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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

William Macleay

1885
William Macleod (engraver) after Freeman Brothers

lithograph on paper (sheet: 27.0 cm x 21.0 cm, image: 18.5 cm x 13.8 cm)

Sir William John Macleay (1820-1891), pastoralist, politician, collector and promoter of science, had just begun to study medicine in his native Scotland when family circumstances dictated his migration to New South Wales. His uncle, Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay, had arrived in Sydney in 1826 with a giant collection of insects, and had acquired significant landholdings including 54 acres at Elizabeth Bay, on which he was to build Elizabeth Bay House. On his arrival in early 1839 William John fell in with his cousins, William Sharp Macleay and (Sir) George Macleay, who were both interested in natural history. He joined George on the land, and soon acquired holdings of his own, which by the 1870s included a vineyard near Wagga Wagga. From 1841 he was a magistrate at Wagga Wagga and in 1855 he was elected to the Legislative Council for the Lachlan and Lower Darling Pastoral District. From 1856 to 1858 he held a seat in the Legislative Assembly; later, for 15 years he represented the Murrumbidgee in the Assembly. He moved and chaired various select committees: on harbour defences, the unemployed, and the existence of a conspiracy for treason (implicating Parkes, whom Macleay detested, it came to naught). Later he presided over royal commissions on oysters, fisheries and the Melbourne and Sydney exhibitions of the 1870s and 1880s. Meanwhile, in 1862 he helped to found the Entomological Society of New South Wales. By the mid-1860s he had thousands of insect specimens, many inherited from his cousin William Sharp (who died a single man in 1865, having lived at Elizabeth Bay house from 1848). From 1865 William John leased Elizabeth Bay House from his cousin George, who lived abroad as a bon-vivant from 1859; William John became the first President of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, but it was his home, Elizabeth Bay House, which became a hub for collectors. In the 1870s he funded and organised the first Australian scientific expedition to the Torres Strait and New Guinea. Though vicissitudes caused its early abandonment, the voyage of the Chevert achieved Macleay’s aim, yielding a stupendous collection of fish, reptiles, corals, vertebrates, invertebrates and birds as well as ethnographic artefacts and at least one mummy. Nonetheless, he was heavily criticised in the press for failing to promote New Guinea as a site for European colonisation and exploitation. Resident at Elizabeth Bay House until his death, he not only encouraged scientific rigour in others, but himself wrote high-quality papers, which he published in Australian journals. His major works, appearing in the 1880s, were a two-volume catalogue of Australian fishes and the Census of Australian Snakes. Married from the age of 37, William John died ‘without legal issue’, but money he left to the University of Sydney and the Linnean Society has since been used for a Linnean Macleay lectureship in microbiology and four Linnean Macleay Fellowships. The collections he inherited from Alexander and William Sharp, as well as his own hoard, passed to the purpose-built Macleay Museum of the University of Sydney.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2014

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Freeman Brothers

William Macleod (age 35 in 1885)

Sir William John Macleay (age 65 in 1885)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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