Elizabeth Macleaybefore 1847

by Unknown artist

Eliza Macleay (née Barclay), immigrated to Sydney with her husband, Alexander, and six daughters in 1825. Her husband, an elected member of parliament and the Governor’s ‘right-hand-man’, worked long hours, leaving Eliza to run the household.

In the 1840s, due to the rural recession and risky business speculation, Alexander sold most of his library of 4000 books and fine furnishings to pay his debts. His eldest son, William, emigrated from England in 1844 and stepped in to save the family from bankruptcy. The family’s reputation also suffered when Alexander was drawn into vicious political disputes.
Eliza gave birth to 17 children, but only 10 survived to adulthood. She saw them educated and with successful careers, or married into well-regarded colonial families. This portrait gives no indication of the difficulties in her life, but depicts her as a member of the colonial elite.