There was a short time in Australia’s European history when two women wielded extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony. In early 19th Century Sydney the two women, whose husbands were sworn enemies, would cross paths.
These two courageous women came from strikingly different backgrounds, with husbands who held sharply conflicting views and were powerful political enemies.
One was Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the new governor Lachlan Macquarie, who had grand plans to transform the new colony from a prison into a civilised jewel of the Empire. The other was Elizabeth Macarthur, the wife of John Macarthur, who was building Australia’s wool industry in her husband’s long and frequent absences overseas.
These two women were prominent members of Sydney society in the transformative years in the colony. They were thrown together in impossible times. They should have been bitter foes, but they combined their courage and wisdom to wield extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the New South Wales Colony.
Both Elizabeths were incredibly impressive as women of their time. They were tough and extraordinarily resilient in what was, in many ways, a brutal man’s world. They both lost children, and ‘Betsey’ Macquarie suffered numerous lost pregnancies. Yet they both managed to forge independent lives for themselves, and make a huge difference in the colony, at a time when women were seen but rarely heard. Today, they would be just as remarkable. Strong and with vision, neither would be deterred today from what they felt was their role, despite any number of odds.
Note: Our speaker at the museum on Saturday, 3rd September will be author Sue Williams talking about her book Elizabeth and Elizabeth, It is an extraordinary story of female leadership at a time when such a quality was frowned on, and female friendship forged against the odds. Together they share more than their forenames.
It’s unimaginable that they wouldn’t have met often. What occurred during those meetings, what was said and unsaid, is what this novel explores.
The author of Elizabeth & Elizabeth, Sue Williams is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist, working in newspapers, magazines and TV in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. She will be our speaker at the museum on Saturday, 3rd September.