‘A knowledge of the position of the military and their immediate friends occupied from 1792-1810, affords a key to the whole history of the colony; and without this knowledge many important transactions, affecting the civil, social and political  interests of the community would appear almost incomprehensible’. Samuel Bennett,Australian Discovery and Colonisation, Vol. 1 to 1800.

1800 – 15 April, Sydney: Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, Britain’s third naval governor of New Holland, now  Australia, arrived in the colony aboard HMS Speedy in the middle of April 1800.

Gidley King delivered Captain John Hunter RN, the incumbent governor, a Home Office dispatch dated 5 November 1799 it; ‘severely censured Hunter and ordered him to return to England by the first safe conveyance’.

Tragically for both the colony and Australia’s First Peoples, London could not have devised a more destabilising arrangement than King’s ‘anomalous…dormant commission’ effective only if Governor Hunter ‘died or was absent from the colony’.  

‘It is probable, therefore, that the home department was not prepared to give King the full appointment of governor-in-chief in the year 1799…[His] limited commission was practically the appointment of a locum tenens or a  governor-in-chief on probation, and was recognised as such by both King and the English officials, when it became operative’. Commentary, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, Vol 3.

Relations between Governor Hunter and Lieutenant King, both men of 1788 -‘First Fleeters’ – were fraught to say the least. Hunter felt ‘his authority was invaded’ expressing his bitterness in dispatches to the Duke of Portland then the Home Secretary.

‘He [King] appeared, and not to me [Hunter] only, either to have been in possession of some extraordinary secret or confidential instructions (a circumstance which indeed he had not hesitated to say was the case), or had himself some particular objects in view which I cou’d not clearly comprehend. Governor Hunter, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, Vol. 2.

It does appear Gidley King adopted devious methods to wrest authority from Governor Hunter. While the two (2) naval officers slugged it out the New South Wales Infantry Corps went on its destructive way.

1800 – 28 September: Governor Hunter eventually accepted the inevitable and at the end of September 1800, departed for England in HMS Buffalo.

1800 – September, Sydney: When Gidley King took up his commission as Britain’s third naval Governor of Australia he found himself juggling many balls.

Troubles between the Dharug peoples of the Hawkesbury and ex-convict farmers with a intense sense of entitlement, an unruly soldiery, a tsunami of grog, French colonial ambition and a probable Irish rebellion. See: The Irish & The English King in Australia

Initially King had more success than Hunter in facing down a rogue military outfit whose monopolistic tentacles dominated the colony’s entire commercial dealings.

‘The New South Wales Corps, sent to guard the convicts, had taken control of the colony, receiving large land grants, using convict labour paid for by the government and controlling the import and sale of food, liqour and clothing’. Anne Salmond, Bligh, William Bligh in the South Seas, Penguin-Viking, 2011

King turned his attention to the colony’s crumbling public infrastructures that had been completely ignored during the Grose-Paterson interregnum 1792-1795. See: A Black Hole – The First Interregnum 1792-1795

Existing roads were repaired and new ones constructed. King saw to it that farms were supplied adequate amounts of seed, tools and stock. Work hours for assigned serving prisoners were regulated. Restrictions placed on punishments, intended to afford a measure of protection from cruel, ruthless ex-convict masters, often failed.

In the period 1792 to 1795 general-orders relating to the mandated number of assigned convicts allowed land-owning Corp officers had been ignored, King redirected convicts to government projects, building roads, bridges, warehouses and wharves.

Although King introduced many regulations aimed at curbing the officers’ power Colonel William Paterson, with his opinion coloured by knowledge of the ‘limited commission’, treated Governor King with barely concealed contempt.

King, like Governor Hunter before him, attempted to protect the Dharug Aborigines, their country centred on the Hawkesbury River, from the vicious excesses of both settler and soldier on that ‘lawless frontier’.

Five (5) years earlier (June 1795) – three (3) months before Governor Hunter arrived in the colony – September 1795 – Captain William Paterson had sent a detachment of sixty-six (66) soldiers and two (2) officers to the Hawkesbury to subdue the Dharug.

Paterson’s intervention had dire consequences as increased fire-power saw sporadic skirmished escalate to ‘open war’.

Governor King; ‘wishing to be convicted myself what cause there was for these alarms, three of the natives from that part of the river readily came on being sent for.

On questioning the cause of their disagreement with the new settlers they very ingenuously answered that they did not like to be driven from the few places that were left on the banks of the river, where alone they could procure food; that they had gone down the river as the white men took possession of the banks; if they went across whitemen’s grounds the settlers fired upon them and were angry; that if they could retain some places on the lower part of the river they should be satisfied, and would not trouble the white men.

The observation appeared to be so just and so equitable that I assured them that no more settlements should be made lower down the river’. Governor Phillip Gidley King, despatch to Lord Hobart, 20th December 1805, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 5 

However King, like Governor Hunter before him, had no means of enforcing any change.

