Born on the 31st January 1761 into the impoverished Ormaig sept of the Clan Macquarie on the Scottish Isle of Ulva, the young Lachlan Macquarie seemed to face a bleak future. He rarely, if ever, mentioned his farmer father but adored his mother; a sister of the Laird of the Maclaines of Lochbye. The Laird became the friendly guardian of the young Lachlan and gave him a good education, whilst a cousin, Colonel Allan Maclaine, later sponsored him in his chosen military career; the one avenue of advancement for any 18th century ambitious but impoverished young man.
In 1776, at the age of 14, the youthful Macquarie left school to volunteer for the wars of the American Revolution. Although too young for a commission, he was able, with the patronage of Colonel Maclaine, to join the 2nd Battalion of the 84th Regiment as a volunteer. He arrived in Halifax, Novia Scotia, in October 1776, where, five months later, he was promoted to ensign and in 1780 he transferred to the 71st Highland Regiment, with which he was stationed in New York, Charleston and Jamaica. Three years later, now 23 years of age and having seen no action at all, he returned home at the end of the war as a half-pay lieutenant.
Not much is known of his activities over the next three years - although one source says that he attended lectures at EdinburghUniversity - but in 1787 the Government decided to raise four regiments to serve in India. Colonel Maclaine again used his influence to procure a posting for Macquarie as the senior lieutenant with the 77th Regiment, provided he could find fifteen recruits to help form the Colonel’s company. Conscious that this could be his opportunity for fame and fortune, Macquarie began a daily journal in which he recorded his career for many years; providing a vital resource for historians.
Borrowing £127 from the Laird of Lochbye to finance his venture, he set out from Mull in mid-December 1787 and, after much travelling, was able to line up twenty recruits for a convivial inspection at the house of his guardian on January 21st 1788; by chance the same day that saw Governor Philip, half a world away, entering Port Jackson after rejecting Botany Bay as a suitable place for settlement.
However, a week later, after accompanying his small party of recruits back to London, Macquarie was devastated when four of them - one too old, one too ruptured and the wonderfully named pair, Waddle and Dick, deemed to be under sized - were rejected; which left Macquarie to mourn “a great cruel loss” of recruiting monies, expenses and bounties, which left him £82 in debt to the Laird.
Nevertheless, once aboard the East Indiaman DUBLIN at Dover as commander of the 5th company of his Regiment, Macquarie began to feel somewhat more optimistic about his future prospects. They sailed from Deal on the 4th April 1788 and crossed the Equator on the 6th of May; just a week before Governor Phillip ceremonially laid the foundation stone of Sydney’s First Government House.
During the usual stopover in Cape Town, Macquarie wrote in his journal of seeing “one English Man of war – viz, His Majesty’s Sloop the BOUNTY, commanded by Lt. Bligh (who sailed with Captain Cook) bound for Otaheitti in the SouthSea to carry and transport the Bread Fruit from Otaheitti to the WestIndiaIslands”. He and Bligh later met casually at a dinner aboard the DUBLIN, but neither man commented on it, nor had any idea of the strange circumstances under which they were to meet again, some 22 years later, in the aftermath of the Rum Rebellion. The DUBLIN arrived in Bombay on the 3rd August 1788, and Macquarie was soon lamenting the costs of living in the style expected of a British officer.
India at that time was a confusing patchwork of independent states as well as areas ruled by the British Honourable East India Company (HEIC) the French and Dutch. The HEIC, originally set up as a trading company, had been obliged to raise armed regiments of its own - with both British and native troops - to protect its interests and, after the 1757 Battle of Plassey, in which the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies were defeated, became the de facto ruler of large areas of India for a century.
By March 1789, Macquarie
had gained promotion to Captain-
Lieutenant. Although he had been able to repay his debt to the Laird and even amass the small sum of 1,000 rupees, he still found it hard to keep up appearances. What was needed was a war to provide an enterprising young officer with the chance to earn prize money from a victorious campaign. He did not have long to wait. In December 1789, the warlike Tippoo Sultan of Mysore
, encouraged by the French, attacked Travancore, one of the HEIC’s most affluent protectorates.
