The Macarthurs - Part 2

To The Manor Born

This very different image of John Macarthur was one upheld by his relatives almost immediately upon his death. Indeed, while Macarthur seems to have inspired considerable loyalty among his employees and associates, none come close to the devotion expressed by his immediate family. Elizabeth may have endured much, particularly towards the end of her husband's life, but she was also his greatest supporter. However much theirs might have been a partnership of opposites bound by ambition, there is little doubting the genuine affection and admiration that existed between them. He was an even better parent - if the sentiments of his children are anything to go by.


In a written record soon after Macarthur's death, his son James extolled the virtues of a loving father who had taught his children by reading them the classics, and who was 'loath to ent4er into a quarrel but bold and uncompromising when assailed - at all times ready to take arms against oppression and injustice.' While his daughters seem to have looked first to their mother, John Macarthur was the pre-eminent influence his sons' lives, a constant and defining presence. He shaped their progress into adulthood, guiding their education and careers within the framework of the family enterprise and in keeping with his estimation of their skills and personalities. Indeed, if the words of his youngest, William, are to be believed, the boys even as grown men saw themselves as 'but humble instruments ... endeavouring to carry into effect' their father's 'wise and beneficent plans'. (In contrast, John and Elizabeth's three daughters, despite their mother's example, played no further part in the family business or the dynastic story.)

Macarthur would send his first son, Edward, into the army (a curious reversal of the English aristocratic tradition, which generally safeguards the eldest male as the heir apparent while sacrificing his younger brothers as cannon fodder). Edward would prove a more successful career soldier than his father. He would also become the family's London representative when his younger brother John died in 1831. The death of his adored second son and namesake was perhaps the greatest tragedy of the elder Macarthur's life - and many believe it hastened his mental decline. Repatriated while still a young child, John junior was, in the opinion of a then amicable Wentworth, 'a complete chip off the old block'. As his father fondly observed in a letter home to his wife, 'the too prominent parts of his character, which he derives from a person you well know, makes me shudder for his safety on the voyage of life'.

In fact, young John's career would never be marked by the enmities that stamped his father's, but would hold out the promise of establishing the family among the upper echelons of British (as opposed to colonial) society. Having excelled at school, John would become a successful barrister who nonetheless spent much of his working life managing the family's business dealings in England. He was an effective ambassador for his father, and diligently promoted his interests among an increasingly influential network of friends and associates, including the commissioner charged with investigating Macquarie's emancipist leanings. but his ambition was to enter parliament where he believed he would be able to 'procure grants for James and William - to aid Edward in his profession and perhaps to influence the disposal of some of the colonial offices'. His early and unexpected death, probably of a stroke, denied the family these services. Nevertheless, in the new colony, a second generation of Macarthurs would prosper, thanks largely to the talents of younger brothers James and William. Born on 15 December, but two years apart, in 1798 and 1800 respectively, the two men would remain close friends and partners all their lives. to them fell the job of administering and overseeing the Macarthur estates - task that their father would 'break them into' on their return from England in 1817. Judged a 'good tempered thoughtless fellow' by his father, William would prove an innovative agriculturist who took the family successfully into winemaking, and who taught himself the onerous task of wool sorting. James, 'grave and thoughtful', would provide the Macarthur enterprise with administrative skills, and would become the acknowledged head of the family on his father's death, and its public and political face.

With none of their father's good looks - miniatures of the two men suggest remarkably plain features - and none of his extremes of personality, William and James assiduously consolidated and advanced the dynasty's fortunes, helped by Edward in England. As the old adage would have it, the first generation might have made the wealth, but this second generation most certainly increased it. Indeed within the family the contribution made by Macarthurs' sons is seen as equally important to the family's long -term success as that of John and Elizabeth. 'People tend to tray and single out somebody, and up until about five or ten years ago, people would say, "Oh, John Macarthur was the founder of the wool industry." Now the vogue is to say, "Elizabeth Macarthur did this and that, while John was in exile." I think the truth of the matter is that distances were so vast and communication so poor that you needed a group of competent people at the right place and time, and that's what the early Macarthurs are about ... it was a combination of several generations making a great deal of effort. I think you take away from the legacy of the early members of the family by singling out one person.