‘In October 1799 he [Lieutenant Neill Mackellar] was a member of a court wherein five men were charged with the murder of two native boys. Under questioning he stated that orders issued for the destruction of Aboriginals whenever encountered, after they had committed outrages, had not been countermanded during his command [1797-99] at the Hawkesbury nor to his knowledge since. M. Austin, Lieutenant Neill Mackallar, Australian Dictionary of Biography

Apart from his ‘anomalous commission’ King, an officer of the Royal Navy, faced an uphill battle in his dealings with the military, King had brought baggage to his new post.

Norfolk Island: Earlier when Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island he had earned the ire of the New South Wales Corps when officers serving on the island accused him of punishing their men more severely than the convicted criminals they guarded. When some soldiers threatened mutiny King sent twenty (20) to Sydney for court-martial.

At that time Major Grose commander of the Corps was also Acting Lieutenant-Governor based in Sydney. He refused to accept Gidley King’s evidence and, in an army versus navy tit-for-tat, Grose issued orders increasing the power of the military.

‘It was a great misfortune that this period of military rule occurred; because in the course of it the colony was brought to degradation by drink, corruption, and general iniquity which required years to mitigate….Grose was particularly tender towards his brother officers, in permitting them to acquire landed estates and to have the services of convict labourers. Ernest Scott, A Short History of Australia. Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1953.

Gidley King had made an enemy of the New South Wales Corps, more particularly of Lieutenant John Macarthur, the teetotaller who dominated the drunkards of a military clique that held the colony in a strangle-hold.

1800:  In 1800 the colony was a hotbed of  jealous tittle-tattle, back-stabbing, double-dealing and Shakespeare’s ‘pipes’ snide, sniggering gossip.

1801- September: A farce more suited to Jane Austen or the music-hall than a military establishment, occurred in September 1801.

At that time Colonel William Paterson, the Corps’ commanding officer, challenged Lieutenant John Macarthur a junior officer to a duel over a ‘private matter’.

Their quarrel centred on letters exchanged between friends – wives of the two (2) men. It appeared Macarthur regaled the mess with juicy tid-bits from Mrs. Paterson’s letters. Despite the impropriety of a senior officer challenging a junior Colonel Paterson challenged Macarthur to a duel.

The result was a foregone conclusion even before the two (2) faced off. Macarthur, he with the steady hand and Paterson a heavy drinker who carried wounds from the American War (1775-1783).

Macarthur fired first, his shot found its mark shattering the older man’s right shoulder, Paterson never fully recovered from the injury.

The duel presented Governor King with the opportunity to rid himself of the clever, but pernicious Lieutenant Macarthur. He placed Macarthur under open arrest and prepared a case against him.

1802 – May: Macarthur departed Sydney for England on HMS Hunter in the middle of May 1802 to face a court-martial and possible death sentence.

Lieutenant Neill Mackellar, Governor King’s aide-de-camp, boarded the brig Caroline taking with him Governor King’s depositions and Macarthur’s sword. Unfortunately some way into the voyage Caroline foundered going down with all hands and the case against Lieutenant Macarthur collapsed from lack of evidence.

1803, London:  In London Macarthur resigned his commission and took every opportunity to further undermine Governor King. So successful was he, by the end of 1803 due to what were the Home Office characterised as ‘unfortunate differences’ it  moved to recall Gidley King. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

Meantime when King had taken office in 1800 increasing numbers of French ships began appearing ‘in and about Australian’ waters. They came for rest and recreation, most used Sydney’s naval facilities to water, re-provision and repair their vessels.

Governor King welcomed visiting French officers entertaining them at Government House. He was however in no doubt France, England’s traditional enemy, was intent on establishing a physical presence in New Holland and determined this must not happen on his watch.

King wrote urgently to Lord Hobart outlining his concerns;. ‘I am the more solicitous respecting forming this settlement [Port Phillip – King Island  ],  from the probability of the French having it in contemplation to make a settlement on the northwest coast [of Bass Straits] which I cannot help thinking is the principal object of their researches’. Dispatch, Governor King to Lord Hobart, 21 May 1802.

And King knew what he was talking about. At Botany Bay on the 23rd January 1788, the then young Lieutenant Gidley King, stood at the prow of HMS Sirius watching as La Boussole with Comte La Perouse at the helm and L’Astrolabe emerged out of the sea-mist. See: Britain By a Short Half-head

Lord Hobart’s reply gave King the go-ahead to protect England’s vital commercial and strategic interests in the southern oceans.

 ‘The sea abounds with the seal and the seal elephant…it need scarcely be observed that the establishment of any foreign power on that part of the coast might, in the event of hostilities, greatly interrupt the communication with Port Jackson, and materially endanger the tranquility and security of our possessions there’.  Despatch Lord Hobart to Governor King, 14 February 1803.  

