An 1840 Wedding at Parramatta

On 9 September 1840, Patrick Leslie married Kate McArthur in the Anglican church in Parramatta. Kate was 22, Patrick would be 25 in a few weeks, and they had been engaged for over 3 years. Their marriage had been delayed again and again because Patrick and his uncle, my Walter Davidson had quarreled. Davidson sacked Patrick as manager of his property, leaving his nephew without a suitable home to which he could bring his bride.

The details of the quarrel are too complicated to go into here – you’ll have to read the book! – but Davidson sold the property – Collaroy station, in the Upper Hunter – to a cousin, Edward Hamilton, who arrived in New South Wales in early 1840. Meanwhile Patrick set out to find a new squatting run for his younger brothers on the Darling Downs. Leaving Walter Leslie and some servants on their new station on the Condamine, Patrick rushed back to Sydney to register their squatting run, which he did in August.

Then he finally married Kate.

I’ve spent most of the last week struggling to read the 13-page account of her wedding written by her sister Libby to send to Patrick’s mother in Scotland. I suspect I may be the first person who has read the letter since it did the rounds of the Leslie family during 1841. Libby’s handwriting is dreadful, and most pages are crossed, a method of squeezing as much as possible onto the page to save on the cost of postage. ‘Are you tired of this scrawl,’ Libby asks at one point – and I most definitely was.

But Patrick’s wedding is a key set piece in my book, the final scene in in the second-last chapter, the point at which the two families I have been following – the Macarthur family in New South Wales, and Walter Davidson’s extended family in Britain – were united in marriage.

Kate’s parents were Hannibal McArthur (nephew of John Macarthur) and Anna Maria King (daughter of Governor King), so she belonged to the colonial elite, but the wedding was a surprisingly low-key event, probably because they had very little time to plan ahead for the big day. The wedding was held in the morning, followed by a big celebration at the Macarthur’s estate, Vineyard, a few miles out of Parramatta.

The Vineyard, Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur's estate at Parramatta

The Vineyard, Parramatta, by Conrad Martens, 1840, from Wikipedia

The bride and groom soon left, but the party continued, with many of the guests staying overnight. Patrick and Kate spent their first few nights at Hannibal’s holiday home at Clovelly before going to Dunheved, Uncle King’s estate, which Patrick had rented while King was the resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens.

Phillip Parker King's estate, Dunheved

View of Dunheved, New South Wales, by Conrad Martens, 1837, from Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

I’m intrigued by the similarities and differences between this wedding in 1840 and a wedding celebration these days. In some ways they are quick alike. The toasts and speeches haven’t changed much, nor has the sense that the groom, with one best man, was outcompeted by the bride with her host of bridesmaids. The fashionable clothes are much the same, even to the mother-of-the-bride’s outfit in – yurk – violet. Kate didn’t throw a bouquet, but the business with ‘Papa’s wedding ring’ seems to follow the same rules of pre-planned prediction – everyone knew that Mary was going to marry Patrick’s friend Hugh Gordon as soon as he returned from China.

I think in the days of My Kitchen Rules, we are more preoccupied with food than Libby seems to have been, although I suspect their ‘cold collation’ was pretty similar to our rubber chicken – and prepared without refrigeration, too. Less similar is the sheer size of Kate’s family – she had 5 sisters and 5 brothers, most of whom were present.

There’s something about family celebrations that brings out the best and worst in the human condition. That’s why suicide rates go up around Christmas, people fall in love at their friends’ weddings, and fights break out after funerals. Libby’s letter is full of the joy of the big event – but below the surface were a seething mass of tensions, only some of which were evident at the time.

The most obvious tension was between the two branches of the Macarthur family. The ‘Camden Macarthurs’ and the ‘Vineyard McArthurs’ took opposing positions in the quarrel between Patrick Leslie and Walter Davidson, and the families were becoming estranged. They even used different spellings of their name! But Hannibal was John Macarthur’s nephew, so John’s children should have been at their cousin’s wedding. John Macarthur’s widow, Elizabeth, was a friend of ‘Grandmama’ – Anna Josepha King – but she was also an old lady, and could be excused attendance, and her eldest daughter was always treated as an invalid. James’s absence was another matter, and his wife Emily could surely have got there too, though her baby was only born the previous May.

There were other tensions too. The Leslie brothers, the McArthur brothers and Robert McKenzie were all beneficiaries of the squatting boom, but the economic situation was about to go very bad indeed. Their friend Stuart Donaldson was a businessman in Sydney, supplying their stations and selling their wool on consignment. This made him their creditor – and it would be many years before he ever got his money back.

