Elizabeth Farm was built in 1793 for John Macarthur, known as the father of the wool industry, and his wife Elizabeth. Macarthur wore a number of 'hats' - he was a British army officer, a politician, an architect, a winemaker, an entrepreneur and a pioneer... which points to him being an opportunist whose cards fell in his favour. With a lot of assistance from the other half...
The Macarthurs had arrived in Sydney on the Second Fleet, hoping to take advantage of the opportunities they’d heard about. The voyage to Australia wasn’t all smooth sailing - John had some major disagreements with the ships’ master and later became extremely ill. Elizabeth lost the daughter she gave birth to on board and had to nurse both her husband and infant son though their severe illnesses.
Receiving their land grant at Rosehill gave the Macarthurs a base but it did little to establish a stable family life. John was regularly in conflict with the governors of Sydney and was twice sent back to London to face charges or discipline. Perhaps he should have thought twice before shooting his commanding officer. The Macarthur sons also travelled to England for schooling at a young age, with John Junior never returning to Australia. Elizabeth was never to return to England and did her best to look after a fragmented family.
Eight years after settling on the farm the flock numbered some 2000. Until then the sheep were mainly grown for eating. In 1805 Macarthur returned from England with six of the King’s Spanish Merinos to commence wool production on a large scale.
The Rum Rebellion threw up another glitch when Macarthur was arrested again... and again he was forced to bolt back to England where he spent eight and a half years travelling around the continent or waiting patiently until Lord Camden granted him 'unconditional return' to the colony in 1817. While he was away Elizabeth was taking care of business.
By the 1820s Macarthur’s wool was prized for its quality and quantity – the groundwork had been laid for Australia’s richest primary industry and the Macarthurs had established themselves as movers and shakers.
The small, solid three-roomed brick cottage was transformed into a smart country house, surrounded by ‘pleasure grounds’, orchards and almost 1,000 acres of semi-cleared land. The cottage is Australia’s oldest surviving European dwelling.
The homestead is now a museum, furnished with original items and copies of objects known to belong to the Macarthurs. It has been impressively restored to give visitors a feel for how an early 19th Century upmarket household functioned. It is a unique museum in that here are no barriers or screens so visitors can roam freely to interact with the property and can actually ‘touch’ history. There has to be a movie just waiting to be made here...
Address: 70 Alice Street, Rosehill
Phone: 02 9635 9488
Admission: Adult $8 | Child/Concession $4 | Family $17 | Members free Wheelchair access
Hours: Open Saturday and Sunday 10:30am - 3:30pm | Open Australia Day and daily in NSW school holidays | Closed Good Friday and Christmas Day | Guided tours 11:00am, Noon, 1:00pm and 2:00 pm
Official website: http://www.hht.net.au/museums/elizabeth_farm/1
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