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Governor Lachlan Macquarie's sword

At a glance

  • Lachlan Macquarie's sword and dirk
  • Fifth governor of the colony of New South Wales
  • Transformed the colony's infrastructure, economy and prospects
A sword and scabbard.
A sword and scabbard belonging to Lieutenant Colonel Lachlan Macquarie. Photo: Matt Kelso.

The Governor's sword

In 1917, the widow of the 8th Viscount Strathallan offered the sword and dirk of Major General Lachlan Macquarie at auction in London. They had come into the Strathallan family through James Drummond, Governor Macquarie's friend, executor of his will and guardian of his son Lachlan. Drummond had inherited the title of 6th Viscount Strathallan in 1824. Lady Strathallan supplied the auctioneer with a letter attesting to the weapons' provenance.

The successful bidder was Sir John Ferguson (1881–1969), bibliophile, collector, judge of the New South Wales Industrial Commission and author of the Bibliography of Australia, the standard reference for printed material relating to Australia published between 1784 and 1900.

Passionate about Australian history and dedicated to preserving the nation's cultural heritage, Ferguson valued the weapons for their association with one of Australia's most significant governors. In the 1960s he presented the sword and dirk to his son Alexander on his 21st birthday.

A celebration of Scottish heritage

Dirk consisting of a large blade with a single edge. The back is notched in a decorative manner. The carved wooden hilt is studded with silver nails, and it has a plain silver pommel. It includes a small metal by-knife and fork with a carved wooden hilt and silver mounts. The leather scabbard has silver mounts.
Dirk, scabbard, by-knife and fork used by New South Wales colonial Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Photo: Dean McNicoll.

Lachlan Macquarie (1762–1824) was a career soldier who served in North America, India and Egypt. He returned to Britain in October 1807 and purchased his regimental sword from JJ Runkel, before travelling north to become Lieutenant Colonel of the 73rd regiment.

At this time, military and naval officers purchased their own swords, guided only by personal taste and cost. Macquarie celebrated his Scottish heritage by choosing a sword with a Scottish-type or half-basket hilt with a decorative thistle relief and the number of his new regiment engraved on the main knuckle-bow. Dirks, while no longer regulation army weapons by the 1800s, were worn by senior officers of Scottish regiments as clan insignia.

Bound for New South Wales

In late 1808, the 73rd regiment was chosen to replace the mutinous New South Wales Corps. After successful lobbying, Macquarie was appointed as Governor William Bligh's replacement in April 1809. Before sailing, he received confidential instructions from Castlereagh requiring him:

... to improve the Morals of the colonists, to encourage Marriage, to provide for Education, to prohibit the Use of Spirituous Liquors, [and] to increase the Agriculture and Stock, so as to ensure the Certainty of a full supply to the Inhabitants under all Circumstances.

Macquarie began his term as Governor of New South Wales on 1 January 1810 and over the next decade he transformed the colony's infrastructure, economy and prospects. His determination to rehabilitate the social status of 'reformed' convicts won him powerful enemies in the colony and in Britain, and in 1822 he sailed for London to defend himself against his critics. Fearing that his achievements would be eclipsed by the 'false, vindictive and malicious' report of the Bigge Commission, Macquarie battled to salvage his reputation. He died in London on 1 July 1824, two months after a gruelling journey from Scotland to secure his pension.

The hand grip of an 1803 military sword is of wood covered in fishskin bound with wire, and it is capped by a lion's head pommel. It is guarded by a squarish gilded brass half basket hilt, composed of a cross guard linked to the pommel by a knuckle bow and two curved bars.
Detail of the hand grip of Governor Macquarie's sword. Photo: George Serras.

On 5 June 1976, the weapons were offered at auction in Sydney. The Department of Home Affairs and Environment was authorised by the Prime Minister to bid up to $10,000. It purchased the weapons 'on behalf of the Australian people for inclusion in the national collection' for the sum of $7500. The sword is now part of the National Historical Collection.

This is an edited extract of an essay by curator Michelle Hetherington from the Captivating and Curious publication.


Governor Macquarie's sword is on show in the National Museum's Landmarks gallery.

Landmarks: People and Places across Australia


Collection database record

Lachlan Macquarie on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website