Governor Lachlan Macquarie

Lachlan Macquarie

By 1815 Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s extensive building programme and his efforts to raise the moral standards of the colony of New South Wales were bearing fruit. Sydney, which had been little more than a squalid penal camp when he arrived, was becoming a stable, forward looking society.

There was also great joy in Macquarie’s personal life. The previous year, following the heartache of six miscarriages, his wife Elizabeth had given birth to a son. Before her pregnancy Elizabeth had often accompanied her husband on his tours of inspection around the colony. As Lachlan Jnr approached his first birthday she felt able to do so again. In 1815 it was decided that the baby could be safely left in the care of a nurse while his parents made a ‘Royal Progress’ across the newly conquered Blue Mountains.

It was a journey of enormous significance. Macquarie was a visionary, who dreamed of creating an egalitarian society in which  free settlers and ex-convicts were given the opportunity to prosper. To achieve this it was necessary for the settlement to expand into the vast inland plains to the west.

The official party left Sydney on Tuesday, April 25th 1815; one hundred years to the day before Australian soldiers leapt  ashore and scrambled up the cliffs at Anzac Cove.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli

Negotiating the Blue Mountains was nothing compared to the horrors of Gallipoli, but Lachlan and Elizabeth set out with a similar sense of commitment and spirit of adventure.

On  May 7 Governor Macquarie proclaimed the settlement of Bathurst  (after Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies). His  campaign tent, pitched on the site of the future city, had been purchased from India, where Macquarie had served in the British army with distinction for many years.

The encampment at Bathurst, painted by John Lewin in 1815

The encampment at Bathurst, painted by John Lewin in 1815 (Wikipedia)

Accompanying the expedition was artist and naturalist, John Lewin. Macquarie was a great supporter of Lewin. The artist was among the first to represent the Australian landscape in an honest, unsentimental manner. He created a pictorial record of the 1815 expedition in a series of watercolour paintings which have been described as marking the beginning of a national school of landscape painting. The harsh but heroic terrain Lewin depicted was typical of that which produced the generation of young men from the bush who would distinguish themselves so highly in WWI.

Following the turbulence of William Bligh’s regime, Macquarie’s stable governorship allowed the national character, typified by the Anzacs, to evolve. Significantly, he also played an important role in the official recognition of the name ‘Australia’. On December 21st 1817, in a letter to Under Secretary Goulburn, Macquarie referred to ‘…the continent of Australia, which I hope will be the name given to this country in future, instead of the very erroneous and misapplied name, hitherto given it of “New Holland”, which properly speaking only applies to a part of this immense continent’. In the same letter he referred to the Mermaid Cutter, which had left to survey the west coast of Australia. A great deal of exploration took place during Macquarie’s term, which is perhaps why he was one of the first to view the country as a single entity.

However, it was through the scarifying experience of the First World War that Macquarie’s vision for Australia was ultimately fulfilled. As war historian Charles Bean wrote; ‘Remote though the conflict was, so completely did it absorb the people’s energies, so completely concentrate and unify their efforts, that it is possible for those who lived among the events to say that in those days Australia became fully conscious of itself as a nation.’

By 1914 the town of Bathurst had a population of around 9,000, many of whom rushed to enlist. Two years later Lieut. Harold Pittendrigh led a section of the Boomerang enlistment march between Parkes and Blayney, which arrived in Bathurst on February 5th 1916 with 202 recruits. Pittendrigh was a descendant of Alexander Pittendrigh, one of the area’s early settlers.   Many others who enlisted were descendants of the convicts Lachlan Macquarie had championed.

Coincidently, war historian Charles Bean was also born in Bathurst, and spent the first ten years of his life in the town before his family moved back to England. He returned to Australia in 1904, enlisted in 1914, and was at the Anzac Day landing. Such was his dedication in recording the actions of the Anzacs that when he was shot in the leg he refused to be evacuated. Explaining the tough, do-or-die nature of   the Australian soldier Bean commented; ‘Fires, floods….or the long journeys in droving down the great stock routes across the “back country” offer many conditions similar to those of a military expedition. The Australian was half a soldier before the war.’

