Macquarie, who adopted the name Australia [by Professor Ernest Scott , 3 June 1939]

[Editor: This is part three of the “Men who made Australia” series written by Professor Ernest Scott. This article is about Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales 1810-1821.]

Men who made Australia — No. 3

Macquarie, who adopted the name Australia

By Professor Ernest Scott

In addition to being the first to persevere in his official despatches with the name “Australia,” suggested by Mathew Flinders, Governor Macquarie had such faith in the country that he erected buildings for use by later generations as well as in his own time, and some of which still adorn Sydney; he thrust roads across the Blue Mountains and quadrupled the area of land cleared and cultivated; and, in the face of bitter opposition, he gave social equality to the transported prisoners who, after release, proved themselves worthy of it.

The Bligh Mutiny convinced the British Government that a change must be made in the administration of New South Wales. Hitherto, the only force available to maintain order and defence of the settlement, if it were attacked during the Napoleonic wars — as it would have been if the French colony of Ile-de-France had possessed the means — was the New South. Wales Corps. That was a regiment especially raised for Australian service, and to say that it was by no means carefully selected is to do it no injustice. The corps was held officially to have disgraced itself by being the instrument for deposing the Governor, at whose orders it was supposed to be; so it was withdrawn, and sent to garrison Bermuda. The newly-appointed Governor, Colonel Lachlan Macquarie, brought with him his own regiment, the 73rd Foot, and disembarked at Sydney on the last day of the year 1809.

Macquarie, the fifth Governor of New South Wales, links with the first, Arthur Phillip, in his firm confidence in the future of the country which was his home for 12 years. “I found the colony barely emerging from infantile imbecility,” he wrote in the dispatch wherein he reviewed his administration at its close: and he gave good reasons for that judgment. His buildings and other public works were constructed to last, to serve posterity as well as his own generation. Under his guidance Sydney began to assume the appearance of a dignified city. His turnpike roads, including the one across the Blue Mountains to the Bathurst plain, were as good as any in Great Britain. In his term he quadrupled the area of land cleared and cultivated.

Built to last

Mr. Commissioner Bigge did not approve of Macquarie’s policy of erecting buildings upon which people could look with pleasure. He was especially provoked by the work of the architect Francis Howard Greenway, and complained in his official report that architectural embellishments had been more considered by the Governor than the real needs of the colony. It was not a “real need” that public buildings should be comely; New South Wales was intended to be a place of wrath and tears, and its inhabitants must not be gratified by looking upon fine design with gracious lines, which might make them feel happier. And so, exerting the authority committed to him by his commission, Bigge ordered work to be stopped upon St. James’s Church, Sydney, and St. Matthews at Windsor.

But Macquarie continued work upon them nevertheless during the commissioner’s absence in Tasmania, and they were finished according to Greenways designs. Beautiful buildings they are, as one sees them today with the rich mellow color that more than a century’s weathering has given to their red brick walls — beautiful but by no means ornate, with the right touch of style. Mr. Hardy Wilson has included a drawing of St. Matthews, and also one of the facade of Hyde Park Barracks — likewise a Greenway design — in his superb folio “Old Colonial Architecture,”‘ and has written of Macquarie that “by his enthusiasm for fine architecture he lifted the life of the colonists from primitive conditions to a state of security and stability; under his patronage well-constructed, stately buildings were erected, and responding to his encouragement the landowners followed his example.”

Architectural beauty

Macquarie’s encouragement of Greenway was a distinguishing feature of his governorship: and one may well tremble to think of the tragic fate which might have crushed the genius of this sensitive artist had a less appreciative governor wielded authority at the time. Greenway was a convict. He had been trained by an eminent London architect, and established himself at Bristol. There he became bankrupt. He concealed part of his assets, and for that offence was convicted and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation. Mr. Hardy Wilson speculates, with some probability, that the assets which Greenway concealed were some works of art which he had collected and could not bear the thought of losing. Ex-Governor Phillip, then living in retirement at Bath, knew of Greenway’s case, and wrote a letter to Macquarie strongly recommending the unfortunate architect to his consideration. He was the very man Macquarie wanted; so he at once gave Greenway a ticket of leave, which enabled him to undertake private practice, and also employed him as assistant inspector of public works at 3/ a day — payment which His Majesty’s Secretary of State did not think it beneath his dignity to challenge, but which Macquarie increased to 5/.

Apart from the beauty of Greenway’s designs, there is no doubt that his employment on public works had a most salutary influence. Even Commissioner Bigge, though unable to appreciate his architecture, reported that “the labor in the Government works of Sydney since the arrival of Mr. Greenway in the colony has undoubtedly tended to improve the practice of several descriptions of workmen, who before that period were devoid either of skill or instruction. In the art of stone cutting brickmaking, and bricklaying, there has been an evident and striking improvement.” It is therefore clear that Macquarie’s policy in building not merely for the bare requirements of the time but for the future, by adopting a distinctive style of architecture, brought about a general improvement in building.

Dr. Stubbs, once Bishop of Oxford and Regius Professor of History there, once compared the noble Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture with the “cheap and dirty work of the reign of George III.” Well, here in New South Wales in the reign of George III, and in the sombre period of our history, was an architect who, as Mr. Hardy Wilson, an artist-architect of our own day, writes in his fascinating book, “The Cow-Pasture Road,” “gave architecture a distinctive appearance . . . to wood, brick, and stone, to sunlight and transparent shadows, to blue sky and grey-gold countryside, he left that beauty which distinguishes buildings in Australia from those in other lands.”


