Australia’s Founding Fathers – Lachlan Macquarie


Contributed by Stefanos


Lachlan Macquarie was born on 31 January 1762 on the island of Ulva in Scotland. His father, also Lachlan Macquarie was the 16th cousin of the last chieftain of the Macquarie clan. His father worked as a carpenter or a miller according to local tradition. Macquarie’s mother was the only daughter of another chieftain named Maclaine who owned a castle on the Isle of Mull.

Later on in life it is rumoured but unconfirmed that Lachlan Macquarie attended the Royal High School of Edinburgh. If he did attend it was only for a very short period of time as in 1776 he had volunteered to join the military. On 9 April 1777 he managed to secure a position in the second battalion of the 84th Regiment, also known as the Royal Highland Emigrants which was commanded by his cousin Colonel Alan Maclean. He performed garrison duties in his time in America first in Halifax, Nova Scotia, New York and finally Charleston. He was only 15 when he began his military career.  He enjoyed a military career in the Army, being posted to different international regions including America to fight in the American War of Independence, East Indies, Jamaica, India and Egypt and a myriad of other international destinations.

Prior to his deployment in India he spent the period of 1784-1787 in Scotland where he worked with his on an estate in Lochbuie until November 1787. He was reduced to half pay due to his break from military activities and the fact that his regiment had been disbanded. Lachlan however was offered the senior lieutenancy of the 77th battalion if he was able to recruit 15 volunteers which was being raised for service in India. He managed to fulfil this requirement and as a result he was posted to India in 1788 at the age of 26. After 3 years he was promoted to major of brigade. His time in Egypt made him a very wealthy man so much so that he was able to double his worth within two years and purchase a large estate in Mull. He also had enough saved to send 1000 pounds to his family. Macquarie also felt confident enough to propose to a woman called Jane Jarvis, and to his delight and joy she had accepted. He married Jane on 8 September 1893 however the rung of society he had entered proved very expensive he son spiralled into financial debt. He was therefore pleased when his regiment was ordered to Calicut where the couple lived in a bungalow and Macquarie had managed to pay off his debts before he saw action again, this time against the Dutch at the siege of Cochin (1796) and the capture of Colombo and point De Gaulle (1796).

Macquarie, atleast before his investiture as Governor of Australia in 1810 was known to enjoy more than few alcoholic drinks. Even during military campaigns did he enjoy consuming alcohol. During Britain’s campaign against the Sultan of Mysore he took with him “eight dozen bottle of brandy and madeira” and “a quantity of gin”. To further confirm and appreciate just how much Macquarie enjoyed alcohol one of his journal entries is quite revealing. In it, he states how he wanted to impress his wife by limiting his alcohol consumption to only 12 glasses of wine a beer a night.


Lachlan Macquarie, having heard the result of the rum rebellion, had applied to be the next governor of NW. he had not received a response from his superiors for weeks, until he met Lord Castlereagh, Secretary of State for the Colonies by chance, who confirmed to Lachlan that his application was successful. Lachlan Macquarie was officially sworn in as governor of New South Wales on January 1st 1810.

It is important to note that prior to Macquarie’s investiture as governor, there had existed a heightened sense of chaos and political disorder which culminated in the overthrow of Governor Bligh in what became known as the “rum rebellion”(1808). The NSW Corps had mutinied and Bligh had been ousted due to his inability to reconcile his differences with John MacArthur and the entrepreneurial class of the NSW. Macquarie therefore had taken the reigns of a colony which was not only in social and political chaos but also faced demographic pressures as a result of the large numbers of free settlers migrating. These people had to be accommodated in a way that respected the norms of infrastructure planning.

