‘Once again it was [Captain James] Cook’s fate to bring disaster in his wake’. Allan Moorehead, The Fatal Impact, Penguin, 1971

Eighteen (18) years later in 1788 Britain invaded New Holland.    ccccc  but; ‘not a hint of it shall ever transpire’.

‘It seems clear that only a few men in the inner circle of [Younger Pitt’s] government knew the exact purposes of the [Botany Bay] settlement; Eden [William Eden later Lord Auckland] was probably not in that secretive circle’. Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Gotham City, The Founding of Australia, The Arguments about Australia’s origins. Ed. Ged Martin, Hale and Iremonger, 1978

Yet the names of Prime Minster William Pitt’s ‘secretive inner circle’, Lord Hawkesbury, Lord Mulgrave and Henry Dundas, are familiar to Sydney-siders.

‘The men who founded the second British Empire during the reign of George III revived a policy which had animated their predecessors in the age of the Tudors’. Vincent T. Harlow, The Founding of the Second British Empire 1783-1793, New Continents, Changing Values, Vol. 2, Longsmans, 1964



In September 1783 via the Treaty of Paris Britain lost inestimable wealth and prestige; her American empire the colonies of; Connecticut, Carolina North and South, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia were nominated the United States of America.

1775 – 19 April, Lexington, Massachusetts: Confrontation between British soldiers and American colonists occurred at Lexington in mid April 1775.

A number of soldiers and rebel colonists, America’s Patriots, died during this engagement. The British also sustained high casualties as they retreated to their base at Boston.

1775 – 17 June, Boston: The first major battle of the American revolution for Independence from Britain, 1775 to 1783, took place at Bunker Hill, Boston.

Patriot militia, using local knowledge, took up defensive positions on Breed’s Hill. From the high ground they were able to fight off three (3) determined British attacks before running out of ammunition.

As at Lexington casualties, although heavy, favoured local defenders who lost about four hundred (400) men. Britain’s victory came at great cost, one thousand (1000) dead represented half their attack force.

1775 – August, London: King George III of England declared the American colonists to be in a state of open rebellion in August 1775.

1776 – 4 July: Some rebellious American states declared independence from Britain as early as 4 July 1776.

1778: France signed an alliance with America. When immense amounts of French money, men and munitions flowed to support General George Washington’s Patriots Britain declared war on France.

1779: Spain joined France in the effort to defeat Britain.

1783 – September, Paris: After eight (8) years of conflict the Treaty of Paris, signed in September  1783, brought a formal end to the war. The United States of America emerged a truly free enterprise state and Britain’s rival.

‘In 1784 the British, by the Treaty of Paris, ha[d] been granted the precious right to take their ships freely through the East Indies’. Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance, The Founding of Australia, ed. Ged Martin, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1978

America gathered allies during the conflict, principally France,  Spain and later the Dutch. American vessels, once her shipping strength was built, would be free to roam the world’s oceans.

But if Britain was to fully avail herself; ‘to take ships freely through the East Indies,’ government first had to weaken the power of one of its own institutions, the British East India Company.

Restrictive trade practices employed by this joint stock company, established by Tudor Elizabeth in 1601, assured its share-holders and not England the nation state, reaped immense profits from the company’s vast and varied trade activities.

Lord Hawkesbury, Lord Mulgrave and Henry Dundas, three (3) of Prime Minster William PItt’s ‘secretive circle’, his inner cabinet, are credited with achieving this  aim.

‘It much to the credit of those in office [Pitt administration], that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior to that which their predecessors [Lord North] have lost in the west [America]. “W. Raleigh” to Evan Nepean, Historical Records of Australia.

The same politicians, Hawkesbury, Mulgrave and Dundas were integral to the invasion and conquest of New Holland in order to establish a ‘Second British Empire’.



‘Between 1701 and 1810 British North America received about 380,000 slaves, the British Caribbean about 1.4 million. The trade was viewed as a pillar of the plantations and necessary to economic commercial expansion’. Richard C. Simmons, Professor American History, University of Birmingham, Oxford Companion To British History, ed. John Cannon, Oxford University Press, 1997

1713: The Treaty of Utrecht (1713), under its terms Britain became prime mover of bodies in the infamous Atlantic slave trade.

British ships, their stinking holds crammed with terrified Africans,  sailed the oceans destined for slave markets in America and the Caribbean. There young men and women were sold in perpetuity – their children and their children’s children.

1772: ‘Lord Mansfield made his famous judgement in Somerset’s case, by which slavery was declared illegal in this country [England]’.  J.H. Plumb, England in the Eighteenth Century (1714-1815) Pelican, 1965.

Abolition of slavery; progress was painfully slow as much of England’s prosperity was built on human trafficking and abolition would bring an end to immense wealth generated through slavery.

1783: Timing; just as Britain lost territory and the wealth of her American empire, led by William Wilberforce the anti-slavery movement with support of Prime Minister William Pitt, was gaining momentum. Britain’s exit from the atrocious international slave trade was inevitable.



‘Once more the discoveries of Captain Cook were influencing the direction of Britain’s overseas expansion’. Alan Moorehead, Fatal Impact, Penguin,

1771: In mid-July 1771 Lieutenant James Cook RN explorer and navigator, with Joseph Banks, celebrated botanist of the Royal Society, returned to England from the Endeavour voyage (1768-1771) to Tahiti, the South Pacific, New Holland and the Southern Oceans. Cook reported to the Admiralty and Banks the Royal Society.

