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Lachlan Macquarie
1762– 1824



31 January 1762 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.

Early Life

He left the island at the age of 14.

If he did attend the Royal High School of Edinburgh, "as tradition has it", it was only for a very brief period because, at the same age, he volunteered for the army.

He 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 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.
In 1781, he was transferred to the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot, and served with them in New York, Charleston, and Jamaica.
In 1784 he returned to Scotland as a half-pay lieutenant.

Subsequently, he saw service with the army in India and Egypt.

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.

In November 1807, Macquarie's cousin Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell became his second wife.

Governor of New South Wale

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, aided by the fact that he arrived in New South Wales at the head of his own military unit, the 73rd Regiment.

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.

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 Job

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.

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.

He ruled the colony as an enlightened despot, breaking the power of the Army officers and the likes of John Macarthur, who had been the colony's de facto ruler since Bligh's overthrow.

He was "the last British proconsul sent to run New South Wales as a military autocracy".

The Convict System

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.

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.


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.


Macquarie producied 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, Macquarie purchased 40,000 Spanish dollar coins in 1812 and had a convicted forger named William Henshall cut the centers 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.


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


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 set the tone himself by appointing emancipists to government positions: Francis Greenway as colonial architect and Dr William Redfern as colonial surgeon.

He scandalised settler opinion by appointing an emancipist, Andrew Thompson, as a magistrate, 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.


The street layout of modern central Sydney is based upon a street plan established by Macquarie.

The colony's most prestigious buildings were built on Macquarie Street.

ome of these still stand today.

There is the Georgian 'Rum Hospital' and 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.

The elaborate stables which Macquarie commissioned for Government House are part of the modern structure housing the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Both of these buildings were constructed by Macquarie in defiance of the British government's ban on expensive public building projects in the colony 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.


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.


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.


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