together to create a story showing the colour and movement of colonial New South Wales.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur, the farmer’s daughter from Devon, married a cantankerous irascible army officer called John Macarthur when she was pregnant with her first child. Tucker draws an parallel with another Georgian story that of the women in the romantic novel Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin. She makes the point that Elizabeth Macarthur, and husband John, were Georgian figures while her family were Victorians.

 

Tucker tells how Elizabeth Macarthur, heavily pregnant and with a small child at her side,  endured probably the worst journey out from England of any convict transport on the Second Fleet in the Scarborough. She nursed her husband back from illness that he suffered at the Cape and lost a child on the voyage out which was buried at sea. She suffered the social ignominy of sharing a cabin space with convict women well below her station in life.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch President Ian Willis with Michelle 2018Jun13 Lee Statton
The president of the Camden Historical Society Dr Ian Willis with Michelle Scott Tucker at the Camden launch of her new book Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018 (Lee Stratton)

 

Macarthur was not on her own and many colonial women endured the sea voyage from England with few comforts. Their diaries detail the trials and tribulations throughout the early years of the colony. One such figure in the Camden story was Caroline Husband who fell on hard times and fled their Hampstead Hill house near London with debt collectors in pursuit. She married pastoralist Henry Thomas and eventually lives at Wivenhoe, and her descendants grew up at Brownlow Hill.

 

The ever practical Elizabeth managed and developed the family business empire in colonial New South Wales while her husband was dealing with military charges in England. She entertained governors, politicians, businessmen, officers, while managing a large domestic staff, farm workers and convicts on their extensive landholdings. The role and influence of Elizabeth Macarthur as part of the story of settler colonialism in Australia and has been understated along with many other women of her time.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch Harry Warner Michelle and Frances Warner 2018Jun13 Lee Statton
Camden identities Frances and Harry Warner with author Michelle Scott Tucker at the Camden launch of Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World. Frances and Harry have lived most of their lives at Camden Park and have been involved in a host of community activities over many years. Frances organised a small card gift for Michelle from Camden Park. The launch was held at the Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018. (Lee Stratton)

 

Tucker makes the point in an article for Inside Story that the story of Elizabeth Macarthur is not unique and that other colonial women made a significant contribution on their own. There was Esther Abrahams who ran Annandale, and Harriet King who raised a family and ran a property west of Parramatta. In Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) a retail empire was developed by former convict Maria Lord, while Eliza Forlonge ran a pastoral empire.

 

Camden Park was an out-station in the Macarthur family empire and Elizabeth Macarthur never lived there. The mansion house was the home of her sons, William and James. Elizabeth lived at Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta all her life and died at their holiday home at Watsons Bay in her 80s.

Camden Museum MSTucker BookLaunch John Michelle and Edwina 2018Jun13 Lee Stratton
The owners of Camden Park House John and Edwina Macarthur Stanham with author Michelle Scott Tucker. The event was the Camden launch of Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life At the Edge of the World held at Camden Museum on Wednesday 13 June 2018. (Lee Stratton)

 

Unlike many of her colonial contemporaries who viewed the Australian landscape as a Gothic world Elizabeth had a more sympathetic eye. She drew comparisons with England and in her letters home she stated that her around her home at Parramatta, she wrote:

The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give to it the appearance of a wilderness, or shrubbery commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune’.

Many of her contemporaries contributed to the English-style landscape aesthetic that was identified as early as 1828 by John Hawdon when he arrived in the Cowpastures. The Englishness of the Camden township is still evident and has shaped the landscape since the arrival of the Europeans.

 

Under Elizabeth’s gaze the colonial outpost of Sydney grew from a military garrison to a bustling colonial port in the South Pacific. Macarthur supported her husband, John, throughout his ordeals and never returned to England, despite having the means to do so. Her female descendants regularly traveled between Camden Park, Sydney and London and elsewhere, and benefited from the transnational networks that she and her family established in the early 19th century.

camden-library museum
The venue for the Camden launch of Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur A Life at the Edge of the World on Wednesday 13 June 2018. Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden  (I Willis, 2016)

 

Elizabeth Macarthur is an important character in the Camden story and there are other Macarthur women in her family who played similar roles such as Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, Sibella Macarthur Onslow and Enid Macarthur Onslow. All intelligent, strong and successful women. They were not alone in the Camden story and others that could be mentioned include Rita Tucker, Zoe Crookston, Clarice Faithful, amongst others.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur produced a family that founded the township of Camden, and created a pastoral and business empire that still endures today. She is celebrated in our local area with the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Elizabeth Macarthur High School and roads and streets named after her and her family.

