Lachlan Macquarie

Major General Lachlan Macquarie, CB (/məˈkwɒrɪ/; Scottish Gaelic: Lachann MacGuaire; 31 January 1762 – 1 July 1824)[1] was a British Army officer and colonial administrator from Scotland. Macquarie served as the fifth and last autocratic Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821,[2] and had a leading role in the social, economic and architectural development of the colony. He is considered by 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.[3][4] In 1816 Macquarie gave orders that led to the Appin Massacre of Gundungurra and Dharawal people.[5][6][7]

Lachlan Macquarie

5th Governor of New South Wales
In office
1 January 1810  30 November 1821
MonarchGeorge III
Preceded byWilliam Bligh
Succeeded byThomas Brisbane
Personal details
Born31 January 1762 (1762-01-31)
Ulva, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Died1 July 1824(1824-07-01) (aged 62)
London, England
Spouse(s)Jane Jarvis (m. 1792–1796)
Elizabeth Campbell (1807–1835)
Military service
AllegianceKingdom of Great Britain
Branch/serviceBritish Army
RankMajor General
Commands73rd (Perthshire) Regiment of Foot
Battles/warsAmerican Revolutionary War
Napoleonic Wars
Australian Frontier Wars
AwardsCompanion of the Order of the Bath

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. He was a gentleman of the Scottish Highland family Clan MacQuarrie which possessed Ulva, Staffa, and a region of the Isle of Mull for over one thousand years, and his forebears were buried on Iona. Governor Macquarie's father, a "man of Intelligence, polite, and much of the world", supposedly attained the age of 103 years, dying on 4 January 1818.[8] His mother was the daughter of a Maclaine chieftain who owned a castle on the Isle of Mull.[9] Macquarie left the island at the age of 14.[10] If he did attend the Royal High School of Edinburgh, "as tradition has it",[11] it was only for a very brief period because, at the same age, he volunteered for the army.[12]

Macquarie joined the 84th Regiment of Foot on 9 April 1777, travelling with it to North America in 1777 to take part in the American War of Independence. As a recruit on the way to America he participated in the Battle of the 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. On 18 January 1781, he was promoted to lieutenant and transferred to the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot, and served with them in New York City, Charleston, and Jamaica.[12] In June 1784 he returned to Scotland as a half-pay lieutenant.[12] Three years later, on Christmas Day 1787 he received his commission as lieutenant in the 77th Regiment, where 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).[13] He was promoted Captain on 9 November 1789, Major on 12 March 1801. During 1801 he had accompanied Sir David Baird and the Indian Army to Egypt, with the rank of Deputy Adjutant General, and was present at the capture of Alexandria and the final expulsion of the French Army from Egypt. Two years later, 1803, he was in London, as Assistant Adjutant General to Lord Harrington, who commanded the London district. In 1803 and 1804 saw him on active service in India. He returned to London in 1807, commanding the 73rd Regiment of Foot.

In 1793 he married Jane Jarvis, daughter of the late former Chief Justice of Antigua, Thomas Jarvis, who had owned slave plantations there.[14] Three years later she died of tuberculosis.[15] In November 1807, Macquarie married his cousin Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell.

Governor of New South Wales

On 8 May 1809 Macquarie was appointed captain-general and governor-in-chief of New South Wales and its dependencies. He left for the colony on 22 May 1809, on HMS Dromedary, accompanied by HMS Hindostan. The 73rd Regiment of Foot came with him on the two ships. He arrived on 28 December at Sydney Cove and landed officially on 31 December, taking up his duties on the following day.[8] In making this appointment, the British government changed 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.[16] Aided by the fact he arrived in New South Wales at the head of his own unit of regular troops, Macquarie was unchallenged by the New South Wales Corps, whose members had become settled in farming, commerce and trade.[17] He appointed John Campbell as his secretary.[18]

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

Macquarie's first task 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 two of the leaders of the Rum Rebellion, John Macarthur and Major George Johnston. However, by the time that Macquarie arrived in Sydney, both Macarthur and Johnston had already sailed for England to defend themselves.[19] Macquarie immediately set about cancelling the various initiatives taken by the rebel governmentfor example, all "pardons, leases and land grants" made by the rebels were revoked (although many were later re-issued).[19]

Although the New South Wales Corps and its monopoly were soon ended, the military influence survived, with military officers having sway over the justice system. A great gulf existed between the officers and the colonists, who included both free settlers ("exclusives") and convicts who had completed their term of imprisonment and become settlers ("emancipists").

