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.
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’.