Elizabeth Paterson (nee Driver)

portrait of Elizabeth Paterson 1799

Elizabeth Paterson in 1799 (William Owen, Art Gallery NSW).

Elizabeth Driver was born on 24 April 1770 in Maryton (Old Montrose), County Angus, Scotland, one of five children of Elizabeth and William Driver. After her father died in 1780 when she was aged ten, her mother took over from him as publican of the Ship Inn tavern in Montrose, and young Elizabeth lived for a time with her uncle in Liverpool. Young Elizabeth's early years among the travellers who stayed at the tavern gave her the same 'human touch' that had made her parents successful innkeepers. Later her friendly, outgoing nature would brighten colonial society in Australia.

Elizabeth Driver married Captain William Paterson of the NSW Corps on 28 September 1789 at Saint Martin in the Fields, Westminster, London. She was 19 and he was 34. Elizabeth was a minor at the time of her marriage and wed with the consent of her mother.

Elizabeth and William Paterson sailed from England in March 1791 on the Admiral Barrington which was one of nine ships in the third fleet to transport convicts to New South Wales. They arrived in Sydney in October 1791 and after a short stop-over, reached Norfolk Island the following month.

Elizabeth spent just over two years on the Island while William commanded a Company of the New South Wales Corps stationed there to guard convicts and assist the running of the penal settlement which was an extension of the Sydney settlement. During this time Elizabeth became close friends with Anna King, wife of Philip Gidley King who was the lieutenant-governor of the Island. The two women would remain lifelong friends.

Elizabeth returned to Sydney with William in March 1793 after he was recalled to the mainland. At the age of 24, on Christmas Day 1794 Elizabeth Paterson became First Lady of New South Wales when William took office as acting governor of the colony.

As vice-regent and consort, the Patersons maintained the social face of government. At Government House they entertained visitors to the colony such as naval officers and ships' captains. They hosted functions for the resident civic and military officers and their wives, and officially celebrated the king's birthday, his accession to the throne and other formal occasions. Elizabeth performed the role with ease, her outgoing nature and spirited personality making her a sensible vice-regal hostess.

At that time Government House was a two-storey brick building on high ground overlooking Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay). Today the archaeological remains of the house lie beneath the corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets near the Museum of Sydney. The Patersons' vice-regal duties ended in September 1795 when John Hunter was sworn in as Governor.

In September 1796 Elizabeth Paterson left Sydney, sailing with her husband who was returning on sick-leave with a severely inflamed eye, and they reached England in June 1797. They returned to Sydney in November 1799 where William rejoined his regiment as its commanding officer after his promotion to lieutenant-colonel.

In 1800 the childless Elizabeth Paterson focused her energies on the establishment and management of the Sydney Female Orphan School. It was the first welfare institution on mainland Australia and it was the first time that women participated in the governance and management of a public institution on the mainland. The orphanage committee, formed in 1800, comprised Rev. Richard Johnson, William Balmain, Rev. Samuel Marsden, John Harris, Anna King and Elizabeth Paterson.

A large two-storey house overlooking Sydney Cove was purchased and fitted out as the orphanage, which opened in August 1801 with about 50 girls in residence. The orphanage became a showpiece for visitors to Sydney. After several visits to the orphanage in 1802, François Péron (the naturalist with the Baudin scientific expedition) praised Anna King and Elizabeth Paterson's commitment to the work. He wrote:

Every day without fail, either separately or together, the two went to visit their young family, as they call them. They neglect nothing to ensure the girls' cleanliness, education and well-being. I accompanied the two respectable ladies to the institution several times, and each time I have been greatly moved by their calm concern and tender care. [translated from French].

Sydney Cove in 1810 showing the Orphan School

View of Sydney Cove from the East Side, with red arrow showing the Orphan School (John Eyre, 1810, State Library Victoria, arrow added digitally).

Elizabeth Paterson and Anna King's participation in the governance of the Female Orphan School gave women a voice in public affairs and represented a milestone in the emergence of women's authority in New South Wales.

In 1803 Elizabeth Paterson adopted one of the orphans, a ten year-old girl named Elizabeth Mackellar. The girl's father, Neil Mackellar, was a close friend of the Patersons. He disappeared at sea en-route for England and his partner, the girl's mother, abandoned their daughter to marry another man. With the adoption, the Patersons were no longer childless.

In 1805 Elizabeth Paterson and her daughter joined William Paterson at Port Dalrymple in northern Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) where he had earlier taken possession of the land for Britain and become lieutenant-governor of the penal outpost located there.

At Port Dalrymple, Elizabeth Paterson's special ability to repair torn relationships came to the fore. In her warm correspondence with John Piper on Norfolk Island she signed as 'your very sincere friend', a remarkable recovery of friendship with the man who was John Macarthur's second in his duel with William Paterson in 1801 that nearly killed near husband. Even more remarkable was Elizabeth's now cordial relationship with John Macarthur himself that saw her sending him regards and organising to send him a tame kangaroo and swans.

While the Patersons were at Port Dalrymple, Governor William Bligh granted Elizabeth 1,000 acres of land there but he was removed from office before the grant could be issued. Later Governor Macquarie confirmed Elizabeth's grant at 2,000 acres. She named the grant 'Spring Grove' and the Launceston suburb of Youngtown now sits on part of it. As further evidence of Elizabeth's current-day footprint in northern Tasmania, in 2008 a subdivision near Launceston was named 'Driver's Run', mirroring the name of a local creek that initially took Elizabeth's maiden name.

portrait of Elizabeth Paterson in middle age

Elizabeth Paterson in middle age (unknown artist, State Library NSW).

On 1 January 1809 the Patersons and their daughter arrived back in Sydney where William became the rebel governor of New South Wales after his officers had earlier removed Governor Bligh from office in a military coup. Elizabeth Paterson was once again First Lady of New South Wales, and she performed the role until Governor Macquarie took office in January 1810.

In May 1810 the Patersons sailed for England following the recall of the 102nd Regiment (formerly the NSW Corps) and Elizabeth became a widow when William died at sea a month later. The British government denied Elizabeth a pension, probably because William had refused to reinstate Governor Bligh.

In 1814 Elizabeth remarried, to William's former commanding officer, Lieutenant-General Francis Grose. Unfortunately he died two months later, leaving Elizabeth widowed once more. She lived in Bath until mid 1819 when she moved to Liverpool (England) to live near her sister's family, the Bannings. By at least 1821 she had sold her 2,000 acre property in Launceston, Australia, and by 1823 Mary Reibey owned it.

Elizabeth Paterson/Grose died at her home in Liverpool in 1839 at the age of 69. She died a wealthy woman, her estate for death duty being valued at £9,732.

Elizabeth Paterson's monument in St James, Liverpool

Elizabeth Paterson's monument in St James, Liverpool, England. It is inscribed "Elizabeth Grose, widow of Lieut. General Grose, departed this life May 14 1839 aged 69 years". Photo: Anna Fairley Nielsson.


All information on this page is from the following publication with contains extensive documentation of primary sources and a detailed bibliography:

Walsh, Brian. William and Elizabeth Paterson — the Edge of Empire, 2018. It is available for sale from Paterson Historical Society [details].

See also

William Paterson.