Finally there were the absent brothers. Walter Leslie missed the wedding because he was holding the fort on the Darling Downs – pretty much literally. The first building they put up there was made of stone, the better to resist attack by Aborigines, with windows just large enough to fire a gun. ‘It is a lovely place & there have been no blacks seen on our run for 18 months’, wrote Patrick ominously less than 2 years later. Meanwhile the oldest brother, William Leslie, was in Macao where he was a partner in Dent & Co, one of the biggest opium traders in the business. News from China was scarce in September 1840 because of the First Opium War. Libby clearly thought this war with China would be good for trade.

For those who may be interested, I’ve attached the whole of Libby’s letter below – there are still a few words that defeat me, and I’d be grateful for any clues/guesses as to what they may be. Libby’s punctuation is erratic. I’ve adjusted accordingly, and added paragraphs to make it easier to read.

My dearest Mrs Leslie, Here I am with your new daughter and your dear Son Patrick and I think I cannot better employ myself than in giving you some account of the proceedings of the last week – but first I must tell you that all our party are quite well dear Mama none the worse for the excitements, I only wish you could have been an eye witness to all that has occurred in our dear House –

I have not written you since dear Pat’s return Home, but I think I wrote to Mary Anne [Patrick’s married sister]– You will have heard from him of all the particulars of his trip and the success He has had in obtaining stations for his dear brothers – So I will at once turn to a subject which at this moment occupies much of my attention & which you must be deeply anxious upon.

He reached Vineyard on the 2nd August and we were all very busy immediately commencing preparations for his union with our darling Sister so long and from such untoward circumstances postponed – The 9th of September was the day fixed – Pat’s faithful friend Mr. Donaldson to be bridesman on the occasion such a kind creature he is really I do not know what we should have done without him. He arranged every thing for us and put every one in spirits and their proper places! He went to Dunheved on the 7th & remained with Patrick till the evening of the 8th when they drove down to Mr Walker‘s son in Parramatta where they were joined by Mr Hamilton & Mr Donaldson’s friend Mr. Robert McKenzie. George [Leslie] was with them, they slept there and were to meet us at Church at 11 o’clock – on the 9th – so much for them!

At Vineyard we were a small party Uncle & Aunt King with their little girl Libby, Miss McQuoid, (who was a bridesmaid) and a little girl, Sissy Manning (about Emma’s age and a great friend of hers) in addition to our general circle. Of course we were all very busy making the necessary preparations for entertaining a large party at Lunch next day after the ceremony a quantity of lovely flowers from Camden were to be arranged and many other little affairs quite occupied us, the evening before – William McArthur was the only one of the family who accepted the invitation in a proper & affte. manner – Eml. [Emmeline] sent us such an answer that we did not know if she intended being present or not – however on the 8th she called and we asked her when she said certainly she was coming – James was too busy in council, Aunt at Camden & Emily’s nursery cares – were the excuses.

We were all up in good time on the 9th The children half wild with delight – My occupation before breakfast was making a wreath of lovely natural Orange blossom to surround a Cake for the centre of the Table which was raised on a Glass Stand. There were no Sugar ornaments but nicely laid on the top – in the centre I stuck in a white & Pink rose, a sprig of Myrtle and some beautiful double Violets round these laid flat & as a wreath of pretty delicate ferns & Native flowers the effect was very good.

The Table in the dining room was laid for 26 not including any children. We have a capital Butler & his wife who have been accustomed to prepare cold collations at Archery Meetings in England so we left all the arrangements to them & really they managed every thing beautifully & gave us no anxiety or trouble beyond what we delighted to take in the affair.

At ½ past 9 we went to dress – the Bride elect amused herself by dressing Emma – But I must begin regularly & give you a faithful description This self same Lady wore a white worked clear Muslin dress over White Satin worked Muslin Shawl lined with W. Satin White bonnet & Veil natural Orange blossom in her Cap White Satin Shoes – I really felt most proud of her she looked so very pretty – you know I may say so – for she has ever been a sort of pet Sister of mine – Annie, Mary, Miss McQuoid & myself wore plain white Muslin over W Satin worked Shawls over Pale Pink. White bonnets & White Shoes. Emmeline, Emma, Libby King and Sissy Manning in white Muslin frocks lined with Pink, White Jaconet Trowsers – Tuscan Bonnets & white ribbons. Kid Shoes they all looked so pretty and so happy. I wish you could have seen them. Mama wore Violet Satin dress – Pink Satin Bonnet worked Shawl, lined with Pink – Grandmama Stone coloured Satin dress – White bonnet worked Shawl lined with pale green – Aunt King in Lavender dress Tuscan Bonnet she looked very nicely –

We all assembled in the drawing room – I am happy to say all in cheerful Spirits dear Papa calling our attention to his dress and laughing at the immensely wide dresses Madame McKenzie had given us. However all was very correct, so says Patk.

