Lachlan Macquarie

When sealers stumbled on a remote Southern Ocean island in 1810, Lachlan Macquarie was the recently-installed governor of New South Wales. It was natural enough that the island took his name.

Macquarie returned to Scotland and for the next few years lived a farmer's life with his mother and siblings at Oskamull, on Mull, before taking up a lieutenant's commission in 1787 in the 77th Regiment, beginning a long period in India, where he saw much active service in the struggle to gain control of the subcontinent for Britain. He also became military secretary to Jonathon Duncan, Governor of Bombay.

In 1793 he married Jane Jarvis, the youngest daughter of Thomas Jarvis, Chief Justice and Member of Council of the Island of Antigua, but their marriage was brief and childless - she died of tuberculosis at Macao, in China, in 1796.

In March1801 Macquarie was appointed deputy-adjutant-general to the 8000-strong army under Major-General David Baird, sent to Egypt to expel the French. The army saw little action, but in Alexandria Macquarie met his brother Charles, who was also a serving army officer. They discussed future plans for purchasing land on the Isle of Mull.

On 11 February 1802 Macquarie became a major with the 86th Regiment, and returned to England in 1803 to attend to financial matters and to enjoy the social whirl of London after so many years abroad. He was twice presented to the King and Queen, dined with the aristocracy, attended balls and the theatre, had his portrait painted by noted Cornish artist, John Opie, and finally, after 12 months, travelled to Scotland to visit family and friends.

On 25 April 1805 Macquarie sailed for India where he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of the 73rd Regiment. After serving in northern India until 1806 he undertook to return to Britain carrying government despatches. After sailing from Bombay to the Persian Gulf, where he narrowly escaped drowning, he then travelled overland to London via Baghdad, Moscow, and St Petersburg.

Macquarie's main aim in returning to Britain was to marry his distant cousin Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell, of Airds, whom he had met in 1804 to whom he had been secretly engaged since March 1805. Elizabeth, aged 29, married Lachlan, 46, on 3 November 1807. A daughter, Jane, was born in September 1808, but died before the year's end.

In April 1809 Macquarie was appointed Governor of New South Wales, designated to take over from William Bligh (of Bounty fame), whose controversial governorship ended with the "Rum Rebellion". Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie sailed with the 73rd Regiment from Portsmouth in the storeship Dromedary, escorted by H.M.S Hindostan, in May 1809, arriving at Port Jackson on 28 December. He took up his commission as governor on 1 January 1810.

Macquarie understood that New South Wales (including its daughter colony Van Diemens Land) comprised settled communities as well as penal institutions. He dealt with an increase in the number of convicts sent to the colony by employing them in an ambitious program of public works and by encouraging well-behaved convicts into the wider community through tickets-of-leave.

In March 1814, after six miscarriages, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Lachlan.

Macquarie's ticket-of-leave policy caused conflict with a group of influential local conservatives known as "exclusives", who wanted to retain established privileges. Many in this group had influential friends in English political circles, putting Macquarie under great personal strain and leading to a commission of inquiry into the state of the colony (the Bigge Commission).

In 1819 Macquarie was seriously ill, and after two unsuccessful attempts to resign was finally allowed to terminate his term as Governor and return home to defend the charges made against him. In February 1822 Macquarie, Elizabeth and seven-year-old Lachlan departed for England.

In 1822-23, worried about Elizabeth's health, Macquarie took his family, with servants and a tutor, on a grand tour through France, Italy and Switzerland. He finally returned to his Jarvisfield estate on Mull in January 1824, but had to travel to London in April 1824 to secure the pension that he had been promised. While there he suffered a kidney inflammation which rapidly became worse. He died in London on 1 July 1824, in the presence of Elizabeth and son Lachlan, aged 63.

This page was last modified on 17 June 2002.