The cheerfulness of Australians soldiers and their determination to make the best of a bad situation was illustrated by their love of sport. They played football and cricket as they trained in Egypt prior to embarking for Gallipoli and swam in Anzac Cove as shell fire whistled overhead. Cricket skills even proved useful in the heat of battle; a bowling action being considered the best technique for lobbing hand-held bombs. As they  prepared to evacuate Gallipoli in December 1915. the men played cricket on what became known as ‘Shell Green’; a ploy to divert the attention of the enemy.   It is worth remembering that some of the colony’s first cricket matches were played at Hyde Park, enclosed by Governor Macquarie in October, 1810, ‘for the recreation and amusement of the inhabitants’ .  One of the ANZAC’s who did not leave Gallipoli was 37 year old Trooper Allan Preece of the 8th Australian Light Horse, a direct descendant of Macquarie’s sister, Elizabeth Farquar.   Trooper Preece died during the Battle of Lone Pine.

WWI Carillon War Memorial at Bathurst

WWI Carillon War Memorial at Bathurst

Having served as governor for eleven years, Lachlan Macquarie returned home in 1822. He died in London on July 1st, 1824. His body was transported to his estate on the Isle Mull, where the inscription on his tomb reads;



Author at the Macquarie Mausoleum on the Isle of Mill

Author at the Macquarie Mausoleum on the Isle of Mill

All Lachlan Macquarie’s hopes had centred on his son and heir, but unfortunately Lachlan Junior was a spendthrift alcoholic who died prematurely, without issue. It was the old Governor’s ‘Australian sons’ who would honour his memory by developing the country to which he himself had contributed so much, and by their courage and sacrifice at Gallipoli.   It is therefore curious but somehow fitting that the dawn landing at Anzac Cove should have occurred on the centenary of Macquarie’s 1815 Blue Mountains expedition.


Do leave a comment in the box below. Please don’t forget to scroll down and complete the little anti-spam sum first though.

  1. Pauline, you make history so interesting and you share a lot of things I never knew before. I don’t recall studying Australia in school at all, so have very little detailed knowledge of its history. I never liked history as a child as there were far too many dates and events to remember that always escaped me. I love it now, though. Thank you for adding to my knowledge in such an engaging way.

    • Pauline

      My darling mother introduced me to ‘history’ Diane, telling me little stories such as King Alfred supposedly burning the cakes. I have loved the subject ever since, so it is a real joy when people respond to my work. Thank you very much.

  2. A wonderful article Pauline. I echo Diane’s observations that I didn’t like history in my school days. Now thanks to excellent compositions such as this one I can’t get enough of it. I love all the coincidences of the important dates, and how you’ve woven so many key aspects of Australia’s history so skillfully together. And having moved to Bathurst 22 years ago, I love reading any background into the development of this fine locality. We are involved in the current celebrations of the 200th anniversary which we are enjoying.

    • Pauline

      Thank you so much for taking the time to respond Christine, I really appreciate it. I hope to attend some of the bicentenary events.

  3. Enjoyed reading this about Lachlan Macquarie – puts much about the Australian ‘character’ into perspective! Wish I’d known more when I was writing about my great-uncle, the Australian immigrant in 1913 – especially with regard to the Gallipoli landings in 1915.

    • Pauline

      Yes, well Macquarie has always been a hero of mine Ann. Of course my spiritual home (the State Library) is in Macquarie Steet. He named nearly everything after himself and his family!

  4. As a homesick Aussie, at times, I really enjoyed reading the story about Governor Lachlan Macquarie. His wife, Elizabeth, would have stayed with him through some fairly uncomfortable places. I didn’t realize that their son turned out to be an alcoholic. I should read up more about our history and find out if he married, and if so, what happened to his family.
    WW1 is one of the times that must have left all the returned soldiers with nightmares. I’ve read about some of the horrors experienced by soldiers who fought in it. We must never forget no matter how far away we are from our home country.
    A very good article, Pauline.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for your generous comment Heather. I will post a piece about Lachlan Jnr. He did marry, but died aged 36 after falling down stairs while drunk. He and his wife Isabella had no children. He left the Macquarie estate to a friend he owed money to. This led to a bitter dispute and eventually a court case over his will.

  5. As an ex-history teacher and successful author, may I offer my congratulations on a great article Pauline.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Don. I appreciate you taking the trouble to leave a comment.

  6. Thank you. I too am a descendant of Elizabeth Macquarie (Lachlan’s sister) and Allan Preece was my Nanna’s brother.Growing up as a child at school I knew about him but it it’s only later on in life I have learnt more. I sam especially proud of both Lachlan (Father of Australia, as he is often referred as) and Allan.

    • Pauline

      Hi Beryl, thanks so much for your message. There are several other stories on my website about the Macquarie family, what a fascinating clan you belong to. I will be posting a story soon about the Macquarie mausoleum on Mull.

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