sketcher and author, was the youngest daughter of Charles Henry Blake and his wife. She came to Australia from Perthshire, Scotland, after marrying Allan Macpherson in about 1850 when he was revisiting his home from New South Wales. On the advice of Major Thomas Mitchell , Allan had taken up Keera on the Gwydir River in the New England district of NSW in 1847 ('a highly picturesque, but by no means profitable station’), stocking both it and his out-station, Mount Abundance, near Dalby, Queensland, with shee
The Macphersons left England for New South Wales in March 1856 with their daughter and her nurse, arriving at Sydney on 17 June. Four months later they moved to Keera and Emma rapidly learned to cope with her daughter and a new baby, hostile Aboriginal tribes and staff problems while Allan visited the even less civilised Mount Abundance (’ not a place to take a young wife and children’). Fifteen months later they returned to Britain and their New South Wales properties were sold by 1860. Allan subsequently inherited the family estates in Scotland, becoming Laird of Blairgowrie, Perthshire, and they lived at Blairgowrie Castle. He died in 1891, and Emma died in 1915.
Husband and wife both published reminiscences of their stay in Australia. Emma Macpherson’s appeared anonymously soon after her return as My Experiences in Australia by a Lady (London 1860). Although admitting that a mere fifteen months’ residence was scant qualification, she aimed to show 'every-day life in the colonies, as it would appear from a lady’s point of view’. Her Australian sketchbook, now containing fifteen watercolours and two pencil drawings (some were removed before it was given to the Mitchell Library), includes the originals of four of the six lithographs in her book. The original of another, The Black’s Camp , is privately owned and the watercolour for A Native Burial Place is lost. (One of the two carved trees marking the burial site depicted in this lithograph remains at Keera, a rare survival.) Other watercolours of the Gwydir district (p.c.) include the homestead – referred to as both Blair Gowrie House and Keera Cottage – as well as Sheepwashing at Keera (with Chinese labour), Keera Vale , Blacks Fishing and a view of a nearby property, Beverly, Bundarra . Most are dated 1856. The rest, undated, were done on the spot at about the same time.
Mrs Macpherson also painted wildflowers in Australia even though, she said, she had never previously attempted flower painting. She devoted considerable space in her book to descriptions of local flora, but no extant illustrations are known. All her surviving watercolours are views: of Sydney and suburbs on arrival, the Rocky River diggings and other dramatic scenes en route to Keera ( Mount Wingen – The Burning Mountain and Crossing the Hunter in a Flood ), the station and its environs and a final two-page panorama of Albany K[in]g Georges Sound on the way home. Her drawings are not technically outstanding, but her eye for an unusual subject frequently enhanced by an opinionated text makes them of considerable historic and social value.
Inevitably, Mrs Macpherson admired Sydney Harbour, but her praise was more novel and painterly than most:
English eyes may miss the bright green foliage of the trees of their own land; but to mine, which had been so long accustomed to the darker hues of our Scotch fir woods, the sombre tints of these trees, which are mostly of the Eucalyptus tribe, wore a home-like aspect, affording too, a very pleasing contrast with the deep bright blue of the sky above and the water beneath. There is a wonderful clearness in the Australian atmosphere, the outline of every object is so distinctly defined; hills, trees, and buildings stand out so sharply; and then the sky of cobalt, or ultramarine, forms so lovely a background.
When she came to paint views around the harbour she, again atypically, included Balmain and Sydney Harbour from Paddington as well as the more predictable Cockatoo Island and Sydney Heads and the inevitable Government House ('the only building in Sydney or its environs which can give the young Australians any idea of “the stately homes of England”’).