MRS MACQUARIE – FINAL DAYS, FAITHFUL FRIENDS
Elizabeth and Lachlan Macquarie returned to Scotland from New South Wales with their young son in 1822 . Unfortunately, Macquarie’s estate of Jarvisfield on the Isle of Mull was financially unviable and it’s residence Gruline House barely habitable. In retrospect he made a wise and generous decision by taking his family on an extended tour of Europe before finally moving into the cold, damp residence.
It was April 1824 when a weary but indefatigable Macquarie travelled alone from Mull to London. He was determined to defend himself against the charges in the Bigge report and to secure the pension he felt he deserved. His days were filled with visits to government officials and to old acquaintances, but his diary indicates that it was only Elizabeth’s friend Miss Henrietta Meredith who took the trouble to call on him.
While in London, Macquarie’s health began to fail. On June 11 complications arose and his condition suddenly deteriorated. When news reached Mull a distraught Elizabeth rushed to London, but her husband died in her presence on July 1. Fortunately, Henrietta and Juliana Curzon were on hand to offer comfort and support. According to Elizabeth, Henrietta advised against accompanying Macquarie’s body back to Mull by sea, ‘ In regard to going in the vessel to Mull, Miss Meredith told me that she knew it to be done in two instances. In one life was lost, in the other, the powers of the mind’.
Sadly, as winter approached Henrietta Meredith also fell ill. She died early in February 1825 and was buried on St Valentine’s Day in the crypt of St Mary-le-Bone, the church she and Juliana Curzon had watched being built.
GENEROSITY BEYOND THE GRAVE
Miss Meredith had written her will on December 2 1824, just five months after the death of Lachlan Macquarie. In a touching acknowledgment of her friend’s loss, Henrietta’s first mentioned legacy went to Elizabeth; ‘ I give and bequeath unto Elizabeth Henrietta or Elizabeth Harriet Macquarie widow of the late Governor of New South Wales two thousand pounds, three per cent secured annuities & also all my estate and interest in my leasehold house situated in the said Charlotte Street together with the coach house and stables…as well as the furniture and household effects including wine, trinkets and wearing apparel..’. This generous bequest not only relieved Elizabeth of immediate money worries, but allowed her to maintain her loyal defense of her husband’s reputation. On June 6th 1825 she was able to inform the Colonial Office that she had ‘… no need of pecuniary assistance from anyone’, and to refuse a government pension until Macquarie’s response to the Bigge report was published in 1828.
To Elizabeth Meyrick, Henrietta left four thousand pounds. The residue of the estate went to Juliana Curzon, who was the sole executrix.
By the time news of Elizabeth’s inheritance reached Sydney its size had been somewhat inflated. On May 16th 1827 the Sydney Gazette reported, ‘Mrs Macquarie, the Relict of the late venerated General and Governor, has lately received a fortune of £10,000 together with a superb mansion in Portland Square, by the death of an old and respected maiden lady.’ Elizabeth lived in Henrietta’s house for several years before retiring to Jarvisfield. St Mary-le-Bone thus became her parish church, which she would have attended regularly with her friend (and now neighbour) Juliana Curzon.
Losing both her husband and best friend within months was devastating for Elizabeth. Her grief was compounded by the death of her sister Jane in August 1824, and of Macquarie’s faithful manservant George Jarvis, in mid January 1825. Jarvis had accompanied the Macquaries on all their travels and his passing meant that one of Elizabeth’s most important links with her beloved husband was broken. Small wonder that it was November 1825 before she felt able to write an account of Lachlan’s passing for the colonists in New South Wales. The long letter was written in homage to Macquarie, the man she had now raised to the status of a saint. Surprisingly, she made no mention of the deaths of either George Jarvis or Henrietta Meredith. It was as though she felt that in the eyes of the world her sorrow over their loss might somehow diminish the sacred grief she felt for her husband.
