On the trail of the Macquarie relics, in Scotland.

On the trail of the Macquarie relics, in Scotland.









Browsing through  images of paintings relating to early Sydney at the city’s  Mitchell Library, I came across   a striking   portrait of an Aborigine. His  eyes seemed to reflect all the pride and sorrow of his people.  He was a young warrior,  dressed in what appeared to be a fur trimmed cloak and a rose pink, feathered head-dress.


The picture, oil on wood panel, was unsigned and undated. It was titled, One of the NSW Aborigines befriended by Governor Macquarie. An old pencil inscription on the back read, Painting was for years in the possession of Gov. Macquarie. It belonged to Mrs Agnes Flockhart, youngest daughter of Robert Porter; who was for 20 years in the service of Gen. Lachlan Macquarie and his widow as manager for their estate at Glen Forsa, Scotland.  [Call No. ML 696]  I was intrigued by this inscription, but ran out of time to investigate further.


Back home, I googled  ‘Agnes Flockhart and Lachlan Macquarie’. This   led me to a site created by Robin Walsh,  then curator of the museum dedicated to the Governor at Macquarie University. There was a reference  to the painting, plus mention of a  statutory declaration sent to the Mitchell Library by Mrs Flockhart. To my astonishment she  claimed ownership of many other  Macquarie relics. I  messaged  the Mitchell, who obligingly  sent  me a photocopy of the declaration, plus its covering letter;

I, Mrs Agnes Flockhart, now residing at Fifteen West Sixty-Fifth Street, New York City, in the State of New York, United States of America, do hereby make oath and say that I am the youngest daughter of the late Robert Porter who was for twenty years in the service of General Lachlan Macquarie and his widow as manager for their estates at Glen Forsa, Scotland. The relics of said General Macquarie, a schedule of which is hereto attached, were bequeathed by General Macquarie’s widow to my father, and were bequeathed by my father to me. They have been in my possession over thirty years.

I declare that the relics mentioned on the attached schedule are the identical personal relics of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1809-1821.

As witness my hand and seal, this 18th day of June, 1914.

It was attested and sworn before Mr Thomas Mills Day, Attorney at Law.  The attached schedule read as follows;

Water Color Painting.— Sydney Harbour “1793”

Book. Steel Engravings — Scotch Castles, etc.

Skean Dhu – or Black sword – worn by the General when in full “Highland Dress”

The General’s Library Candle Sticks and snuffer tray.

Sheffield Plate (four).

Four Pictures by the General’s wife, who was Miss Campbell of Jura.

2 Beautiful old Maorian Chiefs Clubs, one finely carved.

One very old Library pen Tray. (Sheffield Plate).

The only Painting in existence of the General’s Maorian Body Servant who is buried at his master’s feet. 

It appears that   the portrait  Agnes described was not Macquarie’s body servant, but that of the young Aborigine. To my mind, passing up the opportunity of acquiring the other  treasures was almost beyond belief.   Admittedly the descriptions of the items were sketchy, but surely a painting of Sydney Harbour completed only five years after settlement was worth pursuing?   Did Mrs Flockhart demand too high a price? We will probably never know, because apart from the statutory declaration all correspondence on the matter has vanished.

The date on the statutory declaration was  June 18 1914.   This rang a bell as 1914 was a highly significant year in relation to Macquarie relics. In January of that year a major collection of diaries, artworks, and other material associated with the Macquarie family was purchased in London on behalf of the Mitchell Library. The material had been offered for sale by Margaret Drummond, Viscountess Strathallan.   The Viscountess was a relative by marriage of James Drummond, a life-long friend of Lachlan Macquarie.

Could this sale have prompted  Agnes Flockhart to offer her relics to the Mitchell? It is quite possible that relatives in Scotland sent her a cutting from the London Times regarding the Strathallan sale. On the 24th January 1914 the Times reported that the collection had been sold privately prior to auction. It was described as a valuable archive that would probably find a permanent home in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. The price paid was said to be ‘about £1,800’.

Among those granted early access to the Strathallan collection was Sydney journalist Mary Salmon. Ms Salmon was a great admirer of Macquarie’s wife, Elizabeth, and in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 1st 1914 she referred to the Governor’s   account of his historic 1815 journey across the Blue Mountains adding; ‘In another place he [Macquarie] mentions that Mrs Macquarie and Mr J.W. Lewin took sketches of the scenery. It would have been delightful if among the Macquarie collection, even one of these drawings by the first [European] woman who crossed the mountains had been found. But although there is very little doubt that Mrs Macquarie had much to do in helping to preserve and keep together sketches and documents relating to those times in the colony, there is no fragment of her work among the recently acquired papers and sketches.’

How ironic that just a few months later the Library would be offered (and turn down! ) four ‘pictures’ by Mrs Macquarie, which may well have included those Blue Mountains sketches.  I wondered whether anyone had attempted to trace the remaining items in  Mrs Flockharts’ possession.

During my research I  made arrangements to view the painting of the Aborigine. It was not on public display, but held within the art stacks in the depths of the Mitchell building.  Seeing the original was very special.


Shortly afterwards I became aware of another Macquarie relic associated with the Flockhart/Porter family. In 2002, the Historic Houses of Trust of New South Wales acquired Governor Macquarie’s 1805 campaign desk from  descendent  Alan Porter . The sale upset other members of the family, who regarded it as a family heirloom. They had been told that the desk was a retirement gift to Robert Porter  when he left the Macquarie estate.

