Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824), British officer and governor of New South Wales, sought to improve the status of emancipists and undertook a major public works program.
Lachlan Macquarie, born on Jan. 31, 1762, came from a poor Scottish family in the Inner Hebrides. The American War of Independence offered him an opportunity to rise in the world, and he joined a Highland regiment commanded by a cousin. In 1784 Macquarie returned to Scotland as a lieutenant and 3 years later embarked upon 16 years of military service in India and Egypt.
Promotion to major, prize money, and an inheritance from his first wife, a West Indian heiress, enabled Macquarie to accumulate a competent fortune, and in 1803 he returned home to take possession of a 10,000-acre estate which he had acquired from his uncle on the island of Mull. The outbreak of war with France led to his appointment as assistant adjutant general of the London District, and Lt. Col. Macquarie soon came into contact with the country's leading politicians. When Maj. Gen. Miles Nightingall declined to become governor of New South Wales following the deposition of Capt. William Bligh in 1808, Macquarie successfully volunteered for the position.
Macquarie's administration, which began in January 1810, lasted for 12 years. He set out to improve the material and moral condition of the colony, and wide experience as a staff officer made him a vigorous administrator. The public service and financial arrangements of the colony were remodeled; a hospital, barracks, and roads were constructed; the Bank of New South Wales was established under his patronage in 1817; he encouraged exploration across the Blue Mountains, and accompanied by his second wife, he frequently toured the settled parts of the colony.
Champion of Emancipation
Believing that convicts who had been reformed by their prison sentences should be reincorporated into society with full civil rights, Macquarie appointed emancipists to public office and invited them to Government House. By 1815 not only was his expenditure on public works causing concern in London, but his charitable attitude toward emancipists was alienating officers and free settlers within the colony.
Objecting to Macquarie's emancipist policy and authoritarian style of government, a faction of "exclusives" sought representative government and a separation of powers. Opposed to them was an "emancipist" faction, which regarded the country as belonging to former convicts and opposed their relegation to a permanently inferior status.
A campaign was mounted against Macquarie in Parliament which resulted in an inquiry under John Bigge between 1819 and 1821. Macquarie returned to England in 1822, when the Bigge reports, which favored the "exclusive" cause, were published. Macquarie's reply was not made public by the government until 1828. Bitterly disappointed, sick, and in debt, he was promised a pension but died in London on July 1, 1824.
Macquarie was an ambitious, vain and humorless man who interpreted criticism as disloyalty. Arbitrary acts robbed him of the public acclaim which he craved, and Australian society did not develop along the lines he anticipated.
Further Reading on Lachlan Macquarie
The Public Library of New South Wales published a well-illustrated edition, Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales: Journals of His Tours in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1810-1822 (1956). The standard biography is M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie: His Life, Adventures, and Times (1947); it is a large-scale and colorful study, rich in detail and with flashes of insight, but on the whole the interpretation is weak. Marjorie Faith Barnard, Macquarie's World (1946), is more systematic in its portrayal of a benevolent despot sacrificed by a British government determined to introduce a new policy. Basil Holmes Travers, The Captain-General (1953), deals sympathetically with Macquarie's administration in New South Wales, concluding that he was a model governor.
Additional Biography Sources
The Age of Macquarie, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press in association with Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1992.
Ellis, Malcolm Henry, Lachlan Macquarie: his life, adventures and times, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1978.
Ritchie, John, Lachlan Macquarie: a biography, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press; Beaverton, OR: International Specialized Book Services, 1986.