Elizabeth Macquarie's Letter

Elizabeth Macquarie's Letter

Barns [sic], Surrey, Novr. 3. 1825

My dear Friends,

... On the 10th. of Novr. 1823, we arrived in Mull, and, from necessity, took up our abode at a kind neighbour's house - Col. Campbell - expecting to get into our own humble dwelling, in a very short time, but for sixty long days we were detained as intruders on the hospitality of this worthy family, owing to the extreme badness of the weather wch. prevented the two little vessels coming round the Island; with our stores, coals and every necessary of life. At last on the 19th. January, [ie.1824] we went home to our truly uncomfortable house, wch. did not afford one dry room, and of so small dimensions, that it did not admit of a room wch. could be appropriated to the General's exclusive use. He sat in the dining room, where he was constantly disturbed by us all, so that he could not even write a Letter in comfort. The rain and wind blew in at the door, and sometimes the fire was blown out of the Grates. In the midst of all this I never heard him utter a complaint....

...We had a few days fine weather, when I had some happy walks with him, wch. I enjoyed much. The first thing he said to me, wch. surprised me, was the day we kept Lachlan's Birthday [ie. 29th March] (the 28th. being a Sunday, that year). The weather was wet and Stormy, yet he insisted on our going on the Lake, wch. is near the House, in a boat, he had given Lachlan. We rowed up to a distant part, he then said, 'My reason for bringing you thus far, is to show you the extent of your Estate'. At that time I imagined it to be the extent of the property, at that part. I have since found out that this not be the case; but it is the boundary of a large tract of Land wch. he left to me in his Will, made in the year 1815.

... before the fatal 15th. April, the day he left his house, never to return in life, he had paid every visit of kindness, or civility, wch. cd. be required, and settled everything, relative to business. He had moreover acquainted himself thoroughly with his place, and property, that he laid down, all the plans for its improvement; and expressed in so concise, and distinct a manner, that it is impossible not to understand his wishes, wch. are now being carried into effect.

...The House was so uncomfortable, that I determined, if ever he went from home, to get it repaired, and enlarged. This he did not approve of, for intending to commence a proper Dwelling house, whenever his circumstances admitted of it, he did not like to throw away money, on the one we were in, of wch., indeed, it was not worthy. But I was determined to make him somewhat comfortable, in it, (if I could), untill [sic] the intended house was habitable; wch. must have taken two or three years, from the period of its commencement.

...When the time arrived for his departure, the day previous he took Lachlan, and went with him, on Horseback. I could not think why he was so pressing with me, to go. The horses were once ordered back, the day was so wet. The shower being over he had them brought again. I found it was for the purpose of showing us, every line he had fixed on, for roads and inclosures, [sic] Plantations, etc. He took us to the different points, and seemed desirous to impress everything he said, on our memories. I was surprised, that previous to an absence of a few weeks, he shd. think it necessary to do this. He and I, had previously selected on the scite [sic] for a house, the burial ground, and a boat house for Lachlan's Boat. I think it was that day, that I said to him, I cannot bear the idea of your going without me. 'He said "Well -- come, --" I observed, that I could not assist in dressing him, as George [ie. George Jarvis, his Indian-born manservant] did. He answered "I can dress myself!"'. Yet, after all this, I seemed spellbound, I did not go. He cleared out the writing Table, he generally used, and that surprised me. I observed to him that he acted as a person going away, who had no intention of returning. --- On the fatal morning, he put into my hand a little Box, wch. I had never seen. I opened it. It contained Trinkets, Pocket Books, and different little things of that sort, wch. had belonged to Mrs. Mc..Quarrie, his former wife. He always had this box in the trunk with his most particular and private Papers. He said 'I give you this; there are things in it, wch. may be useful, to you, and Lachlan[']. I was so astonished and alarmed, that I exclaimed 'My God! You terrify me out of my senses, the way you are going on --'. He put into my hands, also, that morning, a memorandum of intended improvements, at Jarvisfield, wch. I have already mentioned. Finally, when he took leave of me, he burst into tears, wch. he never did before, on any occasion, regarding me, that I am aware of. The recollection of this, is one of the most agreeable I have to reflect on, being to me, a convincing proof (had such been required), of his affection. --- Poor Lachlan accompanied his beloved father to the top of the hill, from wch. there is a view of Mull and Lochnagael [sic: Loch na Keal]. There his Tutor [ie. Robert Meiklejohn] ordered him, much agt. his will, to return. He wished to accompany his Father. He has frequently mentioned this circumstance since, with bitter regret. ---