Macquarie was also planning for the future when he reserved and named Hyde Park as a recreation ground in the heart of Sydney, and likewise marked out what is now called Centennial Park as a common. He organised the town, named streets and squares, and did as much as was possible to rectify the sprawling, haphazard character which loose control had permitted previously. “The ornament and regularity of Sydney” were subject to his direct oversight. The country was impenetrable beyond 40 miles from the town when Macquarie took control. When his term finished in 1822, there were 276 miles of roads, and important public works had been constructed in Tasmania as well as in all the towns so far established in New South Wales.

Sense of justice

It would have been impossible for any man exercising authority in a community so peculiarly integrated as was Sydney in the first quarter of the 19th century to avoid making enemies. One who reads much in the correspondence of the period gets the impression that life there was rancid with animosities, a veritable hotbed of hates. Malice permeated the letters sent to the Colonial Office, where more attention was paid to them than they deserved. “It is the fate of all Government to have its calumniators,” wrote a magistrate in 1817, “and it would indeed be surprising when the nature of our population is contemplated that our Governor should escape calumny.”

Macquarie did not escape, and some of the enmity which he provoked was due to a policy deliberately pursued by him as being founded upon justice. That was his treatment of emancipists —persons who had come put as prisoners but had become free in the course of time. To Macquarie’s logical mind it seemed that in a colony based upon transportation, and founded as an experiment in penal discipline, no further punishment, social or other, ought to be imposed upon a person who had served his sentence and regained his freedom. But, as he wrote in defending his policy, he found that there were many persons “sustaining unblemished characters since their emancipation,” who were “treated with rudeness, contumely, and even oppressed by those who had come out free, and viewed with illiberal jealousy the honest endeavors of others to attain and support a respectable station in society.”

He determined to break down that attitude by showing no distinction in demeanor and general marks of favor, “where merits, pretentious, and capacities were equal.” To this policy he steadily adhered throughout his governorship. Reviewing the results after he returned to England, he wrote:— “I am happy to add that 12 years’ experience of its effects has fully justified my most sanguine anticipations.”

This, then, was the great emancipist question which, despite the generous demeanor of Macquarie and of his successor, Sir Thomas Brisbane — who agreed with him — remained a bitter one till the establishment of representative government in Australia rendered it futile any longer to quarrel about a dead issue. Mr. Commissioner Bigge. though acknowledging that the Governor “was swayed by that motive which in a humane mind will always be a powerful one, of endeavoring to relieve depressed merit from a state of despondency and dejection,” emphatically disapproved of his policy. So also did the officers of regiments on service in New South Wales during Macquarie’s period. They refused to sit at the Governor’s table in company with men whom they looked upon as incurably unworthy of social recognition by them. Belonging as Macquarie did, to the military class, it was difficult for him to maintain his point of view against such pressure. Nevertheless, he never wavered and was proud of what he had done in defiance of social and official pressure.

John Macarthur was one of those who disapproved of the Governor’s emancipist policy, but Macarthur also recognised the sterling qualities of Macquarie, whom he described as “a gentleman in manners, humane and friendly to all, a man of unblemished honor and character although it may not have been his lot to do that which I think no man will ever do, to give satisfaction to all.”

Named Australia

If we accord to Phillip the honor of being the first Australian statesman, as we may do by virtue of his prescience regarding the future of the country, we may unquestionably regard Macquarie as the second. The mistakes that he made are insignificant in comparison with the constructive ability which be displayed, his true sense of building for the betterment of his own generation and for the good of posterity, and the essential justice and rectitude of his policy, steadily pursued through a host of thwarting circumstances and bitter prejudices.

Furthermore, it was Macquarie who first used the name “Australia” for this country in his official despatches. After he received from England a copy of Flinders s book about his explorations. wherein the name was suggested as appropriate for the entire continent. Macquarie not only used it while the Colonial Office still preferred the name “New Holland,” but he repeatedly pressed for the official adoption of the name “Australia,” “which, I hope, will be the name given to this country in the future, instead of the very erroneous and misapplied name hitherto given it, of New Holland, which, properly speaking, only applies to a part of this immense continent.”

Macquarie died in 1824, two years after his return to Great Britain. He had a son, who, however, had no issue. The Macquarie clan’s home was in the island of Ulva, close to Mull, off the Argyllshire coast of Scotland. It can never have been a large clan at any time. A former Governor-General of Australia, Lord Novar, who had a very intimate knowledge of Scottish clan history, told me that the Macquarie family died out about a century ago. I had mentioned that I had received a letter from a man in Canada signed with that name asking for information about Governor Macquarie. “Well, then,” was Lord Novar’s comment, “somebody must have been born on the wrong side of the blanket.”

In the Mitchell library, Sydney, there is a drawing of the house in the Island of Mull, where Macquarie lived after his return from Australia: his place of burial is near to the house. His preference for Mull after so many years’ residence in the warm Sydney climate, offers a distinguished rebuke to Dr. Johnson’s jibe that “the noblest prospect a Scotsman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England.” The contrast in climate and living conditions was certainly sharp. R. L. Stevenson gives a chilling description of Mull — “that big, crooked island” — in “Kidnapped;” and Stevenson, who was there in his youth, professed no admiration for it. But Macquarie preferred to end his days there, meditating, perhaps, as he watched the grey seas lashing the basalt crags, about the sparkling blue Sydney waters which he used to see from the point which still bears the name of “Lady Macquarie’s Chair.”

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Saturday 3 June 1939, page 26

[Editor: The editorial introduction to this article has been italicized, so as to distinguish it from the text written by Professor Scott.]

Speak Your Mind