The Australian and New Zealand Studies Association of North America is pleased to announce that Maura Capps has been awarded ANZSANA’s inaugural Graduate Essay Prize for her outstanding paper based on her 2016 ANZSANA conference presentation, Lachlan Macquarie and the Damnable Commission: Surveying Agrarian Progress in Colonial New South Wales, 1788-1821. Maura is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. Read her essay on the Lachlan Macquarie Commission (ANZSANA members only), which one of our judges said “will make me think differently about the early decades of settlement in New South Wales.”
This essay explores the genealogy of rival modes of agrarian settlement in early colonial New South Wales in order to contextualize the famous “feud” between the colony’s progressive (and often prodigal) governor, Lachlan Macquarie, and the Colonial Office’s Commissioner of Inquiry, John Thomas Bigge, from 1819 to 1822. In my dissertation, “All Flesh Is Grass: A Political Ecology of Agrarian Improvement in Britain’s Settler Empire, 1780-1850,” I examine these competing agrarianisms, as I call them, on a comparative scale, looking at the fate of Enlightenment-era “high husbandry” in three of Britain’s post-American Independence colonies of settlement: New South Wales, the Cape Colony (South Africa), and New Zealand. I focus particularly on the transfer of European fodder crops (grasses, clover, root vegetables, etc.) to these colonies and on the interplay between politics and environments that facilitated or hindered their propagation. I am interested in the conflict between Macquarie and Bigge– though their relationship was much less antagonistic than is often portrayed–because it was a critical manifestation of a much deeper agrarian crisis as the colony began its transition from an agricultural to a pastoral economy in the 1820s and 1830s. I conducted most of the research for the NSW portions of my dissertation, including this essay, in the Sydney area between December 2013 and April 2014 (blissfully skipping the brutal Chicago winter). I worked with archival materials at the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW), State Archives of NSW (Kingswood), The Royal Botanic Garden, and Royal Agricultural Society, and, in addition, spent countless hours exploring my favorite “archives” on and off the beaten track in the Sydney area.