 

As Michelle Scott Tucker states of Elizabeth Macarthur, she  ‘played a crucial role in Australia’s colonial history. Hers is not a household name — but it ought to be’. Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World certainly goes a long way in this direction.

The book by Michelle Scott Tucker Elizabeth Macarthur, A Life at the Edge of the World is available at the Camden Museum.

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community identity · Elizabeth Farm · Historical consciousness · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Local newspapers · Macarthur · Newspapers · Place making

Nepean News at Camden Produce Market

Out and about this morning at the Camden Produce Market I spotted something new. It was on a table of free local tourist and lifestyle magazines.

So what caught my eye. A pile of glossy newspapers for the Nepean News.

 

Nepean News 7 Dec 2017 Cover
Cover of the Nepean News Issue 7 December 2017 collected by author from the Camden Produce Market (I&M Willis)

 

I have never seen them before in this area. More to the point I had never heard of it. But in itself that did not mean much.

So what about the Nepean News. Its presence was remarked on by those milling around the table.

The Macarthur region has several free weekly newspapers that circulate in the area. In 2017 one appeared with two editions and then disappeared.

The Macarthur region local newspapers are subject to digital disruption just like their metro daily competitors. So what is special about the appearance of another local masthead in the area.

Local newspapers are defying the digital onslaught felt by newspaper all over the English speaking world. Hordes of city based metro-dailies have completely disappeared.

Yet local newspaper keep appearing. I did a blog piece recently on the number of titles in the Macarthur region. The blog post received international attention. That did surprise me. It ended up with an invitation to write an article for Media History an English academic journal. Local and provincial newspapers seem to be defying the odds.

This week I visited Goulburn and spoke to the editor of the Goulburn Post and how the tri-weekly masthead is surviving and doing well. Her office is the regional hub for around 10 different regional and local newspapers. The Post is part of the Fairfax Media group.

The appearance of the Nepean News is an interesting addition to the story of local newspapers in the Macarthur area. It is free fortnightly masthead stapled 32 pages of glossy colour in a tabloid format published on Thursdays. The edition at the Camden Produce Market was Issue 215 dated Thursday 7 December 2017.

The Nepean News is an independent published by the Western Sydney News Group which has a stable of three mastheads: Nepean News; Western News; and St Clair and Erskine Park News. The group of newspapers has a considerable footprint across Western Sydney.

The Nepean News is centred on Penrith and is distributed from Luddenham in the south, west to Emu Plains, east to Mt Druitt and north to Castlereagh. The footprint of the Western News is east of the Nepean News and stretches from Vineyard in the north, to Rouse Hill and Seven Hill in the east, in the south to Eastern Creek and in the west to St Marys.  The third masthead has a smaller circulation and is centred on St Clair.

The Nepean News boasts that it ‘is not tossed onto your front lawn’. ‘Crisp’ free copies can be obtained from ‘local newsagents, service stations, libraries, council and shopping centres’. The newspaper is supported by a bright and lively website.

 

Nepean News Screenshot 2018-01-13 08.39.13
Screenshot of Nepean News website with distribution details and staff based at Penrith in the production office (2018)

 

Nepean News editor Kerrie Davies states on the newspaper’s website that initially she launched the newspaper after being made redundant from another newspaper.  That was eight years ago. She is in partnership with Bart Bassett, general manager, and sales manager, Korena Hale.

The Western News is free, was launched about two years ago and published fortnightly on a Friday of 16 pages. The latest edition is Issue 50 for 22 December 2017. The St Clair and Erskine Park News is a free monthly of 16 pages and the latest edition is Issue 28 for December 2017.

The format across all three mastheads is similar with a number of sections: local news; entertainment; history; and sport. Editorial content is shared as is advertising.  Advertising is a mix of display full page to small quarter, half page and smaller, with a trades and services section.

The newspapers are community focused with a lively mix of local newsy stories and photos, an entertainment and a history page compiled by the local historical society and a strong presence of local sporting stories.

 

Nepean News Screenshot [2] 2018-01-13 08.39.47
Screenshot of Nepean News website with history page showing article on Elizabeth Macarthur of Elizabeth Farm at Harris Park (2018)

There are strong connections between the Camden LGA and Penrith going back decades. Many local families have relatives and friends in the Penrith area and some like taking in the shopping and other facilities.

The appearance of the Nepean News makes an interesting addition to the story of local newspapers in the Macarthur region. It will be even more interesting to see if makes another appearance. Keep your eyes open.

Colonialism · Elizabeth Farm · Macarthur · Parramatta · Settler colonialism

Elizabeth Farm, the foundation story of the Macarthur rural empire

Elizabeth Farm was the home of John and Elizabeth Macarthur and the centre of their mercantile and farming empire for over 35 years.  The homestead is regarded as both the oldest and most historic building in Australia and is an important site in the development of the wool industry.

John Macarthur (Wikimedia)

Elizabeth Farm was the site of political intrigue around Australia’s only coup d’etat and the personal struggles of John’s incredible mood swings suffering depression. The house is an important centre in the Camden story and many important decisions made here that effected the family’s holdings at Camden Park in the Cowpastures district.

The house was lucky not to be demolished and lay derelict on a number of occasions throughout its history. Once when architect William Swann family rescued it in 1904 and again the mid-20th century.  Elizabeth Farm is currently a house museum opened in 1984 and owned by Sydney Living Museums, formerly the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales.

Elizabeth Macarthur SLNSW

Background

Elizabeth Veale, who became the first lady of the colony of New South Wales, married the fractious John Macarthur, an ambitious officer on half-pay, in England in 1788 in the village of Bridgeule in Devonshire. Macarthur joined the 68th Regiment just before his marriage as an ensign and after the birth of his son transferred as a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps.[1]

Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur 1785 SLNSW
Elizabeth Macarthur 1785 SLNSW

The couple travelled to New South Wales in the Second Fleet on the Neptune, before transferring to the Scarborough arriving in 1790. John’s reputation and ill temper was a constant source of frustration, which Elizabeth bore with patience and forebearance.

In 1793 John Macarthur was granted 100 acres at Rosehill of some of the best land on the  Parramatta River which he named after his wife. The family with three children moved to Elizabeth Farm in 1793. By 1794 the farm had expanded to 250 acres with 100 under crops, 20 acres of wheat, 80 acres of corn and potatoes. His livestock included horses, cows, goats, and pigs and with  additional grants and purchases the farm expanded to over 500 acres.

Elizabeth Farm J Lycett 1825 SLNSW

 Building Elizabeth Farm

The house was constructed in 1793 as a single level building of four rooms with adjoining kitchen and servants quarters built on a low ridge overlooking the Parramatta River. James Broadbent describes the house as a simple late 18th century English vernacular cottage, with a shingle hardwood roof. From this design evolved a characteristic form of colonial cottage.[2]  JM Freeland describes the house as a simple rectangle.

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[3]
Elizabeth Farm northern verandah 2016 IWillis
built of hand-made English-size bricks set in clay and shell-lime mortar. The steep pitched roof was formed of massive baulks of pit-sawn timber held together with wooden pegs, sheathed with cedar planks and covered with split swamp-oak shingles.[3]

Sydney Living Museums states:

The cottage… resembled countless farmhouses seen in southern England. The balanced, symmetrical design of paired windows placed to either side of a central doorway was typical of the Georgian style then popular in England.[4]

An extra bedroom was added along with a verandah. James Broadbent maintains that the addition of the verandah was influenced by Colonel Grose addition of a verandah on Government House which Grose had seen while serving during the American War of Independence.[5]

John was exiled from the colony in 1809 for his part in the Rum Rebellion with Governor Bligh and during his absence Elizabeth ran the household and the families pastoral interests at Camden and Seven Hill from Elizabeth Farm. The house was possibly shaded from the north and east by verandahs. Elizabeth had little interest in redesigning the homestead.

