On January 1st 1810, Lachlan Macquarie was sworn in as Governor of New South Wales, replacing the deposed William Bligh. Macquarie had arrived in Port Jackson aboard The Dromedary several days earlier, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth. Her love and unswerving loyalty would sustain the Governor throughout his long and increasingly difficult term of office.
Macquarie left a detailed record of his years in NSW in diaries, letters, and official dispatches. Elizabeth’s written legacy consists only of an engaging account of her journey aboard The Dromedary and a handful of letters. She was a lively correspondent with a dry sense of humour. What a shame that not one of her letters she would have written to her closest women friends have survived. These women; Henrietta Meredith, Juliana Curzon and Elizabeth Meyrick, had known Elizabeth before her marriage. They continued to play an important role in her life after she and Governor Macquarie left NSW in 1822.
On April 20 1805, Miss Henrietta Meredith hosted an intimate dinner at her home near Portland Place. It was in the fashionable area of London’s Marylebone. The occasion was to farewell Major Lachlan Macquarie, a distant cousin of Henretta’s friend, Elizabeth Campbell. As young girls, Henrietta and Elizabeth had attended school together in Hammersmith. Macquarie, a Scottish born army officer, had just become engaged to Miss Campbell, but was about to rejoin his regiment in India. No doubt Henrietta knew of the couple’s ‘understanding’, but no date had been set and the engagement had not been made public.
The names of Miss Meredith’s other guests were not recorded, but the Hon. Juliana Curzon, youngest daughter of Lord Scarsdale, was almost certainly present. The Curzon and Meredith families were connected by marriage. Henrietta and Juliana were best friends and considered themselves almost sisters. Elizabeth Campbell was the third member of what was a very close trio. We don’t know what the after dinner entertainment consisted of. Perhaps the ladies played a musical instrument, or sang. However, there in another possibility. In 2014 a book once owned by Henrietta was sold at auction. Bell’s British Theatre 1792 was a leather bound volume of four plays. Given the engagement of Miss Campbell and Macquarie a comedy called The Constant Couple would have been quite appropriate for the guests to perform.
A PROPOSAL FROM THE HEAD, RATHER THAN THE HEART
Lachlan Macquarie’s brief courtship of Elizabeth had been pragmatic rather than romantic. In his diary he spoke of her good sense and independence rather than her beauty and womanly charms. Their betrothal had come as a complete surprise, perhaps as much to Elizabeth as to those around her. At twenty seven she was several years younger than Henrietta or Juliana, but already considered beyond the bloom of youth. Macquarie was a forty three year old widower, whose first beloved wife Jane had died young (and childless) in India. He had grieved her loss for many years, but the purchase of an estate on the Scottish Isle of Mull had turned his thoughts to succession, and the possibility of a son and heir.
Like Macquarie, Elizabeth had also been born and raised in Scotland. However, at the time of his proposal she was living with her maternal aunt in London. It was here she settled down to wait for her fiance’s return from India. Later that year Major Macquarie was given command of a regiment about to return to Britain. He betrayed his lack of ardour by writing to Elizabeth on March 6 1806, suggesting he might voluntarily extend his stay until January 1808! Not unreasonably, Elizabeth’s feelings were hurt and her confidence in their relationship shaken. It would be thanks to Henrietta Meredith that she was able to give her fiance a jolt, and to demonstrate that she was capable of leading a fulfilling life without him.
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