A PRICELESS GIFT
On September 26 1968, Australia’s Consul-General in New York, Sir Reginald Sholl, received a visit from an elderly gentleman offering to present the Australian government with a pair of earrings associated with Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s wife Elizabeth.
Sholl’s visitor was Edward Manley Hopkins, great-grandson of Mrs Macquarie’s niece, Mary Gregorson (nee Maclaine).
An undated note, presumably written by a member of the Gregorson family, accompanied the jewellery; ‘Earrings made of the first gold mined in New South Wales. Mrs Macquarie sent the gold home to her niece, Mrs Gregorson of Ardtornish, who had the earrings made.’
The Consul-General asked Hopkins whether he had any further correspondence relating to the earrings, particularly as the first authenticated discovery of gold in New South Wales was in 1823, more than a year after the Macquaries left the Colony to return to their estate on the Isle of Mull.
Two months later, and almost by chance, Mr Hopkins unearthed four letters written by Mrs Macquarie. He generously returned them to Australia. The earliest letter was dated April 7 1817, and was addressed to Mary Maclaine. Although it did not mention the earrings, it revealed a deep bond between Elizabeth Macquarie and her niece, then aged seventeen;
My dear Mary
Your sister Margaret told you what was very true in saying a letter from you would give me much pleasure, it was a great treat to me to hear from you. You can’t recollect, but I must tell you that you were once left in my care by your mother at Moy when you was [sic] a poor little miserable baby seemingly more inclined for the other world than for this; I took you from a fat nurse who I thought smother’d you with heavy highland blankets to sleep with myself and you were with me all day long besides, and in the course of a few weeks you were quite a different looking creature – it was always gratifying to me to think that I had been of some use to you and now that you take so great an interest in my little boy it strengthens the tie…As you do me the favour to ask for a lock of Lachlan’s hair, I have great pleasure in sending it and also a little sketch of his face which though by no means well done serves to give an idea of him…’
Clearly, young Mary’s interest in Lachlan had won Elizabeth’s heart.
As Hopkins noted when forwarding the letters, the particular affection Elizabeth had for her niece may explain why she was the recipient of the gold from which the earrings were made.
The letter to Mary and the lock of Lachlan’s hair are held at the National Library in Canberra. The fate of Elizabeth’s sketch of her son is unknown, but the pendant earrings are also held at the National Library. They are described as being 5.7cm long, inset with citrine, which is a type of quartz. Strangely enough, one of the places where citrine is found is the Isle of Arran, south of Mull.
While working in the British Newspaper Library, I discovered another reference to the earrings, which puts a slightly different light on their origins. On December 1 1917, a Scottish newspaper, The Oban Times, published a photograph of the famous 1804 portrait of Lachlan Macquarie which had been presented to the Mitchell library in 1914. It was accompanied by an article about Governor Macquarie, containing biographical information and highlights of his career
In the very next issue (December 8th) the paper published a response from a woman called Mary Greenfield, who had taken up her pen almost immediately;
Ardrishaig 2nd December 1917
Many of your readers must be grateful for the excellent reproduction of the beautiful portrait of General MacQuarrie and the interesting notes on his career. Will you allow me to supply one notable omission, vis., the name of his second wife, who was also the mother of his only son, Lachlan. His first wife, Miss Jarvis, who brought him a considerable fortune, died without issue, and he afterwards married Elizabeth Campbell of Airds. This lady accompanied him to New South Wales. She was a woman of much force of character and single-minded devotion to duty, and threw herself heart and soul into the interests of that new and struggling colony, where her memory is held in much honour. The rock commanding the best view of the wonderful Sydney Harbour is known as ‘Mrs MacQuarrie’s Chair’; and is generally the first point to be visited by tourists. Our present King and Queen were taken there almost directly on their arrival in Sydney.
Having so loyally defended the memory of Elizabeth she added, almost as an afterthought;
I have in my possession several relics of Mrs MacQuarrie, among them a pair of long gold ear-rings; set with transparent green stones. The tradition is that they are made of Australian gold, and were presented to her in Sydney. This must have been many years before the great rush to the gold fields; but doubtless gold may have been found in small quantities in very early days. – I am, etc.
Mary Hume Greenfield.
Although she did not say so in her letter, Mary Greenfield, then fifty five, was Mrs Macquarie’s great-great–niece. Her mother Margaret was Mary and John Gregorson’s second daughter.
When Mary Gregorson died on August 11th 1888 she left specific pieces of jewellery to various family members, including her daughter Margaret. Surprisingly, the historic ‘Australian gold’ earrings were not mentioned, suggesting they had been given to Margaret earlier, perhaps on the occasion of her marriage to James Hume Greenfield on July 27 1857. It is quite possible that Margaret heard the story of the earrings directly from her great-aunt Elizabeth, as she was nine years old when Mrs Macquarie died on the Isle of Mull in 1835. Margaret’s daughter Mary Greenfield did not marry, and the earrings subsequently passed to her younger sister Caroline, mother of Edward Manley Hopkins.
Mary Greenfield’s letter to the Oban Times reinforces the claim that the earring were made of Australian gold. However, she states quite clearly that they were presented to Elizabeth Macquarie in Sydney, raising the question; by whom?
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION
Officially, gold was not discovered in New South Wales until 1851. However, as Miss Greenfield suggested, there were stories of finds from the earliest days of European settlement. In 1815 it was rumoured that a chain gang had found small deposits while constructing the first road across the Blue Mountains. The convicts were warned to say nothing, under threat of flogging. It was feared that ‘gold fever’ would lead to mass escapes among the convicts, and the desertion of farms by free settlers.
William Cox was the superintendent in charge of the road building Shortly after its completion, Governor and Mrs Macquarie made a ‘procession‘ across the Mountains. Cox was a member of the official party. He had been rewarded for his work with a grant of 2,000 acres of land in the now accessible inland plains It is conceivable that he had the ‘chain-gang’ gold made into a piece of jewellery, presenting to the Governor’s wife as a memento of a very significant occasion, a highlight of his own career.
Here is another interesting story about ELIZABETH MACQUARIE.
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