THE STRANGE STORY OF THE MACQUARIE MAUSOLEUM
Lachlan Macquarie was arguably the most influential and enlightened governor of colonial New South Wales. His burial site is located on the Scottish Isle of Mull, near Salen, the estate village established by Macquarie in 1808. Surrounded by a stone wall, the family tomb also contains the remains of Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth, their infant daughter Jane and their son Lachlan Junior. The burial of Lachlan Junior took place in 1845, yet it was six years before the mausoleum was constructed. Sharp eyed visitors might also notice that there are errors in the inscriptions.
Governor Macquarie returned home to Mull in 1822 a disappointed and embittered man. In 1819 Commissioner John Bigge had arrived in Sydney to conduct an inquiry into the Macquarie administration. His report censured the Governor over what was perceived as excessive spending on public works. Macquarie was also criticised over his championship of ex-convicts; a policy that had alienated ‘exclusionist’ free settlers. He died in London on July 1 1824, still defending himself against the charges in Bigge’s report. According to his wishes, Macquarie’s body was returned to Mull for burial.
During his final years, all the old Governor’s hopes and dreams had centred on his son and heir, born in Sydney on March 28 1814.
Unfortunately, Lachlan Junior grew up to become a dissolute drunkard and a gambler. He married Isabella Campbell in 1836, but died without issue in May 1845, aged just 31. According to some accounts, Lachlan was inebriated when he fell downstairs at Craignish Castle (the home of his wife’s family). His Macquarie cousins were shocked to discover that he had left the bulk of his estate to his friend William Henry Drummond (later Viscount Strathallan). Only the homestead known as Gruline and its adjoining farm were set aside for Isabella’s lifetime use.
William’s father James Drummond had been a close friend of Governor Macquarie and was Lachlan Junior’s godfather and guardian. By 1844 young Lachlan was deeply in debt to the Drummond family. As his health deteriorated, he bequeathed the Mull estate to William Drummond as his only means of honouring those debts.
The will was challenged by the Governor’s nephew Charles Macquarie, chiefly on the grounds that his cousin Lachlan Junior had been of unsound mind. There was some support for this claim, as in 1842 Isabella’s brother Archibald had suggested that Lachlan should be certified. Campbell urged his sister to leave her husband, but she loyally refused to do so. Charles Macquarie also suggested that the Drummond family had used undue influence in convincing Lachlan to alter his will.
In November 1851 the complex case finally went to court. One witness testified that Lachlan would begin drinking tumblers of whisky straight after breakfast. As evidence of his madness it was claimed he would herd his wife’s ducks together, then amuse himself by decapitating as many as possible with his sword. But despite seemingly endless examples of eccentric behaviour, he was judged to be morally rather than intellectually insane, and therefore capable of making a valid will. In summing up the judge commented, ‘…the poor man’s insanity seemed just to amount to an irresistible propensity for drink, and accordingly he muddled himself away among these Mull lairds..’ The jury found that Lachlan’s decision to leave his estate to Drummond (by now Viscount Strathallan) had been quite rational, particularly as his widow was adequately provided for and there were no children. Meanwhile, Charles Macquarie was left penniless by his failed law suit.
It is believed the Macquarie mausoleum was erected by Viscount Strathallan soon after the court case, as a tribute to his friend and as a symbolic finis to the drawn out battle over the inheritance. No doubt Isabella Macquarie was consulted over its design. When she died in 1884 she made a point of transferring stewardship of the burial site to the then owner of the estate, Colonel Charles Greenhill Gardyne (Lord Strathallan’s son-in-law). Her will states, ‘I earnestly request him [Gardyne] to see that the Vault & Burial Ground be kept in good repair..
Oddly enough, Mrs Macquarie’s name appears on the tomb as Elisabeth instead of Elizabeth, and the date of her death is shown as March 17 1835 when she actually died on March 11.
Robin Walsh (the acknowledged expert on Governor Macquarie) comments; ‘The inaccuracies in the inscription…indicate a certain degree of unfamiliarity with the Macquarie family.’
