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George Jarvis (1790–1825)

by Robin Walsh

This article was published:

George Jarvis (c.1790-1825), slave, freedman and servant, was born probably in southern India. He and another child were purchased, for a total of 170 rupees, in the slave market at Cochin in January 1795 on behalf of Lachlan Macquarie and his first wife Jane. The smaller boy was named after Jane's brother George Jarvis, the other Hector, presumably in memory of Macquarie's elder brother. Both children joined the Macquaries' domestic staff at Calicut, on the Malabar coast. After Jane's death in 1796 Lachlan emancipated her slaves in the West Indies and enrolled George and Hector in the parish school at Bombay. From February to May 1799 they attended him at Seringapatam, Mysore, during a military campaign. On a visit to Calcutta in 1799, however, Hector disappeared and was presumed to have been kidnapped. George accompanied Macquarie to Egypt in 1801 and in October, after the defeat of the French, was sent to Scotland to receive further schooling, while Macquarie returned to India. The provisions of Scottish and English law removed any doubts about his status: no longer Macquarie's slave, George was to be his valet.

Summoned at short notice from Scotland to become head servant, in April 1805 George sailed with Macquarie from London for Bombay. From August he enjoyed comfortable lodgings at Government House while Macquarie served as private military secretary to the governor. At this time Macquarie described him as his 'smart Portugese boy'. In 1807 the two embarked for Britain via Persia, Russia and Denmark. They landed at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, in October after an epic journey by land and sea of 6400 miles (10,300 km); it had taken them nearly seven months.

Macquarie married Elizabeth Campbell in Devon on 3 November, probably with George in attendance, then was posted to Perth, Scotland, before being appointed governor of New South Wales. George, an integral member of the vice-regal party, sailed on board the Dromedary in May 1809, with at least four other domestic servants recruited in Britain. For nearly twelve years he was an eyewitness to colonial life, as well as an observer of the stream of visitors to Government House, both in Sydney and at Parramatta. He accompanied the governor on at least six tours of inspection: to Van Diemen's Land (1811 and 1820), across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst (1815), to Newcastle (1812 and 1818) and to Lake George (1820).

On 22 March 1820 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney, George married 30-year-old Mary Jelly who, sentenced to seven years transportation, had reached Sydney on 20 January 1820 and had served as a chambermaid at Government House. Their first child was born in December but died within six days. On 1 September 1821 the governor granted Mary an absolute pardon, allowing her to accompany George in the Surry in February 1822 when the Macquaries returned to Britain. On 5 May, at the port of St Salvadore, Brazil, she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth.

From December 1822 to July 1823 George visited France (Paris, Lyons, Nice), Italy (Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice, Milan) and Geneva, Switzerland, with the Macquaries. He accompanied Lachlan to London in April 1824. When his master fell ill in June George summoned the doctor, was present at the old viceroy's deathbed on 1 July, then with Charles Macquarie escorted the coffin by sea to Mull, Scotland.

After the burial, George and his family remained at Jarvisfield. Macquarie, in his will, had provided a £25 annuity for him 'during his natural life', and had declared that should he 'prefer living on my Estate in Mull after my decease . . . he may be allowed to do so on my farm of Gruline and that he shall be comfortably fed, clothed and lodged there at the expence of my Heirs and successors during his natural life independent of the annuity herein already allowed him'. George did not long enjoy his benefactor's generosity. He died in January 1825, aged about 35, and was buried at Jarvisfield; his wife and daughter survived him. Mary Jarvis lived on Mull for the rest of her life. She died on 5 November 1855 and was buried in Tobermory churchyard. Elizabeth Dewar, née Jarvis, died at Tobermory in 1894; the Macquarie Trust, established for her and her descendants by Elizabeth Macquarie in 1829, continued to operate in 2004.

Select Bibliography

  • Valuation Roll for the County of Argyll, for the Year 1893-94
  • M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (Syd, 1965)
  • L. Cohen, Elizabeth Macquarie (Syd, 1979)
  • J. Ritchie, Lachlan Macquarie (Melb, 1986)
  • Oban Times, 22 June 1940
  • Lauchlan Maclaine journals, 1824-1836 (Record Office, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom)
  • Henry Nisbet letter book (Argyll Bute Archives, United Kingdom)
  • McGarvie memorandum book, 1829-1832 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Macquarie papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Macquarie family letters (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robin Walsh, 'Jarvis, George (1790–1825)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




January, 1825 (aged ~ 35)

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