John Macarthur

(c. 1766—1834) merchant and wool-grower

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Exercised a considerable influence on the growth of the merino wool industry and on the political affairs of NSW during the Colony's first fifty years. John Macarthur, a lieutenant in the NSW Corps, and his wife Elizabeth came to Australia in June 1890. By 1794 they had established Elizabeth Farm House on a grant to 40 hectares in the Parramatta district. Macarthur's appointment in 1793 as inspector of public works and his position as paymaster of the NSW Corps placed him in such advantageous circumstances that he rapidly became one of the most powerful men in the Colony. After quarrels with successive governors, John Hunter and Philip Gidley King, and a duel with his commanding officer William Paterson, Macarthur was sent to England for court martial. He returned in 1805 with a grant of 2000 hectares of land of his own choosing and with plans to promote the fine wool industry in the Colony; he took up his grant in the Cowpastures area, establishing the historic property Camden Park. In 1808 he played a leading role in deposing Governor William Bligh and returned to England in 1809, again to answer for his actions. Although threatened with arrest if he returned to the colonies, in 1817 he was back in Australia where he exercised considerable influence on the inquiry of Commissioner J.T. Bigge in 1819, quarrelled with Governor Lachlan Macquarie, continued on bad terms with Macquarie's successor Sir Ralph Darling, helped to found the Australian Agricultural Company, the Australian Bank and the Australian and Sydney Colleges, and energetically promoted his pastoral interests. Macarthur was survived by his wife Elizabeth and by his sons Edward (1789–1872) and James (1798–1867); the latter published New South Wales: Its Present State and Future Prospects (1837), ghosted by Edward Edwards. James, a leading figure in NSW politics before self-government, was the father of Elizabeth, who in 1867 married Captain A.A.W. Onslow, thus originating the Macarthur Onslow family. Macarthur is the subject of M.H. Ellis's biography John Macarthur (1955) and is included in Vance Palmer's National Portraits (1940). Sibella Macarthur-Onslow edited Some Early Records of the Macarthurs of Camden (1914). Differing versions of some of the events of the Macarthur period are given in Ellis's biography and in H.V. Evatt's Rum Rebellion (1938). Ross Fitzgerald and Mark Hearn have written Bligh, Macarthur and the Rum Rebellion (1988) and J.M. Ward James Macarthur: Colonial Conservative 1798–1867 (1981).

From The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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