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Elizabeth Bourke (?–1832)

from Sydney Herald

On Monday last the family of His Excellency the Governor was plunged into the deepest distress by the demise of Mrs. Bourke, at Paramatta. This distinguished Lady had long suffered under the hand of incurable disease; and witnessed the approach of the hour of separation from an affectionate husband and family, with a pious resignation to the will of the Supreme Disposer of events. Denied by the pressure of affliction from mingling in promiscuous society, she enjoyed a peace of mind, a happy serenity, an undisturbed confidence of hope; in the prospect that the dissolving of that mysterious connexion which subsists between the outward frame, and the better principle within, is the only path appointed for all mankind, by which to reach the temple of Eternity.

During the passage to this Country, Mrs. Bourke had seldom enjoyed sufficient good health to be on deck, even during the warmer part of the day; but was mostly confined to her cabin. Nothing but that affection, which, in the female breast knows no bounds to virtuous attachment, and which her sorrowing family must ever regard as put to the severest and most endearing test, could have induced her, in this instance, in her infirm state of health, and with a beloved daughter on the eve of marriage, to undertake a long voyage, through all climates to minister to their comforts at the expense of her own. Since her arrival she has frequently enjoyed the benefit of short excursions, with a view to her relief; and has for some weeks resided at Government-House, Parramatta, the atmosphere of which place, was found more congenial than that of Sydney. Her sickness has been alleviated by every device which the warmest affection of a sympathising family could suggest. The Governor, Private Secretary, and greater part of the establishment have resided for some time at Paramatta, obviously with great inconvenience to themselves in the despatch of business, in the hope that their presence, day and night, might afford relief to the resigned sufferer. But their attention was ineffectul in arresting the progress of disease, and Mrs. Bourke expired at 11 o'clock on Monday, the 7th, and was interred at Paramatta, on Thursday the 10th, of May.

This state of continued and daily increasing ill health prevented that intercourse with Colonial Society which Mrs. Bourke was admirably qualified, from natural disposition and acquired attainments, to sustain with dignity, and affable condescension. All who had the honour of access speak in terms of admiration of her amiable qualities; and the female portion of our upper classes, in particular, have lost a patroness of the most accurate discrimination, most refined sentiments, and at the same time most dignified, but unassuming, and prepossessing manners. Her absence will be deeply felt by those to whom she would have set the fashion of excellence in sentiment, and general conduct. Such a patroness, is at all times invaluable; but is particularly desirable in an infant Colony, with a varied population, and placed at an immense distance from the centre of civilization in Europe. It is however a consolatory reflection, a reflection which none but the virtuous experience —that though we are called upon to lament the loss of those qualified to shine as luminaries in general society; and although the hand of disease removes them in preference to others, yet that affliction is calculated to wean the affections of the sufferer from the enjoyments of time, that they may be placed upon a better state of being in Eternity, to which it is the privilege of all human beings to aspire, though it is the "right divine" of the virtuous alone to inherit it.

Mrs. Bourke is the first lady of any Governor in this Southern hemisphere, who has bowed to this painful destiny. Governors Phillip and Hunter, were, we believe, unmarried. Governor King's lady still lives, and is distinguished in the annals of Colonial history, as the founder and patroness, along with Mrs. Marsden and others, of the Orphan School. Governor Bligh's daughter, Mrs. Putland, afterwards lady of Colonel O'Connell, long a resident in this country, and still a proprietor of land in it, superintended the domestic arrangements at Government House, during his short-lived administration. Mrs Macquarie succeeded, and spread abroad, everywhere, during her long residence, the marks of her taste and beneficence. The Government Domain exhibits proofs of her ability in Landscape Gardening. The domestication of the Blacks, was her favourite pursuit. The Botanic Garden was her frequent place of resort, and owes much of its efficiency to her patronage. Liberal to excess in the purchase and labour of procuring native and exotic plants, fruit trees, shrubs, &c.; she exhibited equal liberality in their dispersion and distribution. With the tenderness of a mother, and the warmth of a zealous friend, she was ever ready to assist the needy, the infirm, the industrious, the oppressed. Her name is never uttered without an accompanying term of endearment, and affectionate remembrance; in the same manner as Governor Macquarie's name is always associated with the epithet "good"—and his Government is emphatically designated, "the days of good old Macquarie." This lady still lives in the enjoyment of affluence, richly merited; and now witnesses her Australian-born son, "young Lachlan," an excellent and talented officer in the Scots Greys, imbued with an ardent desire to revisit the land of his birth.

To Mrs. Macquarie, succeeded Lady Brisbane, daughter of Sir Henry Hay Macdougall, one of the most amiable and accomplished ladies Great Britain can boast of. Domestic retirement possessed enjoyments better suited to her taste, than the trappings of a Court. With unwearied assiduity, she diffused comfort and happiness on all within her influence, while the hand that received, was unable to discover the hand that supplied it. On the arrival of Mrs Darling, a different system was pursued in presentations to Government House, and much of that easy familiarity of the olden time was lost. Mrs Darling was a most amiable, generous, and talented patroness in all subjects to which her influence extended; but there was a severity, a nervous sensibility, in the system of Government pursued, that was not attractive, but was qualified to repel, rather than promote contact. All eyes were turned to Mrs. Bourke, on arrival, and as the country had not been disappointed in its expectations of General Bourke, whose liberal yet cautious policy is of the most commendable character, so it is to be regretted, that the country should have been deprived of one so qualified as Mrs Bourke, to raise the scale of female accomplishments by her example and demeanour. But "It is appointed unto all once to die" and as the arrow of death is always on the wing, directed by unerring Wisdom, it is the duty of survivors to submit to the dispensation; since in the moral, as well as in the physical world, as far as events are under the control of Providence, "Whatever is, is right."

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Elizabeth Bourke

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Sydney Monitor, 12 May 1832, p 2

Citation details

'Bourke, Elizabeth (?–1832)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 May, 1832
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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