Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, soldier and colonial governor, was born on the 31st of January, 1761.
Lachlan Macquarie was a British army officer who was appointed Captain-General and Governor of New South Wales in May, 1809, and who came to be known as the ‘Father of Australia’. He was sent to Australia to restore order after the corrupt rule of the original convict guard – the New South Wales Corps – who had rebelled against Governor William Bligh of H.M.S. ‘Bounty’ fame, in the ‘Rum-do’ of January, 1808. A young Macquarie had joined the army at the age of fifteen and served in North America, Europe, the West Indies, and India, in a thirty-two years military career, before sailing to the other side of the world. Governor Macquarie remained in Australia for twelve years and for his achievements, he is regarded by historians and many Australians as the real founder of Australia. In fact, it was Macquarie who formally adopted the name ‘Australia’ – a name proposed by its first circumnavigator; Matthew Flinders – in 1817, and he undoubtedly did a lot to help shape the future of the continent.
Macquarie’s reputation is sealed amongst the descendants of the ‘Emancipists’, who were the majority of the Australian population until the gold rush years. But it was the ‘Exclusionists’ – the large landowners and sheep farmers – and churchmen and officials, such as Samuel Marsden, Jeffery Hart Bent and John Thomas Bigge, whose intransigence and lack of understanding helped to get Macquarie recalled to Blighty. What angered the landowners and those others was Macquarie’s policy of emancipation for the colony’s freed convicts, which gave them opportunities by encouraging exploration, settlement and agriculture through land reform. Macquarie also established a decent administration, noted for its fair treatment of convicts and freedmen, schools, town planning, and the colony’s currency. Somewhat forgotten and ignored in his homeland, the name of Lachlan Macquarie is hardly likely to be forgotten in Australia; not least as there are so many things and places named in his honour. Macquarie died a mere three years after returning to Britain, believing his efforts had all been for naught, but they weren’t in vain.
Lachlan Macquarie was born on the island of Ulva, in the parish of Kilninian in the Inner Hebrides, on the 31st of January, 1761. His uncle, Murdoch Maclaine of Lochbuie, paid for Lachlan’s education and, in 1776, he accompanied that uncle to North America as a volunteer. There is a tradition that Lachlan attended the Royal High School in Edinburgh, but whether or not he did, he was sufficiently well educated to be able to enter the army on the 9th of April, 1777, as an Ensign in the 2nd Battalion of the 84th Regiment of Foot (the Royal Highland Emigrants). Ensign Macquarie performed garrison duty in Halifax, Nova Scotia, before being commissioned a lieutenant in the 71st Regiment, in January, 1781, and performed garrison duty in New York and Charleston at the closing stages of the American War of Independence. In June, 1783, he was transferred to Jamaica, but twelve months later he was back home on half pay.
Later, in 1787, he got a Lieutenant’s commission in the 77th Regiment and began a long association with India. While serving in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Macquarie saw active service including the sieges of Cannanore, in 1790; Seringapatam, in 1791; and Cochin, in 1795; the capture of Colombo and Point de Galle during the expedition against the Pyché Rajah, in 1796; the Battle of Seedaseer, in 1799; and the second siege of Seringapatam, in 1799, where Tippoo Sahib was killed. Between 1801 and 1802, he was in Egypt expelling the French, but he returned to India in July of 1802 to assume command of the 86th Regiment. He was back in England in May of 1803 with a staff appointment in London and, on the 17th of November, 1805, was granted a commission as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 73rd. However, he was by then back in India with the 86th Regiment and about to fight against Holkar. Around eighteen months later, on the 19th of March, 1807, Macquarie left India for the last time.
Macquarie wasn’t a ‘shoe-in’ for the post of Governor of New South Wales. He had applied to Castlereagh, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, for the post of Lieutenant-Governor, but when Nightingall changed his mind, Macquarie wrote again, offering his services as governor, and got the job. Castlereagh seems to have had an influence on Macquarie’s approach to the governance of Australia as he emphasised in his confidential instructions to the new Governor, “The Great Objects of attention are to improve the Morals of the Colonists, to encourage Marriage, to provide for Education, to prohibit the Use of Spirituous Liquors, to increase the Agriculture and Stock, so as to ensure the Certainty of a full supply to the Inhabitants under all Circumstances.” On the 22nd of May, 1809, Macquarie and his second wife, Elizabeth, sailed from Portsmouth in the ‘Dromedary’ escorted by H.M.S. ‘Hindostan’ and they entered Port Jackson on the 28th of December. Macquarie was sworn in on New Year’s Day, 1810.
Just over twelve years later, on the 12th of February, and after his third application to resign had been accepted, Macquarie left Australia on board the ‘Surry’. Back in London, he had to contend with the fall out from the “false, vindictive and malicious” report of John Thomas Bigge, otherwise described as “this vile insidious Bigge Report.” Another concern that he had to deal with was a pension, promised by the Government and which by July, 1823, was still unforthcoming. However, in April, 1824, Earl Bathurst confirmed that Macquarie would be paid a pension of £1000. Sadly, Macquarie didn’t live to enjoy his pension as he died in his London lodgings on the 1st of July, 1824. He was buried at his estate on Mull, where the family tomb is now administered by the National Trust of Australia.
Macquarie transformed the New South Wales penal colony from a backwater into a burgeoning new country. His emancipist ‘experiment’ was ahead of its time and certainly no other governor was ever as popular, even if he wasn’t able to operate from a sound constitutional basis. During his twelve years in charge, the non-indigenous population of Australia (including Van Diemen’s Land) increased from 11,590 to 38,778. Agriculture grew, manufacturing blossomed, and commerce flourished. A bank and currency were established and two hundred and seventy-six miles of roads had been constructed and many churches, barracks and other buildings completed. Quite a legacy, don’t you think? His efforts weren’t in vain.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.