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MacLeay, Alexander


Was born in the county of Ross, Scotland, on 24 June 1767. He was the eldest son of William Macleay, provost of the town of Wick. Nothing is known of his early years but he received a good education, and on 17 March 1795 was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, London. In the same year he was appointed chief clerk in the prisoners of war office, in 1797 head of the department of correspondence of the transport board, and in 1806 secretary of the board. He remained in this position until 1818 when he retired on a pension of 750 a year. He had taken a special interest in the Linnean Society having become secretary in 1798, and continued to hold this position until in 1825 he was appointed colonial secretary of New South Wales, at a salary of 2000 a year. He arrived in Sydney in January 1826 and was immediately appointed a member of the executive council. He was an extremely valuable and hard-working official whose services were much valued by Governor Darling (q.v.). He did not succeed in working so well with Governor Bourke (q.v.), and several protests were made by residents of Sydney against his pension of 750 a year being a charge on the colony in addition to his salary. Macleay having mentioned that he had some thought of retiring, Bourke, in August 1835, suggested to the Earl of Aberdeen that this was desirable and that an admirable successor was available in Deas Thomson (q.v.), who was accordingly given the position in spite of Macleay's protestation that he had had no intention of retiring. Deas Thomson took over the office on 2 January 1837. Macleay published the correspondence with Bourke and other papers relating to his retirement as a pamphlet in 1838. Though he was nearly 70 years of age he felt his enforced retirement keenly. He had, however, in addition to his salary received grants of valuable land, one of which, some 56 acres of land in Elizabeth Bay, established the fortunes of his family. On his retirement his pension was raised to 1000 a year. He was elected a member of the legislative council in 1843, and though now 76 years of age was elected speaker and admirably carried out his duties until 19 May 1846, when he resigned the office.

Macleay was so busy after he arrived in Sydney that it must have been extremely difficult to keep up his interest in science. Before he came to Australia he had accumulated a remarkable collection of entomological specimens, largely British and European. In Australia he extended his interest to ornithology, and presented a large number of skins of Australian birds to the Linnean Society of London. He took much interest in the Australian museum during its early years, and is sometimes spoken of as its founder (Sydney Morning Herald, 26 July 1848), although it is now impossible to establish this. His garden at Elizabeth Bay became famous for its valuable and rare specimens of plants. He frequently welcomed visiting scientists at his house, and his success as a gardener on a comparatively sterile soil is said to have given marked stimulus to ornamental gardening in Sydney. The family records relating to the garden show that it was a great interest to Macleay in his declining years. He died following. a carriage accident on 19 July 1848. He married in London Eliza Barclay by whom he had 17 children. His wife died in 1847. of his surviving children two [George Macleay and William Sharp Macleay] are noticed separately. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, in 1809. His collections, much enlarged by his son and nephew, eventually became the property of the university of Sydney.

Macleay was much liked and respected throughout his active and busy life. He was an excellent official, a first-rate entomologist and a good botanist. Though he published nothing himself he had an important influence on the early study of biology in Australia.


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