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The history of India and Sri Lanka in the period 1796-1821 is more closely connected with the convict colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land than many people realise.

Lachlan Macquarie arrived in Bombay on 3 August 1788 and thereafter his life was irrevocably linked to people and events in South Asia. The region shaped his military career, gave him his first experiences in independent command, provided him with opportunities for promotion, and helped him establish lifelong friendships as well as important patronage links. It was also in India that he courted, married and buried his first wife, Jane Jarvis. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it was during this time that he gained experiences that would prepare him for his later governorship of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.

It is fortunate that Lachlan Macquarie maintained an extensive collection of journals and letterbooks during this period of military service - and most of these documents are now held by the Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW (Sydney). Other related records are scattered in libraries and archival repositories in Australia, India, Sri Lanka, and Britain

Under A Tropical Sun seeks to retrace and explore some key events in Lachlan Macquarie's life in the year 1796. In this year he served with the British military expedition that was sent from India to seize control of the maritime provinces of the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from the Dutch. During the months of February - April 1796 Captain Macquarie was present at the landing at Negombo, the siege and capture of Colombo - and most importantly, he was appointed to lead the force of 700 soldiers sent south (along the west coast) to secure the surrender of the Dutch fortress at Galle. This would become his first real experience of independent command of a civilian and military population.

In 1810 Lachlan Macquarie commenced his governorship of NSW and Van Diemen's Land - and to assist him in this new administration he had brought with him the 1st Battalion of the 73rd Regiment of Foot. For the next four years these officers and soldiers became an integral part of the everyday life of the convict colonies in Australia.

Under A Tropical Sun also seeks to investigate what happened to the men of the 73rd Regiment after they left Australia in 1814 (accompanied by their women and children) for a seven (7) year tour of duty in Ceylon. Initially this involved normal garrison duties - but in 1815 the regiment would be called upon to play an important role in the final overthrow of the Kingdom of Kandy. More significantly, in 1818 the men of the regiment would be caught up in a brutal war of attrition and atrocity in the southern highlands of Sri Lanka. This conflict quickly spread and threatened to completely undermine British control of the island. The death toll within the regiment, mainly from tropical diseases, escalated very rapidly - and many of those men who had served in Australia (or fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815) were buried in this 'tropical paradise' - except for a lucky few who returned to Australia later as pensioned soldiers and/or free settlers.

Under A Tropical Sun presents a selection of photographs and research findings arising from a research trip to Sri Lanka by Robin Walsh (Macquarie University Library) in July/August 2002. Using materials located in library and archival repositories in Colombo and Kandy (and later in Sydney) - and as well as field trips to military fortifications, churches, temples, and cemeteries at Negombo, Galle, Matara, Trincomalee and Badulla - this website is an attempt to increase and enhance public awareness of the rich historical connections between colonial Australia and Sri Lanka.

Copyright © Macquarie University 2011