‘Twenty-five regiments of British infantry…fought in one of the most prolonged wars in the history of the British empire and for the first half of their stay were probably more frequently in action than the garrison of any other colony besides that of southern Africa’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

1788 – January, Sydney Cove: At Port Jackson in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip RN established naval and military bases and an open prison for England’s lowest common denominator, her convicted criminals. But criminals with a difference – all male convicts were combatants, rationed as British troops ‘serving in the West Indies’. 

Governor Phillip’s five (5) traumatic years as Britain’s first naval Governor of Australia were dogged by ill-health and after repeated requests for relief, London permitted his repatriation.

1792 – 11 December 1792, England: Phillip departed Sydney for England on the Atlantic in mid December 1792 but left a legacy that brought about the near destruction of Australia’s First Peoples. See: Terror – Phillip’s Algorithm

 ‘The orders under which I [Tench] was commanded to act [22 December 1790] differing in no respect from the last [13 December]…if six [6] cannot be taken, let this number be shot…cut off and bring in the heads of the slain…bring in two ]2] prisoners I am resolved to execute in the most public and exemplary manner in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected.

I [Phillip] am determined to repeat it, whenever any future breach of good conduct on their side, shall render it necessary’. Captain-General  Governor Arthur Phillip, 22 December 1790. Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

‘There are two kinds of error: those of commission, doing something that should be done, and those of omission, not doing something that should be done. The latter are more serious than the former’. The Puritan Gift, Forward – Russell Lincoln Ackoff – Kenneth and William Hopper, I.B. Tauris, London, 2009

Governor Phillip through dispatches sought to achieve a seamless transition of power he strongly recommended Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN succeed him but the Home Office, 21,000 km (13,000 miles) away in London, quibbled over King’s junior rank and age and ignored Phillip’s advice.

Due to internal distractions ‘fear of the mob’ and, externally war with France, Whitehall adopted a policy of ‘drift’. As a consequence Captain John Hunter RN Phillip’s successor did not arrive in Sydney until  7 September 1795.

‘For the length of the interregnum the British government was greatly at fault but there was also an unexplained delay in Hunter’s departure from England for more than a year after the original drafting of his instructions on 23rd January 1794. His commission as captain-general and governor-in-chief was dated 6 February 1794…Hunter did not sail until 25 February 1795.’ J.J. Auchmutty, John Hunter RN, Australian Dictionary of Biography,

Major Francis Grose, commanding officer of the New South Wales Corps, who had reached Sydney in February 1792, took over government of Australia following Phillip’s departure in December 1792.

‘It is absolutely necessary, in order to understand the social, civil and political condition of the colonists at this period, and for many years afterwards, to keep steadily in view this abolition of civil authority and the substitution in its stead of what was at first virtually a military despotism, but which afterwards became a petty oligarchy. Samuel Bennett, Australian Discovery and Colonisation, Vol. I to 1800, Facsimile Edition, 1981

1792 – 13 December: Grose, the day after Phillip sailed for home, Grose dismantled all civil administration. He replaced the magistrates appointed by Governor Phillip with officers of the New South Wales Corps thereby concentrating all power with the military.

‘The settlement was ruled as a military oligarchy….Grose must have realized that in superceding the magistrates he was making an alteration in judicial government which was contrary to the Royal Instructions expressed both in Phillip’s Commission and the Letters Patent establishing the Courts of Law. William Foster, Journal Royal Australian Society, vol. 51, part 3, 1968

When at the end of 1794 Major Grose, wounded in the American War of Independence, decided he could no longer cope with the heat and isolation and returned to England he was replaced by Captain William Paterson his second-in-command.

By then – 1794 – settlers, mainly ex-convicts and serving convicts assigned to military land-owners, had established farming settlements along both sides of the Hawkesbury River.

‘The wanton and barbarous manner in which many of them [Aborigines] have been destroy’d by settlers’….Their violence against the military proceeded from a soldier having in a most shameful and wanton manner kill’d a native woman and child, a circumstance which had not come to my knowledge until long after the fact had been committed’. Governor Hunter to Home Secretary Portland, 2 January 1800.

