Born in Devon England in 1766, the daughter of a country gentleman, Richard Veale, and his wife, Grace, Elizabeth married John Macarthur in 1788. They travelled to New South Wales in 1790 when John took up his commission with the New South Wales Corps. John named his property at Rosehill, near Parramatta, Elizabeth Farm after Elizabeth, who gave birth to eight children, six of whom survived and were important members of the society.
Her sons, James and William, were both important figures in agriculture and exporting, and both served on the NSW Legislative Council. Elizabeth died in 1850, having first been estranged from her husband and then surviving him by fifteen years.
During her husband’s eight-and-a-half year exile in England, Elizabeth successfully took over the running of their sheep property at Camden, the largest property in New South Wales at the time. She saw to the management of convict labour, the choosing of rams and breeding to improve the flock. Communication between Elizabeth and John, in England looking after transport and export markets, was essential to the success of the enterprise and establishing New South Wales as a reliable supplier of quality wool.
Elizabeth was the first educated woman to arrive in New South Wales. She had a “privelleged position” in the society and “held court amongst officers of the New South Wales Corps, naval officers and members of the colonial administration.
The Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute is named in her honour. Based at Camden Park, it is the largest Centre of Excellence operated by New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.
Elizabeth is generally acknowledged as being at least jointly responsible for founding the wool industry in Australia.
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