Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Macarthur, Sir Edward (1789–1872)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), by Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, c1858

Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), by Richard Daintree and Antoine Fauchery, c1858

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H84.167/22

Sir Edward Macarthur (1789-1872), soldier, was born on 16 March 1789 at Bath, England, the eldest son of Captain John Macarthur and his wife Elizabeth. He went to Sydney with his parents in 1790 and spent his boyhood there and at Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta. Sent to England in 1799 to be educated he returned to Sydney in 1806. With his father he took part in the deposition of Governor William Bligh in 1808. He soon left for London taking his father's version of the rebellion and the first bale of merino wool to be exported from the colony. He obtained a commission in the 60th Regiment and served at Corunna and in Sicily. As a lieutenant in the 39th Regiment he took part in Wellington's campaigns of 1812-14 and was present at Vittoria, the Pyrénées and the battles in southern France. After brief service in Canada he joined the army of occupation in France.

In 1824 Macarthur went to New South Wales as the agent of T. P. Macqueen. He was impressed by the dispersion of the garrison from Moreton Bay to Hobart Town in the face of runaway convicts and 'hostile tribes'. In London he placed detailed proposals for a colonial militia before Under-Secretary Horton but the plan was rejected by Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling in 1827. Macarthur competently represented Australian interests in London. He presented a petition from New South Wales in 1840. He advocated emigration in two small books, Colonial Policy of 1840 and 1841, as Illustrated by the Governor's Despatches, and the Proceedings of the Legislative Council of New South Wales (London, 1841) and Brief Remarks on Colonization (London, 1846). He personally arranged the migration of German vinedressers to the Macarthur properties at Camden and also sought to develop coastal steamship services. After serving as secretary in the Lord Chamberlain's Office in 1843-46 he was on the military staff in Ireland. In 1851 he was posted to Sydney as deputy adjutant general. Promoted colonel in 1854, he moved with the headquarters to Melbourne. He accompanied the commander-in-chief, Major-General Sir Robert Nickle, to Eureka on 5 December. They talked freely with the miners and as a result of their investigations Nickle advised that martial law be withdrawn.

After Nickle died in May 1855 and Governor Hotham in December, Macarthur took over command of the forces and became administrator. He inherited a confused political situation and was coolly received by the press. However, his impartiality and his willingness to leave things to his ministers helped him, and when he handed over to Sir Henry Barkly on 23 December 1856 he had won the esteem of parliament and the people of Melbourne. Emily, wife of Hugh Childers, described him as 'if not a brilliant statesman, an industrious, kind-hearted, Christian gentleman'. In 1858 Macarthur chaired a royal commission on the defences of the colony. In 1860 he returned to England and was appointed K.C.B. in 1862. In that year he married Sarah (d.1889), daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel W. S. Neill. Promoted lieutenant-general in 1866, he died childless in London on 4 January 1872 and was buried in the Brompton cemetery. He was survived by his wife. His goods were valued for probate at £4000.

Macarthur's portrait by William Strutt is in Parliament House, Melbourne, and his bust in St John's Church, Parramatta.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 11, 13
  • H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1904)
  • M. H. Ellis, John Macarthur (Syd, 1955)
  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1858-59, 2 (40), 1859-60, 3 (18), 4 (41)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1, 7 Jan 1856, 17 Jan 1860
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Jan 1856
  • Examiner (Melbourne), 21 Jan 1860: Town and Country Journal, 30 Mar 1872
  • Times (London), 20 July 1872
  • Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • CO 201/166.

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Macarthur, Sir Edward (1789–1872)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macarthur-sir-edward-4059/text6465, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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