Macarthur returned to NSW in 1817. The Macarthurs were successful selling wool in London and pressed for another grant at Camden. With good fortunes he sought building appropriate to his wealth and began home building and planning. Elizabeth Farm was remodelled.   He added new stables, and a new cottage, Hambeldon, and building at Camden under the influence of Sydney architect Henry Kitchen.

From 1821 the house was remodelled under the supervision of stonemason and bricklayer John Norris from a Georgian house to a Regency style that better suited colonial taste. Elizabeth was turned out of the house in 1826 due to renovations when the dining room, drawing rooms and library bedroom were extended into the verandah area completed by 1827.[6]

Macarthur’s depressed state of mind meant that his building frenzy subsided, he recovered by 1828 and put his time into the Australian Agricultural Company. In 1831 he was again planning building additions, mainly at Camden. In 1832 he was declared insane and confined to Elizabeth Farm. Macarthur’s insanity worsened and he was moved to Camden in 1833, where he died in 1834.

Elizabeth returned to Elizabeth Farm in 1833 and with the assistance of architect John Verge had it habitable with needed repairs. She did not make any further changes to the house.[7]

Elizabeth Farm 2010 Australian Travel

Life at Elizabeth Farm

Elizabeth Farm was a mixture of town and country life. The house was about half-a-days travel by boat from Sydney and a short walk from Parramatta.

In 1794 the house was surrounded by a vineyard and garden of three acres, including fruit trees and vegetables. The fruit trees included almonds, apricots, pear and apple trees. There were between 30 and 40 staff at the farm – 13 as stockmen, gardeners or stable hands and female servants in the house.

Elizabeth had nine children, with seven surviving. Elizabeth learnt to play the piano in her first days in the colony. The Macarthurs were well-read with books, magazines and albums from England. She was part of the Sydney social set and was on cordial terms with the governor’s wives. James Broadbent reports that the house was elegantly fitted out with fine china and silver from England. Furnishings were never opulent[8] and the house was never a centre of the colonies social life.

Parramatta Elizabeth Macarthur 1845 SMOMacofCP1912
Elizabeth Macarthur 1845 SMO SomeRecords(1912)

After Macarthur’s death the farm was managed by her sons, while Elizabeth and her daughters lived in comfortable style. In Elizabeth’s last years she visited her daughter Emmeline and husband Henry at Watson’s Bay.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1850, aged 83 years, Emmeline and Henry continued to live at Elizabeth Farm until 1854. Edward Macarthur inherited the house and leased it out. On his death in 1872 the house was inherited by his niece Elizabeth Macarthur, James’ daughter. The house standing on 1000 acres was sold in 1881 for £50,000.[9]

Elizabeth Farm G Marler 1925 Private Collection

The table at Elizabeth Farm

John Macarthur was an early riser, usually 4am and breakfast, served around 10.00am might have consisted of ham, boiled eggs, bread and butter, and perhaps mutton. The table would have been set symmetrically which was typical of Georgian order and decorum.[10]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[2]
Elizabeth Farm Dining Room 2016 IWillis
The family would probably have been waited on by the butler, a convict named James Butler, who arrived 1818 with convictions for forgery and started work at Elizabeth Farm in 1825. In the 1828 Census the household staff consisted of 13 staff: a gardener, a coachman, a butler, two grooms, a cook, four labourers, two maidservants and a footman – all convicts. The cook was Thomas Blake, two maidservants, Jane Mead and Margaret Shepherd, a footman, John Bono, an Indian.  The staff were reported to have been well treated, and returned this with loyalty during times of difficulty with John’s incredible moods swings.[11]

Elizabeth Farm 1910 WH Broadhurst

Garden at Elizabeth Farm

Scott Hill makes the observation that little remains of the original garden, while paintings and sketches of the period only give an idealised view of things. Conrad Martin’s works were completed after Elizabeth’s death and only give a glimpse of what was present in the garden.[12]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[1]
Elizabeth Farm Garden 2016 IWillis
There was an ‘extensive’ kitchen garden that was to the east of the house although some hoop pines survive. From Hill’s research an 1816 letter from Elizabeth states that the kitchen garden had 23 fruit trees, oranges, peaches, pomegranates, loquats, shaddock and guava.[13]

