Mrs Macquarie's Chair
Mrs. Macquarie's Chair is a stone seat that was hand carved out of a rock overhang by convicts in 1810, which commemorates Elizabeth, the wife of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. Mrs. Macquarie loved the harbour, she often took harbourside strolls and this spot was her favourite place of relaxation. Folklore has it that she used to sit on the rock and watch for ships from Great Britain sailing into the harbour.
Gov. Macquarie declared a part of his Governors Domain a Botanic Garden in 1816 when Mrs. Macquaries Rd was also built through it. The Macquaries also put the wall up to protect it, much of which still exists today. Above the chair is an inscription recording the completion of Mrs. Macquaries Road on 13th June 1816. Remnants of the road were discovered during excavations for the extension of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music in the late 1990s.
Mrs. Macquarie's Chair is situated at the tip of Mrs. Macquaries Point, a peninsula that sits between the Garden Island peninsula to the east, and Bennelong Point (where the Sydney Opera House resides) to the west. The chair itself faces north-east towards Fort Denison and the Pacific Ocean. The area around it is a popular lookout position for the view to the north-west of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Mrs. Macquarie's Chair is part of The Royal Botanic Gardens and is easily accessed from Circular Quay train station (20min walk via the Botanic Garden). Sydney Explorer bus line has a stop at Mrs. Macquarie's Chair.
A remnant of the convict built Macquarie Wall begins just past the Gardens Shop in Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens, after you cross the creek on the oldest culvert in Australia. The Gardens' foundation day is traditionally 13th June 1816 when Elizabeth Macquarie's road to her 'Chair', the carved rock ledge at the Point, was completed. The new Road ran along the new Wall. If you walk along the harbour side of the Wall you will be treading the route of the original Mrs Macquaries Road.
Elizabeth Henrietta Macquarie (1778-1835), was the youngest daughter of John Campbell of Airds, Scotland, and a relative of the earl of Breadalbane. Her sister married Maclaine of Lochbuy, a relation of the Macquaries. At 26 she met her distant cousin Colonel Lachlan Macquarie at the deathbed of Lochbuy. He was immediately attracted to his young kinswoman, who showed herself so helpful in trouble and had impeccable taste in gardens. The acquaintance ripened when he drove Elizabeth and Lochbuy's two sons to Edinburgh. She would make, he wrote in his diary, an admirable soldier's wife. Macquarie proposed to Elizabeth at her aunt's house in London in March 1805, making it clear to her that they could not marry until after his next tour of duty in India, probably in four years time, as he had made a solemn vow on the death of his first wife never to marry again in India or to take a wife to that country.
Their marriage took place at Holsworthy in Devon on 3rd November 1807. The bride was 29, the groom 46. Within two years, Lachlan Macquarie was appointed governor of New South Wales and his wife accompanied him to the colony. Elizabeth shared her husband's vision to change Sydney Town from being a backwater convict dumping ground to a prosperous colony of the British Empire. She took a kindly interest in the welfare of women convicts and of the Aboriginals and was intelligently interested in gardening and agriculture.
With Elizabeth Macarthur she is said to have pioneered hay-making in the colony. She had brought from England a collection of books on architecture which were useful to her husband and his architect, Francis Greenway. Most of the buildings erected during her husband's governorship were themed on designs featured is her books. She also planned the road running round the inside of the Government Domain to the point which, like the road, was named after her, and set out the newly created Botanical Gardens which leads to the location at Mrs. Macquaries Point. Mrs. Macquarie also loved music. She played the cello, her own cello was crafted in 1812 in London.
Macquarie resigned his governorship in 1820 and the pair returned to Britain, eventually settling at Jarvisfield, Macquarie's estate on Mull, which they reached in November 1823. By this time, Lachlan was in poor health, and died in London on 1st July 1824. In a moving letter to her Australian friends Elizabeth recounted all the circumstances of his last days. This letter might serve as a portrait of a devoted wife. The widow lived on at Jarvisfield. The government paid her a pension of 400 pounds which at first she refused but was later persuaded by her friends to accept. She died on 11 March 1835. In 1836 she was posthumously granted 2000 acres (809 ha) in New South Wales.
Mrs. Macquarie's legacy lives on in Sydney, through a number of buildings she may well have influenced (Hyde Park Barracks being one), Mrs. Macquaries Point and chair, and in the names of Elizabeth Bay and Campbelltown. Old Government House in Parramatta, where the Macquaries lived, has been restored to their era with furnishings, decor, linen and furniture according to the tastes of Mrs. Macquarie. She liked both English and Indian furnishing styles and this can be seen in the way many of the rooms have been preserved.
View from the Government Domain Sydney, 1833, by Charles Rodius (image courtesy State Library of NSW - PXA 997)
Yurong Point is known today as the site of Mrs Macquarie s Chair, a seat carved from stone in the 1810s so Governor Lachlan Macquarie s wife Elizabeth could enjoy the view of the harbour. It has remained a popular place ever since, but visitors follow in much more ancient footsteps. Aboriginal people lived around the point and fished its waters for thousands of years before Europeans arrived in Sydney. They were still using the area long after it became a popular scenic spot for Sydneysiders as contemporary images show. The area has been cleared of trees and landscaped extensively and most traces of the Aboriginal use of the point have been either destroyed or covered over, however, at least two Aboriginal sites remain and were found by an amateur archaeologist in the 1990s.