At ¼ past 10 the carriages came round first started Papa & Uncle King in the farmer’s Gig, 2nd Grandmama’s carriage with herself and Aunt King. 3d. Mr Edye Manning’s carriage with Annie, Miss McQuoid – Emmeline & Libby King 4th. our close carriage with Mary, Emma, & Libby Manning 5th our own open carriage with Mama Kate & myself. You must know K. cannot bear to be in a close carriage

On entering the Town I was I was much amused at seeing numbers of people collected at the corners of the Streets at the windows &c to see the sight!!! Arrived at the Church Gate – we found the Space abt. 30 yards from that to the porch lined on each side with school [added above: “Mr ?Stall’s school the clerk of the Church”] children each 3 or 4 having a bunch of flowers in their hand –

Before we had time to get out of the carriages up dashed the Bride groom with his best Man ¼ of a minute later than he should have been!!! his Horses looked beautiful and his carriage very neat & nice looking with a Hood which will move to either front or back seat on this occasion – it was in front as Pat always drives himself, 2 Servants behind – they helped to hand us out of the carriage and we entered the Church yard – Papa, Kate & Mama first, Annie & I next, Mary & Louisa McQuoid – the little girls together –

There were numbers of persons standing behind the lines of children and two flags flying – one “Love Brethren” the other 9th Sept. 1840. Mr Forrest was the officiating clergyman – an old promise – Mr. Robart our Clergyman was also present in his White Gown – The bride elect the bridesmaids & Papa and Mama went into our own Pew, but we were quickly required to approach the Altar – & in two minutes we were all in our places – assembled were – Papa, Mama, Grandmama, Aunt & Uncle King, Uncle Lethbridge, Libby King the 3 younger King boys from school, Mr. Hamilton, Mr Robert McKenzie, Mr Troughton a clergyman, Mr Donaldson, dear George Leslie – my brothers George, Johnnie, & Arthur, Emmeline, Emma, Sissy Manning, Louisa McQuoid we 3 Sisters and dear Kate & Pat.

The Church was half full of people – Spectators all our Servants were present – Mr Forrest read the service most beautifully – I must tell you to our credit there was no actual crying but a tear will escape on such an occasion even when one is slightly interested – in this case we were all in heart happy in the certain belief that it added to the happiness of two beings we so dearly love much I shall miss my dear Sister but it would be selfish to let this feeling gain any ascendancy may truly say I rejoice with them much as I shall feel the Blank in our sweetly suited home circle – it is a great comfort they will be so near us – 16 miles is only a morning’s drive.

Are you tired of this scrawl – I fancy not my dearest friend so I will continue. When Kate was addressed by Mr Forrest “Will thou have this Man for thy wedded Husband” &c &c he had only reached this far when she said “I will” in a great hurry! This was the only mistake made Pat repeated on his part in a very determined manner. I wish you could have heard him! – Only fancy when the ceremony commenced I found that Emmeline & William McArthur were not present – I was very sorry but we could not keep so many waiting for them.

The ceremony concluded the Bride & Bridegroom placed their names in the Book with some of ours as witnesses. during this time the bridesmaids were engaged in [pinning?] on Favors for the gentlemen. Maria, Kate, Pat & I returned to our own Pew. Mr. Donaldson came in & placed on Kate’s finger as a Guard a beautiful pearl ring his gift. The happy pair of course started first the Servants all wore 2 favors each – Our carriage followed.

Just as we were leaving I saw my cousins coming We made a sign that they should follow us which they did.

We all assembled in the drawing room 32 in number having been joined by Mr Edye Manning. There was on the Table a Cake with a wreath of Orange blossom laid on the top, which the bride was to cut. She made the first cut & then resigned her place to Mr Donaldson who laid Papa’s wedding ring in a piece – & then handed it with wine round – the ring fell to Mary’s place – The children were all dancing about the room I wish so much you could have seen their dear happy faces.

