Culture and heritage

Heritage

Thematic Listings Program 2009-2010: Governor Macquarie sites

New Year's Day 2010 marks the 200th anniversary of Lachlan Macquarie's inauguration as Governor of New South Wales. The name 'Macquarie' means many things. A renowned colonial governor who had a profound impact on the society and culture of New South Wales, he is also famous for his building program. A man sure of his own ability but also a man of vision, he was alert to the judgment of later generations. He claimed he had found a colony shabby and rough and left it looking like a civilised place.

In November 2010, the Heritage Council provided additional background material to mark the bicentenary of Governor Macquarie's Aboriginal Policy.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Reproduced courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Reproduced courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Elizabeth Macquarie. Reproduced courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Elizabeth Macquarie. Reproduced courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

The list he compiled in 1822 of his building and development work runs for pages and pages and includes the most trivial works such as 'An extensive Kitchen Garden' at Penrith, amongst more prominent works such as dwellings, churches, hospitals, watch houses, barracks, courthouses, storehouses, street works, road construction, windmills, docks and jetties. Some of these works survive today, some known and acknowledged and others not yet identified.

Additionally, he encouraged freed convicts into commerce and society, attracting the undying hatred of the colony's free elite. Illiterate ex-convict William Roberts was engaged to build a road now known as Liverpool Road, soon followed by roads from Windsor to Liverpool, from Liverpool to the Cataract River and so on. Macquarie laid out towns along the Hawkesbury at Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town and Wilberforce, plus another at Liverpool. All roads lead to Sydney. Macquarie made sure of that. In 1818, Edward Cureton erected an obelisk in Macquarie Place, which is the starting point for measuring all roads out of Sydney. By 1816 many roads out of Sydney had milestones, a few of which survive today.

How could he do so much? He had two major advantages. Arriving after the "Rum Rebellion" of 1808, which deposed Governor Bligh, he brought his own 73rd Regiment, to the colony to replace the troublesome NSW Corps which had hindered the programs of earlier governors. Thus he had the power to back up his policies, which previous Governors had lacked. He consolidated British power in the colony. There would be no Australian War of Independence.

He also ruled for 11 years, being sworn in on 1 January 1810 and handing over power to his successor Thomas Brisbane on 30 November 1821. It was a record governorship, which enabled Macquarie to make a positive impact on the colony. In addition his wife Elizabeth, who came with him, proved to be a major asset. She was interested in philanthropic works, building design, architecture and town planning and it is likely that their discussions influenced his policy decisions. The design of the Female Orphan School is likely to have been supplied by Mrs Macquarie, based on a residence in Scotland.

Female Orphan School, Rydalmere

Female Orphan School, Rydalmere

Female Orphan School, Rydalmere

Female Orphan School, Rydalmere

When Macquarie's disputes with the legally trained brothers, Jeffery Hart Bent and Ellis Bent, alienated him from the colonial elite, Macquarie needed supporters in the wider community and a 'fan club' to boost his ego. His encouragement of former convicts was the result, but it drew the scorn and enmity of the colony's 'exclusives' - men from the elite families of the colony, many with military, naval or official backgrounds. Pressure and lobbying in England by them resulted in an inquiry headed by John Thomas Bigge, which savagely criticised the costs and extravagance of Macquarie's administration, especially his public works program.

To defend himself, Macquarie drew up his list of 1822 in which he outlined the works he had completed in the colony. This acts as a comprehensive checklist, allowing us to identify places associated with Macquarie. His arrogance or conceit was demonstrated by his readiness to name things after himself or his wife. Thus we have Port Macquarie, Macquarie and Elizabeth Streets in Sydney and the Macquarie River to name just a few.

Well-known sites associated with Macquarie include the former 'Rum Hospital', now the NSW Parliament and the Mint Building. It was so called because he enticed a consortium of contractors, some free and others ex-convict, to build the much needed hospital by tempting them with a monopoly on importing spirits into the colony for some years and the Hyde Park Barracks built by Macquarie to confine and discipline the convict labour force for his public works program. Churches, some designed by his renowned ex-convict architect, Francis Greenway, were built as part of his policy of improving the morals of colonial society. These include St Lukes, Liverpool; St Matthews, Windsor, and St James, King Street, Sydney

St Lukes, Liverpool

St Lukes, Liverpool

St James, King Street, Sydney

St James, King Street, Sydney

St James, King Street, Sydney

St James, King Street, Sydney

Lesser known sites include some built as public works which survive as archaeological sites, though there are other standing structures which have not yet been identified. Other places associated with Macquarie, but not recorded as yet, include works inspired by his regime. Some ex-convicts built better houses from the profits of their contracts.

The ambit of his influence was demonstrated by the construction of the first road across the Blue Mountains in 1814, by gangs of workers under army paymaster William Cox. This created a series of sites with greater or lesser associations with Macquarie. The road itself and the construction of stockades needed to house workers on the road were a direct effect of his engagement of Cox to oversee the work. The town of Bathurst, established on the other side of the Mountains, also relates to the opening of the West. Cox and others were given the first land grants west of the mountains. In Bathurst convict and troop barracks were built as well as storehouses and other necessary buildings and improvements. When the road was complete, Macquarie took a triumphal tour through the Mountains to test the new road and to stamp this extension of the colony as uniquely his own. Even today, a plaque on a track in the mountains draws attention to a section of former roadway where his carriage had to be manhandled down the steep slope. Pick marks on stone at the side of the road were made, it is claimed, to widen the road for his carriage. Meanwhile, William Cox became a magistrate in Windsor applying Macquarie's guidelines that determined who could occupy land in the town that Macquarie had laid out.

Macquarie did not only have an impact on the built fabric of the colony. He also laid out a new landscape. Macquarie gave out far more small land grants than his predecessors. By settling many small farmers south of Liverpool at places such as Bunbury Creek and Menangle with their farms facing along rivers and creeks, he had a marked impact on the visual landscape. Rows of small farms running along the creeks gave a distinctive cast to the landscape until many were bought up by larger nearby landholders. Today that texture lies beneath the suburban cadastre that was laid across the top of it.

Though Macquarie had a profound impact on the colony, sites that demonstrate the changes he wrought have not all been identified. We need help to locate, identify and record those of state significance.

Significant references

  • Broadbent, James and Joy Hughes (ed), The Age of Macquarie, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1992
  • Fletcher, Brian, Landed Enterprise and Penal Society; A history of farming and grazing in New South Wales Before 1821, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1976
  • Harris, Standish Lawrence, Report & Estimate of the Value of the Improvements which have taken place in the Public Buildings of Sydney, Parramatta, Windsor, Liverpool and Campbelltown, between the 25th of December 1822 & the 24th of December 1823 inclusive, and an Expose of the present state of the Public Buildings in New South Wales, 1824, ML C225-6

Historical records of Australia

  • Ritchie, John (ed), The Evidence to the Bigge Reports: New South Wales under Governor Macquarie, 2 volumes, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1971
  • Ritchie, John, Lachlan Macquarie: A biography, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1986
Page last updated: 01 September 2012