ANOTHER GENEROUS LEGACY
The Hon. Juliana Curzon died in London on February 22, 1835. Her will was another remarkable expression of friendship. Although her siblings would be buried at the Curzon family estate of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, Juliana requested that she be interred within the same vault as Henrietta Meredith, in St Mary-le-Bone church. Her relatives received token legacies but, like Henrietta before her, Juliana left the bulk of her estate to her friends. To Elizabeth Macquarie she bequeathed a rose diamond ring, originally the gift of Henrietta, and also ‘ ..the fine portrait [of] our mutual dear friend Miss Henrietta Meredith painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence which now hangs over the fire place in my front drawing room in Queen Ann Street’. Elizabeth was also to receive the substantial sum of five thousand pounds. The remainder of the estate was to be divided between Elizabeth Meyrick and her sisters, who were joint executrixes.
At the time of Juliana Curzon’s death Mrs Macquarie was herself very ill at Jarvisfield. She passed away less than three weeks later, on March 11, aged 56. In her final days her friend’s bequest would have given Elizabeth great of peace of mind regarding her beloved but spoiled son, who had joined the army and was living a wild life within his regiment. Lachlan Jnr was about to reach his majority, and to assume control of the Macquarie estate from his trustees. It was his mother’s greatest wish that he should resign his commission and settle at Jarvisfield as a responsible highland laird. Thanks to Miss Curzon he might be now persuaded to do so. An investment of five thousand pounds would go a long way in making the estate financially viable.
Unfortunately, Lachlan Jnr developed into a dissolute spendthrift. He married, but died from the effects of alcohol abuse in 1845 aged just thirty one. He had no issue and bequeathed the Macquarie estate to a friend, to whom he was deeply in debt. The fate of Juliana’s rose diamond ring and the portrait of Henrietta Meredith by Thomas Lawrence is unknown. One possibility is that the items passed to the family of Lachlan Jnr’s widow Isabella, the daughter of Colin Campbell of Jura. In 1977 a descendant of the Campbell family presented Sydney’s Mitchell Library with a watercolour miniature of Henrietta at the age of four.
Both Henrietta Meredith and Juliana Curzon left legacies to the Middlesex Hospital. For this reason I feel sure their spirits were undisturbed when their bodily remains were removed from St Mary-le-Bone church in 1983. The overcrowded crypt could be transformed into a National Health clinic and counselling centre. Their bodies were among 850 re-interred in London’s Brookwood Cemetery. A white marble memorial cross marks the site, with an inscription reading; The mortal remains of those laid to rest during the last century in the crypt of the Parish Church of St Marylebone London, were here buried in the year of our Lord 1983.
Elizabeth Meyrick died at Holsworthy in 1853. Her nieces, the little girls Elizabeth Macquarie became governess to in 1806, did not marry. Mary Meyrick died at Bath, Somerset in 1846. Her younger sister Hester lived on for almost half a century, dying at Bath in 1891 aged ninety one. Hester retained a deep affection for the town of Holsworthy, perhaps due in part to her time there under Elizabeth Macquarie’s care. In her will, Hester left a legacy to provide assistance for young girls from the town entering domestic service.
In the wake of Henrietta Meredith’s death, the continued friendship of Juliana Curzon and Elizabeth Meyrick helped sustain Mrs Macquarie during her years of widowhood, particularly after Lachlan Junior joined the army. Living alone at Jarvisfield in 1834, Elizabeth took comfort in re-reading a favourite book; James Boswell’s Life of Johnson (now held in Sydney’s Mitchell Library).
The famous biography brought back happy memories, having been presented to the Macquaries as a wedding present by the Reverend Owen Meyrick in 1807. No doubt Elizabeth would have agreed with Johnson’s observation on friendship; ‘True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends but in their worth and choice.’
FOOTNOTE – FOR THE STORY OF WHAT BECAME OF LACHLAN MACQUARIE JUNIOR, CLICK HERE.
And another click for more on the life of Mrs Macquarie from a great archive. It was compiled by Macquarie researcher Robin Walsh.
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