It was now 12 o’clock – Much to our surprize Mr. Stall appeared at the wharf with all his school in a large boat. Mr Donaldson rushed down the Lawn and invited them all up. They were ranged by Mr. S who is an extraordinary little Man in two rows he walking up & down between playing a flute – while they sang a Hymn. It is an Infant School and he puts them through all kinds of sessions. they amused us very much – for half an hour, when they had a scramble for Bunns & Oranges which they all enjoyed very much –

Our Lunch was announced at 1 o’clock – we all repaired to the dining room where everyone was in first rate spirits. The health of the happy pair was proposed by Uncle King in a very feeling and appropriate speech – ending by desiring that they would keep the roads free from grass at Dunheved & the Garden in good cultivation.

Mr. Donaldson in returning thanks had his own little say on the occasion – He then begged leave to propose a Toast! Which was the Bridesmaids, only fancy, Mr. Hamilton was asked but declined returning thanks for them! – and every one was too nervous so the Ladies withdrew the Bride to change her dress which she did putting on a dove col[oure]d Silk dress – Tuscan Bonnet white ribbons & Veil long worked Muslin scarf lined with Pale Pink –

At 2 oclock they drove from the door, the Gentlemen returned to the dining room, Mama up Stairs to rest herself and get composed – Emmeline & William left the latter said he must go to Sydney.

Our visitors I mean Mr Donaldson kindly proposed a week before that all should make Lunch their dinner which saved us much anxiety & fatigue Mr. Hamilton left by the 4 oclock Steamer – Mr Robart & Mr Forrest left & all the rest of our party remaining – We changed our dresses – and took a short [?guide] walk with dear ?Thomas, who was as happy as a Prince as Emma said – flirting with the little girls. The party assembled again at 6 o’clock and at ½ past, we had Tea & Coffee – after which Mr Donaldson put on a very handsome Mexican riding costume Leather with silver ornaments in abundance and his friend Robert McKenzie a Highland Chieftain’s dress – which he had made to wear at a late fancy Ball. It cost more than £100 and is splendid. Pat says it is perfectly correct. The top of the ?Krizz was beautifully capped in blue work with Thistles carved on it in wreaths – 3 large Silver buckles in front ornamented with Thistles a tight green velvet jacket & the kilt made of McLeod Tartan a scarf & a brooch on the Shoulder with 4 Silver Thistles the centres beautiful clasps a large Cairngorm in the centre – His buttons – Topaz – he could not get McKenzie Tartan in Sydney.

(I am obliged to cross my Letter the Master has no large paper here, he says you will not read it)

We danced a Scotch reel much to the delight of our Scotch Servants who were all at the Windows!! – We danced a sett of Quadrilles [?Thomas] & I together in the midst of this arrived a number of ? from the Town – It has been most gratifying & the marked consideration & respect shewn on the occasion by the lower class of our community we did not expect it, as they are generally so independent in their manners – towards their superiors in rank – Mr Donaldson sang a very good Comic Song – & Edye Manning several very pretty Songs – Supper was announced at 10 – the children all sat up – and were so happy – at 11 Mr Troughton read a Chapter & Prayers – when we all retired having passed a most happy day –

The only disappointment we experienced which was indeed a serious one to us was the absence of my two dear elder brothers. It was unavoidable – however I hope dear Charlie will be here in a few days. They were so far away at Port Phillip that we could not let them know in time, and the union had been so often delayed by events that we feared it imprudent to allow any thing to come in the way on the day proposed – dear Pat & Kate come direct here where I joined them on the 11th. We are to return to Vineyard on the 16th & I believe go to Dunheved on the 21st. I am going with Kate and I think shall spend much of my time with them for I am very fond of both –

Dear [Thomis?] will leave in about a month for the Downs to join dear Walter and Ernest Dalrymple. We shall miss him very much. He has been so constantly with us at Vineyard. He expects to hear from Walter in about six weeks – The Governor intends throwing open the settlement at Moreton Bay for purchase – when Pat thinks of buying 2 or 3 Town allotments. If it prospers as Port Phillip has done it will in time be a little fortune in itself. I hear the climate there is splendid no hot winds.

We are daily expecting dear Hugh Gordon home when I suppose we shall lose another rose from our Garden!

