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Lachlan Macquarie, father of Australia

General Macquarie

© anon

Lachlan Macquarie was born on the island of Ulva (a small island close to Mull) on 31 January 1762. His father, Lachlan Macquarie, was a cousin of the sixteenth and last chieftain of the clan MacQuarrie, while Macquarie's mother, Margaret was the only sister of Murdoch Maclaine, chieftain of Lochbuy (Lochbuie) in Mull. He was one of four brothers: Hector (died 1778); Donald (died 1801); and Charles (died 1835).

There are no details of Lachlan's early years and education. His army career began in 1776, at the age of 14, when he joined the British Army as a volunteer. In 1777 he obtained an ensigncy in the 2nd battalion of the 84th Regiment, known as the Royal Highland Emigrants, and was posted to North America where he did garrison duty, first in Nova Scotia, and then in New York and Charleston. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 71st Regiment in January 1781. In 1784 he returned to Scotland from his posting in Jamaica, and was reduced to half-pay. Then in 1787, as a lieutenant in the 77th Regiment, he began a long association with India, remaining there until 1801. While in India he saw much active service, especially in the south, where he participated in the seige of Cochin (1795), the capture of Colombo and Point de Galle (1796), and the Battle of Seringapatam (1799).


© Tim Dawson

In 1793 he married Jane Jarvis, but their marriage proved to be brief and childless - she died of tuberculosis on 15 July 1796.

In 1801, while military secretary to Jonathon Duncan, Governor of Bombay, Macquarie was appointed deputy-adjutant-general to the 8000-strong army, under the command of Major-General David Baird, that was sent to Egypt to defeat Napoleon and expel the French. Macquarie returned to England in 1803 to attend to financial matters, but in 1805 he returned to India where he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the 73rd Regiment. After serving in northern India until 1806 he undertook to return to Britain carrying government despatches. After sailing from Bombay to the Persian Gulf, where he narrowly escaped drowning, he then travelled overland to London via Baghdad and St Petersburg.

However the real reason for his return was to marry his distant cousin Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell, of Airds whom he had met in 1804. He had proposed to her in March 1805 but asked her to keep their engagement secret and wait until his return from India. She had become impatient with his seeming delay, particularly when it became apparent that his tour of duty would be for four years. They married on November 3 1807. The bride was 29, and the groom 46. She bore him a daughter, Jane, in September 1808, but unfortunately, the child died on December 4th, the same year.

Macquarie street sign

© Tim Dawson

In April 1809 Macquarie was appointed Governor of New South Wales to replace William Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) whose governorship had been wracked with controversy. Macquarie and his wife sailed with the 73rd Regiment from Portsmouth in the storeship Dromedary and escorted by H.M.S Hindostan on 22 May 1809, and they arrived at Port Jackson on 28 December. He took up his commission as governor on 1 January 1810.

Lady Macquarie's seat

© Tim Dawson

From the outset, Macquarie saw the colony as a settled community as well as a penal settlement. However, his term of office also coincided with an increase in the number of convicts sent to the colony. His solution was to commence an ambitious programme of public works (new buildings, towns, roads) to help absorb these numbers. He also extended the practice of ticket-of-leave for convicts.

This policy of encouraging convicts and former convicts (emancipists) brought him into conflict with an influential, conservative, section of the local society. This group, known as the "exclusives", sought to restrict civil rights and judicial privileges to itself. Many of these free settlers also had influential friends in English political circles.

mausoleum inscription

© Tim Dawson

Frustration and recurring bouts of illness led him to submit his resignation on several occasions. A serious illness in 1819 almost proved fatal, and the pressures of a commission of inquiry into the state of the colony, headed by J.T. Bigge, reinforced his desire to end his term of office and return home to defend the charges made against his administration. Finally at the end of 1820 he learnt that this third application for resignation had been accepted. However, it was not until February 12th, 1822 that he and his wife and son departed for England. (On March 28th, 1814, after six miscarriages, Elizabeth had given birth to a son named Lachlan).

In 1822-23, worried about Elizabeth's health, he took her and Lachlan, with servants and a tutor on a grand tour through France, Italy and Switzerland. Finally, in January 1824 Macquarie retired to his estate in Mull. However, a number of matters still remained to be resolved with the government and in April 1824 he went to London to secure the pension that he had been promised. Unfortunately, while he was there he suffered a recurrence of the bowel disorder that was a legacy of his service in India. Elizabeth hurried down from Mull and was in time to see him before he died at 49 Duke Street, St James on July 1st 1824.

Macquarie, his wife Elizabeth, and son and daughter are buried in the Macquarie Mausoleum at Gruline, Isle of Mull (see photos).

More information, and artifacts connected with Macquarie, can be found in the Lachlan Macquarie Room in Macquarie University Library, Sydney, Australia

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