Marianne Macquarie was born on the Isle of Mull in 1820. She was the niece of Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales between 1810 and 1821. Her father was Charles Macquarie, the governor’s only surviving brother. Marianne’s mother and only sister had both died when she was just eight years old.
When Charles Macquarie died in 1835, the family’s Scottish estate was sold to help clear thirty thousand pounds of debt.
Fortunately, Marianne and her siblings were the beneficiaries of a trust fund set up by their maternal grandfather, the Scottish portrait painter George Willison. Willison had spent time in India, where he was handsomely paid for painting the wealthy princes.
Willison returned to Edinburgh with a fortune in jewels. Following his death the trust money was doled out to the young Macquaries by a firm of solicitors, but it was still necessary for them to make their own way in life
With this in mind, Marianne, her brother Charles Jnr., and Charles’ new wife Margaret emigrated to New South Wales. After arriving in Sydney in December 1838 aboard the Sovereign, the newlyweds made arrangements to travel ‘up country’ to try their hand at farming on the Paterson River. Accompanying them had little appeal for Marianne. She had endured the loss of her parents, sister and her family home. Understandably, she was yearning for love and a family of her own. This led her to make the biggest mistake of her life.
Within a month she had met and married John Goodwin, an ambitious young wine merchant who had arrived in Sydney on March 18 1838. He was the son of a highly respected doctor from Ashbourne, in Derbyshire. The ceremony took place at St Philip’s Church on January 31. Charles Macquarie Jnr was one of the witnesses.
John Goodwin had arrived with capital of about a hundred pounds, and sixty or seventy pounds worth of wines and spirits. For a few months he worked as a clerk for the merchants A.B. Smith and Co. He then set up a wine business in Lower George Street, borrowing heavily from his former employer to do so.
Soon he would have his finger in other pies, including a flour mill. However, when fire destroyed the Albion Mills in Darling Harbour in 1841, John Goodwin lost 24 tons of stored flour.
One of the most serious and destructive fires that ever occurred in New South Wales took place yesterday morning at the Albion Mills, the property of Messrs. Hughes and Hosking. ….The occurrence of this truly public calamity has thrown a damp over our good city, and has created no slight alarm amongst our mercantile community, which, added to the former rickety state of our financial affairs will be a heavy blow to the interests of the colonists. (Sydney Gazette, March 4 1841)
The loss compounded Goodwin’s financial problems and months later he was declared insolvent. An advertisement in the Sydney Gazette & NSW Advertiser on September 25, 1841 read; By order of the High Sheriff, auction scheduled for noon Monday 27 September, the stock at John Goodwin stores in George Street – about 600 cases of sherry, 200 cases of port, three hundred casks of ale and porter etc.
‘An avowal of insolvency was made a day or two ago, to the tune of twenty-five thousand pounds. The debtor to this large amount is a very young gentleman, whose transactions have been principally confined to the wine trade, and whose sojourn in Sydney has not exceeded three years…a complete surrender of his effects has already been made to one house, his largest creditor, so that, according to our insolvency law the other parties “may gnaw their nails and curse their folly sairly, and that will be extent of their satisfaction”.
According to a later report, Goodwin had amassed the debt within the space of just eighteen months. In 1841 the colony was experiencing a severe economic depression, but the magnitude of Goodwin’s failure suggested he had been involved in wildly speculative deals, or that his losses were due to recreational gambling. He was referred to in the Sydney Gazette as an ‘upstart kite flier’. His action of secretly paying off A.B. Smith & Co. at the expense of many others led to a public meeting of bankers, lawyers and traders. It was held at the Royal Exchange which, rather ironically, was located in Macquarie Place.
Goodwin refused to offer any explanation as to why his business has collapsed, and displayed no remorse whatsoever. During insolvency proceedings he commented that his creditors had treated him so badly that, ‘…he cannot think of affording them any assistance or information in respect of his affairs.’ It was feared he would abscond, and he was arrested.
How humiliating this must have been for Marianne, in the colony where her uncle Lachlan Macquarie was so revered and respected.
Soon afterwards the family sailed back to England in disgrace. However, it would not be goodbye to Australia forever, and was only the beginning of Marianne’s marital troubles.