|Governor Macquarie after Australia|
The old Viceroy's sad last years
Governor Lachlan Macquarie must have felt little regret as he watched the transport Dromedary leaving Sydney Harbour on February 10th 1821, carrying the infuriatingly critical Commissioner Johnn Thomas Bigge back to England.
||Bigge had been commissioned by Lord Bathurst the Secretary for War and the Colonies to report on the effectiveness of transportation to NSW as a deterrent to criminals.
Bigge had arrived in Sydney on Septembeer 26th 1819 and, for the next 18 months had been a thorn in Macquarie's side as he travelled around the colony probing, querying and criticising everything he saw.
He especially disapproved of Macquarie's methods of running the colony, his emancipist policy, his management of convicts and especially his expenditure on public works as being "little suited to the limited means of so young a colony as New South Wales", all of which seemed unlikely to inspire dread in the hearts of felons. A prison colony it was and so it should remain. In this opinion he was gleefullly encouraged by John Macarthur and his clique.
So it is understandable that Macquarie must have heaved a silent sigh of relief as he farewelled Bigge; the more so since he had just learned that his third application to be allowed to retire as Governor and return to England had at last been approved. But it would be another year before he would be able to leave until afer his successor Sir Thomas Brisbane arrived.
On February 12th 1822 Macquarie and his family embarked in the Surry, cheered by a "Harbour full of People" as he set sail for England and his long anticipated retirement as the Laird of Jarvisfield; his large country estate on the Isle of Mull, off the western coast of Scotland.
For centuries the small island of Ulva the the west of the Isle of Mull, had been the estate of the chiefs of the Clan MacQuarrie, but by 1778 much of it hd been sold and the remainder was lost in 1804. Macquarie had long nursed the ambition to re-establish the ancestral fiefdom, complete with a clan castle.
As related in previous articles in the Site Gazette, Macquarie's dream had begun while he was serving in Egypt (1801-1802), with the purchase of some 10,000 acres on nearby Mul from his uncle Murdoch Maclaine (19th Laird of Lochbuy) for the price of £10,060. The funds that he drew upon included the prize money and savings from his military service in India and Egypt, and the £6,000 that had been left to him by his first wiife Jane Jarvis following her death in India in 1796. He named his planned new estate Jarvisfied in her memory.
During subsequent years, while he was absent from England, Macquarie's brother Charles went on to make additional purchases of adjacent tenanted land on his behalf so that by the time of his return to England in 1822 the estate had more than doubled to 21,128 acres.
||Charles had managed to acquire holdings over the narrow isthmus across the middle of Mull; which nostalgically included the farm at Oskamull that their mother had rented from the Duke of Argyll from 1775 until her death in 1810, and a small stone house at Gruline, where Macquarie planned to live while he built his dream castle at an estimated cost of £5,000 to £6,000. He had even applied for a title to dignify this grand vision, one which was soon to be shattered.
Macquarie arrived in England on July 5th 1822 to a looming crisis. The first volume of Bigge's report had already been tabled in the House of Commons, and its contents were so critical of his administration that Macquarie lost no time in seeing Lord Bathurst and submitting a detailed report of his own, outlining his many real achievements. He had the satisfaction of receiving from Bathurst the assurance of the King's appreciation of his integrity and he "was most graciousy received" on August 5th, when present to him by his pratron, Lord Castlereagh.
Declining to comment upon Bigge's scathing criticism of his administration until all three volumes of his report had been published, Macquarie went home to Scotland and, at the end of November, took his wife and son, with servants and a tutuor, on a grand tour through France, Italy and Switzerland. While abroad he received copies of Bigge's second and third volumes, and on the way back he stopped for twelve days at Fontainebleau to pen an answer to this "false, vindictive and malicious Report".
Back in London in July 31st 1823, he began a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation and to secure his promised pensions but was unable to persuade the government to act on either issue. In October he presented Bathurst with his 43 page refutation of Bigge's many factual errors, but not until 1828 long after his death could his friends persuade the government to publish part of it as a parliamentary paper.
The Macquaries now made their home at their Jarvisfield estate on Mull, which they reached in November 1823. To add to their woes, they found that the land that Charles had bought on their behalf had proved to be largely infertile, with tenants unable to pay rent. Far from a comfortable retirement, Macquarie now found himself £500 in debt to his bankers.
With no pension, no rental money and all his capital invested in land that was unsellable, Macquarie's dream of a grand estate and castle evaporated, and the family moved into the dilapidated Gruline House, which had not been lived in for years. Elizabeth sadly wrote:
"At last on 19th January (1824) we went home to our truly uncomfortable house, which did not afford one dry room and of so small dimensions that it did not admit of a room which could be appropriated to the General's exclusive use; he sat in the dining room where he was constantly disturbed by us all so that he could not event write a letter in comfort. The rain and wind blew in at the door and sometimes the fire ws blown out of the grates".
In these circumstanes, obtaining his promised pension became urgent so Macquarie, worried that Bigge's report "must no doubt have made a very unfavourable impression even in the minds of His Majesty's Ministers against me", set out for London; arriving on April 24th depressed and ill after a gruelling passage by steam-boat. Five days later he was granted an audience with Lord Bathurst who told him that his dream of a title to go with his family estate had been rejected, but that he would at last receive an annual pension of £1,000; much more than he had expected. Macquarie was also given a letter in which Bathurst praised his "able and successful administration", words which delighted the old Viceroy. History was to judge him far more kindly than Commissioner Bigge.
Sadly, Macquarie did not live to enjoy his pension. On June 11th, having said a leisurly farewell to the King, the Duke of York, Bathurst and others, preparatory to returning to Gruline, he woke feeling ill. After much pain, he died in his London lodgings on July 1st. His body was taken by ship to Mull and buried on his estate. His widow, Elizabeth, lived at Gruline House after being persuaded to accept a government pensions of £400. She died there in 1835.
In 1978, oak panelling from the old house was removed and conserved by Sydney's Macquarie University Library where it was then installed in a replica of the Viceroy's old parlour.
References: Australian Dictionary of Biography and Macqauarie University website.