Scotlands History\|Scots and Australia

Governor Lachlan Macquarie and Elizabeth Macquarie

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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.

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Maria Castrillo, Manuscripts Curator, National Library of Scotland

Lachlan Macquarie came from Ulva, which is one of the islands in the north of Scotland and he was born in 1761. On arrival, Macquarie found quite a difficult situation and by this proclamation, he was re-appointing his predecessor to the post of Governor of New South Wales. The condition was that Bligh would resign 24 hours later and after that, Macquarie became the new Governor of New South Wales. What’s interesting about his time in office is that he made lots of reforms. Everybody knows he was opposed to sending convicts from Britain. And he, in his time he tried to change that situation and when he left, when he finished his time as Governor, New South Wales had become a blossoming colony.

On the 12th of October 1814, Lachlan Macquarie sent this letter to his brother, Charles, and in this letter he was announcing some of the reforms he was intending to do. And he was also conveying some of his plans for New South Wales. One of the main aspects, or one of the most significant aspects, of his time in government were the measures he wanted to introduce for convicts. Just to sum things up, what he was planning to do, or what he was intending to do, was that after convicts had served their sentences, they would be able to live normal lives, which means that they wouldn’t be prevented from just entering normal life and developing normal activities of being able to have trades or to be able to be reinstated in society. And for that, he was heavily criticised. And as everybody knows, well, convicts were a very important part of life and society in Australia for many, many years. And it was one of the elements which defined society in this country. And even today we still think of Australia sometimes as … well, some people associate Australia with a country that originated in the penal institutions that were settled there from the late 18th century.

This medal we have here commemorates the cessation of transportation, convict transportation, to Tasmania in 1853. The cessation of transportation in different parts of Australia took place at different times. In New South Wales, it officially ceased in 1850, even though in 1840 the transportation of convicts had been postponed but it officially ceased in 1850, whereas in Tasmania it happened three years later. It wasn’t until 1868 that the transportation of convicts ceased in the whole territory of Australia.

This is a memorial concerned with the transportation of convicts to New South Wales. It was written in 1829 and it contains much interesting information. In this page here, we can see the land allocated to the different officers who were going to run the colony. What’s interesting is not only the numbers of different officers required, but also the amounts received, the grants, the land grants received according to the rank. Other useful information contained here appears in this appendix in appendices at the very end of the memorial. So in this case, we can see how the organisation of the penal institution was arranged. And it contains a description of the different officers and their duties. And this appendix contains an estimate of the expenses, the probable expenses, to run the institution. And for example, one year’s provisions, the estimated amount to cover that would be £7,364.

As well as containing information about the transportation of convicts, what’s interesting about this particular book is the descriptions and remarks about the Aboriginal population and the first contact of Westerners with that indigenous population. It contains many illustrations as well as maps. The Sirius arrived in Botany Bay in 1787, but they realised that it wasn’t suitable for settlement. So they made out for Port Jackson, which is near what is Sydney today.


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

Image of a ship

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. 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 name under a clock

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:, 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’.

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