Book Review: Governor Macquarie, His Life, Times and Revolutionary Vision for Australia by Derek Parker, Woodslane Press 2010 (252 pages)

Reviewed by Laurice Bondfield

This book has been published to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lachlan Macquarie’s arrival as Governor of NSW. It is a straightforward biography quoting extensively from his journals, letters and dispatches so you get a lively sense of his personality and attitudes as well as a clear narrative of the events of his life.

One trait that particularly stood out for me in this account was his sense of adventure and love of travel. After serving in Canada during the War of Independence and Indian campaigns in Travancore and Cochin among others he returns to England in 1807, not by the usual direct sea route but overland. His route took him through Persia (modern day Iraq) to the shores of the Caspian Sea, then north to Astrakhan, beside the Volga River to Tsaritsin thence to Moscow and St Petersburg. His adventures did not end there as he sailed from Kronstadt through the Baltic in appalling weather, visiting the British fleet which had just taken Copenhagen and taking time to see the sights of the city before reaching Yarmouth after several times being becalmed or delayed by contrary winds. After he returned to England in 1822, instead of resting from his difficult time in Australia, he, his wife and son set out on a year long Grand Tour of France and Italy. He must have enjoyed the chances his governorship gave him to travel around NSW and Tasmania!

Of his time as governor, you get the impression that a man of honest and straightforward character like Macquarie was bound to find difficulty in dealing with touchy and rancorous free settlers and devious emancipists, while receiving only lukewarm support from the Colonial Office. “He has been accused of too freely taking men and women at their face value and while this is a likeable trait, its effects are sometimes troublesome”(Derek Parker p. xiii Introduction).

When reading of his rise from a poor family on the Isle of Mull via Army service (and Scots connections!) to the governorship you wonder how much his open minded attitude to the emancipists, although official Colonial Office policy, was coloured by his own experience.

In conclusion, this is a well-rounded biography of Lachlan Macquarie, intended for the general reader. It is a corrective to some histories which concentrate exclusively on his time as governor and ignore or give short shrift to his early life or his personality or private life.

This article was first published in the January 2011 edition of our magazine.

Browse the magazine archive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *