Lachlan Macquarie is known as ‘The Father of Australia’. As Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1822, he brought reform to the convict colony and began an ambitious building programme in Sydney.
Lachlan was born on 31 January 1762 on the small island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides. Lachlan was related to the last chieftain of the clan Macquarie and to the chieftain of Lochbuy in Mull.
Lachlan embarked on a military career, first as an ensign in the ‘Royal Highland Emigrants’. Over the years he was posted around the world - from Nova Scotia, New York and Charleston to Jamaica, Bombay and Cairo.
By 1808 Lachlan Macquarie commanded the 73rd Regiment of Foot, the Black Watch. He wrote to Castlereagh, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, and asked for the Governorship of New South Wales as the previous Governor, William Bligh, had been deposed.
Captain William Bligh had famously lost command of his ship when his crew mutinied on The Bounty in April 1789. In Australia, on 26 January 1808, the New South Wales Corps, under Major George Johnston, mutinied against William Bligh in the Rum Rebellion. They marched on Government House in Sydney, arresting Governor Bligh and taking charge.
The New South Wales Corps were recalled to England to be replaced by the 73rd Regiment of Foot under Macquarie. On 22 May 1809 Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth set sail from Portsmouth, England, bound for Australia.
Gary Wotherspoon, Historian
Lachlan Macquarie, who was one of the best governors Australia had in its early years, was born on the island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides in 1762. He came to New South Wales as governor, arriving on the 31st of December in 1809 and started his office, 1st of January 1810. He was appointed governor to overcome the real problems that had developed in New South Wales. The existing regiment that was here, the New South Wales Corps, commonly known as the Rum Corps, had actually developed a monopoly on rum and weren’t paying much attention to their military duties and were much more concerned with making money. And so to ensure that the new governor had a proper military support, they appointed a whole new regiment to come with him.
Brad Manera, Head Curator, Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney
And they were Scottish Highlanders, the 73rd, formerly the 73rd Highland Regiment of Foot, and they left England in their kilts and they had to change into the trousers of a British line regiment when they got here.
Gary Wotherspoon, Historian
Macquarie had a vision of what society could be like. He had clear ideas about what he wanted to do. When he arrived, the colony was really a dumping ground for convicts. When he left he actually thought it was starting to become a real civil, ordered society. In any civil, ordered society, you have to have imposing public buildings, so he started on a building project and when he left in the 1820s, his report to the British government said ‘I have created 265 works of buildings in this colony’, bridges, public buildings like the Convict Barracks, the first hospital, the Mint building.
A lot of people have said that Governor Macquarie liked having things named after him and it’s certainly recorded in the history books that if you wanted to get in his good books you could name something after him. So we have Macquarie Street, Lake Macquarie, Macquarie Place; you name it, there’s a Macquarie everywhere in New South Wales.
Macquarie knew that when convicts had served their term, most of them wouldn’t be going back to Britain, they’d be staying here. So he had long term plans of what their life could be like and he created what he called the emancipists, even freeing some of them before their term was up so that they could do useful things. But he caused a lot of dissent amongst the other people in the colony, because they didn’t really want to associate with ex-convicts. His architect, the person he actually appointed as an architect, was Francis Greenway, who had actually been transported to New South Wales as a forger. He was obviously very good at drawing.
When Macquarie arrived in Sydney, there were problems with the financial system here. British currency, Sterling, was the main thing but it flowed out to pay for imports and food and supplies coming in, so Macquarie had to devise a currency which could stay in the colony. His solution was to take a Spanish silver dollar and punch the hole out of the middle so to create two coins; one was called the holey dollar and the other one was called the dump. Interestingly, today the holey dollar is the sign of the Macquarie Bank.
Elizabeth was Lachlan Macquarie’s second wife. He married her in 1807 and she came out with him in 1809 to the colony. She was following the usual practice of governor’s wives in doing all the vice regal things, but she also took an interest in the welfare of the people here. She was partly instrumental in getting Sydney Hospital, the first Sydney Hospita,l set up in its Macquarie Street place. She took an interest in the orphans and she took a very strong interest in the local indigenous people as well. But she also had interests in gardening and planning. There is a road from Macquarie Street going down to Mrs Macquarie’s Point and Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, where she used to sit and watch the ships coming in and out of the harbour.