All at Vineyard are quite well Mama has borne the excitement much better than I expected she would – We are to meet Mr Donaldson and McKenzie at Vineyard on the 16th & dear [?Thomas Westall?] he is a merry happy party I am sure there never was a marriage so happy as ours in every respect. I think there has not been a single drawback to our perfect enjoyment.

Will you my dear friend send this Letter to Mary Ann, for I have so much to write that I will ask her to read this as if written to herself – We shall soon be expecting to hear of her and I trust this year finds her quite well. Give my affte. love to dear Kate and Tommy [Patrick’s younger sister and brother].

We are very anxious to hear of dear William from China. I suppose they are very busy there – No one here seems afraid that the Trade will suffer – it is generally thought that it will prosper more than ever –

Will you say every thing for me to dear Mr. Leslie, I assure you his Name is much reverenced at Vineyard, and his afft. Letters are much prized – he would I am sure be proud and happy could he witness the position his dear Sons have taken up in our Land – they are all respected and will one day be beloved by their own dependents I hope –

I think you must be almost tired of this long history – but my Letter will do for a rainy day – but I ought to have told you this at the beginning I believe Annie was to write you but in case she does not I prepare this – On the 18th all our Servants are to have a Dance, much they will enjoy themselves – they are so fond of Mr. Leslie.

I must now say, Goodbye with my warmest & most aft. Love – & wishes for your health & happiness.
Ever believe me, My dearest Mrs. Leslie
Yours very aft. friend
Elizabeth McArthur

Letter 310 Elizabeth McArthur to Jane Leslie, Clovelly, 12 September 1840, in Leslie Letters, OM71-43 in John Oxley Library. Thanks to the State Library of Queensland for special permission to look at the originals, which are not normally available.

Mystery words:

I can’t make out the word (and possibly don’t know it anyway) of the object carved with a thistle brought by Robert McKenzie:


Thomis/Thomas appears a number of times. It never looks exactly like ‘Thomas’, but I can’t work out what else it can be. On one occasion the name given is ?Thomas Westall – but I haven’t found him yet:

?Thomas Westall

?another Thomas


8 responses to “An 1840 Wedding at Parramatta

  1. I enjoyed reading that, right through to the end, but can’t help you with the handwriting sorry. I’m interested that the wedding is so ‘modern’. I would have thought that at the beginning of the C19th weddings were still private, more or less just between the couple and the clergyman and that modern weddings started with Queen Victoria’s (also in 1840).
    Looking up Wikipedia I went down a byway as you do and it seems the expression “Handfasted’ which is the title of a novel by Catherine Helen Spence means the same as our de facto marriage.

    • Hi Bill. That’s interesting – I wonder how much Victoria’s wedding influenced weddings in general. I’m no expert on the law on marriage, but I know that weddings had to take place before midday. That may have been one reason why they tended to be fairly private affairs. Clearly finding enough carriages to hold a large wedding party was an issue too.

  2. ” in the centre I stuck in a white & Pink rose, a sprig of Myrtle and some beautiful double Violets round these laid flat & as a wreath of pretty delicate ferns & Native flowers” – much nicer than sugar ornaments, that’s what I did too, had real flowers:)

  3. How wonderful – thanks so much for sharing. I can’t help with the handwriting either, you’re clearly very good at it. I don’t think I’m game to tackle crossed letters! And how rude were those Camden Macarthurs?! Outrageous. In an attempt to defend the indefensible, Elizabeth MacArthur confessed to having issues facing strangers after John died, and in her later years stayed away from gatherings she would earlier have attended. She did not attend her own daughter Emmeline’s wedding, for example, although she was present for the subsequent breakfast.
    Did the happy couple live happily ever after?

    • Thanks Michelle. I don’t blame Elizabeth for not coming – she was well over 70, and not travelling much – though she does make a few snarky comments in her letters about Patrick, too – ‘the Betrothed’, she calls him. I didn’t know she didn’t go to Emmeline’s wedding – although I know Hazel King says the family disapproved of her marriage.

      Re Pat and Kate – they stayed together into old age, and seem to have remained happy with their relationship, but they had a lot of sadness. Only one very unsatisfactory son who was involved in various scandals. They moved to NZ with son and daughter in law. She found her husband in bed with a servant, and went back to Britain leaving 3 children behind. Then son died (probably alcohol) leaving Kate and Pat to raise their grandchildren.

  4. Pam Swepson

    That’s amazing Marion.

    I read the letter all the way through. What a job transcribing it! But am amazing peek into another world.

    And I love the reference to ‘my Walter Davidson.’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s