In July 1818 Governor Lachlan Macquarie made an inspection tour of the Paterson River in the Lower Hunter region of New South Wales. On July 30 his diary records, ‘We then proceeded to view the rest of the Farms on both sides of the River—finding the soil of all of them very good—and much more ground cleared and cultivated than I had any idea of.’
Macquarie would have been delighted to know that by the time the town of Paterson was proclaimed in 1833 the area was thriving; producing beef, fruit, wine, grain, tobacco and even cotton.
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF UNCLE LACHLAN
On December 31 1838, almost twenty years after Governor Macquarie had left New South Wales, the 214 ton barque Sovereign arrived in Sydney Harbour from the port of Greenock in Scotland. She was carrying general merchandise and a small number of passengers, including Mr and Mrs Charles Macquarie and Miss Marianne Macquarie. (1) Charles and Marianne were the nephew and niece of the late Governor. Their father Charles (Lachlan Maquarie’s younger brother) had died three years earlier, leaving his estate on the tiny Isle of Ulva so burdened with debt that it had to be sold.
Fortunately for the Macquarie siblings their late mother was the daughter of George Willison, a wealthy Scottish artist. He had died in 1780, leaving a trust fund, which passed to his grand-children after her untimely death in 1828.
It was following the loss of the family estate on Ulva that Charles Macquarie Jnr decided to try his luck in New South Wales. He was accompanied by his new bride Margaret (nee Campbell) and his nineteen year old sister Marianne. It was the Willison Trust Fund which provided the money for Charles and Margaret’s wedding, their passage to NSW and the funds to make a new start.
THE HUNGRY FORTIES
It must have been a strange feeling for Charles and Marianne to set foot in the colony formerly governed by their uncle. In fact, Lachlan Macquarie had once expressed the wish that their father should succeed him in the position.
The timing of the trio’s arrival was unfortunate to say the least. The colony was in the grip of such a prolonged drought that Governor George Gipps had proclaimed Sunday November 2 1838 as a day of national fasting and prayer.
Within a month of the Sovereign’s arrival in Sydney, Marianne Macquarie had met and married a twenty year old wine merchant from Derbyshire called John Goodwin. Charles and Margaret attended the wedding at St. Philip’s church on January 31, co-incidentally the old Governor’s birthday. The couple then headed up-country, where they rented land by the banks of the Paterson near Maitland, on a property called Brisbane Grove.
Macquarie raised cattle, pigs and goats, but his main cash crop was wheat. However, yields were distressingly low due to the persistent lack of rain. A contemporary newspaper report illustrates the seriousness of the situation, ‘From all parts of the country we have the same disheartening accounts. In most places the crops have entirely failed; in some few, about half a crop has been realized. In all quarters the sides of the road are said to be literally strewed with the carcasses of bullocks, which have perished for want of sustenance.’ (3) As a gentleman farmer, Charles also struggled to pay the wages of his overseer, general labourers, and domestic servants.
Writing to the Maitland Daily Mercury on September 10 1898, a long time resident, the Hon. John Macintosh, reminisced about the hardship of those early days. After specifically mentioning Charles Macquarie’s farm he noted, ‘During the years 1840-44 the settlers of all classes suffered severe privation from the effects of drought and the low value of produce. The distress then was more general and acute than what the colonists have been passing through during late years.’
ECONOMIC DISASTER FOR NSW
Meanwhile, nervous investors in London had begun to withdraw their funds from the colony, sending New South Wales into a severe economic depression. Merchants as well as farmers were hard hit, although fortunately the Bank of New South Wales, established by Governor Macquarie in 1817, survived. In August 1841 Charles Macquarie’s brother-in-law John Goodwin was declared insolvent with debts totalling an astonishing £25,000.(4)
It appears young Goodwin had been speculating wildly and he was referred to in the press as an ‘upstart kite-flyer’. His behaviour following his failure was so reprehensible that at one point he was arrested. Soon afterwards, the Goodwins left Sydney in disgrace. The whole affair must have been very difficult for Charles and Margaret, particularly saying goodbye to Marianne and her two young daughters.
On June 4 the following year Charles Macquarie was also declared bankrupt. At a forced sale held at Paterson on August 8 1842 his personal property realized only £183.12.11. Auctioned off were his farm implements, wheat crop (still in the ground) , household furniture, and family clothing. But the most poignant item to go under the hammer was a piano, noted by Charles as belonging to his wife, then heavily pregnant with her second child. A small account from a Sydney draper’s shop among the insolvency documents proves that Margaret had been doing her best to economize. Cheap calico accounted for the bulk of the account, with just a few shillings spent on ribbons, pearl buttons and printed cloth.(5)
Surprisingly, Charles was able to re-establish himself on another property almost immediately. By the end of September he was farming a block known as Selwood, part of the 2,000 acre Bowthorne estate. This property is located south of Brisbane Gove at Hinton, near the confluence of the Paterson and Hunter rivers. Like so many settlers, Bowthorne’s owner Captain Alexander Livingstone was also close to bankruptcy and probably beyond worrying who rented his land. Livingstone was sold up in January 1843 but Macquarie’s tenancy continued, and it seems he may have finally fallen on his feet. A pre auction advertisement in The Maitland Mercury described the Selwood block in glowing terms, ‘…it contains one hundred and thirty five acres of first rate land, the greater part cleared and stumped. An excellent four roomed cottage is erected on this allotment, with kitchen, barn, stockyards, piggery, men’s huts etc. This is to be particularly noticed as being one of the best farms of its size in the colony, and is no exaggeration.’ (6)
The difficult economic climate prompted the agents to accompany their advertisement with some philosophical verse by the English poet Edward Young .
