Elevating the Emancipists Elevating the Emancipists

‘Some of the Most Meritorious Men of the few to be found, and who were Most Capable and Most willing to Exert themselves in the Public Service, were Men who had been Convicts!’
Lachlan Macquarie, 1819

A fair go

While he believed in the punishment of convicts, Macquarie also believed in their reformation. He saw no reason why emancipists (convicts who had served their time or been pardoned) should not be readmitted to their former rank in society if they were of good character and standing.

By promoting emancipists of ability, Macquarie recognised that, with convicts far outnumbering free settlers, a policy of rewarding merit would contribute to the colony’s welfare and ultimately its prosperity.

The exclusives

In adopting this radical policy, he appointed emancipists to positions of authority and trust and even invited them to dine with him at Government House. Although receiving qualified support from Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, he aroused the hostility of a group of influential landholders and military officers. Known as the ‘exclusives’, they believed that convicts, even when emancipated, had no place in respectable society and to readmit them would upset the existing social order.

Lachlan Macquarie. Extract from Letter to John Thomas Bigge, 6 November 1819 (NSW Governors’ Dispatches, ML A 1192, pp.589-590)

Macquarie explains how he developed his radical emancipist policy.

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The emancipists and opposition debate

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