Inside the Collection

The Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie chairs: reunited

The Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie chairs
Photography © Powerhouse Museum, all rights reserved

This year marks the Bicentenary of Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie’s arrival in New South Wales. Lachlan was the sixth Governor of New South Wales (succeeding William Bligh), best known for his ambitious programme of public works, which included the construction of new buildings, bridges, towns, wharves and roads, including the Rum Hospital and the greater western suburbs of Windsor and Richmond.

To celebrate the Bicentenary, the Museum has recently installed an important and historic display. For the first time, we have reunited for public viewing two of the most significant examples of early colonial furniture made for, and used by, Lachlan and Elizabeth in Sydney – the ‘gothic revival’ style chairs. One of these is in the Powerhouse Museum’s collection and has been on permanent display in the Inspired! gallery since 2005, while the companion chair is in the collection of Macquarie University (until recently, it was on display in the Lachlan Macquarie Room, ground floor of the Macquarie University library).

The chairs were made by convicts William Temple and John Webster in 1820-1821, most probably for official usage by Lachlan and Elizabeth in Government House, Sydney. Made of Australian rose mahogany and casuarina with replacement wallaby fur upholstery, the chairs are exquisitely carved, of vice-regal proportions, with the Macquarie ‘dagger’ family crest dramatically placed at the centre back.

The chairs, which returned to Scotland with the Macquarie’s in early 1822, were passed down through the family via the widow of Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie’s son (also called Lachlan), eventually coming into the possession of Rowland and Archibald James, the two sons of Governor Macquarie’s nephew, George Willison Macquarie. In the 1890s, both Rowland and Archibald James emigrated to Canada, taking the chairs with them. The chair in Rowland’s possession was given to the Vancouver City Museum in the 1930s, while the other chair remained in the family of Archibald James. In 1961, the Vancouver City Museum donated the chair to the Powerhouse Museum (then the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences). Archibald James’ chair, however, returned to Edinburgh, Scotland with his daughter (‘Mrs J E Taylor’) before it was later presented as a gift by her to the newly-founded Macquarie University.

The Museum’s chair and its companion are currently on display in the Museum’s Inspired! gallery and you can read more about their interesting story here. At the end of July, you will also be able to see another small display celebrating the Macquarie Bicentenary (in the Museum’s foyer), showcasing some of the holey dollars and dumps, as well two promissory notes and a rum bottle!

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