Opposing the governor | State Library of New South Wales

Opposing the Governor Opposing the Governor

‘I am well aware that every man in public life must have enemies …’
Lachlan Macquarie, 1821

Although Macquarie’s administration was one of substantial achievement, he was politically unskilled and managed to fall out with prominent colonists over a range of issues. Accustomed to being obeyed, he often confused criticism with insubordination.

Criticism and complaint

Macquarie’s most outspoken critic was Reverend Samuel Marsden who quarrelled with him over his preferment of emancipists and his perceived interference in ecclesiastical matters. Other troublesome adversaries included Judge-Advocate Ellis Bent and his vain, mischievous brother, Judge Jeffrey Hart Bent, who fought him on the issue of judicial independence.

When Macquarie became aware that his opponents were complaining about him to influential friends in England and flooding the Colonial Office with their grievances, he counter-attacked by sending Lord Bathurst a list of ‘Discontented and Seditious Persons’ in New South Wales.

Bigge’s investigation and report

Disturbed by events in New South Wales, Lord Bathurst selected John Thomas Bigge to head a commission of inquiry into the state of the colony. Particularly, he was to investigate the colony’s effectiveness as a place of severe punishment and ‘salutary terror.’ Bigge arrived in Sydney in September 1819 and spent the next 18 months interviewing colonists and gathering evidence.
On his return to England, Bigge wrote three hefty reports which were highly critical of Macquarie’s administration. In particular, he took aim at his leniency towards serving convicts, his emancipist policy and the extravagance of his building program. Although the commissioner acknowledged the difficulties of governing a remote colony, his reports lacked balance in that they underplayed Macquarie’s very real achievements.

Lachlan Macquarie. Extract from Report to Lord Bathurst, 27 July 1822 (Copies of Letters sent to Lord Bathurst, ML A 800-1, pp. 167-168)

Macquarie defends himself against the criticism and allegations of his opponents.

File size: 1.63 MB | Duration: 00:02:53

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