Hobart’s dispatch spelt out the exact strategic and commercial reasons that led Britain invade New Holland in 1788;  war – India, France, trade – whale oil, seal-skins.  See: Arthur Phillip – Trade and the Defence of Trade

‘New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India…I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales’. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales

Western Port & Bass Strait: Long before Lord Hobart’s reply reached Sydney Governor King had sent Lieutenant James Murray RN to survey Western Port [Victoria] on the mainland.

Earlier, in 1798, Matthew Flinders and George Bass had proved a body of water – Bass Strait – separated Tasmania from the mainland New South Wales. King sent Lieutenant James Grant RN to further explore Tasmania with a view to establishing a settlement there.

1803 – September: On King’s initiative alone Lieutenant John Bowen RN established a settlement at Risdon Cove on the Derwent River in the south of Tasmania.

1804 – Port Dalrymple: With southern Tasmania secured the Governor turned his attention to the unoccupied north centred on the Tamar River; ‘near the eastern entrance to Bass’s Straits’.

1804 – 8 June, Sydney : In early June 1804 a recuperating Colonel Paterson aboard Integrity attempted to sail from Sydney to Tasmania. However wild seas whipped up by a typical wind driven east-coast low weather system forced a return to Port Jackson.

1804 – October, Sydney: Not until October 1804 was Paterson, this time in HMS Buffalo, accompanied by ‘the colonial vessels Lady Nelson, Francis and Integrity’, able to complete the voyage to northern Tasmania.

 1804 – November, North Tasmania: Colonel Paterson arrived at Port Dalrymple on the 11th of  November 1804 and ‘Hoisted His Majesty’s Colours with the usual Ceremony’.

Two ( 2) additional settlements, George Town and Yorktown, secured the whole of Tasmania for the British Empire. See: A War Grave – Tasmania

1804 – Tasmania: By the end of 1804 Hobart in the south, George Town in the north, effectively stymied French ambition in Tasmania but certainly did not stop their ambitions for a settlement on mainland Australia.

However Governor King’s efforts on behalf of King and Empire did not win him a reprieve from the consequences of John Macarthur’s malicious white-anting.

Macarthur had successfully turned the tables on King who was recalled officially – due to ‘unfortunate differences which have so long subsisted between you and the military officers of the colony’.

The reality however was quite different.

1804 – 6 July, London: ‘With a prospect of becoming useful to this country [England] Earl Camden Colonial Secretary, Privy Council’s Committee of Trade and Foreign Plantations took into consideration a proposition from Captain Macarthur for encouraging a breed of fine woolled sheep in New South Wales granted 5000 acres of land’. Camden cited, M.H. Ellis, Macarthur, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1978

1805, London: England was engaged in global warfare and the delay that marked the selection of Governor John Hunter as Phillip’s successor was repeated.

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

1805 – 14 May, London: Not until mid May 1805 was the ‘autocratic’ Captain William Bligh RN of HMS Bounty fame or infamy named as King’s replacement. Bligh’s appointment as Britain’s fourth naval governor of Australia guaranteed that ‘disputation’ would continue.  See: Coup-ee

1805 – mid year, Sydney:  John Macarthur, having resigned his military commission, was back in Sydney by mid 1805 with a grant of 5000 acres of grazing land in his knapsack and a promise of 5000 more if he managed to; ‘breed fine woolled sheep in New South Wales’.

Now a civilian Macarthur arrived in time to enjoy the downfall and departure of Governor King and, loaded with anti-Bligh intelligence, trained his sights on the incoming governor.

1806 – 8 August, Sydney: Governor Bligh arrived in Sydney aboard the Lady Sinclair on a cold blustery winter’s day in August 1806.

The weather was perhaps as an omen for Bligh’s tempestuous period as King George Third’s representative in Australia that saw him deposed and imprisoned  by officers of the corrupt New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps. See: Dark Matter.

1807 – February, Sydney to England: Illness prevented Governor King leaving Sydney until the 10th of February 1807.

1807 – November, England: He arrived home in England in November of that year, lived just on a year, and died in September 1808.


In a strange twist, Anna Maria one (1) of Governor King’s (4) daughters married Hannibal, favourite nephew of his tormentor John Macarthur. The couple settled at Camden, a rural suburb on the outskirts of Sydney named by John Macarthur for his patron Earl Camden.

‘I [Banks] was this day in conversation with Camden asked if I knew a man proper to be sent out in his Governor King’s stead….I know of no one but Captain Bligh who will suit’. Anne Salmond, Bligh, William Bligh in the South Seas, Penguin-Viking, 2011

Camden authorised Macarthur’s initial land grant of 5000 acres with a promise of 5000 more if he was successful in establishing, for Britain’s benefit, a colonial sheep/wool industry. See: Banks – A Finger In Every Pie


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