WILLIAM JOHN MACLEAY, POLITICIAN/ZOOLOGIST & the MACLEAY FAMILY
The cover is addressed to W.J. MacLeay (sic) Esq MLA, Australian Club and the 1d red-orange New South Wales ‘Laureate’ stamp was cancelled with a barred grid obliterator with 10 vertical lines characteristic of the Sydney G.P.O. ( Figure 1).
The reverse postmark confirms that Sydney was the point of origin with a small unframed SYDNEY/ MY 6/ 185 ( )/ C/ N.S.W. The vendor states that the year date is 1856, and I am almost in agreement, but there are problems with this date on account of both the grid and the circular datestamp (Figure 2).
Both John S. White in his The Postal History of New South Wales 1788-1901 (1988) and R. Tobin & A.E. Orchard in The Postal History of Sydney Volume 6: The Standard Circular Datestamps and Related Markings (1995) give a range for dates of both postmarks which don’t include 1856. White classifies the “Sydney Bars” obliterator as Type B1a 1850-1854 [page 85] and Tobin & Orchard classify the same grid as Fig. 26 with the earliest confirmed date as 7 February 1850 and the latest 27 February 1854 [page 14]. I am cognisant of the changing nature of the early (ERD) and late recorded dates (LRD) with passage of time for N.S.W. postmarks, but it is disconcerting. This grid cancel (identical in both books) is shown in Figure 3.
The year-date problem also applies to the small postmark on the reverse, and Tobin & Orchard’s example Type 79 [page 26] will be used as the example, for it is identical with the present cancel, but shows minor to considerable variance with White’s examples [page 53]. At the outset I must say that the 2 postmarks are not compatible on the same cover, and a date of 1856 is wrong, unless the date range of both cancels is incorrect. This Type 79, before its later recut, had an ERD of 6 May 1857 . The LRD for backstamping in the Inland Room was 20 July 1859, with a worn copy on 8 October 1860 (Figure 4).
William John Macleay, pastoralist, politician and patron of science, was born on 13 June 1820 at Wick, Caithness, Scotland, second son of Kenneth Macleay and his wife Barbara, née Horne. He was ducated at the Edinburgh Academy in 1834-36 and entered the medical school of the University of Edinburgh. Orphaned in 1837 he was left with little money and two younger brothers to educate. Though fascinated by medical and scientific studies, he accepted the advice of his uncle to migrate and he arrived in Sydney in March 1839 in the Royal George with his brother Walter. He found the company of his uncle and cousins congenial and under their influence acquired an increasing interest in natural history. In 1840 Macleay joined the family's runs first at Goulburn, then on the Murrumbidgee. He was a magistrate from 1841, and sat on the Wagga Wagga bench from 1847. By 1848 he had taken over Mulberrygong, 90,000 acres (36,422 ha) on the Murrumbidgee, and soon acquired Kerarbury in which he held a share until the 1870s. In 1861-66 he was a captain in the Sydney Volunteer Artillery. At St James's Church Sydney in 1857 he married Susan Emmeline Deas-Thomson and they lived in Macquarie Street until he leased Elizabeth Bay House in 1865.
In 1855 Macleay had been elected to the Legislative Council for the Lachlan and Lower Darling Pastoral District. After responsible government he represented the Lachlan and Lower Darling in the Legislative Assembly in 1856-58 and the Murrumbidgee in 1859-74. Although described as an able politician who 'always took an independent stand', and he showed his hostility to Sir Henry Parkes whom he regarded as a radical upstart. He was elected to the Senate of the University of Sydney in 1875 and knighted in 1889.
His active scientific career did not begin until, frustrated by the lack of a regular outlet for workers in the biological sciences, he helped to found the Entomological Society of New South Wales in 1862; within a year the society gave 'an impetus to collecting hitherto unknown in the colony'. The home at Elizabeth Bay became a centre for naturalists, scientists and interested amateurs. He employed collectors of specimens throughout the continent and began to adopt the role of patron of Australian science by extending the scope of his own work in all fields of zoology and encouraging botany, geology and the marine sciences. He accepted the first presidency of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, formed in October 1874.
Macleay was more than a dilettante and patron of science. He wrote over seventy reports and papers on entomology, ichthyology and other areas of zoology and was among the first colonials to publish most of his work in Australian journals. Though not always above scientific jealousy and often dependent on pupil assistants, he became the resident 'Sir Joseph Banks' of Australian science. His major works include the two-volume Descriptive Catalogue of Australian Fishes (Sydney, 1881) and Census of Australian Snakes (1884). A photo of William is seen in Figure 5.
Survived by his wife, Macleay died without legal issue at Elizabeth Bay House on 7 December 1891 and was buried in the Waverley cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at over £81,000. The Macleay collections, valued at some £25,000, passed to the University of Sydney with £6000 to pay the curator. In 1956 the society and the university agreed to use the income from the bequest for part of the salary of the Linnean Macleay lectureship in microbiology. The society had already been given £14,000 from Macleay's estate and, after his wife died in August 1903, received £35,000 to endow four 'Linnean Macleay Fellowships' and an additional £6000.
I had hoped that further information about the date of reception of this cover at the Australian Club (Macquarie Street, Sydney) in 1856 might come from a statement made at one site that he “lived in Sydney from 1857, the year of his marriage to Susan Deas-Thomson” and they lived in Macquarie Street until they leased Elizabeth Bay House in 1865. Thus unless the bachelor was living at his club in Sydney the year before his marriage, why would the Australian Club be given as his address? No help as regards this date problem at the present time.
William John’s uncle was Alexander Macleay (1767-1848) who was a specimen collector and bureaucrat of science who was honorary secretary of the Linnean Society of London for 27 years; by1825 he had an insect collection without parallel in England; he was appointed in 1839 Colonial Secretary of N.S.W. and it was for him that the Elizabeth Bay House was erected. He was appointed as the director of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and Museum. Alexander’s eldest son, William Sharp Macleay (1792-1865) was a philosophical naturalist. William came to Sydney in 1839, held important positions with the Botanic Gardens and Museum and developed the garden at Elizabeth Bay. William’s collections, and those of Alexander, were bequeathed to his cousin William John, and passed on to the University of Sydney.
I acknowledge that the Australian Dictionary of Biography was a major source of information.