Lachlan Macquarie

Lachlan Macquarie
5th Governor of New South Wales
In office
1 January 1810 – 30 November 1821
Preceded by William Bligh
Succeeded by Thomas Brisbane
Personal details
Born 31 January 1762 (1762-01-31)
Ulva, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, United Kingdom
Died 1 July 1824(1824-07-01) (aged 62)
London, England, United Kingdom
Spouse(s) Jane Jarvis 1st wife (1792–1796) and Elizabeth Campbell 2nd wife (1807–1824)

Major-General Lachlan Macquarie CB (31 January 1762[1] – 1 July 1824; Scottish Gaelic spelling: Lachlann MacGuaire[2]),[3] was a British military officer and colonial administrator. He served as the last autocratic Governor of New South Wales, Australia[4] from 1810 to 1821 and had a leading role in the social, economic and architectural development of the colony. He is considered by some historians to have had a crucial influence on the transition of New South Wales from a penal colony to a free settlement and therefore to have played a major role in the shaping of Australian society in the early nineteenth century.[5][6] An inscription on his tomb in Scotland describes him as "The Father of Australia".[7]


Early life and career

Lachlan Macquarie was born on the island of Ulva off the coast of the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, a chain of islands off the West Coast of Scotland. Few details are known of either his father or his birthplace. His mother was the daughter of a Maclaine chieftain who owned a castle on the Isle of Mull.[8] He left the island at the age of 14.[9] If he did attend the Royal High School of Edinburgh, "as tradition has it",[10] it was only for a very brief period because at the same age, he volunteered for the army.[11]

Macquarie joined the 84th Regiment of Foot in 1776, travelling with it to North America in 1777 to take part in the American War of Independence. As a new recruit on the way to America he participated in the Battle of Newcastle Jane. This battle was the first naval victory for a British merchant ship over an American privateer. He was initially stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was commissioned as an ensign five months after his arrival. In 1781, he was transferred to the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot, and served with them in New York, Charleston, and Jamaica.[11] In 1784 he returned to Scotland as a half-pay lieutenant.[11] Subsequently, he saw service with the army in India and Egypt. Macquarie became a Freemason in January 1793 at Bombay, in Lodge No. 1 (No. 139 on the register of the English "Moderns" Grand Lodge).[12] He was promoted Captain in 1789, Major in 1801, and Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding the 73rd Regiment of Foot, in 1805.

In 1793 he married Jane Jarvis, daughter of the Chief Justice of Antigua. Three years later she died of tuberculosis.

Governor of New South Wales


In November 1807, Macquarie's cousin Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell became his second wife. In April 1809 Macquarie was appointed Governor of New South Wales. In making this appointment, the British government reversed its practice of appointing naval officers as governor and chose an army commander in the hope that he could secure the co-operation of the unruly New South Wales Corps,[13] and aided by the fact he arrived in New South Wales at the head of his own military unit, the 73rd Regiment.[14] At the head of regular troops he was unchallenged by the New South Wales Corps whose members had become settled in farming, commerce and trade.

Macquarie was promoted to Colonel in 1810, Brigadier in 1811 and Major-General in 1813, while serving as governor.

The Macquaries departed from England in May 1809 aboard the HMS Dromedary, accompanied by the HMS Hindostan. They reached Sydney on 28 December 1809. He started as a governor on 1 January 1810.

The first task Macquarie had to tackle was to restore orderly, lawful government and discipline in the colony following the Rum Rebellion of 1808 against Governor William Bligh. Macquarie was ordered by the British government to arrest both John Macarthur and Major George Johnston, two of the leaders of the Rum Rebellion. However, by the time Macquarie arrived in Sydney in December 1809, both Macarthur and Johnston had already sailed for England to defend themselves.[15] Macquarie immediately set about cancelling the various initiatives taken by the rebel government — for example, all "pardons, leases and land grants" made by the rebels were revoked.[15]

Macquarie ruled the colony as an enlightened despot, breaking the power of the Army officers such as John Macarthur, who had been the colony's de facto ruler since Bligh's overthrow.[16] He was "the last British proconsul sent to run New South Wales as a military autocracy".[17]

In 1812, the first detailed inquiry into the convict system in Australia by a Select Committee on Transportation, supported in general Macquarie's liberal policies.[18] However, the committee thought that fewer tickets of leave should be issued and opposed the governor having the power to grant pardons. The committee concluded that the colony should be made as prosperous as possible so as to provide work for the convicts and to encourage them to become settlers after being given their freedom.[19]

On a visit of inspection to the settlement of Hobart Town on the Derwent River in Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) in November 1811, Macquarie was appalled at the ramshackle arrangement of the town and ordered the government surveyor James Meehan to survey a regular street layout. This survey determined the form of the current centre of the city of Hobart.[20]

