Lachlan Macquarie – Father of Australia

Governor Lachlan Macquarie was called the ‘Father of Australia’. The title is just. It was his governorship that corrected many of the inveterate problems caused by troublemaker John Macarthur, the ‘exclusives’, and the NSW Corps who instigated the Rum Rebellion and removed Governor Bligh. Below is a short piece about Macquarie by Dennis Hill on his Facebook page. As is currently the trend, Hill gives too much space in such a short piece to the inevitable conflict with the Aborigines. See my next posting which has the section on Governor Macquarie from my book PRISON HULK TO REDEMPTION. I concentrate on Macquarie’s determining role as a nation builder.

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Lachlan Macquarie

by Dennis Hill FB


Major General Lachlan Macquarie, CB ( 31 January 1762 – 1 July 1824) was a British Army officer and colonial administrator from Scotland. Macquarie served as the fifth Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821, 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. Macquarie expressing a desire for Aboriginal peoples to be treated kindly, in 1816 he gave orders that led to the Appin Massacre of Gundungurra and Dharawal people during the Hawkesbury and Napean Rivers

On 8 May 1809 Macquarie was appointed to the position of Governor 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. 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 corrupt and insubordinate New South Wales Corps. 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 officers led by John Macarthur had mutinied against and imprisoned the previous governor, William Bligh.

When he arrived in Sydney in 1809 he was accompanied by his Indian “slave-boy” named George Jarvis, whom he had purchased in 1795 for 160 rupees at age 6 (along with a 7-year-old named Hector). Jarvis was named after his deceased wife’s brother while Hector later escaped. He wrote about them in his diaries: “very fine, well-looking healthy Black Boys”.

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. 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. However, after an avalanche of petitions from leaseholders were sent to Macquarie, he soon back-flipped and ratified them all.

Although the New South Wales Corps and its monopoly were soon ended, the military influence survived, with officers having sway over the justice system. Macquarie himself chose to keep the peace with the remaining NSW Corps officers and maintained an ambivalent attitude to the rebellion against Bligh.

Part of Macquarie’s undertaking of bringing order to the colony was to refashion the convict settlement into an urban environment of organised towns with streets and parks. The street layout of modern central Sydney is based upon a plan established by Macquarie. The colony’s most prestigious buildings were built on Macquarie Street which he named after himself. Some of these still stand today including the ‘Rum Hospital’ part of which now serves as the Parliament House of New South Wales. The elaborate stables which Macquarie commissioned for Government House are now part of the modern structure housing the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Other notable edifices built during Macquarie’s tenure include the Parramatta Female Orphan School, St James Church, and the Hyde Park Barracks. He also officially named and established Hyde Park as a public recreation area.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 that of powerful British colonists who saw it as not much more than a camp for cheap convict labour.

In late 1810, Macquarie toured the regions around Sydney naming and marking out the sites and street plans of future towns such as Liverpool, Windsor and Richmond. 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. Another town-planning reform initiated by Macquarie was made when he ordered all traffic on New South Wales roads to keep to the left.

Macquarie is credited with producing the first official currency specifically for circulation in Australia. In 1812 he 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. 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. Any forging of the new currency was proclaimed as being punishable by seven years in the Newcastle coal mines. Macquarie also encouraged the creation of the colony’s first bank, the Bank of New South Wales, in 1817.

Macquarie’s policy toward Aboriginal Australians consisted of co-operation and assimilation, backed by military coercion. On arrival in the colony in 1810 Macquarie gave a speech expressing the wish that “Natives of this Country … may be always treated with kindness and attention”, and for the next four years very little conflict occurred. However, in the winter of 1814 a number of settlers and Aboriginal people were killed in conflict in the Nepean River region. Macquarie initially made proclamations to promote peace but also later sent an armed expedition to patrol the area.

Aiming to advance better relations, Macquarie organised a conference at Parramatta on 28 December 1814 for all Aboriginal people in the region, and in January 1815 he opened the Parramatta Native Institution for the education of Aboriginal children. Around forty Aboriginal children, some of whom were ‘decoyed away’ from their parents and others taken during frontier conflict, became students and were taught in the British tradition by William and Elizabeth Shelley. The children seem to have been mostly well-treated and in 1819, Maria Lock topped the colony-wide examinations. However, the Institution was also a conscious attempt to reduce the influence and future of Indigenous culture and may have contributed to further disillusion and hostility.

Macquarie also developed a strategy of rewarding Aboriginal people who assisted the British by declaring them ‘chiefs of their tribe’ and presenting them with a brass breast-plate (known as a gorget) engraved with their name and title even though it often did not reflect their actual clan status. Macquarie also rewarded these ‘chiefs’ with small parcels of land set aside for the use of their families. The first receiver of these rewards was Bungaree who in 1815 was issued a gorget, a boat and 15 acres at Georges Head. In 1816, gorgets and land parcels were given to Colebee and Nurragingy by Macquarie for their role in assisting the military operations against Aboriginal people along the Nepean River. The practice of British colonists giving gorgets to ‘loyal’ Aboriginal people continued for many decades throughout Australia.

In March 1816, considerable Aboriginal resistance was encountered especially at Silverdale where a large group of Aborigines were able to kill four settlers with a combination of spears and stolen muskets. Macquarie ordered the mobilisation of three detachments of the military in order to go.

On 17 April, the detachment of 33 grenadiers led by Captain James Wallis managed to corner a large group of Gandangara and Tharawal people near the Cataract River gorge in the upper Nepean catchment. At least 14 men, women and children were killed, some shot while others fell off the cliffs. This became known as the Appin Massacre. The corpses of two men, Cannabaygal and Dunnell, were strung up on trees as per Macquarie’s instructions, the skull of Cannabaygal later being taken to Scotland. Two surviving women and three children were taken prisoner and Macquarie rewarded Wallis for his efforts by appointing him Commandant of the Newcastle convict settlement.

Hostilities continued for most of the rest of 1816 with Macquarie proclaiming no Aborigines were allowed into the settled areas without a passport and issuing search and destroy orders for a further 10 Aboriginal men. By early 1817, these actions by Macquarie forced an end to Aboriginal resistance in what is now known as the Hawkesbury and Nepean Wars.