New South Wales suffered severe drought in 1812 and 1813, there was widespread loss of crops and livestock and by 1814 many farmers were close to insolvency because of the drought and ensuing depression.[20]

In 1814 a Second Charter of Justice was issued for New South Wales. It defined how the civil court system was to be structured. Three new Courts of Civil Judicature were to be established in New South Wales: the Governor's Court, the Lieutenant-Governor's Court and the Supreme Court. Jeffrey Hart Bent, the brother of the Judge Advocate, arrived in the colony as the first judge of the new Supreme Court.[21][22]

Courts need lawyers and Macquarie's efforts to allow emancipist attorneys to appear before the Supreme Court were blocked by Jeffrey Bent, who, with his brother, had allegiances with the military and exclusive settlers. Later in 1814, two solicitors, Frederick Garling and William Henry Moore, arrived in New South Wales. English law was to be followed as far as it was possible. Where new ordinances or laws were needed, they were to be consistent with English laws as far as the particular circumstances of the colony would allow. Many of the settlers were discontented with this, because they questioned whether some of the governors' ordinances were valid. Claims were made in New South Wales and in England that governors were exceeding their authority by making ordinances that were in conflict with English laws.

Macquarie's relationship with the new Court was never harmonious. The brothers Bent, in their key legal positions, quickly became opponents of the Governor, and personal antipathy affected decisions on both sides. Like most of the governors before him, Macquarie's noble ideals were undermined by harsh realities and constant opposition. In 1816 he enforced his new proclamation against trespassing on the Government Domain by having three trespassers (all free settlers) flogged. This incident was one of several of which Bent and others complained to the British Government as examples of Macquarie's authoritarian excesses. As a result, Macquarie was censured by Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State for Colonies, and in 1819 Commissioner John Thomas Bigge was sent to enquire into affairs in New South Wales.[23]

Macquarie took control of the colony, breaking the power of the Army officers such as John Macarthur, who had been the colony's de facto ruler since Bligh's overthrow.[24] He was "the last British proconsul sent to run New South Wales as a military autocracy".[25]

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.[26] 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.[27]

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.[28]

Macquarie is credited with producing the first official currency specifically for circulation in Australia. Foreign coins were common in the early years of the New South Wales colony but much of this coin left the colony as a result of trade with visiting merchant ships. To secure a reliable supply of coins, in 1812 Macquarie purchased 40,000 Spanish dollar coins and had a convicted forger named William Henshall cut the centres out of the coins and counter stamp them to distinguish them as belonging to the colony of New South Wales and prevent them being useful elsewhere. The central plug (known as a "dump") was valued at 15 pence and the rim (known as a holey dollar) became a five-shilling piece.[29] The new currency was proclaimed in the Sydney Gazette of 10 July 1813, with offences of forgery, utterance or exportation of the new currency being punishable by seven years in the Newcastle coal mines.[30]

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.[31] Macquarie presided over a rapid increase in population and economic activity. By the time of his departure for London on 15 February 1822,[32] the white population had reached an 'estimated' 36,969.[33]

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 outnumbered the free settlers, and Macquarie set the tone himself by appointing emancipists to government positions: Francis Greenway as colonial architect[34] and Dr William Redfern as colonial surgeon.[35] He scandalised settler opinion by appointing an emancipist, Andrew Thompson, as a magistrate,[36] 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.[37]

Macquarie was the greatest sponsor of exploration the colony had yet seen. In 1813 he authorised Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson's successful crossing of the Blue Mountains where they found the great plains of the interior.[38][39] 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.[34] 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.[34] 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.[40] The elaborate stables which Macquarie commissioned for Government House are part of the modern structure housing the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.[41] Both of these buildings were constructed by Macquarie in defiance of the British government's ban on expensive public building projects in the colony[40] 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.

Another fundamental reform initiated by Macquarie of enduring significance was made on 15 August 1820, shortly before his return to England, when he ordered all traffic on New South Wales roads to keep to the left.[42]

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.[43]

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.

