Macquarie's Influence

Macquarie's Influence

Major General Lachlan Macquarie, a British career military officer, was the fifth Governor of NSW. He served in this role between 1810 and 1821, and was crucial in transforming New South Wales from a penal colony into what would become Australia.

Upon his arrival in Sydney, Macquarie found conditions very dire with the colony on the verge of famine, the drinking water of the Tank Stream contaminated, and buildings run down and dilapidated. He immediately commenced a program of public works and conducted a review of available land to improve food supplies.

During his time as Governor, Macquarie oversaw the building of government infrastructure, such as the Macquarie Street government precinct, including Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney Hospital (now Sydney Mint and NSW Parliament House) and St James Church, and the Macquarie Lighthouse at the entrance of Sydney Harbour. He also made significant improvements to Sydney's transport infrastructure, straightening existing roads, and adding hundreds of kilometres of new roads, thus establishing new townships outside Sydney such as the five 'Macquarie Towns' of Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town and Wilberforce.

During this 12 year period, the population of the colony increased more than threefold to just under 40,000 people. Macquarie also established the colony's first bank, the Bank of New South Wales, and successfully stabilised the local currency (and also outlawed rum as currency). Manufacturing was encouraged, and industries started in pottery, linen cloth, and a variety of clothing items such as boots, shoes and hats. The fledgling wool industry also expanded during this time.

By the end of his term, he had also endowed the colony with public spaces, including Hyde Park, the Domain, the Botanical Gardens, and the grounds of what would later become Sydney University. He also formally adopted the name Australia for the continent, which had been previously proposed by explorer Matthew Flinders. However, after ongoing conflict with the British Government over the cost of the public works program, and complaints from free settlers about the equal treatment given to emancipists, Macquarie eventually resigned. He returned to England in 1822 and died in London in 1824.

One of the more controversial elements of Macquarie's time as Governor was his insistence that emancipists be treated as social equals with free settlers. Emancipists were those who were transported as convicts, and whose terms had expired or had been given pardons. Macquarie appointed convicted forger Francis Greenway as the Colonial Architect; naval mutineer Dr William Redfern as the Colonial Surgeon, and Andrew Thompson, transported for the theft of cloth, as a Justice of the Peace and Local Magistrate. This met with opposition from free settlers, who felt they should be socially superior to those who had been convicted of crime. Macquarie's liberal attitude towards emancipists also met with disapproval from the British government, who had a more traditional view of the importance of maintaining social hierarchies.

Today Macquarie is regarded by many as the real founder of Australia as a country, as his efforts effectively transformed what had once been a penal colony into a nation.His humanitarian social conscience and insistence on equality for emancipists was remarkable in the face of sustained government opposition, and provided the groundwork for a more egalitarian society.

Macquarie's grave in Mull, Scotland is maintained at the expense of the National Trust of Australia and is inscribed "The Father of Australia".


  • Broese, F. Island Nation: Australia's Maritime Heritage, Sydney, 1998.
  • Clark, M. The Age of Macquarie, Sydney,1987.
  • Coupe, S. & Andrews, M. Their Ghosts may be heard: Australia to 1900, Longman Cheshire, Sydney, 1992.
  • Hughes, R. Fatal Shore, London 1987.
  • Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Heritage Collections Council. 2001.

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