Macquarie noted with anticipation that the Government in India would “not suffer the enterprising spirit of Tippoo to repeat his attacks”. He was right, but things did not turn out as he had hoped. Although British and HEIC forces pursued Tippoo Sultan all over southern India, it was not until almost a year later, in November 1790 that the 77th Regiment was called out of garrison in Bombay to join in the campaign. But after one or two minor skirmishes with Tippoo’s allies, which at least gave Macquarie his first taste of battle - if not the hoped-for “laurels, fame, honour, riches and promotion” - the inconclusive manoeuvring continued until February 1792; when Tippoo Sultan, now safely back in his stronghold of Seringapatam, made peace with the HEIC and its allies, offering two of his princes as a guarantee. But this ceasefire was to prove only temporary.
Jane Jarvis 1772-1796
Macquarie’s disappointment at his paltry share of £308 in prize money from the war was doubly frustrating as he had become smitten by the lovely young West Indian-born Miss Jane Jarvis.
This “most amiable good girl as ever lived” now resided in Bombay with her sister’s family, having been left “a private fortune of £6,000 sterling” by her late father, the Chief Justice of Antigua in the West Indies.To an impoverished officer, with an income of only £500 per annum and savings of just £1,000, she seemed socially far out of his reach. However his prospects were improved the following year by his promotion to Major of Brigade, and they were wed on September 8th1793, setting up house “near the Ramparts”.
But the expenses of a married officer in Bombay were even greater than those of a single man, so it was with some relief that Captain Macquarie and his wife moved with the 77th the following year to a simpler life in Calicut in southern India; near the Dutch East India Company territories of Cochin (Kochi) in present day Kerala. This was ultimately to mark a change in fortune for the perpetually impecunious Macquarie.
Europe in 1794 was in ferment as the ripples of the French Revolution spread to neighbouring countries. In October of that year, the Prince of Orange escaped to England as the Dutch threw in their lot with the revolutionaries, and the British immediately moved to deny the French another foothold in India. The 77th was given the task of taking over Cochin, allegedly “in the name of the Prince of Orange”.
On the 21st July 1795, an advance party entered Dutch territory to
A gold fanam minted by the Dutch in Cochin - one of the smallest coins in the world.
negotiate terms of surrender with the Governor, Jan Lambertus van Spall, who declared that he was “positively determined not to admit a British garrison to Cochin”. As a result, the 77th marched out in the middle of August to besiege the Dutch city, with Macquarie, in high hopes “of laurels and plunders” sadly parting from his Jane. A day of brisk artillery exchanges speedily undermined the Governor’s resolve, and he surrendered the same afternoon.
The 77th entered the city in the evening, after which Macquarie
gave a dinner to celebrate “a very easy conquest” and the taking of “considerable ordnance and military and naval stores” of which he hoped to “share handsomely in prize money”.
Macquarie returned briefly to Bombay with Jane, but was troubled to find that her state of health was not good and that she had developed “a severe bad cold”. Leaving her in the care of friends, he reluctantly boarded the EPAMINONDAS with his regiment on his birthday, the 31st December 1795, to sail for Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) to secure the Dutch East India Company’s territories there as well, and they and the Army of Madras were soon outside the walls of Colombo.
Under a flag of truce, the British called upon the Governor of Ceylon, Mynheer Van Angelbeck, to surrender “or take the consequences” and, after a face-saving 24 hour stand-off, he complied; delivering the entire island of Ceylon to the British with virtually no casualties. Macquarie delightedly recorded his hope “to share very handsomely indeed in the prize money on this occasion”. Even better, he was given command of a detachment of artillery and seven companies of Madras sepoys to march down the coast and take possession of Point de Galle and, on the 23rd of February, he accepted the surrender of the city and dined with the ex-governor, Mynheer Fretz, that same evening.
Over the next month, as the temporary Governor of Galle, Macquarie spent his time cataloguing stores and the other spoils of war, and writing to Jane, whose frequent letters assured him that her health was improving daily and the wonderful news that she was with child.
But upon his return to Bombay on May 6th he was shocked to find her desperately ill and delusional; her doctors confirmed that she was not pregnant and suggested a sea voyage to China as the only way to improve her health. They recommended Macau as a destination and Macquarie rapidly organised passage there; but after only twelve days ashore, his beloved Jane died on 24th August 1796. Grief stricken, he brought her preserved body back to Bombay and buried her there on 16th January 1797; vowing to “never marry again in India, nor bring another spouse to that land of death.”