Macquarie’s last days here were what you might call fraught, with complaints and accusations and the British government actually sent out a commissioner, Commissioner Bigge, to investigate Macquarie’s governorship. And the report wasn’t favourable, but all I can say is historians have restored Macquarie to his rightful place in Australian history.
Lachlan Macquarie has been given the title of ‘Father of Australia’ and I think that’s a very fair title. He clearly was a visionary. There are so many areas in which he left his stamp on Australia. He created a vision of what Australia could be like into the future.
Elizabeth Macquarie kept a journal recording their voyage over the next seven months.
Sunday 4th June. We have had a great deal of rough stormy weather for the last eight days; and a contrary wind the whole time; knocking us about ... we had a very violent gale of wind the whole of this day...
August. One day when the Ship was going at eight knots an hour, a man fell overboard - he fell over the poop and past our Cabbin window, I saw something fall, but had no idea it was a man till I heard him cry out, which he did in the most disturbing manner. Col. Macquarie ran forward and encouraged him by every means in his power to keep a hold which he had fortunately caught of a fishing line, which hung over the stern - the Ship was put about, and a Boat lower'd, by which the man was saved.
Elizabeth Macquarie, 1809
The Macquaries and the regiment arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney, on 28 December. Lachlan Macquarie became Governor on 1 January 1810. Governor Macquarie saw Sydney as a settlement rather than just a penal colony. He set convicts to work making new roads and buildings. He gave skilled convicts responsibilities and rewarded their hard work.
Francis Greenway, an architect convicted of forgery and transported to Australia, designed a series of new buildings for Macquarie. Greenway’s buildings included Hyde Park Barracks, Government House and St James Church. Ironically Francis Greenway, the convict forger, appeared on Australian $10 bank notes from the 1960s to the 1990s.
Macquarie named a town near Sydney ‘Castlereagh’ after the Secretary of State for the Colonies and another ‘Pitt’ after William Pitt, the Prime Minister. He also named a town ‘Wilberforce’ after William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery campaigner. Macquarie said it was ‘in honour of and out of respect to the good and virtuous Wm Wilberforce, Esq, MP - a true Patriot and the Real Friend of Mankind’.
Wilberforce wrote to Macquarie, saying ‘attention to ye religious and moral state of ye Colony would in a few years produce improvements which men could scarcely anticipate’. Elizabeth wrote of an encounter with a Portuguese slave ship laden with female slaves on their journey to Australia.
...an infectious fever prevail'd among them, to which the Captain and a great number of the slaves had fallen victims - to put a stop if possible to the complaint, they had resorted to a precaution at which humanity shudders, namely, that of throwing the unfortunate slaves overboard as soon as they were taken ill. When we hear'd of this we all thought on Mr Wilberforce.
Elizabeth Macquarie, 1809
Macquarie’s attempt to treat former convicts as emancipated men - as equals - led to disagreements with free settler ‘exclusives’ in Sydney. Macquarie believed that former convicts deserved a second chance. He was influenced by Enlightenment ideas and architecture and set about building a new ‘improved’ Sydney and a more progressive colony.
In the end Macquarie’s battles with the exclusives led to complaints to England and an enquiry by the English judge John Thomas Bigge. Macquarie stepped down and returned to Britain to fight the charges made against him.
When the Macquaries left Sydney the harbour was lined with:
...men, women, and children, and a vast number of Boats were also sailing or rowing in the Harbour full of People, cheering us repeatedly as we passed along through them. - This was to us a very grand and gratifying sight - but at the same time a most affecting scene
Lachlan Macquarie, 1822
Macquarie’s journal includes a list of pets he shipped from Australia to Britain. They included seven kangaroos, six emus, seven black swans, two brolgas, two white cockatoos and several parrots.
Macquarie took time out from clearing his name to take his wife Elizabeth on a Grand Tour. They visited France, Italy and Switzerland. The Macquaries lived on Lachlan’s Jarvisfield Estate on Mull.
Lachlan Macquarie died in 1824. He is buried with his family on the Isle of Mull. Lachlan says in his will that Elizabeth’s ‘happiness, care, comfort and respectability in life are dearer to me than all other earthly considerations'. The Macquarie mausoleum is cared for at the expense of the National Trust of Australia. It is inscribed ‘The Father of Australia’.