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1810 to 1821 - Governor Lachlan Macquarie

1810 to 1821 - Governor Lachlan Macquarie

Governor Macquarie: the Last Autocrat

Control of the colony by the army rebels of the Rum Rebellion of 1808 was ended in 1810, with the arrival of Lachlan Macquarie as the new Governor. Macquarie brought with him his own regiment, the 73rd Regiment. The New South Wales Corps was disbanded. Macquarie had been appointed Lieutenant Governor. However, when the chosen Governor fell ill, Macquarie stepped into the difficult situation. He was to prove to be the most memorable and significant of all Governors.

He was the first to see above the limits of the convict settlement or the opportunties for self-enrichment which had characterised the early colony. His vision, by 1821, was shown in a public building and town planning program that had established a solid infrastructure for the colony. Exploration had reached deep into the inland, and settlement and agriculture were following, north and south along the coastline and inland beyond Bathurst. Agriculture was, in fact, creating the conditions for the colony to become almost economically self-sufficient. The non-Aboriginal population of the colony (including Van Diemen's Land) was approximately 37,000, of whom at least 8,000 were free settlers or born in the colony.
However, his impatient and autocratic style had won him many enemies and some with influence in England. Within this now significant non-convict population, many were feeling that governors had too much authority which they could too easily exercise in an arbitrary fashion. Demands grew for a council which could represent the interests of the settlers.

Justice Under Macquarie
Although the New South Wales Corps and its monopoly were ended, the military influence continued, with the military officers still dominating the courts. Linked to the tension with the officers was the major factional division which existed in the colony between free settlers ("exclusives") and convicts who had completed their terms of imprisonment and were now settlers ("emancipists").

A Second Charter of Justice for New South Wales was issued in 1814. It defined how the civil court system was to be structured. Three new Courts of Civil Judicature were to be established in New South Wales: the Governor's Court, the Lieutenant-Governor's Court and the Supreme Court. Jeffrey Hart Bent, the brother of the Judge Advocate, arrived in the colony as the first judge of the new Supreme Court.

Courts need lawyers and Macquarie's efforts to allow emancipist attorneys to appear before the Supreme Court was blocked by Jeffrey Bent, who, with his brother, had his allegiances with the military and exclusive settlers. Later in 1814, two solicitors, Garling and Moore, arrived in New South Wales. English law was to be followed as far as it was possible. Where new ordinances or laws were needed, they were to be consistent with English laws as far as the particular circumstances of the colony would allow. Many of the settlers were discontented with this, because they questioned whether some of the Governor's ordinances were, in fact, valid. Claims were made in New South Wales and in England that governors were exceeding their authority by making ordinances that were in conflict with English laws.

Macquarie's relationship with the new Court was never harmonious. The brothers Bent, in their key legal positions, quickly became opponents of the Governor, and personal antipathy affected decisions on both sides. Like most of the governors before him, Macquarie's noble ideals were undermined by harsh realities and constant opposition. In 1816 he enforced his new proclamation against trespassing on the Government Domain by having three trespassers (all free settlers) flogged. This incident was one of several of which Bent and others complained to the British Government as examples of Macquarie's authoritarian excesses. As a result, Macquarie was censured by Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State for Colonies, and eventually a commissioner, J. T. Bigge, was sent to inquire into affairs in New South Wales.

The Rum Hospital

Upon his arrival in the Colony of New South Wales at the end of 1809, Governor Macquarie discovered that the town hospital was an affair of tents and temporary buildings established in the notorious "Rocks" area when the First Fleet arrived in 1788. He set aside land on the western edge of the Government Domain for a new Hospital, creating a new road, Macquarie Street, for it. Plans were drawn up but the British Government refused to fund the project.

So Macquarie entered into a contract with a consortium of businessmen: Messrs Blaxcell, Riley and Wentworth, to erect the new hospital. They were to receive convict labour and supplies and a monopoly on rum-imports from which they expected to recoup the cost of the building and gain considerable profits. The contract allowed them to import 45,000 (later increased to 60,000) gallons of rum to sell to the thirsty colonists. In the event, the Hospital did not turn out to be very profitable for the contractors.

Upon the Hospital's completion, the now famous convict architect, Francis Greenway, was asked to report on the quality of the work. He condemned it, claiming that it "must soon fall into ruin". Short-cuts had been taken with the construction and there were weak joints in the structural beams, rotting stonework, feeble foundations, and dry rot in the timbers. Macquarie ordered the contractors to remedy these defects but many remained hidden away until the extensive restoration of the 1980s.

The new hospital had a large central building, which was the main hospital, and two smaller wings which were quarters for the Surgeons. The central building was replaced in 1894 by the present Macquarie Street buildings of Sydney Hospital, but the smaller wings remain. The southern section eventually became the Sydney Mint, and was, in recent times, a museum. The northern wing, built for the Principal Surgeon, remains today as the colonnaded Macquarie Street facade of a much enlarged Parliament House.

The first Surgeon to reside in the building was D'Arcy Wentworth, who also had other connections with the building. First, he had been one of the three contractors who had built the Hospital under the "rum contract" with Macquarie, and secondly, his son, William Charles Wentworth, explorer and journalist, became one of the most important figures in the development of Parliamentary democracy in NSW, and is regarded as the "father of the constitution".

In 1829, the first Legislative Council moved into part of the Surgeon's Quarters. The surgeons remained until 1848, and other rooms were sometimes occupied by other government officials, such as the Principal Supervisor of Convicts, and even by Sydney's first museum. By 1852 the Legislature had taken over the entire building and was adding to it.