Fences denied Dharug Aborigines access to water and traditional foods – especially yam – their principal winter food resource.

‘As the spread of agriculture disrupted their ancient economy, the Aborigines were forced to take some of the settlers’ crops and spear their stock. Reprisals by the Whites led to guerrilla warfare over a large part of the Cumberland Plain. Peter Turbet, The Aborigines of the Sydney District Before 1788, 2001

1795 – 15 June, Hawkesbury: Captain Paterson in June 1795, three (3) months before Governor Hunter’s arrival, while expressing reservations, sent a detachment;two subalterns and sixty privates of the New South Wales Corps to the  river, as well as to drive the natives to a distance, as for the protection of the settlers.

It gives me [Paterson] concern to have been forced to destroy any of these people, particularly as I have no doubt of their having been cruelly treated by some of the first settlers who went out there. Historical Records of Australia, Series I, Vol. I  See: Tipping Point – Guns – Terror

Captain Paterson’s military actions on the Hawkesbury – March and June 1795 – were later sanctioned by Home Secretary Lord Portland in a dispatch dated June 1796.

‘The steps taken by Paterson for the protection of that part of the settlement which is on the Hawkesbury River, and for instilling into the minds of the natives a proper respect and regard for the colony, appear to have been highly proper’. Colonial Secretary Portland to Governor Hunter, Dispatch, 8 June 1796,

Australia’s First Peoples lost their lives, children, heritage, culture, land and resources to the guns of what has been described as a ‘rogue military outfit’ – the New South Wales ‘Rum‘ Corps.

‘Military power was the most decisive fact about the early settlements; it was the frame within which everything else happened’. Class Structure in Australian History, Documents, Narrative and Argument, R. Connell and T.H. Irving, 1980.

The military, led by Lieutenant John Macarthur a junior Corps officer who arrived at Sydney in June 1790 with the death ships of ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’, dominated every commercial aspect of colonial life since the time of Phillip’s departure at the end of December 1792.  See: A Tale of Two Fleets

1795 – 7 September, Sydney: Governor Hunter arrived in early September 1795 and four (4) days later took up his position as Britain’s second commissioned naval governor.

Despite Secretary Portland’s approval of ‘the steps taken’ by Captain Paterson’s on the Hawkesbury ‘steps’ that echoed Governor Phillip’s General Orders of December 1790, in 1800 Governor Hunter protested to London.

‘Captain Paterson directed a party of the troops to be sent from Parramatta, with instructions to destroy as many as they could meet with of the wood tribe and, in hope of striking terror, to erect gibbets in different places, whereon the bodies of all they might kill were to be hung’. Marine Captain David Collins, First Fleet Journal, May 1795

Hunter however, by then in his 60s, was no match for the corrupt young bloods of the New South Wales Corps.

1800 – April, Sydney: Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN arrived in Sydney in April 1800 with a dispatch announcing Governor John Hunter’s recall to LondonSee: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with Governor Hunter.

1800 – September, Sydney: Governor Phillip Gidley King RN took up his appointment as Britain’s third naval governor of Australia in September 1800.  In time King too would be recalled. See: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with Governor King


‘From 1788 there had been continuous disputation between the civil power represented by the autocratic uniformed naval governors and the military’. John Mc Mahon, Not a Rum Rebellion but a Military Insurrection, Journal of Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 92, 2006

1808 – 26 January, Sydney: Mr. John Macarthur ‘The Perturbator’ instigated the ‘Military Insurrection’ that saw corrupt officers of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps seize and imprison Captain Governor William Bligh RN of HMS Bounty fame or infamy. See: Coup-ee an armed insurrection 26 January 1808

John Macarthur was the common denominator in the downfall of Governor Phillip’s successors, the naval governors of Hunter, King and Bligh. He then played a role in the downfall of Governor Lachlan Macquarie Britain’s first commissioned governor drawn from military ranks. See: Machiavellian Macarthur


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