Man’s rich with little were his judgment true;
Nature is frugal and her wants are few;
Those few wants answer’d bring sincere delights,
But fools create themselves new appetites.
HOPE OF INHERITANCE
The lines would prove ominously prophetic for Macquarie. In the summer of 1844 the Goodwins’ visited Marianne’s relatives in Scotland. On the Isle of Mull they found Lachlan Macquarie Junior (son and heir of the late Governor ) desperately ill due to years of alcohol abuse.
The news eventually reached Paterson, causing Charles to reconsider his future. Lachlan was married but had no children, and as his nearest living relative, Charles had expectations of inheriting his cousin’s estate. Ironically, New South Wales was beginning to emerge from economic depression, but for a tenant on a small-holding the lure of becoming a Highland laird was overwhelming. For Charles it was also an opportunity to restore the honour of the Macquarie name, tarnished by the behaviour of the dissipated Lachlan Junior and by the loss of Charles Macquarie Senior’s estate on the nearby Isle of Ulva.
Charles Macquarie sold up and embarked for Scotland with his wife and three Australian born children. Unlike his irresponsible brother-in-law John Goodwin, he would be remembered kindly in the colony as a hard working farmer who had served his community as a Justice of the Peace and as a founding trustee of Paterson’s Anglican (now Presbyterian) church of St Ann’s.
Charles and Margaret arrived home in September 1845 to discover that Lachlan Macquarie Jnr had died on May 7 at Craignish Castle, the home of his wife Isabella’s family.
In a codicil to his will, Lachlan had left his entire estate to his friend (and creditor) William Henry Drummond. (7)
Charles challenged the will on the grounds that Lachlan Jnr was of unsound mind, and that undue influence had been used to persuade the young man to change his will in Drummond’s favour. During the lengthy legal battle that followed, Charles returned to farming to support his growing family. However, in a cruel twist of fate he found himself battling another agricultural disaster. Potato blight struck the Scottish Highlands in 1845 with devastating consequences.
HOPES DASHED FOR CHARLES MACQUARIE
It was not until November 1851 that the matter of the will finally went to court in Edinburgh, where the jury found in favour of William Drummond. Despite evidence of Lachlan Junior’s increasing bizarre behaviour in the years before his death he was judged to have been only ‘morally insane’, and quite capable of making a valid will. (8)
I have written an account of the trial in an article called Bitter Legacy.
Charles was left penniless, his misery no doubt compounded by the knowledge that New South Wales was by then experiencing the boom created by the gold rush. In 1954 he was forced to write to the trustees of the Willison Fund, asking for an advance;
‘…My unfortunate family are much in need of a small sum to enable them to get over the winter. I am not fond of grumbling, but as this time I cannot help it. Meat was so high in price all last season that my trifle that is due to me here is already spent. My potatoes are a complete failure, which makes this thing worse. I am sorry to say so, but we are all barefooted, have not the means of getting shoes in this cold weather. I only trust that you will let me have £15, which will keep me all right until I am entitled to it……I am willing to give you whatever interest you chose to ask, and if you send it, please send it per registered letter in £5 notes….’.
In July 1862 Charles was declared bankrupt for the second time, with the proceeds of the ensuing sale barely covering his servants’ wages. 9 His only recourse was to fall back on the Macquarie family tradition of army service, and he became a quartermaster in a Scottish regiment. He died from bronchial pneumonia on January 6 1869 aged 54 (10), leaving his widow Margaret and ten children, of whom several were still dependant. Some months later his old friends and neighbours at Paterson received the news of his death via a brief obituary in the Newcastle Chronicle. Margaret died in 1879.
When Charles was first sold up in 1842 he owed £60 in rent to Brisbane Grove’s owner, Felix Wilson. In 1841 Wilson had built another large estate at Paterson called Tocal. It was Mrs Wilson and Margaret Macquarie who were given the honour of laying the first stone.
Today, Tocal is home to an agricultural college, where young men and women study the latest developments in environmentally sustainable farming. It is a fitting legacy for those pioneers (including Charles and Margaret Macquarie) who endured what became known as ‘The Hungry Forties’. A three day field event is held within the College grounds each May. The substantial homestead built by Wilson in 1841 still stands, and is open for inspection.
NOTE – There was a very strange story arising from the court case over Lachlan Jnr’s will involving William Drummond. It is included in the story Bitter Legacy.
1Commercial Journal and Advertiser Jan 2 1839
2 Parish Records, Philip Street Church January 31 1839
3 Sydney Gazette March 14 1839
4 SG August 26 1841
5 Insolvency Index. State Records of NSW (June 4 1842)
6 Maitland Mercury January 7 1843
7 Will of Lachlan Macquarie Jnr Dunoon Sherriff Court SC51/32/5 29/01/1846
8 Reduction of a Will The Scotsman November 8 1851
9 Sproat & Cameron Letterbooks, July 5 1862 Argyll & Bute Council Archives
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