He was told by the Secretary of State to the colonies, Viscount Castlereagh that he should seek to correct the morality of the general public. This is because during the Rum rebellion, drunkenness and all matter of unsavoury behaviour had become rife and was stifling ability for the state of NSW to progress successfully. Macquarie was also tasked to deal with the aftermath of the floods that had plagued the colony in previous years and rendered them non self-sufficient. He also sought to convert New South Wales from a convict colony to a free settler colony. He aimed to achieve this by increasing the amount of free settlers arriving in NSW but also by granting more rights to former convicts, also known as “emancipists”. One such way this was achieved was by granting some emancipists to possess “tickets of leave”. This allowed convicts to hold important public service positions. One example of this was former convict Francis Greenway being appointed as Chief Architect. He had been allowed to set up his own practice and by 1815 he was advising Governor Macquarie on matters relating to urban planning, architecture as well as fixing dilapidated buildings. Many more conservative landowners who had enjoyed a privileged class opposed these new policies which allowed convicts to uplift themselves and become free citizens. This class became known as the “exclusives” as they opposed the expansion of rights to convicts.

While Macquarie was a supporter of expanding rights to former convicts he did leave room for maintaining the convict status for those newly arrived convicts in order to achieve his other plans for the colony. For instance, Macquarie benefited from the “free labour” that newly arrived convicts provided. He used this labour to build tremendous public works and amenities essential to the good living of any society. The buildings constructed included new churches, roads, schools, a turnpike road to Parramatta, a new general hospital, Hyde Park barracks, the first bank of NSW and new towns in order to cater for the increasing population. There were 5 towns in particular that became known as the “Five Macquarie towns”, which included, Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town and Wilberforce. Within a period of 12 years, the population of the colony had tripled to just under 40 000. The numbers of sheep and cattle multiplied by more than 10 times, thus assisting the process of NSW becoming self-sufficient.

In the first 25 years of the colony, there was no real need for the establishment of a standardised currency as most people were convicts and businesses were yet to be established. Any monetary exchanges were solved through bartering, often in the form of rum or the exchange of British, Spanish, Dutch and other forms of coinage. Lachlan however fixed this confusing situation and introduced the first standardised currency. This is because an increasing number of convicts were being pardoned or the terms of their imprisonment had ended and had thus become “emancipists”; establishing businesses and thus the ability to exercise their social and economic freedom to a larger degree. In 1812, 40 000 pieces of Spanish reale currency were imported and transformed into “holey dollars” as the centre of each coin had a circle cut into it, thus doubling the amount of new holey currency available for the colony. It is interesting to note that Macquarie tasked a convicted forger by the name of William Henshall to cut these circles into the Spanish currency. Macquarie granted Henshall a workshop space where he could begin to transform the currency. Henshall on completion of this herculean task had produced Australia’s first mint and had therefore become Australia’s first mint master.  The new currency was also helpful in the sense that it helped dismantle to rum trade which was a main cause of the rabid drunkenness in the colony.

On the issue of marriage, Macquarie issued a decree which condemned the state of affairs which was prevalent in NSW; that of unmarried couples cohabitating. He also introduced laws which prohibited unmarried women from inheriting their partner’s property.  These particular policies aimed to ensure the morality of the colony as well as creating the right environment for the rearing of children. They also had the effect of increasing the marriage rates in the colony. Furthermore Macquarie restricted the amount of liquor licenses from 75 to 20 in order to control the issue of drunkenness in the colony. Swearing was also banned particularly on Sundays. While these particular policies are conservative in nature there were also a few “progressive” policies which enacted such as relaxing the use of Corporal punishment by magistrates. He also gave “plum” jobs to women which was quite ground-breaking for the time. Reformed convict Elizabeth Killett for instance was given the responsibility to run Sydney market.

Lachlan Macquarie also formally adopted the term “Australia” as the official name for Australia. In many maps, especially British ones in the 19th century that related the Australia, the term “terra Australia” and “Australia” were used to name the land. “Australis” meant in Latin, “Southern”. A map by Matthew Flinders produced in 1814 used these terms and 3 years later Governor Lachlan Macquarie officially adopted the name “Australia” in 1817. Seven years later the British admiralty officially agreed to the name in 1824.


Lachlan Macquarie is known as the “Father of Australia” for good reason. His ideas and actions had a profound effect on the pioneering of Australian culture.






Nativist Herald