‘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.

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

Gidley King brought Governor John Hunter RN  bad news. A Home Office dispatch dated 5 November 1799 ‘severely censured Hunter and ordered him to return to England by the first safe conveyance’.

Whitehall: Tragically for Australia’s First Peoples, London could not have devised a more destabilising arrangement than King’s ‘anomalous…dormant commission’. It  became 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.

It is understandable therefore relations between Governor Hunter and Lieutenant King, men of 1788 – First Fleeters – were fraught to say the least.

Hunter, the undoubted hero of the ‘First Fleet’, felt ‘his authority was invaded’ and expressed his bitterness in dispatches to the Duke of Portland then the Home Secretary. See: Proximity Not Distance Drove Britain’s invasion of New Holland.

‘He [King] appeared, and not to me 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 accepted the inevitable and at the end of September 1800, departed for England in HMS Buffalo.

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

Troubles between the Dharug peoples of the Hawkesbury – Deerubbun – and white farmers, ex-convicts with a intense sense of entitlement to their ‘own’ land, a tsunami of grog, a probable Irish rebellion, an unruly soldiery and French colonial ambition. See: The Irish & The English King in Australia

‘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

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

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 that farmers were supplied adequate amounts of seed, tools and stock. Work hours for assigned serving prisoners were regulated and although restrictions were placed on punishments, intended to afford a measure of protection from cruel, ruthless ex-convict masters, they often failed to do so.

‘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.

During the interregnum general-orders relating to the number of assigned convicts allowed land-owning officers had been ignored and King redirected convicts to government projects, building roads, bridges, warehouses and wharves.

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

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

‘Lawless’ five (5) years earlier (June 1795) Captain William Paterson had sent a detachment of sixty-six (66) soldiers and two (2) officers to the River to subdue the Dharug with dire consequences, the increased fire-power saw sporadic skirmished escalate to ‘open war’. See: A Worm Hole – Richard Atkins Diary

Governor King now; ‘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 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

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

Norfolk Island: Earlier when Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island he had earned the ire of the New South Wales Corps when officers 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. He refused to accept Gidley King’s evidence and, in an army versus navy tit-for-tat, 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’. Scott. ibid.

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, 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 when 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 – the wives of the two (2) men. It appeared Macarthur regaled the mess with juicy tid-bits from Mrs. Paterson’s letters. Colonel Paterson, despite the impropriety of a senior officer challenging a subordinate, challenged Macarthur to a duel.

Macarthur, the teetotaller with the steady hand and Paterson a heavy drinker, even before the two (2) men faced off the result was a foregone conclusion.

Macarthur fired first. His shot found its mark shattering the older man’s right shoulder Paterson, wounded in the American War (1775-1783), never fully recovered.

The duel presented Governor King with an 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 destined to face court-martial and a 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 went down with all hands and the case against 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 the Home Office characterised as ‘unfortunate differences’ between King and ‘officers of the military’ Whitehall moved to recall Gidley King. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

Meantime in 1800 when King took office increasing numbers of French ships began appearing ‘in and about Australian’ waters. They came for rest and recreation and to use 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 he 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 24th January 1788, the then young Lieutenant Gidley King, stood at the bow of HMS Sirius watching as La Boussole with Comte La Perouse at the helm and L’Astrolabe emerged out of the sea-mist. See: Australia – 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;  European 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 now 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 King 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 to north Tasmania. However wild seas whipped up by a wind driven east-coast low weather system forced a return to Port Jackson.

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

 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.

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

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

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

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

1805 – 14 May, London: Not until mid May 1805 was yet another ‘autocratic naval gobernor’ 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 ‘disputation’ with ‘the military’ would continue.  See: Coup-ee

1805 – 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. Loaded with anti-Bligh intelligence he 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 IIIs representative 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.


‘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

Earl Camden had 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.

Sir Joseph Banks with a keen interest, if not obsession with maintaining the integrity of Britain’s wool industry, did not trust Macarthur and Bligh ‘no one [else] would suit’ was to be Banks’s eyes and ears in the colony.  See: Banks – A Finger In Every Pie

In a strange twist, Anna Maria one (1) of Governor King’s (4) daughters married Hannibal Macarthur, favourite nephew of his tormentor and settled at Camden named by John Macarthur for his patron.





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