The Governor’s Wife (For Eliza Darling)

Her husband’s name hangs over Sydney’s harbour,
A governor in the early days,
But hers drops somewhere from our memories:
To some, an artist, a painter of note;
To others the mother of social reforms
Who lifted the lowly while herself on the couch,
Always, it seems, with a child on the way.

To others still her birth is a mystery:
Was she born in West Bromwich or, some say, Macao?
And why did she have as a child some seven
Convict wet-nurses, all heavy drinkers whom,
Eliza felt sure, curdled the milk
She drank from their breasts? History knows,
And we are left to guess.

Yet we can glimpse what this history made:
A mother to many; the governor’s wife
Who did not cling to glamour or hold
Her position as something to prize, but to use
As a means of grace-giving; took premature children
To her own breast to save them,
And lifted the lowly while lowering herself.

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