The open campaign desk

The open campaign desk (Photo Rob Conolly)

The desk contains a copy of an 1860 newspaper, posted to   Porter on the Isle of Mull.    Of course Mrs Flockhart’s statement  that her father had been employed by ‘General’ Macquarie and his widow was incorrect. By 1850 both Lachlan and Elizabeth were long dead. It was Isabella Macquarie (widow of the Governor’s son)  who had employed Robert Porter and who  subsequently leased the home farm to him.

Robert Porter and family.

Robert Porter and family, taken soon after they moved from the Macquarie estate. Agnes is standing, third from left. (Photo courtesy of Hamish Porter.)

My research eventually took me to Scotland, where I was able to travel to the Isle of Mull and also to access the correspondence of solicitor Sproat.

In 1860 Isabella Macquarie   decided to give up her life tenancy of the estate and move to the south of England.  The property was  sold,  and plans were made to build a new mansion  house.  An aggrieved Robert Porter had to vacate the home farm he had been renting.   As  he  was about to leave,  Isabella’s solicitor wrote to him regarding  goods and chattels Mrs Macquarie  had stored in the old house.

Mr Porter, Jarvisfield. 17 May 1861 

I’m favoured with your note of yesterday. I am glad that the delivery of the furniture &c. will go on tomorrow. From what you know of Mrs Macquarie’s instructions you can easily take delivery of the things received by her, according to the Inventory you shewed me yesterday, which agrees exactly with mine as compared by you and me.

You will take particular note of the state of repair of everything. I fear I cannot attend having particular engagements here.

I am satisfied from what passed between us that you can do quite well without me.

Everything will be removed on Monday.

Please have a horse and cart in readiness by 10 or 11 ab.

Yours etc….

I  puzzled over this rather cryptic letter, particularly the comment that Porter could ‘…take delivery of the things received by her [ Mrs Macquarie] ‘.

I was studying Isabella’s will one day when I noticed the name, Sprot  [sic].

The will read , ‘All the things belonging to me so long left in charge of Mr Sprot (Writer) Tobermory, Mull, Argyleshire I leave to him with the exception of any part of them my sister Augusta may select.’

Suddenly the 1861 letter made sense. When solicitor Sproat wrote ‘received by her’  he was speaking metaphorically. Isabella was not taking physical possession of  her belongings.  Instead, Robert Porter had been instructed to transport the items to  Sproat’s home in Tobermory for storage.

The will also showed that Isabella  Macquarie did not make any bequests  to Robert Porter. In fact, the Sproat archives revealed that  their relationship became acrimonious due to unpaid rents and disputes over livestock.  My conclusion is that Porter, upset that he and his large family had to leave what had been a good living, ‘appropriated’ a box of Isabella’s possessions during his unsupervised removal of goods. These then, are surely  the relics later offered to the Mitchell by Robert’s daughter Agnes in 1914.

Are the rest  still in America? And are there other items still in Scotland that might emerge, as the  old Governor’s campaign desk did?

I have since become very good friends with members of the Porter family.  Several years ago Hamish and Rita Porter came out to Australia. My partner and I took them to see the desk, then on temporary display at Liverpool Library.

For another Macquarie related story, click here


  1. Great job of detective work! An fascinating story, I want to read on!

    • Pauline

      Thanks Mike. Maybe one day I will write the full story.

  2. Once on the trail, Pauline, you don’t give up! This fascinating tale shows how family stories get distorted, and family wills, etc, can often reveal the truth. But with regard to one of the founders of modern Australia, I do hope the other items show up one day.
    The portrait is wonderful, by the way – was it painted by Macquarie’s wife? If so, she was remarkably talented!

    • Pauline

      I love the ‘treasure hunt’ of research Ann. It is extremely unlikely that Elizabeth Macquarie would have painted the portrait. She was more into sketching landscapes, and really just a talented amateur.

  3. Pauline, It’s an interesting and a great article. The name Agnes Flockhart caught my attention. Flockhart is the last name of the actress, Calista Flockhart who married the famous actor of the Indiana Jones series, Harrison Ford. They live on a ranch outside of Jackson Hole in Wyoming? Just maybe…she may be a distant relation of Agnes Flockhart.
    I hope you come across more historical items of the Governor.

    • Pauline

      Hi Heather, thanks…glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I thought about Calista. However, there doesn’t appear to be any connection. Agnes and her husband Joseph did not have children, so there was no chance of the items being passed down. I even checked with museums in New York hoping she may have sold something to them, but no luck. They moved to Arizona later, where Joseph was working for a mine. When he died Agnes moved back to the UK, and died in London.

  4. I didn’t have time to comment on this earlier, but I am really enjoying your mystery/history stories.

    I do have a Flockhart in my family tree so must do a little more research on them. You never know …..

    • Pauline

      Thanks Christine, I really appreciate your generous comments. How interesting about the Flockhart relative. Agnes was married to Joseph Flockhart whose family were from Dunfermline in Scotland.

  5. Pauline,
    I note your interest in the Campbells of Jura – I am a descendant of Archibald 4th Laird through his daughter Barbara. I have not been able to find other descendants (except through Barbara) and presume the family extinct, but would be keen to know if this is not the case. We have a few things here that probably came from Jura.

    Seems that they were pretty dreadful!


    • Pauline

      Hi Geoff, well I don’t know about dreadful, but your family were certainly an interesting lot! I’m afraid I only have knowledge of the branch of the family that included Lachlan Macquarie Jnr’s wife Isabella and her sister Mary, who became stepmother to the Marsden girls in my book The Water Doctor’s Daughters. Mary’s only daughter died without issue and Isabella had no children. How lucky you are to have family things from Jura.

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