Elizabeth Macquarie (1778-1835)

Today’s amazing online resource – the Journals of Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie – is generously brought to us all by Macquarie University and the State Library of New South Wales.

Click here for full transcripts of diaries written over thirteen years by Lachlan Macquarie, governor of colonial New South Wales between 1810 and 1822, and his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Macquarie’s diary describes the couple’s journey to Australia in 1809, including accounts of Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, and Cape Town. Her husband’s diaries are in eight sections, each recording official tours of inspection to parts of the New South Wales interior and to Van Diemen’s Land.

Having spent too many hours poring over handwritten letters and documents trying to decipher the words and sentences, a transcribed document is a gift in itself. To have that transcription freely available online is nothing short of miraculous.

I’ve not yet looked at Mrs Macquarie’s diary, but Governor Macquarie’s writing style is crisp and to the point. His entries are short and very readable. He describes the landscape, his horses, and his servants. Mrs M, as he calls her, often accompanies him in the carriage or on horseback and he lovingly admires her pluck and her stamina.

At 5 p.m. we sat down Eight at Table to a most comfortable Dinner; Mrs. M. tho’ so young a Campaigner having provided every requisite to make our Tour easy, pleasant, and happy — and we all feel much pleased with one-another — and with our present manner of Life. Being all a little tired, we went early to Bed this Night, after placing Fires around us, and a Watch to guard us from the Wild Cattle. (16 November 1810)*

Macquarie mentions his favourite horses by name (Cato and Sultan) and is grumpy when the carriage horses (Ajax and General) run off from the campsite only to be found, after much trouble, some 12 miles distant. “This will be a lesson to Joseph during the rest of our Journey to be more careful in Tethering his Horses.” (18 October 1810).

Macquarie describes the landscape with an eye for its beauty and is very interested in the native animals – mainly with a view to hunting or ‘collecting’ them but also just for the novelty. A flock of emus galloping away was considered “one of the prettiest sights I ever saw.” (23 October 1810) He is also, of course, very interested in the various farms and outposts he inspects along the way. Not all of them met with his high standards.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1778-1835)

On our arriving near the Districts of the Seven Hills and Toongabbee … [I visited] numerous Farms in these two Districts … The soil of those Farms is in general, very bad, and exhausted by the Settlers constantly keeping the same Fields in Tillage and giving them no artificial manure. The Houses or rather Huts of the Settlers are very bad, mean, and inconveniently constructed; themselves and their Families badly clothed, and apparently very ill and poorly fed. —I spoke to and admonished many of them to pay more attention in future to their own Personal cleanliness and comfort and to build themselves better Houses to live in; promising to such as followed this good advice every reasonable assistance and encouragement from Government. (8 December 1810)

As online resources go, this one is a gem. Of course I’m interested in Macquarie’s mentions of Elizabeth Macarthur.

We called at Benkennie on Mrs. McArthur, with whom we sat for a little while in a small miserable Hut. (19 November 1810)

But I was also struck by how often the farms he visited were owned and/or operated by women.

We rode up the Hill to call on Mrs. Bell (the Wife of Lieut. Bell of the 102d Regt.) who resides on her Farm on the summit of this beautiful Hill… (1 December 1810)

We found Mrs. Laycock and her two Daughters at home, in a very neat comfortable well built Farm House and well furnished; the good old Lady’s Farm being also in a forward state of improvement in other respects. (13 December 1810)

In addition to the journals there is a wealth of contextual information about the people, the places, maps and the ships. There is even a useful bibliography. Highly recommended.

  • The hyperlinked dates will click you through to the full diary entry for that day.