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Lachlan Macquarie (1762–1824)

Lachlan Macquarie, by Richard Read snr, 1822

Lachlan Macquarie, by Richard Read snr, 1822

State Library of New South Wales, ML 36

Major General Lachlan Macquarie was born on the 31st of January, 1762, in the Isle of Mull, in Argyleshire, in North Britain. He received his first commission in the army on the 9th of April, 1777, when little more than 15 years of age, and immediately joined his Regiment (the 84th Foot) in North America, and continued to serve there and in the West Indies until the conclusion of the American war in 1783. 

Remaining at home from the above period until 1788, he then went out to India as the Senior Lieutenant in the 77th Foot, on which establishment he remained for 17 years; and was one of the Indian army from Bombay, which served in Egypt under General Sir David Baird, during the French invasion of that country by Buonaparte. At Bombay he held successively the following staff appointments; namely,

1. Paymaster of the 77th Regt.;
2. Major of Brigade to the King's troops;
3. Deputy Paymaster General to the same;
4. Military Secretary to Governor Duncan; and,
5. Deputy Adjutant General to General Baird's army in Egypt. 

In 1803 having obtained leave of absence, he revisited, for a short time, his native country, and during that time His late Majesty was pleased to appoint him Assistant Adjutant General in the London district, under the command of General the Earl of Harrington. In 1805 he rejoined the service in India, whence he finally returned in 1807, overland, charged with dispatches of importance for the British government. As a further mark of the estimation in which his talents and services were held, His late Majesty, by letters patent, bearing date the 8th of May, 1809, was pleased to appoint Major General Macquarie (then a Colonel in the army, and Senior Lieut. Colonel of the 73d Regt.), to be Governor and Commander in Chief of New South Wales. In consequence of this appointment His Excellency, accompanied by his Regiment, embarked on the 22d of the same month, on board His Majesty's store-ships Dromedary and Hindostan (His Excellency and staff with the headquarters of the 73d, being on board the former vessel), and arrived safe, after a tedious voyage, at Port Jackson, on the 28th of December, 1809, and assumed the government on the 1st of January, 1810. He continued in this office until the 1st of December, 1821, when he was relieved by His Excellency the present Governor,—having held the reins of government for the unprecedented period of eleven years and eleven months, and during the administration of three successive Secretaries of State for the Colonies. 

On the 4th of June, 1813, Governor Macquarie was promoted to the rank of Major General, previous to which time, in the course of his long and honorable career, he had served successively in the 84th, 71st, 77th, 86th, and 73d Regiments, under the several commands of 

1. General Sir Ralph Abercromby, G.C.B.;
2. Sir Alared Clarke;
3. Lord Harris;
4. Lord Cavan;
5. Sir David Baird, G.C.B.;
6. The Earl of Harrington;
7. Earl Cathcart; and several other distinguished officers long since dead. 

General Macquarie was twice married. His first lady was Miss Jarvis, of the island of Antigua, and heiress of large fortune. He afterwards married the amiable and faithful partner of the latter period of his life, Miss Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell, youngest daughter of John Campbell, Esq. of Airds, in Argyleshire, and sister to the present Sir John Campbell of Airds, Baronet, cousin german to the present Earl of Breadalbane. Their only surviving child, named Lachlan, was born on the 28th of March, 1814. 

Such is a brief outline of the life of our departed benefactor. It will be seen that it comprised a period of 47 years, nearly twelve of which were passed in the Government of this Colony. It is with this portion of his biography that we happen to be best acquainted;—it is in this that we, in common with the Colonists at large, feel most concern; – it is to this, therefore, that our observations shall be exclusively directed. The state of anarchy which prevailed from when he assumed the reins of Government, must be fresh in the recollection of all the older Colonists, and must have come to the knowledge of most of the new, by testimony either oral or written. The Colony a prey to rapine, and convulsed equally by the avarice and the fears of the dominant party of the time—whose ardour for spoliation was only checked by the dread of losing what each had secured from the general wreck, was shook to its very center—plunder, suspicion, and terror were the order of the day. Each was jealous of the growing acquisitions of his neighbour, and yet each feared to render himself conspicuous above the rest in his quantum of appropriation, lest this eminence, which would otherwise have been so desirable, might eventually attract a proportionate share of punishment.

Things stood thus when Colonel Macquarie's commission was read on the public parade on the 1st of January, 1810. This was a moment of painful suspense to all those who had taken part in the arrest of the late Governor, and had, in consequence, shared in the largesses of the party whom this supercession of the King's Lieutenant had been the means of placing in power. Never has there been a juncture, since the institution of this Colony, which required so much political dexterity—Governor Macquarie, however, happily united in himself that rare combination of vigour and lenity, firmness and conciliation, which the occasion demanded; and while he fully vindicated and restored the insulted supremacy of the Crown, he instilled a general feeling of confidence and security in the minds of all, except the very ringleaders of the party whose authority he had suppressed. 

Our limits will not allow us to do more than present a mere outline of the more prominent features of his long and prosperous administration. He gradually and silently undermined that colonial oligarchy, to whose avarice and ambition the public weal had till then been systematically postponed. By this means, that monopoly of trade, which was the effect of this monopoly of power, and which had repressed all the nascent energies of the colonists, enriching the few, and impoverishing the many, gradually gave way to that free and open competition without which no community can flourish and expand. While he thus freed our foreign commerce from the mercenary and injurious restraints, with which it had been fettered, he was no less attentive to the internal sources of our wealth and prosperity. By constructing roads, and thus creating a facility of communication even with our newly founded transalpine establishments,—he applied a fresh stimulus to agriculture and grazing, and made available an extent of territory admirably adapted to both purposes; from the occupation of which immense advantages have already resulted, and still greater may be anticipated hereafter. 

He caused the country too to be explored for several hundreds of miles beyond our frontier, and thus gave the world the first glimpse, as it were, of that unexampled fertility and exuberance which are the probable characteristics of the whole interior of this vast terra Australis incognita. He thus aroused the slumbering attention of the mother country, and contributed to that influx of immigration which has led and is leading so rapidly to the occupation of the colony. The improvements which he effected in all the towns and townships of the Colony by aligning the streets, erecting numerous and substantial edifices, and laying down plans by which future cities may gradually rise with that order and regularity, which, if neglected in the first instance, even the existing state of this town will shew the difficulty of introducing afterwards;—it would be superfluous to enumerate;—what he effected in this department is not only duly appreciated here but has been promulgated throughout all Europe. Nor was his attention confined to mere objects of physical improvement. 

The morals of the people equally partook of his care and solicitude. He organised, for the first time, a regular and efficient police, by which the propensities of the evil disposed were held in check, whilst the safety of the honest and industrious was proportionably extended. He promoted education among the lower orders by establishing public schools for the gratuitous instruction of their children. He erected churches throughout the principal districts, and first proclaimed and enforced the punctual observance of the Sabbath. He held out every incentive to marriage; and every discouragement to that promiscuous and illicit intercourse between the sexes, which had so long been the bane of families and the scandal of the entire community. He found the Colony without law; at least without local law, and left it a code of his own construction, which, whatever may be the errors or prolixities of its details, will prove a lasting monument of his wisdom, decision, and industry. 

A friend to popular freedom, he enforced with all the energy of his character the rights and privileges of that class which form so large a majority of the population; that class, which it has been the undeviating object of his enemies and the enemies of the Colony, to trample on and degrade. By thus raising them in their own estimation, he sowed the seeds of that reformation which it was one of the primary ends of the Colony to accomplish. In short, the difficulty which the future historian of Australia will labour under, will be not to discover what he did, but what he omitted; for there was no subject however minute that escaped his attention, so long as it was at all connected with the welfare of the community. Equally deserving of veneration with the earlier legislators of antiquity, had he lived in the primitive ages of the world, a grateful people would have paid him divine honors. But gratitude, it would appear, is not one of the virtues of this place:—The spontaneous effusion of uncultivated nature—it must be sought (if it be to be found at all), among the rude tenants of the woods, among the Bennilongs, the Cogies, and the Boongaries. 

That icy principle of policy, however, which has frozen up the current of gratitude in others, shall not congeal the stream of impartiality in us. Albeit unused to the language of panegyric, unlike the Vicar of Bray politicians, by whom we are surrounded, we can afford to the encomiasts here, because no one will suspect that the voice of flattery can be heard in the tomb. We may then, disclaiming, however, all invidious comparison, that it rarely happens to any one community to possess two chiefs like him, even in a long course of centuries. Not that we would imply that his conduct was unexceptionable. On the contrary, we admit that he was guilty of one or two acts, which were highly arbitrary, and therefore wholly indefensible. We know, however, that these excesses were always matters of poignant regret to him; and we thence infer that they were the errors of the system,—not of the man. They were the natural fruit of that uncontrolled authority with which he was invested: and we would ask of those persons who have made, and still make, such a handle of the few irregularities which are justly imputable to him, to select from the list of their worthies, any one who has held unlimited power so long, and abused it so little. 

Had it been General Macquarie's good fortune to preside over a government, the boundaries of which were well defined, we are convinced, that his administration would have been altogether faultless. But having no check or control from any quarter;—accustomed, too, from his earliest years to a rigid course of military duty;—and entrusted moreover with all the insignia of military command, what wonder is it that he transfused some portion of the discipline of a camp into his management of a colony? To the opinion which His Majesty's Ministers may have entertained of his services, we attach but little importance; knowing the load of misrepresentation and obloquy against which he had to bear up. It must be, however, in some degree gratifying to his friends, that notwithstanding the incessant vituperation with which he was assailed, Ministers thought him deserving of a pension double in amount of what had been conferred on any of his predecessors. This at least proves that even, in their estimation he had passed through the fiery ordeal unscorched. 

Thus much then for his public character, which we do not know that we could better condense than in the former part of Pope's well known eulogy on Craggs. 

"Statesman, yet friend to truth! of soul sincere,
In action faithful, and in honor clear,
Who broke no promise, serv'd no private end,
Who gain'd no title, and who lost no friend,
Ennobled by himself."——— 

On his private character it would be needless to expatiate. It will suffice to say, that in all the relations of private life, whether as a husband, a father, a friend, or a master, his conduct was most exemplary and engaging. Uniting the greatest kindness of heart to the most captivating urbanity of manner, he has left a chasm in his domestic and social circle, which can never be filled up.There his loss is, indeed, irreparable. In the words of the sorrowing bards over Cuthullin's tomb, we shall often exclaim, "Peace to thy soul, in thy cave, Chief of the Isle of Mist."

Original publication

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Citation details

'Macquarie, Lachlan (1762–1824)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 28 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Lachlan Macquarie, by Richard Read snr, 1822

Lachlan Macquarie, by Richard Read snr, 1822

State Library of New South Wales, ML 36

Life Summary [details]


31 January, 1762
Ulva, Argyll, Scotland


1 July, 1824 (aged 62)
London, Middlesex, England

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