A clue to solving this puzzle appears in a book called The Island of Mull, published in 1923 by John McCormick. McCormick recounted the following strange tale. After his legal victory against Charles Macquarie, Strathallan and his supporters celebrated with a sumptuous banquet. The whiskey flowed and at one point a triumphant Strathallan declared he would rather have lost his right arm than forfeit the Macquarie estate. In response, his chief counsel impaled a piece of meat on a fork and topped Strathallan’s boast by exclaiming, ‘ And I would rather have been choked with that piece of meat than have failed to prove my case.’ According to local legend on Mull, the lawyer then swallowed the piece of meat and choked to death on the spot. Viscount Strathallan left the dinner unscathed, but supposedly lost his arm four weeks later. He was said to have been inspecting a factory in which he had a financial interest when he accidently walked into a fly wheel. Note the way he is sitting in the portrait below with his siblings, probably to disguise the loss of his arm.
Such a traumatic injury would have involved months of recuperation, preventing Viscount Strathallan from supervising construction of the mausoleum. Was there some truth in the legend? If so, it may explain the inscription errors.
Eventually I discovered a paper presented to Edinburgh’s Royal College of Physicians in 2001. The article discussed the work of Dr Matthew Baillie Gairdner, who was practicing at Crieff, near Strathallan Castle, in the 1850’s. The authors included a quote from Dr Gairdner’s obituary, which confirmed that Strathallan had indeed lost an arm;
‘His operative endeavors were admired by no lesser authority than the ‘Napoleon of Surgery’, James Syme. Syme congratulated Gairdner following the successful amputation of the arm of Lord Strathallan with the comment that he himself had ‘never winged a Viscount’.
Syme’s use of the word viscount is significant. William Drummond assumed the Strathallan title following his father’s death in May 1851, proving the amputation had taken place after that date. Whether it was the result of a factory accident remains a mystery, but there were numerous cotton and flax mills in the area in the mid 19th century, and the wealthy Drummonds were likely to have been proprietors.
There is also evidence to suggest that Lachlan’s widow was away from Mull in the months following the court case. Isabella was mourning the loss of her brother Archibald, who died in Edinburgh just a week after the jury returned its verdict. Additionally, her sister Mary was seriously ill, and in November 1851 she was taken to the English spa town of Great Malvern to undergo a lengthy period of hydrotherapy. Whilst there, Mary fell in love with her doctor, who she later married.The sexually repressive Victorian era demanded great delicacy in such situations, and who better to act as chaperone than a widowed older sister? A visit to Malvern would also have allowed Isabella to escape the publicity generated by the court case.
It is my belief that the inaccuracies in the mausoleum inscriptions occurred because both Viscount Strathallan and Isabella Macquarie were absent, and that construction was entrusted to estate staff. If this was the case, a third factor may also be relevant. In the wake of the devastating potato famine which began in 1846, Scottish lairds began to clear crofters from their estates and to establish large sheep runs. On the Macquarie estate, Richard Worton, who had managed the Gruline home farm for many years, was replaced early in 1852 by Robert Porter. Porter hailed from lowland Ayrshire and was experienced in the management of sheep. Unlike Worton (who had even named his twin daughters Isabella and Macquarie), Porter was unfamiliar with the Macquarie family.
Once the mistakes were discovered it was probably deemed too late and too expensive to correct them. It would also be understandable if Isabella had felt reluctant to bring the matter to the badly injured Strathallan’s attention. Perhaps too, the matter paled into insignificance due to a tragedy involving her newly married sister. In 1853 two of Mary’s young step-daughters died at hands of their French governess, Célestine Doudet. (This story is told in my book THE WATER DOCTOR’S DAUGHTERS)
Although she was only twenty nine when Lachlan Jnr. died, Isabella Macquarie did not remarry. In 1858 she let Gruline to her farm manager, Robert Porter. Her later years were spent in England, where she shared a home with her youngest sister, Augusta. Isabella died in the East Sussex town of St Leonards-on-Sea on October 27 1884. William Drummond was elected as a Scottish representative peer in 1853, twice serving as Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria He died on January 23 1886.
There is a bizarre postscript to this story. Several years ago I received an email from James Drummond, the current Viscount Strathallan. He told me that his great-great-grandfather William was buried in Perthshire’s ancient Tullibardine Chapel.
James Strathallan once visited the chapel’s vault, and saw a tiny coffin lying on William’s tomb. William and his wife Christina lost their second son in 1844 aged only six months, but to the Viscount’s shock the casket did not contain the body of an infant. On closer inspection he noticed a plaque on the coffin lid, explaining that it held his ancestor’s severed arm.
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