On a promontory extending into Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, Australia, sits a primitive bench and hand-hewn steps in exposed sandstone rock. The seating area was carved on site in 1810 by convict workmen. It was created for Elizabeth Henrietta Macquarie, the wife of Major General Lachlan Macquarie, who served as Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821.
Perched at the end of the peninsula known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Point was a frequent resting place for the Governor’s wife. His habit was to sit watching the harbour, hoping to catch a glimpse of ships arriving and returning from his homeland of Britain. Many years later, this view would become one of the most recognizable harbor views in the world, including, as it is, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Inscribed in stone above the bench is a dedication to “Mrs. Macquarie’s Road”, which once ended at the point: “Be it so recorded that the road, around the interior of the government domain, called Mrs. Macquarie’s road, so named by the Governor from what she originally planned it to be 3 miles and 377 yards, was finally completed on the 13th day of June, 1816.”
The three-mile long road was built between 1813 and 1816 to facilitate Mrs. Macquarie’s visits to the Pointe. Although the road no longer exists, part of its culvert can still be seen in the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens. The double brick overpass, known as the Macquarie culvert, is probably the oldest masonry bridge in Australia.
Lachlan Macquarie and his wife lived and served in Australia from 1810 to 1821. They played an important role in the evolution of New South Wales from a penal colony of convict laborers to a free settlement of landowners and qualified professionals. A strong supporter of her husband’s views on convict reform, Mrs. Macquarie also took a particular interest in improving the welfare of convict women and Aboriginal people. She shared her husband’s passion for architecture and supported his plans to modernize the city of Sydney by constructing roads, buildings and public works. Mrs. Macquarie was also a champion haymaker in the colony.
Over time, the governor’s progressive views on emancipated convicts and his lavish spending of government money on public construction drew criticism from bureaucrats in England and big landowners in Australia. These detractors led to an inquiry in 1819 into Macquarie’s administration and his offer to resign his post. The Governor resigned in 1821 and returned to Scotland with his wife. He died in 1824 while still defending himself against charges of mismanagement in New South Wales.
Macquairie’s role in establishing Australia in the 19th century is invaluable. “Father of Australia” is inscribed on his grave. He was, in fact, the first person to use the written term “Australia” when referring to the island. The Macquaries’ impact on the settlement of Australia was so profound that many places and things are named in their honor, including those named by the Governor himself.