Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Matthew Henry Marsh formed deep links with New England

Jim Belshaw continues the story of Terrible Vale, the Taylors and the early days of the New England pastoral industry. Mathew Henry Marsh and family
In an earlier column, I spoke of the friendship that formed between the Taylor and Marsh families following the arrival of Mathew Henry Marsh’s new wife Elizabeth. Eliza and Margaretta Taylor had attended the same school and now shared common experiences.

Mathew Henry Marsh (1810-1881) was born in Wiltshire, England, eldest son of the Reverend Mathew Marsh and wife Margaret. Marsh was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford and then began practice as a barrister. Finding briefs few, he followed the advice of his mother’s brother and decided to emigrate. It would prove a wise move.

Mathew Marsh clearly had access to money. He arrived in Sydney in June 1840 and then, later that year, purchased a 34,000 acre (13,759 ha) run from Robert Ramsay Mackenzie which he named Salisbury Plains. We have come across Robert Mackenzie before, for it was he that sold the adjoining run of Terrible Valley to Messrs Taylor and Middleton at around the same time.

Marsh quickly added another New England run, the 175,000 acre (70,820 ha) Boorolong, to his holdings and then a 200,000 acre (80,937 ha) Darling Down run Maryland. Now established, Marsh returned to England in 1844, leaving his more recently emigrated brother Charles in charge of the properties.

I almost wrote that Mathew Marsh returned to England to find a wife, for that is what he did, but I presume that he already knew Eliza. That may be just a presumption, for Marsh was clearly a very determined man. Just three years after arriving in the colony, he had returned with substantial holdings to his name.

On their return to the colony, Mathew and Eliza lived in first an old canvas lined slab hut called Old Sarum until Salisbury Court was finished in 1846. It was around six miles, a bit under ten kilometers, between Margaretta and Eliza, and the two visited each other on a regular basis.

It appears that Mathew Marsh could be a stroppy man. He was also a conservative one. But it is also clear that he was a very good manager, building his wealth through land. He was also something of a romantic.

In August 1855, Mathew would return to England leaving brother Charles to run the properties. In England, Mathew became a member of the British Parliament for the liberal interest, but the New England had burnt itself into his soul.
Marsh as a UK MP. Appropriately enough, he was Member for Salisbury.  
Ten years after leaving, Marsh returned to Australia on a trip. There his support for Queensland self-government, Marsh is part of the continuing story of New England’s own fight for self-government, was recognized at a public banquet in Brisbane staged in his honour.

In 1867, Marsh published Overland from Southhampton to Queensland, telling the story of his trip. It’s a good travel yarn, with the latter part full of his early New England experiences.

Marsh was only thirty when he first came to New England. The love of country that was formed partly out of the sense of a young man’s adventure is deeply embedded in the book in prose and poetry. This was, he suggested, the most beautiful countryside in the world.

If Commissioner George James Macdonald was New England’s first European poet, Marsh may well have been the second.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 29 June 2016. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016.

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