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Alexander Macleay: From Scotland to Sydney

by: Derelie Cherry
published by: Paradise Publishers

For a person who played such a significant role in the early decades of the nation, it is surprising that a comprehensive biography of Alexander Macleay has not before this been written.

It is even more surprising when the sheer diversity of experiences and interests that made up the story of this complex man are taken into account.

Alexander Macleay was 57 years old when he accepted the position of Colonial Secretary of New South Wales in 1824, uprooting his large family from their London home for a new and completely unknown life.

It was a decision based more on necessity than choice, for Macleay’s financial situation had been waning for some years. His professional career had seen him rise in the Public Service to become Secretary of the Transport Board, while in the county of Caithness in northern Scotland where he had grown up he invested in a variety of properties and businesses, as well as a bank established by the Macleay family. For whatever reason, the bank failed leaving Alexander Macleay facing a financial crisis. When the lucrative offer of a job in the antipodes came, Macleay felt “that in duty to my Family I was bound to accept of it.”

Somewhere along the way Macleay had developed a passion for natural history, accumulating a substantial collection of books and insect specimens. This driving interest led to his acceptance as a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and within a few years to his appointment as the Society’s secretary, a position that he held for 27 years until his departure for New South Wales.

Such was the background of the man who arrived in Sydney in January 1826 to become the second Colonial Secretary, following Frederick Goulburn. Over the next decade, until his dismissal by Governor Bourke, Alexander Macleay would become one of the most influential and controversial figures of a turbulent period in Australian colonial politics.

Derelie Cherry’s illustrated biography follows the various strands of his long and eventful life as public administrator, patron of natural history, family man and politician, to his death in Sydney at the age of 81.

Today, Alexander Macleay is perhaps not as well remembered as he should be for his many achievements, which include, in addition to his contribution as Colonial Secretary and as the first Speaker in the Legislative Council, his role in the establishment of the NSW State Library, the Sydney Museum and the Botanic Garden, his extensive natural history collection now held by the University of Sydney, and the beautiful home he built, Elizabeth Bay House. This carefully researched and annotated book will do much to remedy that.

Alexander Macleay: From Scotland to Sydney, by Derelie Cherry. Published by Paradise Publishers, 2012. 452 pp, RRP: $59.95

Website: http://www.alexandermacleay.com


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