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 brought a renewed flood of both convicts and settlers to New South Wales, as the sea lanes became free and as the rate of unemployment and crime in Britain rose.[21] Macquarie presided over a rapid increase in population and economic activity. By the time of his departure the white population had reached approximately 37,000.[22][page needed] The colony began to have a life beyond its functions as a penal settlement, and an increasing proportion of the population earned their own living. All this, in Macquarie's eyes, made a new social policy necessary.[citation needed]

As reformer and explorer

Central to Macquarie's policy was his treatment of the emancipists: convicts whose sentences had expired or who had been given conditional or absolute pardons. By 1810 emancipists had outnumbered the free settlers, and Macquarie insisted that they be treated as social equals. He set the tone himself (some people hated it) by appointing emancipists to government positions: Francis Greenway as colonial architect[23] and Dr William Redfern as colonial surgeon.[24] He scandalised settler opinion by appointing an emancipist, Andrew Thompson, as a magistrate,[25] and by inviting emancipists to tea at Government House. In exchange, Macquarie demanded that the ex-convicts live reformed (Christian) lives. He required that former convicts regularly attend church services, and in particular, strongly encouraged formal Christian (Anglican) marriages.[26]

Macquarie was the greatest sponsor of exploration the colony had yet seen. In 1813 he sent Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson across the Blue Mountains, where they found the great plains of the interior. There he ordered the establishment of Bathurst, Australia's first inland city. He appointed John Oxley as surveyor-general and sent him on expeditions up the coast of New South Wales and inland to find new rivers and new lands for settlement. Oxley discovered the rich Northern Rivers and New England regions of New South Wales, and in what is now Queensland he explored the present site of Brisbane.

The street layout of modern central Sydney is based upon a street plan established by Macquarie.[23] The colony's most prestigious buildings were built on Macquarie Street. Some of these still stand today. What has survived of the Georgian 'Rum Hospital' serves as the Parliament House of the state of New South Wales.[23] It is probable that the hospital was designed by Macquarie himself, in collaboration with his wife. The building's wide verandas were evidently inspired by Macquarie's familiarity with English colonial architecture in India.[27] The elaborate stables which Macquarie commissioned for Government House are part of the modern structure housing the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.[28] Both of these buildings were constructed by Macquarie in defiance of the British government's ban on expensive public building projects in the colony[27] and reflect the tension between Macquarie's vision of Sydney as a Georgian city and the British government's view of the colony as a dumping ground for convicts to be financed as cheaply as possible.

The origin of the name "Australia" is closely associated with Macquarie. "Australia", as a name for the country which we now know by that name, was suggested by Matthew Flinders, but first used in an official despatch by Macquarie in 1817.[29]

Macquarie's policies, especially his championing of the emancipists and the lavish expenditure of government money on public works, aroused opposition both in the colony and in London, where the government still saw New South Wales as fundamentally a penal colony. His statement, in a letter to the Colonial Secretary, that "free settlers in general... are by far the most discontented persons in the country" and that "emancipated convicts, or persons become free by servitude, made in many instances the best description of settlers", was much held against him.[citation needed]

Brass breast plate presented to the Aboriginal leader Coborn Jackey of the Burrowmunditory tribe by the squatter James White in the district of present day Young, New South Wales.

Macquarie is regarded as having been ambivalent towards the Australian Aborigines. He ordered punitive expeditions against the aborigines. However, when dealing with friendly tribes, he developed a strategy of nominating a 'chief' to be responsible for each of the clans, identified by the wearing of a brass breast-plate engraved with his name and title. Although this was a typically European way of negotiation, it often did reflect the actual status of elders within tribes.[30]

Despite opposition from the British government, Macquarie encouraged the creation of the colony's first bank, the Bank of New South Wales, in 1817.[31]

Return to Scotland, death, and legacy

Leaders of the free settler community complained to London about Macquarie's policies, and in 1819 the government appointed an English judge, John Bigge, to visit New South Wales and report on its administration. Bigge generally agreed with the settlers' criticisms, and his reports on the colony led to Macquarie's resignation in 1821; he had, however, served longer than any other governor. Bigge also recommended that no governor should again be allowed to rule as an autocrat, and in 1824 the New South Wales Legislative Council, Australia's first legislative body, was appointed to advise the governor.[32]

Macquarie returned to Scotland, and died in London in 1824 while busy defending himself against Bigge's charges. But his reputation continued to grow after his death, especially among the emancipists and their descendants, who were the majority of the Australian population until the gold rushes. Today he is regarded by many as the real founder of Australia as a country, rather than as a prison camp.[citation needed]

The nationalist school of Australian historians have treated him as a proto-nationalist hero. His grave in Mull is maintained by the National Trust of Australia and is inscribed "The Father of Australia".[33] Macquarie formally adopted the name Australia for the continent, the name earlier proposed by the first circumnavigator of Australia, Matthew Flinders. As well as the many geographical features named after him in his lifetime, he is commemorated by Macquarie University in Sydney.

Macquarie was buried on the Isle of Mull in a remote mausoleum with his wife and son.

