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From Scottish Highlander to Sydney's Visionary: The Remarkable Journey of Lachlan Macquarie

Updated: Jul 27

One of the more remarkable places to visit when travelling to the Isle of Mull is the resting place of the Scottish Highlander, Lachlan Macquarie. As you cross the island on the B8035 from Salen you arrive at Gruline and on your left, situated a mile up a private track is the beautiful and peaceful mausoleum set in carefully mowed grass and encircled by a stone wall. The upkeep of the Mausoleum is carried out by The National Trust for Scotland and The National Trust of Australia. A visit to this tranquil place provides a moment of historical reflection on how a man from this remote corner of Scotland came to leave his mark in history.

So who was Lachlan Macquarie and why is this distant place so important to Australia.

Scottish Origins

Lachlan Macquarie hailed from the rugged shores of Ulva (Ulbha), a small island off the west coast of the Isle of Mull which today has fewer than 10 inhabitants; the population back in the 18th century was estimated to be over 600. Growing up and he would often play near the ruins of historic Duart Castle and perhaps inspiring his fascination with history and leadership. Little did he know that these early days would mold him into a man who would later shape the creation and destiny of a nation. He belonged to a respectable family and received a proper education. At the age of 15, he joined the Royal Highland Regiment, the 84th Regiment of Foot, which marked the beginning of his illustrious military career.

Early Adult Life

During his military service, Macquarie displayed exceptional leadership. As a young soldier, Macquarie displayed exceptional bravery during the American Revolutionary War, where he led his troops with unwavering determination. His finest hour came during the Battle of Princeton when he rallied his men to an unexpected victory, earning him accolades and a promotion to the rank of major.

Challenges and Setbacks

Following the American War, Macquarie returned to Scotland in 1783. Despite his accomplishments on the battlefield, he found himself grappling with financial difficulties.

His fortunes took a turn for the better when he married Jane Jarvis in 1793, a wealthy woman who brought stability and social standing to their union. However, despite this newfound security, Macquarie still yearned for a return to active military service and further opportunities to showcase his leadership prowess.

Grounding in India

In 1801, Macquarie was appointed as the acting Governor of Bombay (now Mumbai) in British-ruled India. As the Governor, he faced numerous challenges, including managing a vast and diverse population, dealing with economic issues, and maintaining law and order. During his time in India, Macquarie demonstrated his administrative acumen and compassionate leadership, earning him the admiration of his superiors.

A significant influence on Macquarie during his tenure in Bombay was his predecessor, Sir Jonathan Duncan. Duncan was a proponent of social reforms and was known for his interest in education, culture, and public welfare. Working closely with Duncan, Macquarie absorbed valuable lessons on governance, public engagement, and the importance of addressing the needs of the population.

India's incredible diversity and cultural richness had a profound impact on Macquarie. He witnessed firsthand the complexities of governing a multiethnic and multilingual society

Additionally during his time in India, Macquarie observed the impact of infrastructure development on the growth and prosperity of cities. Bombay's rapid expansion and modernization through the construction of roads, public buildings, and other amenities left a lasting impression on him.

The time Macquarie spent in India not only provided him with the necessary administrative skills but also broadened his perspective on governance. He recognized the importance of respecting and understanding diverse cultures and the need for inclusivity in his policies.

In 1807 he returned to Britain where he continued his military service until finally in 1809, he was appointed as the Governor of New South Wales, Australia, As Macquarie set sail for Australia, he carried with him the lessons he learned in India which would prove to be pivotal in shaping his transcultural vision for New South Wales, leading to a transformative era in the history of the young Australian settlement.

Portrait of Lachlan Macquarie, 1805, John Opie
Portrait of Lachlan Macquarie, 1805, John Opie

Australia and Sydney

Arriving in Sydney in 1810, Governor Macquarie was determined to transform the struggling colony. With a vision in mind, he embarked on a mission to beautify the city and make it a testament to British civilization. One of his most notable projects was the construction of the iconic Hyde Park Barracks, which stands proudly to this day, a tangible reminder of his profound influence on the city's landscape.

Relationships with Aboriginal People of Australia

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Macquarie recognized the value of peaceful coexistence with the Aboriginal people. One touching anecdote tells of an encounter he had with a group of Aboriginal elders. Macquarie engaged in a respectful exchange, presenting them with gifts as a gesture of goodwill. This peaceful interaction laid the foundation for future efforts to bridge the cultural gap between the indigenous communities and the settlers

His Standing in Modern-Day Australia

As Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie left a lasting legacy through his transformative leadership. He undertook an ambitious public works program, building landmarks such as Hyde Park Barracks and the Macquarie Lighthouse. Macquarie also promoted land reforms, education, and culture while advocating for a more humane treatment of convicts. He encouraged immigration and strengthened the colony's defense. Importantly, he sought peaceful relations with the Aboriginal people and implemented policies to support public welfare. His achievements earned him the title "The Father of Australia."

Macquarie statue in Hyde Park, Sydney
Macquarie statue in Hyde Park, Sydney

However, with the wisdom of hindsight, modern Australians also confront the complexities of Macquarie's legacy. A specific incident that sparks ongoing discussions is the "Proclamation of Appin" in 1816. In an attempt to punish Aboriginal resistance, Macquarie ordered the military to pursue and arrest suspects, leading to a tragic massacre in Appin. This event serves as a stark reminder of the challenges of reconciling historical figures with contemporary values and the necessity of learning from past mistakes.

Later Life

After bidding farewell to the land he helped shape, Macquarie returned to Scotland, hoping for a warm reception from the British government. However, he faced financial hardships and bureaucratic indifference. Despite these challenges, he remained resilient, recounting tales of his time in Australia to anyone who would listen.

In 1824, as he lay on his deathbed in London, Macquarie's thoughts wandered back to Sydney, the city he had nurtured with love and dedication.

Further Reading & Related Links:

Biography - Lachlan Macquarie - Australian Dictionary of Biography (

1810 to 1821 - Governor Lachlan Macquarie (

Lachlan Macquarie (1761-1824) | National Records of Scotland (

Governor Lachlan Macquarie | National Museum of Australia

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