The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney is 200 years old on June 13, 2016. Happy Birthday!
And the bicentenary’s on that day because of another birthday and the crafty planning of an Irish ex-convict – Nicholas Delaney, my great-great-great grandfather.
In 1810, Lachlan Macquarie became Governor of New South Wales. An experienced soldier, he’d been sent to Australia to clean up after the Rum Rebellion of 1808-9, when the colony’s army regiment, the New South Wales or Rum Corps, overthrew Governor William Bligh. Yes, the same Bligh as in the Mutiny on the Bounty, 19 years earlier. Leadership skills didn’t seem to be his strong point.
Governor Macquarie didn’t just want to restore order to the population of News South Wales. He also imposed order on its streets. Under Macquarie, Sydney’s rambling streets were tamed and a grid plan imposed on the city. He needed trusted, experienced road gang overseers. Like Nicholas Delaney.
One of Lachlan Macquarie’s projects was to claim back the Domain, the land surrounding and to the east of his official residence, Government House. It swept from Circular Quay around Farm Cove to Woolloomooloo and included places we now know as the Sydney Opera House, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the (much smaller) Domain.
Lachlan Macquarie and his wife Elizabeth seem to have been deeply fond of each other. She was certainly a great support in his efforts to move New South Wales on from a penal settlement to a self-sufficient colony.
As she was keen on gardening – a very civilised pursuit, and a way of taming the wild – no doubt he encouraged her to take on planning a new garden for the Domain and a road around the eastern part up to the place on the tip of the peninsula now known as Mrs Macquarie’s Point.
And it was Nicholas Delaney who Lachlan Macquarie appointed to work, with his convict gang, on building what was first called Mrs Macquarie’s New Road, later just Mrs Macquarie’s Road.
I haven’t found any record of when Nicholas and his men started work on the road, but it would’ve been back-breaking work. We do know when they finally laid down their tools and Nicholas hurried to tell the Governor the good news.
You’d need to be canny or lucky, or both, to survive as a convict in the early days of European settlement in Australia. Two decades of researching Nicholas Delaney’s life have convinced me that he was both. And tough as old work boots, too.
After six years working for Lachlan Macquarie it’s likely that Nicholas would’ve known when Mrs Macquarie’s birthday was. The 13th of June. And if speeding up or slowing down a bit meant that the gang finished work on her road on her birthday, well, what a wonderful extra birthday present that would be. One that her loving husband might appreciate, too.
And guess what? Nicholas and his men did just that. Was Lachlan Macquarie pleased? I’ll let the Governor tell you in his own words.
(He continues over the page)
Here’s the transcription:
This day at 1. P.M. Nicholas Delaney the Overseer of the Working Gang employed for some time past in the Government Domain reported to me that Mrs. Macquarie’s New Road – (measuring 3 miles and 377 yards –) round the inside of the Government – together with all the necessary Bridges on the same – were completely [page break] finished agreeably to the Plan laid down originally for constructing it by Mrs. Macquarie.
As a reward for their exertions in having completed “Mrs. Macquarie’s Road,” on this particular and auspicious Day, I have given Delaney and his Gang of Ten Men, Five Gallons of Spirits amongst them – as Donation from Government from the King’s Store. —
I’ve written more about Nicholas Delaney building Mrs Macquarie’s Road and what could be the oldest bridge in Australia already on this blog. But I’m so excited about the 200th anniversary of my ancestor leaving his mark on New South Wales that I’ll be posting more, up to and during the ‘auspicious Day’.
So do come back and find out more about the story behind #Garden200.
Portrait of Governor Lachlan Macquarie via Wikimedia Commons
Aerial view of the Domain via Google Earth
1802 map of Sydney via Mapco
Extracts from Lachlan Macquarie’s journal courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales