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Journeys in Time, 1809 – 1822: The Diaries of Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie

Macquarie University, Sydney, and State Library of New South Wales, Australia

Reviewed by:
Kirsten McKenzie
University of Sydney
February 2003

This site provides full transcripts of diaries written over thirteen years by Lachlan Macquarie (1761-1824), governor of colonial New South Wales between 1810 and 1822, and his wife, Elizabeth (1778-1835). Elizabeth Macquarie’s diary (roughly 20,000 words) describes the couple’s journey to Australia in 1809, including accounts of Madeira, Rio de Janeiro, and Cape Town. Her husband’s diaries are in eight sections (ranging from 2,000 to 15,000 words), each recording official tours of inspection to parts of the New South Wales interior and to Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania). The diary charts a significant moment in the history of European expansion. Lachlan Macquarie’s governorship is widely regarded as ushering in the consolidation of the European colonies in Australia. He embarked on an ambitious program of public works, redesigned Sydney, and fostered social reformation and the emergence of free institutions in the convict colony. It was during his administration that the first moves of European expansion into the interior of the continent were undertaken.

Although there are no scans of the original diary pages, the transcriptions are easy to read and give clear indication of editorial invention. The site is easy to navigate and provides information to explain the transcriptions and set them in context. The sections “People,” “Places,” “Ships,” and “Historical Background” supply historical notes and lists of people, places, and vessels mentioned in the diaries. These are especially useful in providing students with information on the geography of the Macquaries’ world, the diverse elements of their society (from coachmen to government officials), and the sailing vessels and nautical terms of the period. “Maps” indicates the location of the Macquaries’ Scottish estate.

Although the transcriptions are complete, phase two of the project, including “Chronology” and most of the “Related Topics” listed, is still in preparation. The site is designed to appeal to researchers as well as to teachers and students. This is reflected in additional information available. There are useful “Biographical Notes” on Elizabeth and Lachlan Macquarie, and a guide to other contemporary reports of the governor’s tours in “Historical Background.” The rest of this section, however, emphasizes questions of provenance and transcription procedures which are less relevant for teaching world history. An extensive bibliography, divided according to general and biographical reference works, and general books and journal articles is a valuable resource for teachers wishing to contextualize the Macquaries and their world. Among this list, Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia. Vol. 1: The Beginning,1 chapter 15, ‘The Coming of the Macquaries’ stands out as a recent and insightful account. Teachers might find it useful to use the site in conjunction with general histories covering Australia in this period. These include J. Kociumbas, The Oxford History of Australia Vol 2: Possessions, 1770-1860 and P. Grimshaw, M. Lake, A. McGrath and M. Quartly Creating a Nation.2 The latter provides a perspective explicitly focussed on gender and race.

In teaching world history courses, this site would contribute to understanding the nature of British imperial expansion in the Pacific and the business of colonial governance. The diaries would also work well when following themes of travel writing and colonial encounters. The site’s inclusion of the perspectives of both Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie allows students to examine the differences between public and private, and masculine and feminine subjectivities in the early 19th-century colonial realm. Lachlan Macquarie is widely considered by scholars to have disseminated the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment in Australia. This was a particularly influential body of thought on notions of civilization and racial difference in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Teachers taking this route might make use of L. Coltheart and P. Bridges, “The Elephant’s Bed? Scottish Enlightenment Ideas and the Foundations of New South Wales” and J. Gascoigne, The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia3 both of which situate Enlightenment thought (and Macquarie) within the Australian colonial context. M.L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation4 takes a comparative view of questions of exploration and travel in the imperial world, with a focus on the Americas and Africa.

1 Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia Volume 1: The Beginning (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1997).
2 J. Kociumbas, The Oxford History of Australia Volume 2: Possessions, 1770-1860 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992); P. Grimshaw, M. Lake, A. McGrath and M. Quartly, Creating a Nation (New York: Viking Penguin, 1994).
3 L. Coltheart and P. Bridges, “The Elephant’s Bed? Scottish Enlightenment Ideas and the Foundations of New South Wales” in W. Brest and G. Tulloch (eds.), Scatterlings of Empire. Journal of Australian Studies 68 (2001), pgs. 19-33; J. Gascoigne, The Enlightenment and the Origins of European Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
4 M.L. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992).

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