We all claim that we have holes in our pockets, through which our dollars stream and are never seen again. But there was a time when it were the dollars that had holes in them. And people were grateful for those holes.
The last weekend of 2013 coincided with the 204th anniversary of the arrival of Lachlan Macquarie in the Colony of New South Wales as the new Governor. He arrived in a roughneck frontier society. When he left in eleven years later in 1821, the Colony was a very different place. It had started to become a more organised place.
Macquarie arrived on 28th December 1809 and formally took office on 1st January 1810. When he stepped ashore, Macquarie was confronted with many challenges that would be inconceivable in a modern liberal democracy. The first challenge? To ask the military garrison of New South Wales (the “New South Wales Corps”) to return to England (the garrison had terminated the tenure of the last gubernatorial incumbent at gun-point). Fortunately for Macquarie, he hadn’t arrived with just his toothbrush in his luggage. He came equipped with two warships and a regiment of regular troops. Macquarie held all the cards. Or so he thought.
By the time he had reached the Governor’s house, Macquarie was probably feeling a little overwhelmed. He had probably got lost at least once and fallen into a pot-hole (the colony needed some proper streets). If his watch was stolen by a pickpocket when he stopped to ask for directions (‘turn left at the third tent, and right at the fourth tree-stump’), he would’ve consoled himself that the judge would have no mercy for such street villains. If he had voiced that hope, a helpful local may have pointed out that the local judges lacked legal training. But that was ok. There wasn’t a courthouse anyway.
By this time, Macquarie was probably thinking he should have called in sick instead of going to New South Wales.
To make himself feel better, Macquarie may have stopped at a street vendor to buy a sticky bun (because every problem looks better when eating a pastry product. Donuts, crusty bread or pies. I don’t discriminate). He would’ve reached into his pocket for some loose change that the pickpocket hadn’t stolen, only to be told ‘we don’t see much of those around here.’ (What, no money?). That’s right. The good people back at the Colonial office in London hadn’t packed any money with the convict shackles when they shipped the first convicts out twenty years earlier. Not to be thwarted, the entrepreneurs in the colony had resorted to barter. And what did they barter? I will give you a clue. The average soldier or sailor enlisted in His Majesty’s service at this time in return for a daily tot of rum along with the loose change charitably known as a military salary. Yes, you got it, the colonists traded in rum.
Finally settled into the rough shack known as the Governor’s House, old Lachlan Macquarie would’ve had a rich sense of the problems confronting the Colony. Modern CEOs rely upon PowerPoint and coloured pie-charts to understand a business problem. Macquarie just needed to walk from the jetty to his house.
In Part Two of this blog, I will talk about the holes in the dollars.