The 'Macquarie Chair' is undeniably the most important example of early colonial furniture in the MAAS collection. Fortuitously it is also a chair we know much about. One of a pair made for Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales 1810-1822, and his wife Elizabeth, it was crafted by convicts in 1820-21. The companion chair is in the collection of Macquarie University. A third, similarly-styled, gothic revival armchair is in St James Church, Sydney; it is the plaque on this chair identifying its makers as John Webster and William Temple that has enabled the attribution of the two Macquarie chairs.
Made of Australian rose mahogany, a NSW timber felled extensively during the Macquarie period, red cedar, Casuarina and with replacement eastern grey kangaroo fur upholstery (1982), the chair bears the Macquarie crest of a raised dagger as its central finial and was crafted by convicts William Temple (1779-1839) and John Webster (1798-1842). Temple, a 'carpenter and joiner', was transported to NSW in 1813 and worked in the government lumber yard in Sydney and with the cabinetmaker Lawrence Butler (1750?-1820). Temple was granted a conditional pardon by Macquarie in November 1821 having worked for Macquarie at Government House. John Webster, a carver and gilder, was transported to NSW, arriving on 7 August 1820. Governor Macquarie must have set him to work on the carving of the chairs soon after he arrived in the colony, for they were completed by the time the Macquaries returned to Scotland in early 1822. Webster was also granted a conditional pardon in November 1821. It is possible that both pardons were associated with the completion of the chairs. The chairs may in fact be the "2 large armchairs" listed in an inventory of the contents of Government House, Sydney in March 1821.
With their carved Gothic detail and formal vice-regal proportions the chairs were probably made for the Macquaries' official rather than personal use. Their taste for the Gothic style, fashionable in late 18th -century England, is reflected in a number of buildings the Macquaries erected including the Government House stables (now the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music). The relatively sophisticated styling of the chairs may also indicate the reference by Webster and Temple to George Smith's 'A collection of designs for household furniture and interior decoration', a highly influential pattern book published in England in 1808. Smith's publication shows several chairs with Gothic detailing similar to the Macquarie armchairs.
Both chairs have also shared a well-travelled past. When the Macquaries returned to the Isle of Mull, Scotland, in February 1822 they took the chairs with them. Through the Macquarie's son, Lachlan, they passed by descent, to Rowland and Archibald Macquarie who emigrated to Canada in the 1890s with the chairs. The MAAS chair was lent to the Vancouver Museum by a "Mrs R Macquarie [sic]" in about 1937 but, after lengthy negotiations, was donated to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in 1961. Almost 140 years after it had left Australia the chair's final resting place was the city of its origin!