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Lieutenant Colonel Lachlan Macquarie became Governor of New South Wales in 1810 and was in power until his resignation in 1821. He was a powerful military man and was determined to reshape the colony after the 1808 Rum Rebellion. During the Rum Rebellion, the NSW Governor, William Bligh, was deposed (removed from office) by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps for trying to control the trade of rum and limit the power of the military. Macquarie was keen to civilise the colony. His belief was that New South Wales should be seen as part of the British Empire, not just as a prison camp. It would become a country where free people would live and prosper. How the Indigenous peoples fitted into Macquarie's vision for the colony is explored in this chapter.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie

Macquarie became governor of a struggling and chaotic colony with a population of about 5000 people. He began reforming the colony so that it would become a civilised country with mainly free people. He ordered the construction of roads, bridges, churches and many public buildings and encouraged people to live by Christian principles. He made church attendance compulsory for convicts, and persuaded people to marry rather than to live together. Refer Image 1

Macquarie also wanted the colony and its economy to prosper. He encouraged ex-convicts to become settlers after being given their freedom, and ordered the exploration and mapping of inland Australia. These reforms greatly affected the Indigenous peoples and their traditional way of life.

European view of the Indigenous peoples

Macquarie held a view of the Indigenous peoples that was common among most Europeans at the time. The view was that the Indigenous peoples were primitive and inferior to the Europeans and needed to be 'civilised' so that they could become a useful part of the colonial society.

After Macquarie, particularly in the 1830s and 1840s, the general view of the Indigenous peoples changed to one of contempt, as the conflicts and frontier wars increased. Many Europeans felt that the Indigenous peoples deserved to be treated severely. Opposing that view were some individuals such as missionaries who were horrified by the treatment of the Indigenous peoples and were determined to either 'civilise' them or convert them to Christianity.

Macquarie and the Indigenous peoples

Macquarie was ambivalent (in two minds) about how to treat the Indigenous peoples. He wanted to treat them with respect, but he also was keen to punish any Aboriginal people that intended to harm the settlers.

Macquarie introduced many harsh regulations in an attempt stop the frontier wars. In 1816 he announced that he intended to drive the Aboriginal peoples away from British settlements and strike them with terror so that they would stop committing acts of violence and theft. Even if innocent Aboriginal peoples were killed, Macquarie wanted the punishments to be so severe that other groups would see what would happen if they raided farms and killed British settlers.

Macquarie was also keen to 'civilise' the 'unenlightened' Aboriginal peoples. When dealing with friendly clans, Macquarie developed a strategy of nominating a 'chief' to be responsible for each clan. The chiefs were identified by a brass breast-plate that was worn around the neck and engraved with their name and title. This imposed European culture, as traditional Indigenous society did not have a chief, but rather a group of elders. Refer Image 2

Macquarie also tried to encourage the Aboriginal peoples to become settled farmers and to educate their children. To do this he set up a school for the education of Aboriginal children.

The Native Institution

In 1814, on the advice of the missionary William Shelley, Macquarie established a 'Native Institution' at Parramatta. It was a school for the education of Aboriginal children and Macquarie actively encouraged Aboriginal parents to hand over their children for education there. It opened in 1814 with six boys and six girls, and was aimed at civilising, Christianising and educating Aboriginal children. Refer Image 3

Sometimes children were not placed in the Native Institution voluntarily. When Aboriginal people raided farms from Lane Cove to the Nepean River in 1816, Macquarie sent out soldiers to kill as many Aboriginal peoples as they could. He also gave orders to bring back children to be placed in the Native Institution. Macquarie also asked each one of the chiefs to give up one of their children to be placed in the Native Institution. The Native Institution, however, only lasted a few years and it was closed in 1820.


From the time Governor Macquarie set up the Native Institution, Australian governments have had policies that forced the Indigenous peoples to abandon their traditional customs, languages and social systems. Even missionaries that were intent on helping the Aboriginal peoples wanted to put an end to their 'primitive practices' and beliefs.

The missionaries started to arrive in Australia during Macquarie's time, and were a big part of Indigenous life throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The missionaries usually wanted to 'civilise' the Indigenous peoples and were keen for them to study the Bible and to stop their traditional ceremonies and traditional way of life. Missionaries ignored the fact that the Indigenous peoples already had their own spiritual life and strong beliefs. More discussion of the missionaries and missions follows in the next chapter.

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Question 1/5

1. What was brought back to the British settlement by the soldiers after punitive expeditions in 1816?

Aboriginal women


Dead kangaroos

Aboriginal children


No thanks. Remind me again later.