Places named after Macquarie

Macquarie Coat of Arms.[34]

Many places in Australia have been named in Macquarie's honour (some of these were named by Macquarie himself). They include:

At the time of his governorship or shortly thereafter:

Many years after his governorship:

Institutions named after Macquarie:

Places named after/in honour of Mrs Macquarie

  • Places named after or in honour of Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth (née Campbell; 1778–1835):
  • Elizabeth Street, a principal street of Hobart, Tasmania named after Macquarie's wife
  • Elizabeth Street, Sydney, one of the principal streets of Sydney, named after Macquarie's wife
  • Elizabeth Bay, a bay of Port Jackson and suburb of Sydney
  • Mrs Macquarie's Chair, a rock cut into a chair shape on Mrs Macquarie's Point, a peninsula in Port Jackson, at the end of Mrs Macquarie's Road
  • Campbelltown, New South Wales, a town founded in 1820, one of a series of settlements south-west of Sydney being established by Macquarie at that time
  • Appin, New South Wales, a town founded in 1811, which takes its name from Appin, the Scottish West Highlands town where Elizabeth was born
  • Airds, New South Wales, a suburb in south-western Sydney, which takes its name from Elizabeth's Scottish family estate
  • Meredith Island off the coast of New South Wales was reportedly named after a friend of Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie[36]

Commemoration of Macquarie's birthplace

  • Mull: The Macquarie connection is distinguished, in particular, by the extremely large number of place names in New South Wales and Tasmania whose origins are derived from locations and features on the Isle of Mull and its environs. Macquarie used his governorship as an opportunity to commemorate, through nostalgic place names, the places and personal associations that he had kept with Mull since his boyhood. Place names include:
  • Glenorchy, Tasmania
  • Hamilton, Tasmania
  • North Esk and South Esk rivers


  1. ^ McLachlan, N. D. (1967). "Macquarie, Lachlan (1762–1824)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  2. ^ Ian Grimble: Scottish Clans and Tartans, 1973, p 203
  3. ^ The Australian People: An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins. (2001) James Jupp p650 Cambridge University Press
  4. ^ Davidson G., et al (1998), p. 405
  5. ^ Ward, R., (1975), pp. 37–38
  6. ^ Molony, J., (1987), p. 47
  7. ^ Davidson G., et al (1998), p. 406
  8. ^ Ellis, M.H., (1952), p. 2
  9. ^ Keay, J. & Keay, J. (1994) Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland London. HarperCollins.
  10. ^ McLachlan, N. D. (1967). Australian Dictionary of Biography: Macquarie, Lachlan (1762–1824). A020162b. 
  11. ^ a b c Ellis, M.H., (1952), p. 4
  12. ^ Freemasonry Australia
  13. ^ Ward, R., (1975), p. 36
  14. ^ Brief biography
  15. ^ a b Hughes, R., (1986), p. 294
  16. ^ Ward, R., (1975), pp. 35–37
  17. ^ Hughes, R., (1986), p. 293
  18. ^ Report From the Select Committee On Transportation. Ordered, by the House of Commons, to be printed, 10 July 1812, pp. 22–31
  19. ^ "Settlement encouraged". Encyclopedia of Australian Events. Macquarienet. Retrieved 10 July 2006. 
  20. ^ Ellis, M.H., (1952), p. 208
  21. ^ Hughes, R., (1986), p. 301
  22. ^ Appleton, Richard; Brown, Robin (1986). Milestones in Australian history: 1788 to the present. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-216581-3. 
  23. ^ a b c Ward, R., (1975), p. 37
  24. ^ Hughes, R., (1986), p. 151
  25. ^ Ellis, M.H., (1952), p. 228
  26. ^ Molony, J., (1987), p. 41
  27. ^ a b Hughes, R., (1986), p. 297
  28. ^ Sharpe, Alan (2000). Pictorial history: City of Sydney. Crows Nest, N.S.W: Kingsclear Books. p. 41. ISBN 0-908272-63-4. 
  29. ^ Ellis, M.H., (1952), p. 431
  30. ^ Teaching Heritage website
  31. ^ Ward, R., (1975), p.39
  32. ^ New South Wales Parliament archives
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Macquarie Coat of Arms". Macquarie University Library. Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ Geographical archives at


  • Ellis, M. H., Lachlan Macquarie, His Life, Adventures and Times, 2nd. ed., Angus and Robertson, 1952.
  • Ward, R., Australia, A Short History , Revised ed., Ure Smith, 1975. ISBN 725401648
  • Molony, John, The Penguin Bicentennial History of Australia, Viking, 1987. ISBN 0 670 821144
  • Hughes, Robert, The Fatal Shore, Collins Harvill, 1987. ISBN 0 00 217361 1
  • Davidson, Graham; Hirst, John & MacIntyre, Stuart, The Oxford Companion to Australian History, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-553597-9.

Further reading

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
William Bligh
Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Thomas Brisbane

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