Parramatta ElizabethFarm CMartin 1859 Pencil SLNSW
Garden Sketch Elizabeth Farm by Conrad Martins 1859 in preparation for his painting of the house in pencil SLNSW

Hill notes that the famous ‘waratah’ camelia at Camden Park was first planted at Elizabeth Farm in 1831 and later transplanted to their country property, where it still prospers. The garden also had roses, foxgloves, aloes, agaves, and bulbs. It is thought the garden had the first olive tree in the country which is described by Thomas Mitchell.[14]

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[4]
Elizabeth Farm Garden 2016 IWillis
Elizabeth fostered a botanical interest in the next generation, particularly William, who managed a successful nursery at Camden Park for many years. She valued the local vegetation of the Parramatta River area and 1795 she wrote home to her friend Miss R Kingdon from Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta:

The greater part of the country is like an English park, and the trees give it the appearance of a wilderness or shrubbery, commonly attached to the habitations of people of fortune, filled with a variety of native plants, placed in a wild irregular manner.[15]

On Elizabeth’s carriage trips out and about she noted that in spring:

The native shrubs are also in flower and the whole country gives a grateful perfume.[16]

Recent Ownership

The HHT acquired the property in 1983 and opened it as a house museum in 1984. Before this the house fell into disrepair and was purchased in 1968 by the Elizabeth Farm Management Trust from the Swann family, who had previously lived in it, and when the house was placed on a list of historic buildings by the 1949 Cumberland County Council.

Parramatta Elizabeth Farm 2016 IWillis[5]

Management passed to the State Planning Authority, then the Heritage Council of New South Wales which continued restoration. The HHT was established in 1980, and rebranded as Sydney Living Museums in 2013, and is part of the NSW Office of Heritage and Environment within the state government.

 

Significance

The NSW State Heritage Inventory states that:

The Elizabeth Farm house is part of the oldest surviving construction in Australia and a rare survival of the earliest period of colonial architecture. The house is one of the most evocative houses relating to the earliest period of Australian European history and is one of the most aesthetically pleasing of colonial bungalows. The garden contains remnants of some of the earliest European plantings in Australia, including the European Olive. Older indigenous species include kurrajong and bunya bunya and hoop pines. [17]

 

Notes

[1] James Broadbent, Elizabeth Farm Parramatta, A History and a Guide. Historic Houses Trust, Sydney, 1984, pp. 5-11.

[2] Broadbent, 18-22.

[3] JM Freeland, ‘Elizabeth Farm, New South Wales’, in Historic Homesteads of Australia Vol One, Australian Council of National Trusts Heritage Reprints 1985.

[4] Hill, ‘A Turbulent Past’.

[5] Broadbent, 18-19.

[6] Broadbent, 24-26

[7] Broadbent, 35.

[8] Broadbent, 38-39.

[9] Broadbent, 44-48

[10] Scott Hill, ‘At the Macarthurs’ table’, The Cook and the Curator (Blog), Sydney Living Museums, 10 January 2013. Online @ http://blogs.sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/cook/at-the-macarthurs-table/ Accessed 14 April 2017

[11] Scott Hill, ‘Mr Butler: The Macarthurs’ Butler’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/mr-butler-macarthurs-butler Accessed 14 April 2017.00

[12] Scott Hill, ‘Abundance & Curiosity At Elizabeth Farm’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums, 2014. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/abundance-curiosity-elizabeth-farm Accessed 14 April 2017.

[13] Letter from Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur to Eliza Kingdon, March 1816. State Library of NSW (SLNSW): ML A2908 in Scott Hill, ‘Abundance & Curiosity At Elizabeth Farm’, Elizabeth Farm, Sydney Living Museums, 2014. Online @ http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/abundance-curiosity-elizabeth-farm Accessed 14 April 2017.

[14] Hill, ‘Abundance and Curiosity’.

[15] S. Macarthur Onslow, Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden (Syd, 1912) Online http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html Viewed 10 February 2017

[16] Letter from Elizabeth to Miss Kingdon, September 1795, Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta in Sibella Macarthur Onslow, Some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1914. Online @ http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1302011h.html  Accessed 10 Feb 2017

[17] Office of Heritage and Environment, Elizabeth Farm, NSW Government, 2014. Online @ http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5051394  Accessd 14 April 2017