With James at the helm, the three brothers would work together for more than two decades, much as their father had no doubt intended. together, they took the family to the zenith of its fortunes, negotiating a trajectory of growth and affluence though the wool boom of the 1830s. Not only would they make their produce the finest and most expensive in the colony, but James and William also dramatically extended their estate at Camden Park to some 11,000 hectares. This was freehold title in keeping with the family's original idea of itself as part of a new landowning class after the aristocratic European model. but the two brothers also shoed themselves flexible to the exigencies of the day, negotiating substantial grazing leases further afield and forging an uneasy political alliance with the colony's emerging squattocracy. With the cessation of transportation in the 1840s, the brother focused their attention on bringing skilled agricultural and artisan families from Britain and Germany to settle at Camden Park. It was an expensive undertaking but one that reflected their understanding of the family's place as a benevolent oligarchy, developing its vast private estates by leasing land to loyal tenants. As historian Robert Hughes notes rather acerbically in the fatal Shore: 'The colonial elite after 1800 had arrived at an idea of gentility that was already ge3fomeing if not obsolete, then certainly old-fashioned in England. It was feudal and rural.'

It would become a feudal estate of two, however, when James and William dissolved their business partnership with Edward in 1858. their older sibling had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the estate's falling revenues as the colonial economy had swung from boom to bust (unaware that James and William were also using its income to prop up the failing fortunes of their brother-in-law who, along with many of the colony's pastoral elite, had been bankrupted). In accordance with their father's will, Edward would keep Elizabeth Farm, while James and William would share Camden Park. (Edward's widow in England would later sell the Macarthur family's first home, and today only the homestead and a fraction of the original garden remain a state-owned museum.) Their eldest brother's defection confirmed William and James as the most influential members of their generation. But their pre-eminence was perhaps always assured by virtue of their joint residency of Camden Park, henceforth the family's dynastic focal point. Both men would live out their lives in the house their father had begun but never completed, and their influence lingers even today. Their library remains the family's main living room, and while the furniture may have changed, the room still reflects the  interests and outlook of two well-educated, steadfastly respectable, nineteenth-century gentlemen who, while residing on the fringes of empire, nonetheless saw themselves at the centre of current imperial issues and debates. Their paintings - oil colours of romantic Italian vistas collected while on a European tour - are still on the walls. their books still fill the floor-to-ceiling cedar bookcases.

Living at Camden park, acknowledges the present-day occupant John Macarthur-Stanham, James's great-great-great-grandson, is to live with constant reminders of their presence. 'Six months ago, my wife was looking through some things in the library and suddenly found a slim volume of maps of the exploration of Ludwig Leichhardt, who was a friend of William Macarthur, and had stayed here to write up is journals. So there were some of his maps, with a little poem to William. so you're finding fascinating things all the time - and it's great to be able to go and scrummage in those things.'

Most importantly James and William established Camden Park as the repository of the family's archives. It is perhaps a defining feature of any would-be dynasty that the family recognises its own importance and duly records its progress, aspirations and achievements, and in this the Macarthurs have proved more self-aware than most. With the possible exception of the patriarch himself - who saved only one of his wife's letters - the early generations carefully preserved a first-hand record of their lives for posterity. Elizabeth Macarthur's journals and correspondence - unlike her husband, she kept her spouse's letters - would establish the foundations of this archive. her sons would improve on this most notably James and William who saved all their personal papers - thirty boxes and 296 large volumes of which are now in the State Library of New south Wales. William would also become one of the colony's first amateur photographers and as such would produce an extensive pictorial record of family life on the estate, his self-titled 'Camden albums'. As James's biographer Alan Atkinson observes, 'All the Macarthurs shared a secure faith in the grandeur of their own ambitions, and with it a belief that such virtue as theirs must someday receive a stamp of approval which would be binding for all time ... behind their proud and secretive manner was an ambition to one day publish all, and so to win crowns of glory from an all-knowing prosperity ... the family letters were kept with a perfect confidence that no Macarthur had anything to hide, at least from the future ... any warts in the final picture would only add to its dramatic effect, and its truth, so ensuring its power to last.'