... I commenced building, making new roads, clearing ground, new papering, and furnishing the house, inside, and attempting to repair it, so as to keep out the wet; but all that had failed. I never saw such a house. The walls are like wet sponge in winter. Every thing from the most minute, to the most important, was done, in the happy anticipation of his Return. ---

I had three rooms, and a porch, built, little thinking, that the body only, of my beloved, husband, was to occupy the apartment, I was so busy preparing for his use. Had he lived to come home, I think he wd. be better pleased, with me, than he ever was, for considering the season of the year, the distance from every material, and the shortness of the time, certainly the exertion that was used, and the success attended it, were extraordinary.

... I set to work in earnest. The time he was to be absent, seemed short. I had so much to do; I wished to have done, I felt even a sort of carelessness about Letters, and often deferred sending to the post office for a day, because I would not take even a lad from the works. You have some of you seen me busy, but I never was half so much so, from the different pursuits in hand. I had so many women and children, at work of different kinds, as I could find willing to be employed; and laboured hard myself. The weather became extremely fine. The birch woods, began to show their leaves, and the ground was enamelled with Primroses. The constant exertion, and being so much in the open air, produced an astonishing improvement in my state of health. Every thing seemed to go well with us, but this sunshine of happiness was but a treacherous calm, and of short duration.

... On Monday the 31st. [ie. May] we returned home. At that time, the roof was about to be put on the new Rooms.

... It was a renewal of life to me, when I got his body, into the house, once more. The Room I had been building with so much anxiety was first used for this occasion. The Escutcheons were placed over a table at the head of the coffin, and on the Table was placed the superb vase, given him by the grateful colonists. I had it taken from the Silversmiths, in London, for the purpose, and it was so used in London, for the ceremony there. Mr Mn. [ie. Robert Meiklejohn] read the funeral service, according to the Church of England, at wch. we all attended. I had called at Perth, on my way home, for the purpose of receiving the body of our dear infant, which we carried with us. [ie Jane Jarvis Macquarie, who had died aged 3 months in Dec. 1808]. Her little coffin was laid on his breast. Lachlan [Lachlan Macquarie Jnr.] behaved from first to last, on this most trying occasion, in the most satisfactory manner. He has more true religious principles than any one I ever knew, with the exception of yourselves, my dear Mr. and Mrs. C. [ie. Rev. and Mrs. Cowper]. I shall now take my leave of you for this time. My Letter is long, but I thought I could not be too particular on a subject in wch. one and all of you have shown, what I thought, a most laudable interest.

I trust we shall all meet to part no more. Farewell! That every blessing may attend you is my constant Prayer.

E. H. McQuarrie [sic]

At Barnes,
23d. March 1826.


These extracts are a transcription from:
McGarvie, Rev. John., Memorandum Book, 1829 - 1832.
Original held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. (ML Ref C254:'Narrative of the Last Days of General Macquarie, by Mrs. Macquarie.') 47pp. [CY Reel 2075].

Historical Background

The McGarvie manuscript is a 'copy' of an original letter from Elizabeth Macquarie dated 3 November 1825 and finished (or perhaps dispatched) on 23 March 1826. The letter was addressed to the Rev. William Cowper and his wife, Anne, and was intended as a document that could be circulated amongst personal friends of the Macquaries in New South Wales. Copies of the letter were subsequently made and this particular copy was marked:

'Correct copy from Mr.
Fitzgerald's copy.---
J. McGarvie, Minist. 4th.. Octr.. 1832.' It is attested:

'A true copy
Signed Rd. Fitzgerald.' To date, the location of Elizabeth Macquarie's original letter is unknown (if indeed it survived).

Later transcripts appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald 22 September 1868 p.6; and C.H. Bertie 'Governor Macquarie.' Royal Australian Historical Society Journal Vol. XVI Part 1, 1930 pp. 38 - 50 show editorial differences to the McGarvie mss. 'copy', with some personal name omissions as well as slight changes in spelling and/or punctuation.

The transcription of these extracts, as well as the associated 'Provenance' and 'Historical Notes,' were prepared by Robin Walsh, Macquarie University Library, Sydney, Australia. All rights reserved.
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