Lachlan Macquarie's life

Lachlan Macquarie's life

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Lachlan Macquarie was born on the island of Ulva in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland on 31 January 1761. His father, Lachlan Macquarie, was a cousin of the sixteenth and last chieftain of the clan MacQuarrie. He was carpenter by trade who lived and worked as a sub-tenant on the south-western side of Ulva - near Ormaig.

View from Ulva
View from Ulva, near Ormaig, south-east towards Mull.
Photo credit: Robin Walsh [1996]

At some time c.1772 Lachlan Macquarie Snr. moved his wife and family from Ulva to Mull, where he leased 75 acres from the Duke of Argyll at Oskamull (near the Laggan ferry-berth beside the Sound of Ulva). He died of 'pleuratic fever' c.1775. Macquarie's mother, Margaret, neƩ Maclaine (1728-1810) of Knockroy, was the only sister of Murdoch Maclaine (1730-1804), 19th Laird of Lochbuie in Mull. Margaret bore her husband at least seven children - six sons, of whom four survived: Hector (d.1778), Donald (1750-1800), Lachlan (1761-1824), Charles (1771-1835), and a daughter, Elizabeth [Betty] (c.1760-1833).

Early Years
There are few details of Lachlan's early years and education - though the cost of his education was met by his uncle, Murdoch Maclaine. In 1776, at the age of 15, he joined the British Army as a volunteer.

Military Services (1777 - 1809)

America (1777 - 1783) 
In 1777 he obtained an ensigncy in the 2nd battalion of the 84th Regiment known as the Royal Highland Emigrants, and served in Canada at Halifax and other parts of Nova Scotia. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 71st Regiment in January 1781 and performed garrison duty in New York and Charleston at the closing stages of American War of Independence. In 1783 he was garrisoned in Jamaica. On 28 October he sailed from Port Royal with five subalterns and forty rank and file members of the regiment on board the Martha. It would be a long and storm-battered voyage of 17 weeks and five days, eventually reaching Greenock on 29 February 1784. Soon afterwards he was placed on half pay, and having returned to Mull he spent the next few years assisting his mother Margaret, his sister Betty and her husband Farquhar McLean, and his two brothers Donald and Charles on the family farm at Oskamull, on Mull, as well as working as a factor for his uncle, Murdoch Maclaine, on the latter's estate at Lochbuie.

India (1787 - 1801)
In 1787 Macquarie took up a commission as a lieutenant in the 77th Regiment and began a long association with India. He saw much active service in the subcontinent, especially in the south, where he was present at the sieges of Cannanore (1790) and Seringapatam (1791), at Cochin (1795), the capture of the Dutch fortresses at Negombo, Colombo and Point de Galle (1796) in Ceylon [Sri Lanka], the Battle of Sedaseer (1799), and at the second siege of Seringapatam (1799).

On 28 September 1793, he married Jane Jarvis, who was the youngest daughter of Thomas Jarvis, Chief Justice and Member of Council of the Island of Antigua. Unfortunately, their marriage was brief and childless - she died of tuberculosis at Macao, in China, on 15 July 1796. He brought her body back to India and she was buried at Bombay on 16 January 1797

Egypt (1801-1802)
In March 1801, while military secretary to Jonathan Duncan, Governor of Bombay, Macquarie was appointed deputy-adjutant-general to the 8000-strong army, under the command of Major-General David Baird, that was sent to Egypt to expel the French. The Indian army was landed on the Red Sea coast at Cosseir and from here marched across 140 miles of desert to reach Keneh. From here the troops sailed down on the Nile to Cairo before finally reaching Alexandria in September 1801. Here Macquarie was able to meet up with his brother Charles whom he had not seen since 1788. They were able to spend several weeks together and to discuss future plans for purchasing land on the Isle of Mull. Charles had received a severe head wound at the Battle of Aboukir on 8 March 1801 and was eventually forced to retire from the army in May 1811 - he suffered pain and giddiness more or less continuously for the rest of his life.

On 11 February 1802 Lachlan discovered that he had been appointed as from 15 January 1801 to an effective majority in the 86th Regiment.

Britain (1803-1804)
Macquarie 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 presented to the King and Queen (on two occasions), dined with members of the royal family and peerage, 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.

India (1805-1807)
On 25 April 1805 he 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.

Britain (1807-1809)
However the real reason for his return was to marry his distant cousin Elizabeth Henrietta Campbell, of Airds whom he had met in 1804. He had proposed to her in March 1805 but asked her to keep their engagement secret and wait until his return from India. She had become impatient with his seeming delay, particularly when it became apparent that his tour of duty would be for four years. They married on 3 November 1807. The bride was 29, and the groom 46. She bore him a daughter, Jane, on 15 September 1808, but unfortunately, the child died on 5 December, the same year.

New South Wales (1810-1821)

In April 1809 Macquarie was appointed Governor of New South Wales, designated to replace William Bligh whose governorship had been wracked with controversy. Macquarie and his wife sailed with the 73rd Regiment from Portsmouth in the storeship Dromedary and escorted by H.M.S Hindostan on 22 May 1809, and they arrived at Port Jackson on 28 December. He took up his commission as governor on 1 January 1810.

From the outset, Macquarie saw the colony as a settled community as well as a penal settlement. However, his term of office also coincided with an increase in the number of convicts sent to the colony. His solution was to commence an ambitious programme of public works (new buildings, towns, roads) to help absorb these numbers. He also extended the practice of ticket-of-leave for convicts.

This policy of encouraging convicts and former convicts (emancipists) brought him into conflict with an influential, conservative, section of the local society. This group, known as the "exclusives", sought to restrict civil rights and judicial privileges to itself. Many of these free settlers also had influential friends in English political circles.

Frustration and recurring bouts of illness led him to submit his resignation on several occasions. A serious illness in 1819 almost proved fatal, and the pressures of a commission of inquiry into the state of the colony, headed by J.T. Bigge, reinforced his desire to end his term of office and return home to defend the charges made against his administration. Finally at the end of 1820 he learnt that this third application for resignation had been accepted. However, it was not until 12 February 1822 that he and his wife and son departed for England. (On 28 March 1814, after six miscarriages, Elizabeth had given birth to a son, named Lachlan).

Britain and Europe (1822-1823)

In 1822-23, worried about Elizabeth's health, he took her and Lachlan, with servants and a tutor, Robert Meiklejohn, on a grand tour through France, Italy and Switzerland.

Scotland (1824)

Finally, in January 1824 Macquarie returned to his Jarvisfield estate on Mull. However, a number of matters still remained to be resolved with the government and in April 1824 he went to London to secure the pension that he had been promised. Unfortunately, while he was there he suffered an attack of strangury - a severe inflammation of the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. Elizabeth hurried down from Mull, with Lachlan Jnr, in time to see him before he died at 49 Duke Street, St James, on 1 July 1824. His body was transported back to Mull by sea and he was buried on his estate at 'Jarvisfield'.

To see the inscriptions from Macquarie's family tomb, click here

Macquarie University's Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive includes journals, letters, portraits, and artefacts.

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