Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams

‘If you want to forge a path of your own, you must find a way to make your time in New South Wales work for you.’

Elizabeth Macarthur arrived in New South Wales in 1790 with her husband John, a lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps. At the end of 1809, Betsey Macquarie arrived with her husband Lachlan, who took up his duties as New South Wales Governor on 1 January 1810. In this novel, Ms Williams imagines a friendship between Elizabeth (Betsey) Macquarie and Elizabeth Macarthur.

I admit to having reservations about this novel: I have read a few novels recently, where the lives of historical women (including novels about both Elizabeth Macarthur and Elizabeth Macquarie) have been imagined. Sometimes such novels can bring historical figures alive, other times they insert imagined details that have me wishing that the novelist had chosen entirely fictional characters. While I cannot quite envisage the Betsey Macquarie that Ms Williams writes of, I have no difficulty recognising Elizabeth Macarthur. My reservations fade quite quickly as Ms Williams immerses the reader in the politics and challenges of this period of Australia’s colonial history. I recognise many of the historical figures and events from other reading.

By the end of the novel, through the personal trials and tribulations each woman (and her family) suffers, I can envisage the shape of such a friendship, the competence of each woman, and the challenges faced.

If you are interested in novels depicting strong women set in colonial Australia, I recommend this novel.

‘In a place where there are so few educated women, Elizabeth knows her friend’s absence will leave a gaping hole.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith