Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, British military officer and colonial administrator, served as Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. He played a leading role in the social, economic and architectural development of that colony. Historians assess his influence on the transition of New South Wales from a penal colony to a free settlement as being crucial to the shaping of Australian society. Macquarie believed, in the words of the historian Manning Clark, “that the Protestant religion and British institutions were indispensable both for liberty and for a high material civilisation.” When he arrived in Sydney in December 1809, he found a struggling, chaotic colony recovering from the instability of the 'Rum Rebellion'. Macquarie ruled the colony as an enlightened autocratic governor, breaking the power of the Army officers such as John Macarthur.
A man of vision, he was concerned with all aspects of the colonists' lives. One of his first goals was to bring stability to family life. This he encouraged by passing a regulation that in order for farmers to get seed or supplies from government stores, they had to show a marriage certificate. To further improve the morals of the people, he appointed clergy even to the most outlying areas and required all convicts to attend church on Sundays. Macquarie also initiated the construction of 200 public buildings and 480 kilometres of turnpike--a remarkable achievement for the governor of a small and remote colony. He discouraged excessive drinking by reducing the number of licensed taverns from 75 to 20 and by clamping down on illegal stills. Macquarie established charity schools for the numerous illegitimate children in order to "render them dutiful and obedient to their parents and superiors; honest, faithful and useful members of society; and good Christians".
Macquarie's "charity" extended to emancipists (ex-convicts). To promote their reformation, he rewarded them for good conduct with land grants and encouraged their appointment to positions of responsibility in the colony. His attitude to emancipists caused much criticism from the free settlers (especially the wealthy landowners), who didn't want to "mix" with the ex-convicts. Maquarie also sought to better the lives of the Indigenous people. He built a school to teach the Aborigines of both sexes "habits of industry and decency". However, the project was a failure as the parents enticed the children away because they could not trust the Europeans. Macquarie also set aside a farm where natives could settle and cultivate the land in the hope they would discover the benefits of modernised life.
In 1815, to reinforce moral education, Macquarie launched two organisations: the Auxiliary Bible Society and the Sunday School movement. Both organisations motivated in part by a belief that the only guarantee of a moral society was a biblically literate people. The second resolution passed by the Bible Society was that Christians had a duty "to attend to the relief of the poor and other benevolent purposes, as religion was the source and origin of their benevolence". So at the next meeting of the Bible Society on 6 May 1818, the Benevolent Society of New South Wales was founded as a duty of Christian charity. Much of the drive behind these movements was due in large part to the Governor's wife, Elisabeth Macquarie, also a commited Christian.
Maquaries own associates attested to his Christian values. He named a town ‘Wilberforce’ after William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery campaigner, and was part of his extended Clapham circle. Macquarie said it was ‘in honour of and out of respect to the good and virtuous William Wilberforce - a true Patriot and the Real Friend of Mankind’. Wilberforce wrote to Macquarie, saying ‘attention to ye religious and moral state of ye Colony would in a few years produce improvements which men could scarcely anticipate’. An inscription on his tomb in Scotland describes Governor Macquarie as "The Father of Australia".
For sources and more information see:
- A Tribute to influential Australian Christians
- The Australian Dictionary of Biography