Later descendants would bring these records to the public's attention, securing the family's place in history. They would also continue the tradition of 'never throwing anything away', so that the Macarthur papers on the public record continue well into the and 21st century. Indeed, few family stories have been so well documented as that of the early Macarthurs. But despite the wealth of evidence, argues Alan Atkinson, no Macarthur ever felt the need to justify or explain their actions. Their writings contained little if any, introspection for reflection, simply a recounting of events which were left to speak for themselves. As a result the family's motivations and the future it envisaged for itself in the colony remain open to speculation, not least because of an apparent ambivalence on the part of the individuals themselves. Certainly the second generation of Macarthurs saw themselves as leaders of a new meritocracy; but after this, things get muddy. James would consistently oppose the popular demand for representative government based on wide suffrage, but by the 1840s concluded that self-government for New South Wales was inevitable. He would then seek to make the parliament as conservative an institution as possible, even supporting William Charles Wentworth's proposal for a local House of lords made up of an hereditary colonial peerage that included both families in its ranks - a suggestion that was abandoned only after some of the largest popular demonstrations ever seen at circular Quay. he would later express dismay at the increasingly populist direction of colonial government as influenced by a growing and increasingly assertive lower middle class born of the gold rushes. and yet James would also refuse the offer of imperial honours (unlike William who was knighted for serves to agriculture) despite William returning to England on his retirement, having made the claim that, with the exception of Camden Park, he felt like ridding himself of all his colonial assets. One can only assume that the lure of the family seat eventually grew too strong to resist, for he left England after four years, settling back at Camden Park until his death in 1867.

James's heir became the sole descendant of the Macarthur male line for, of all John and Elizabeth's four sons, only James had children. This lack of interest in securing an heir seems all the more perplexing when viewed against the family's historic aspirations in the colony. One explanation may be that the focus, even at this early stage, had shifted to upholding the family's accomplishments thus far. Perhaps, to borrow from William, the boys (at least) saw themselves as too much their father's instruments to emerge as patriarchs in their own right. Or perhaps, as Elizabeth's biographer Beverley Kingston would have it, the fault lies with a 'dominating and possessive mother who, in keeping with the emphasis she placed on breeding, felt that none in the colony were good enough for her children. Elizabeth Macarthur would long survive her husband and until her death in 1849 continued to take a keen interest in colonial politics, the family and the business, complaining about the cost of servants and doing her best to economise through the depression of the 1840s. (The only portrait of her with provenance dates from this time, and however shy she may have claimed to have been, there is no mistaking the strength of purpose on her handsome, almost masculine features.) Of their three daughters, the eldest, having ejected William Wentworth's proposal, would never marry, while the youngest would wed late in life, against her mother's initial reservations. Only James of all her sons married during Elizabeth's lifetime.  

James found his wife not in the colonies but on a trip to England in the late 1830s. This 'unromantic but most useful marriage to Emily Stone, daughter of a Lombard banker', notes one historian rather cuttingly, was 'the most spectacular fest of his visit'. James and Emily's descendants, however, insist their union was a love match, for what else could have persuaded Emily (even as a spinster in her thirties) to abandon family and friends in London for the distant primitive society of New South Wales? There is no doubting, however, that the alliance brought James a decisive material advantage, even though her family may not have warranted a mention in the social lists of the day. Through his wife's banking connections, James was able to secure himself a greatly increased overdraft and, as the property of the 1830s slid into drought and depression, he was able to lend money profitably at high interest and to continue consolidating the Camden estates. The marriage produced a daughter named Elizabeth after her grandmother, who was born in May 1840. This only daughter would, by default, become the progenitor of the dynastic line - John had died a bachelor, as would William; and Edward, though marrying late, had no children. Elizabeth the Second, as the family have since regarded her, would marry a naval officer, Arthur Onslow, the unremarkable grandson of Alexander McLeay, a gentleman contemporary of her grandfather's. (Elizabeth was twenty-seven and her new husband had arrived in New South Wales only three years earlier, suggesting once again the scarcity of partners considered suitable among the upper echelons of the colony.) Even after their marriage, Elizabeth and her husband would continue to live at Camden Park - her husband becoming the parliamentary representative for the district - and in 1882 she inherited the family estate on the death of her uncle William who, like his brother (her father) before him, had made his niece his sole heir.