Despite opposition from the British government, Macquarie encouraged the creation of the colony's first bank, the Bank of New South Wales, in 1817.[44]

Aboriginal-settler relations

Macquarie's policy toward Aboriginal Australians consisted of co-operation and assimilation, backed by military coercion. 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 not reflect the actual status of elders within tribes.[45] Macquarie also pioneered the concept of returning land to Aboriginal control, commencing with areas surrounding Broken Bay and Georges Head.[46]

In 1814 Macquarie founded the Native Institution in Parramatta for the education of Aboriginal children. Aboriginal children were enrolled in the school, sometimes forcibly, and were brought up in accordance with European education and culture. Although the children in the School were well treated, modern social analysis indicates their forced enrolment and subsequent Europeanised social education as a conscious attempt to reduce the influence and future of indigenous culture.[47][46] Modern historians have identified the forced taking of children for the School as a cause of the outbreak of open conflict between the Indigenous population and Macquarie's administration, commencing in 1814 and continuing for at least two years.[46]

Where there was Aboriginal resistance, Macquarie ordered punitive expeditions,[48] writing in his diary in April 1816:

I have this Day ordered three Separate Military Detachments to march into the Interior and remote parts of the Colony, for the purpose of Punishing the Hostile Natives, by clearing the Country of them entirely, and driving them across the mountains; as well as if possible to apprehend the Natives who have committed the late murders and outrages, with the view of their being made dreadful and severe examples of, if taken alive. — I have directed as many Natives as possible to be made Prisoners, with the view of keeping them as Hostages until the real guilty ones have surrendered themselves, or have been given up by their Tribes to summary Justice. — In the event of the Natives making the smallest show of resistance – or refusing to surrender when called upon so to do – the officers Commanding the Military Parties have been authorized to fire on them to compel them to surrender; hanging up on Trees the Bodies of such Natives as may be killed on such occasions, in order to strike the greater terror into the Survivors.[49]

In 1816 Macquarie ordered a punitive expedition that led to the Appin massacre. Macquarie sent soldiers against the Gundungurra and Dharawal people on their lands along the Cataract River in reprisal for violent conflicts with white settlers.[5] Soldiers used their horses to drive an unknown number of men, women and children over cliffs to their deaths at two separate locations.[6][7] 14 people were shot dead.[50]

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.[51]

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 most enlightened and progressive of the early governors who sought to establish Australia as a country, rather than as a prison camp.[52]

The nationalist school of Australian historians have treated him as a proto-nationalist hero. 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 mausoleum near Salen with his wife, daughter and son. The grave is maintained by the National Trust of Australia and is inscribed "The Father of Australia".[53][54]


  • Statue

A statue of Macquarie stands in Hyde Park in the centre of Sydney, near an inscription that begins: "He was a perfect gentleman, a Christian and supreme legislator of the human heart." The appropriateness of the statue and the inscription have been questioned in view of the punitive expeditions.[55][56][57]


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:

See also



  1. McLachlan, N. D. (1967). "Macquarie, Lachlan (1762–1824)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
  2. Davison, Hirst & MacIntyre 1998, p. 405.
  3. Ward 1975, p. 37–38.
  4. Molony 1987, p. 47.
  5. Marlow, Karina (18 April 2016). "Explainer: The Appin Massacre". National Indigenous Television (NITV). Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  6. Kohen 1993.
  7. Kass, Terry (February 2005). "Western Sydney Thematic History" (PDF). State Heritage Register Project. NSW Heritage Office. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  8. "GOVERNOR MACQUARIE". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 1 March 1913. p. 7.
  9. Ellis 1952, p. 2.
  10. Keay & Keay 1994.
  11. McLachlan, N. D. (1967). "Macquarie, Lachlan (1762–1824)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
  12. Ellis 1952, p. 4.
  13. Freemasonry Australia Archived 21 August 2006 at
  14. Fernandes 2018, p. 15.
  15. Fletcher 2009, p. 109.
  16. Ward 1975, p. 36.
  17. "The Governor Exhibition Guide" (PDF). The Governor – Lachlan Macquarie. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  18. Holder, R.F. (1966). "Campbell, John Thomas (1770–1830)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
  19. Hughes 1986, p. 294.
  20. "Classified Advertising". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. ELEVENTH (510). New South Wales, Australia. 2 October 1813. p. 1.
  21. "[Abstract of the New Charter]". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. TWELFTH (562). New South Wales, Australia. 17 September 1814. p. 1 (Supplement to the Sydney Gazette, and New South Wales Advertiser) via National Library of Australia.
  22. "Classified Advertising". The Sydney Gazette And New South Wales Advertiser. TWELFTH (554). New South Wales, Australia. 30 July 1814. p. 1 via National Library of Australia.
  23. "Sydney". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. SEVENTEENTH (829). New South Wales, Australia. 9 October 1819. p. 3 via National Library of Australia.
  24. Ward 1975, p. 35-37.
  25. Hughes 1986, p. 293.
  26. Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Select Committee on Transportation; Auckland, George Eden, Earl, 1784-1849 (1812), Report from the Select Committee on Transportation, Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, pp. 22–31CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. "Settlement encouraged". Encyclopedia of Australian Events. Macquarienet. Retrieved 10 July 2006.
  28. Ellis 1952, p. 208.
  29. National Museum of Australia collection highlights: Holey dollar
  30. "Proclamation, By His Excellency LACHLAN MACQUARIE, Esquire, Captain General, Governor and Commander in Chief, in and over His Majesty's Territory of New South Wales and its Dependencies, &c. &c. &c". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. ELEVENTH, (498). New South Wales, Australia. 10 July 1813. p. 1 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  31. Hughes 1986, p. 301.
  32. Appleton 1986, p. 102.
  33. Appleton 1986, p. 101.
  34. Ward 1975, p. 37.
  35. Hughes 1986, p. 151.
  36. Ellis 1952, p. 228.
  37. Molony 1987, p. 41.
  38. Conway, Jill. "Gregory Blaxland (1778–1853)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University.
  39. "Macquarie's crossing". Discover Collections. State Library of NSW. Archived from the original on 1 February 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  40. Hughes 1986, p. 297.
  41. Sharpe 2000, p. 41.
  42. "GOVERNMENT AND GENERAL ORDERS". The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. EIGHTEENTH (874). New South Wales, Australia. 19 August 1820. p. 1 via National Library of Australia.
  43. Ellis 1952, p. 431.
  44. Ward 1975, p. 39.
  45. "Teaching Heritage website". Archived from the original on 2 July 2005. Retrieved 2 October 2005.
  46. Hale, Patricia; Keonemann, Tanya (2010). "Rethinking Governor Macquarie's Aboriginal policy" (PDF). Heritage Council of New South Wales. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  47. "The Governor – Lachlan Macquarie". State Library of NSW. Retrieved 13 February 2013.
  48. "Aboriginal Relations". The Governor – Lachlan Macquarie. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  49. "Lachlan Macquarie - 1816 journal [April]". Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  50. Fowler, Verlie. "Massacre at Appin 1816". Cambelltown Stories. Campbelltown & Airds Historical Society Inc. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  51. "History of Democracy in NSW". Parliament of NSW. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  52. "The Governor". The Governor – Lachlan Macquarie. State Library of NSW. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
  53. Davison, Hirst & MacIntyre 1998, p. 406.
  54. "Macquarie's Influence". Macquarie University. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  55. Taylor, Andrew (23 August 2017). "Clover Moore refers concerns about Macquarie statue to Indigenous panel". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  56. Mee, Cameron; Robertson, James (26 August 2017). "Vandals deface Hyde Park statues in Australia Day protest". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  57. Koziol, Michael (26 August 2017). "Vandalism of Hyde Park statues is a 'deeply disturbing' act of Stalinism, says Malcolm Turnbull". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  58. "Macquarie Coat of Arms". Macquarie University Library. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  59. "Macquarie Fields". Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW. Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Retrieved 4 August 2013.


Further reading

  • Alison Alexander, ed. (2005). The Companion to Tasmanian History. Hobart: Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania. ISBN 1-86295-223-X.
  • Butler, Peter; Dillon, Harry (2010). Macquarie: From Colony to Country. Milsons Point, N.S.W: Random House Australia. ISBN 1-86471-030-6.
  • Inglis, Alison (Autumn 2014). "The Father of Australia". Scots Heritage Magazine. 65: 20–25.
  • Page, Anthony, “Enlightenment, empire and Lachlan Macquarie's journey through Persia and Russia”, History Australia, 6:3 (2009), pp. 70.1-15.
  • Richards, D. Manning (2012). Destiny in Sydney: An epic novel of convicts, Aborigines, and Chinese embroiled in the birth of Sydney, Australia. First book in Sydney series. Washington DC: Aries Books. ISBN 978-0-9845410-0-3
  • Robson, L. L. (1983). A history of Tasmania. 1. Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554364-5.
  • Serle, Percival (1949). "Macquarie, Lachlan". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
Government offices
Preceded by
William Bligh
Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
Thomas Brisbane

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