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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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Camden · Colonial Camden · Cowpastures · Governor Macquarie · Heritage · Local History · Uncategorized

Viewing the landscape of the Cowpastures

Nepean River Cowpastures

The early colonists of the Sydney area viewed the landscape from a number of different perspectives according to historian Grace Karskins in her book The Colony a History of Early Sydney (2009) . This also applied to the Cowpastures.

Landscape has a variety of meanings. The two most common are when landscape refers to all the visible features of an area of land; usually referring to the rural features and its aesthetic appeal of neat paddocks and fields. The other meaning is one applied in an artistic sense and is its pictorial representation of an area of countryside usually in a painting.

There can be different types of landscape, for example, cultural landscapes and physical landscape. Landscape has different meanings in different scholarly disciplines, for example, art (English landscapes of Turner and Constanble), photography (American Ansel Adams) literature (the idealised pastoral scene or bucolic in art, music and literature for example  English poet Milton, William Wordsworth; an early form is the Aboriginal dreamtime stories; William Gilpin’s Observations on the River Wye was published in 1770, the idea of the picturesque began to influence artists and viewers and British romanticism), architecture (The term landscape architecture was invented by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828 and was first used as a professional title by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1863) , and gardening (Italian influences of an arcadia – The English garden (and later French landscape garden) presented an idealized view of nature.- The work of Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton and in the Cowpastures, JC Laudon)  These views of landscape are culturally derived and depend of the interpretation of the viewer, which is the essence of landscape and its contribution to the sense of place.

View-of-the-Government-Hut-at-Cowpastures
View of the Government Hut at Cowpastures, 1804. State Library of NSW SSV1B / Cowp D / 1

Karskins (Karskins:242)  has presented seven principles of interpretation that she maintains were used by the early colonists of Sydney towards to new environment they took possession of the land in 1788. All are evident in the diaries and accounted of the Cowpastures by a host of Europeans who travelled through the area. They are:

  1. Utilitarian – the economic benefit – the protection of the cows and the herd
  2. Picturesque – the presentation of the Cowpastures as a result of the burning of the environment by the Aborigines –fire stick farming – the reports of the area being a little England from the 1820s – Hawdon
  3. Regulatory – banning of movement into the Cowpastures to protect the cows
  4. Political and philosophical – evils of the governors and transportation were the true corruptors of the countryside
  5. Natural history – collecting specimens and describing fauna and flora – Darwin’s visit to Sydney – the curiosity of the early officers
  6. ‘New natures’ – the environmental impact of flooding along the Nepean River and clear felling of trees across the countryside
  7. Emotional response – how the Europeans visor ally  experienced the countryside – sights, smells, hearing, – and its expression in words and pictures

How these were used in reports and diaries depended often on the audience in England or France for the written work. Often the reports were used to promote a book and sometimes a set of paintings or sketches. Sometimes there were just personal comments in a diary, or reports were the basis of a book to published in England on the persons return home from Sydney.

The reports of the Cowpastures in the colonial period by a host of naval officers, military personal and surveyors have elements of the all these views of the landscape.

Anyone interested in exploring some of the aspects of these types of interpretation see other posts on this blog that mention:

1. the Cowpastures declaration  in  1795

2 the journeys of Governor Lachlan Macquarie  in 1810 , 1815, or 1820

3. the views of immigrant John Hawdon in 1828

Read some of the stories in the Pictorial History of Camden and District (2015)

Read more @

Towns, urbanites and aesthetics

Yearning Longing and the Remaking of Camden’s Identity