Next year will be Macquarie 2010, 200 years since the arrival of NSW’s 5th Governor in the colony.  As you will hear a lot about him soon, I thought a quick summary was in order. 

On New Years day 1810, NSW’s new Governor stepped off of his ship, the Dromedary, in Sydney Cove to take the reigns of the colony that he would mould into the germ of the modern city of Sydney.  Governor Lachlan Macquarie is maybe the most well known Governor of colonial NSW, bringing order back to the rebellious colonial society recently rocked by the Rum Rebellion.

Macquarie, a Scot, was a career soldier, volunteering for service in 1776 and serving with various regiments in the British army in America, Canada, India, Europe and Egypt before joining the 73rd Regiment in 1807. Following the uprising against Bligh in 1808 the British Government decided to send the 73rd Regiment to NSW to take control from the NSW Corp who had ousted Bligh. Macquarie, at the time second in charge, found himself in the box seat for the role as Governor when the regiment commander declined the offer to led them to NSW.  And so it was, Macquarie arrived in Port Jackson 28 December 1809 (just in time for the fireworks-if there had been any on NYE 1809).

Macquarie’s arrival marked a transition. As well as bringing order to chaos, Macquarie, after familiarising himself with the colony through a number of tours, began to formulate a plan for the future of the place.   

With his wife Elizabeth also prompting, he first surveyed and re-named the streets of Sydney; giving the new principal street his own name, Macquarie Street, naming the others after various monarchs, royalty, British Prime Ministers and former Governors (eg George, Pitt, William, Phillip, Sussex etc).  His street pattern and names remain in Sydney and became a template for many other towns settled during his term.  

He then started a major public works program, building roads, churches, courts, parks, hospitals, prisons, barracks and even towns in the first 5 years.  He encouraged the exploration of the inner districts, seeing the first explorers over the Blue Mountains, into New England and south beyond Goulburn. But he was not a saint.  Macquarie’s attitude towards the indigenous population could be seen as both both paternalistic and typical of a soldier.  He established ‘farms’ for some hoping they would settle down while leading the army against others who were’ rebellious’. 

While he remembered very well that he was in charge of a penal station, opening new prisons and prison settlements, he also had a vision for a more permanent settlement that would last and prosper beyond the convicts.  His enlightened views, rare in a veteran soldier of the time, were also the foundations of his eventual demise 11 years later.  

Not everyone in colonial Sydney, or back in Britain for that matter, thought giving convicts a fair go was such a great idea.  Macquarie appointed convicts to important roles in the colony, for example Francis Greenway his government architect.  He also believed that once a sentence was served the convict should retun to his previous stats (although this was biased towards useful covicts as opposed to everyone).  So former lawyers were reappointed, convict surgeons worked in the hospital etc.  Some of them dined at his table and became close friends and allies.  Even today we struggle with this idea. 

But it was these ideas that undermined him.  He made powerful enemies of Samuel Marsden and Jeffrey Bent that eventually led to the British government sending a JT Bigge to report on the colony and Macquarie.  Macquarie resigned in 1820, returning to London in 1822 with a ship full of Australian animals and plants to accompany him.  He arrived in time to see Bigges scathing report released and spent the rest of his life defending his reputation. 

Was he the father of Australia?  No, but he had a vision of the colony that set it on its way.  Despite Bigge and a return to more brutal methods after he left Sydney, Maquaries legacy survives in Sydney’s streets, buildings and gardens.

Mr Sydney: Governor Macquarie