Fanny Macleay

Leonora Macleay (1793-1836), charity organiser, was born on 9 November 1793 in London, second child and oldest daughter of seventeen children of Elizabeth (born Barclay) and Alexander Macleay. Her father was secretary of the Transport Board from 1806-16 on 1000 pounds a year. He was a keen amateur scientist with an enthusiasm for entomology. Fanny was his favourite daughter and though educated at home by governesses, she knew French and preferred intellectual to fashionable pursuits. She was an accomplished pianist and her pencil drawings were praised by Mr Bell who gave her lessons.

She accompanied her father to art exhibitions and to the British Museum: 'I could spend my whole life there', she wrote to her older brother William Sharp Macleay. Instead she was much occupied in helping care for younger siblings. Before she was twenty a brother and three sisters had died. She was alternately nurse, cook and housemaid when the younger children were all in bed with a cough in 1814. She was 'sick, very very sick of children'.

When bank failure left her father heavily in debt he accepted appointment as New South Wales Colonial Secretary; with his wife and six unmarried daughters he arrived in Sydney in December 1826. Fanny encouraged the move, though it separated her from her dear William. She amply fulfilled the social demands on her as oldest daughter of a prominent man, but she found colonial life intellectually stultifying.

She and her sisters were invited to Government House where their help was frequently in demand when Lady Darling entertained. Fanny thought her rather a Mrs Trotter, forever courting popularity, but for her father's sake she could not refuse. She was the object of some careless matchmaking on Lady Darling's part, but she rejected out of hand a marriage offer from Sir John Jamison, the colony's wealthiest citizen, whose grand house was 'tastefully and expensively furnished'.

Lady Darling had other more serious intentions for Fanny: Miss Macleay would take responsibility for the charitable work initiated in Lady Darling's name. In April 1826, not long after her arrival in the colony, Lady Darling (pregnant with her fifth child) established in Sydney an Industrial School for Girls. 'Sorely against my good will', Fanny confided to William, she 'has appointed me Treasurer and Secretary. I am very angry - Papa well pleased'. The school caused Fanny 'great trouble'. Lady Darling left for Parramatta and gave birth to a son in October. She was rarely not pregnant. She gave birth to another son in 1827 (who died in 1828), a daughter in 1829, she miscarried in 1830, and was heavily pregnant when she left the colony in 1831. Often indisposed, for nearly a year she was hardly able to leave her couch.

Miss Macleay with assistance from the other Misses Macleay saw to the employment of staff at the Industrial School and regularly inspected. Girls admitted to it were orphans, or else their parents accepted the rule that they not visit without permission. Fanny's regular visits may have helped ameliorate their loneliness. Her acceptance of this duty ensured the School's continuing existence.

In time Miss Macleay became reconciled to colonial society. She was not altogether without books; she contemplated learning German and astronomy; her father planted a lovely garden at Elizabeth Bay (his grand house was planned for his retirement); younger brothers joined the family; sisters married. On 25 June 1836 Fanny Macleay married Thomas Cudbert Harington, assistant secretary in her father's office. She died on 8 August 1836.

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