Judging the Macquaries: Injustice and Mercy in Colonial Australia

John Harris


The Black Lives Matter movement is bringing the characters of powerful people in colonial times into sharp focus, particularly their attitudes and actions towards slavery and indigenous peoples. Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie are among those being scrutinised and reassessed. They arrived at the penal colony of NSW, a remote outpost of the British empire in 1809. The European invaders had barely survived two decades in an alien environment but, for countless millennia, home to its Aboriginal inhabitants. Lachlan was the new governor. Elizabeth, his wife, was his closest friend and fiercest supporter. The colony was an unruly mix of convicts, soldiers and settlers.

At the time, Lachlan Macquarie’s leadership was judged by his handling of the convicts. Lachlan and Elizabeth treated the convicts humanely, forgiving them and restoring them to society. His superiors considered him far too lenient, yet to Sydneysiders, as ‘The Father of Australia’, he had gifted them the path to a prosperous future.