Despite unprepossessing parents - for Emily was as plain-featured as her husband - the second Elizabeth was a striking young woman. Her obsidian eyes stare penetratingly out of her uncle's photographs, her long dark hair austerely fashioned in two smooth wings on either side of a classically oval face. By the time she inherited Camden Park, however, Elizabeth was middle-aged and plump, the mother of seven children and a widow, for her husband had died that same year. Ten years later, in 1892, Elizabeth would change her name to Macarthur-Onslow to ensure the continuity of the Macarthur line. (Her husband's contribution, other than bringing the Onslow name into play and consolidating the family's position among a small and increasingly interrelated elite, may be rather brutally summed up by his will, in which he left goods valued at under 500 pounds.) the widowed Elizabeth briefly considered selling up and returning to England where her mother's family assured a warm welcome and comfortable retirement. In the end, however, Her links to the legacy of a beloved father and uncle proved too strong to sever. Instead, in 1887, Elizabeth would embark with her children on an agricultural study tour of Europe, leaving a distant cousin to manage the estate in her absence. Having determined not to take the money and run - the prerogative, we are told, not only of widows, but of the third generation per se - Elizabeth proved a far-from-passive beneficiary. For the next two years, she taught herself dairy farming and, on her return, transformed Camden Park into a model dairy. in doing so she would ensure the estate's survival by successfully negotiating its transition through the economic crash of the 1890s, which culled all but the hardiest of the colony's pastoral elite. 

in bringing the family enterprise firmly into the next century, Elizabeth sought to confirm the achievements of generations past. One imagines she was brought up to fully share in her father's admiration of his illustrious patriarch, and to appreciate the brilliance of his endeavours. In keeping with this belief, Elizabeth devoted her attention to editing a volume of the family's earliest private papers, which her father had selected. Completion of this task later fell to her own daughter, Sibella, who published some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden in 1914, three years after her mother's death. Sibella also inherited the family home at Camden Park - the fist but not the last time a woman would be so favoured by choice rather than necessity. That Elizabeth had bequeathed the house to her only surviving daughter was, as Sibella's biographer makes clear, 'a great compliment to her capabilities over those of the heir, her brother'. Sibella, who never married, proved a model custodian, despite at times becoming 'very excitable'. She would take her place at the forefront of society, which in keeping with the custom of the day entailed taking charge of various clubs and charities. However, as her biographer notes approvingly, 'Camden park was her life: there, Sibella entertained such distinguished visitors as the duke and Duchess of York.

The running of the family estate, however, passed more conventionally to Sibella's eldest brother, James - confirming the inherently patriarchal nature of dynasties and suggesting that Elizabeth, his mother, was only able to make the contribution she did in the absence of any male heirs. James became chairman of the private company his mother had founded to manage the Macarthur pastoral enterprise, now focused on some 8000 hectares at Camden Park, which included twelve cooperative farms and forty leased holdings serving nine model dairies. but he Camden park estate was much more than a business. It was its own small community, made up of the hundreds of loyal farm workers and tenants who lived on the property, many descended from the family's convict servants or assisted settlers. This community lived, died and intermarried on the estate; they b ought their provisions from the estate store attended the family church and sent their children to the estate school. If Sibella, living as she did in the mansion itself, was its virgin queen, then James Macarthur-Onslow was its commander, closely flanked by his two surviving brothers, for Elizabeth had made all her children - male and female - shareholders in the family enterprise. This thoroughly contemporary gesture (at odds with the feudal nature of the estate itself) would sow the seeds for Camden Park's eventual disintegration as, over the next two generations, the family assets were rapidly dispersed among a growing number of stakeholders.

The slow erosion of the family's dynastic capital would take place, however, behind a veil of grandiosity. Already by this fourth generation, the family's position, as one of the oldest in the colony, had become 'as good a claim to respect as having come over with the conqueror'. In a society that was still overwhelmingly British in composition and that still mimicked its colonial parent. Elizabeth's children were at the very apogee of a colonial upper class. Educated in the manner of their English peers at Oxford or Cambridge, the Macarthur-Onslow males fulfilled their duty to empire in the army, becoming officers. They would also assume leadership in local or regional government where, as one might expect, they proved bastions of conservatism. James Macarthur-Onslow, who followed his father into the Legislative assembly, opposed socialism, the Saturday half-holiday and the abolition of capital punishment. Dominating the social pages and honoured for their service to community - although James, as his biographer confesses, was 'usually inactive or on leave' - the Macarthurs represented a social position to which others aspired. They were among a small handful of families upon whom all eyes were focused - and the first names on the guest list of an elegant society party that lasted from the 1920s until the 1960s.

Of course, the best place to congregate was probably Camden Park itself, and one can only imagine the various glittering country house gatherings that would have marked the social calendar. The house continued to pay host to royalty - including the future Queen Mother as a young bride who, in a warm letter of thanks, remarked how nice it was to gaze upon horses after all the faces surrounding her on her tour. This was Sibella's last brush with the British monarchy. Aware of her mother's wishes that Camden Park remain in the family in perpetuity, Sibella dutifully exchanged houses with her eldest brother in 1931 (twelve years before her death), moving to another family  property, the nearby Gilbulla.

James's residency at Camden Park was marked by equal aplomb. A staff of twenty-five (divided between the house and garden) maintained the property along the lines of a grand English manor house. 'It was all so sort of picked up and smart,' recalls his grandson Quentin, who stayed at the house during childhood visits to the ancestral estate. 'All the paths were swept. It was very different-looking.' He still remembers his delight as a young boy on coming down to breakfast in the grand dining room and discovering the long mahogany table laden with kippers, sausages and eggs, as if conjured for his enjoyment. After eating his fill,  he was then free to disappear for the day, roaming the property in his pony-and-trap. Reminiscences such as these bring an understanding of the enduring appeal of Camden Park to generations past and present, for they describe privileged childhood freedoms most could only dream of.

James married a distant cousin, Enid Emma Macarthur - the granddaughter of a nephew of John Macarthur's who had followed his uncle to New South Wales but two had been bankrupted by the depression of the 1840s. the couple had three children, but James's grandson Quentin did not grow up at Camden Park. He spent his childhood in England, where his mother, James's eldest daughter Helen, now lived. Like many of the women in her family, Helen Macarthur-Onslow had married a military man an d an expatriate. An Englishman, sir Reginald Stanham had served briefly in Australia as aide-de-camp to the governor of New south Wales and later became paymaster-general in the British army during world War II. Quentin, too, would fight for Britain in the war, and it was not until 1946 with the death of his grandfather James that the family's Australian future was confirmed.

In a scandal that rocked Camden for years after, James Macarthur-Onslow followed his mother's example and made his daughter, Helen heir to Camden park, bypassing his oldest son and namesake. This fifth-generation James - or Jimmy, as he was known, - had been bankrupted twice, and his father clearly sought to place the dynastic legacy in steadier hands. James bequeathed his son only a small shareholding in the family estate - now under the management of a cousin, Sir Denzil Macarthur-Onslow - and a property in Muswellbrook. The result of this decision was enduring bitterness between Jimmy and his siblings. Jimmy, if family gossip is to be believed, never spoke to his sister again. it was the first schism in a family that, for more than four generations, had been remarkable for its loyalty and cohesion. (Even Edward's decision in the second generation to sever his financial ties had been a relatively amicable one.) And it is telling perhaps that this breakdown preceded the irrevocable collapse of the family enterprise, leaving a dynasty bound by its ties to history alone. Helen returned to Australia in 1948, two years after her father's death, to take possession of Camden Park. She was by then in late middle age, and accompanied by her now retired husband, their son and his family. As his mother's only child and heir, Quentin would eventually come to manage the estate and, at his mother's request, would change his name by deed poll to Macarthur-Stanham to continue the dynastic line. (he insisted, however, on dropping Onslow from the equation.) Quentin was twenty-seven when he came to live at Camden Park, with a wife and son of his own. One-year-old Mark had been born at his grandparents' home in surrey, where his parents had wanted to call him John. However, as mark's mother ruefully notes in her memoirs, 'my mother-in-law forbade it, saying it was an unlucky name in the family'. A daughter, Anne, was born soon after the family's arrival.

Also emigrating was the Stanhams' long-time retainer, Marion Millwood, whose first vivid impressions of Camden Park are of opening gate after gate before the entourage arrived at the house itself. While her first sight of Camden Park, with all the staff lined up to greet them, struck Marion dumb, her employer's attention was drawn to the British flag flying at full mast. Was it to honour her or the royal heir, Prince Charles, who had been born the previous day? Helen inquired - to be duly reassured that it was both.


Australia - Dynasties - The Macarthurs - Part 3

Australia - Dynasties - The Downer Family

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