‘Cook reported that new French and Spanish voyages were in progress or planned in the Pacific…Cook had only been home for less than ten [10] weeks when the Navy Board was instructed to buy two [2] ships of the same sort as the Endeavour for the anticipated [second 1772-75] voyage’. Peter Aughton

Both Cook and Banks emphasised the southern seas contained vast congregations of marine life including the coveted sperm-whale much prized for its remarkable oil.

‘If a whaling industry in these areas could be established, Britain could supply herself and Europe at cheap rates independently of the Americans. In the wake of whalers other British traders would follow’. Vincent T. Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire, 1763-1793, Vol. 2, Longmans, 1964

1784: France, post the American war 1775-1783, France emerged the only nation with sufficient ships and advanced maritime technology to challenge Britain’s push into the rich whaling fields of the southern oceans.

The Act of 1786 [Geo.III, c 50] for the Encouragement of the Southern Whale Fishery proved to be the foundation of an important industry’. Harlow, Vol. 2. ibid.

1786: Britain, when in 1786 Britain decided to invade New Holland her aim was clear and urgent. Get there before the French, establish permanent naval and military bases in order to dominate sea-routes to China, India, Africa and South Americas via the southern oceans

Also Botany Bay, where Cook and Banks had landed in April 1770, would provide an ideal land-base to support a profitable whaling and seal fur industry.

Although ‘the discoveries of Captain Cook were influencing the direction of Britain’s overseas expansion’  news of New Holland and its abundance of marine life was not fresh news to either Admiralty or Royal Society.

Seventy (70) years earlier William Dampier, England’s buccaneer explorer, ‘Australia’s First Natural Historian’, was the first Englishman to map New Holland’s west coast.

Three (3) times Dampier circumnavigated the globe and twice made landfall on New Holland’s west coast. In 1688 he went ashore from the Cygnet near Cape Leveque and in 1699 from Roebuck.

‘Dampier collected quantities of plants from the tropical islands he had visited, which he turned over to the Royal Society, inaugurating a tradition of scientific observation and collection among Pacific explorers’. Lynne Whitey, Voyages of Discovery, Captain Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific, The World Beyond Europe, Century Hutchinson, London, 1986.

Dampier, on his return to England, published two (2) books.  A New Voyage to New Holland in the Year 1699, his second publication put New Holland front and centre of the Admiralty’s thinking and planning.

While Dampier did not make it across to New Holland’s east coast,  without doubt, his writings were the reason Joseph Banks was with Captain Cook on Endeavour’s voyage in 1770.

1783:  Post the American war – 1783 – time was ripe for an ‘empire in the south’.


In England Joseph Banks, the quintessential English gentleman, championed New Holland. But it was Louis XV1, the French King, who made the first move.

From the mid decades of the 18th century both English and French navies took advantage of technological advances that included copper sheathing  of ships’ hulls making for greater speed and manoeuvrabilty.

Even more important for maritime exploration a reliable time-piece, Harrison’s chronometer and later improvements ascribed to Kendall, permitted the exact calculation of longitude when ships were beyond sight of land.

Technology opened fresh avenues for territorial expansion and strategic advantage as well as additional trade opportunities. England and France, ever rivals, shadowed each other across the world’s  oceans seeking strategic advantage.

Samuel Wallis, John Byron, William Dampier, James Cook, Arthur Phillip.

Jean-Francoise-Marie de Surville, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Mark -Joseph Marion du Fresne, Francois Alesne de St Allouran and Jean-Louis La Perouse.

1785 – August, Paris: ‘[King] Louis XVI quietly sent Comte de la Perouse with two ships [La Boussole and L’Astrolabe] to survey likely spots for French settlement.  Aboard were copper plates engraved with the royal arms to be used as permanent notification of French ownership’. Australian Discovery and Exploration, Michael Cannon, 1987.

For King George III of England , King Louis XVI and centuries of intense national rivalry, brought New Holland into sharp focus. Captain Arthur Phillip RN, long in the pay of Britain’s Secret Service, was an exceptional strategist and an exceptional spy.

1785 – August, Brest: There is every reason to believe Phillip, hidden in shadow, watched and, surely felt a fellow sailor’s sympathy, as La Perouse battled high winds and wild seas to lead his ships, La Boussole and L’ Astrolabe, safely out of Brest Harbour in August 1785.

King Louis XVI and  Louis Antoine de Bougainville, his chief naval adviser, greatly admired Captain James Cook RN. La Perouse’s expedition, modeled on Cook’s voyages, was estimated to take three (3) years.

1785 – England: Phillip, following departure of the French ships from Brest, returned home to England fully informed of Louis XV1’s plans. He was able to assure Admiralty, although New Holland was in the mix, it was not the sole objective of La Perouse’s expedition.

By contrast Britain, with France already on the high seas, had but one objective, get to New Holland before the French. Britain’s clear intention was to Invade conquer, occupy and subdue the inhabitants of that ‘ancient island’ in order gain strategic control of the southern oceans.



‘Transportation marked a profound transition in the history of British criminal justice…Much like African slaves convicts found themselves chained below deck in damp quarters with little light or fresh air.’ Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to America 1718-1775, Roger Ekirch, 1981.

The Transportation Act 1717 [18] Act 4, Geo. 1, C.11 introduced exileout of the realm…as a severe mode of punishment short of death’.

As with England’s American colonies New Holland would, in part, be peopled by exiled criminals. Reprieved death but thought too evil to remain within ‘the realm’.

‘Meanwhile [transporting merchants] earned an estimated profit of roughly 26 percent from sixteen trips from Bristol to Maryland, not including fees paid by localities for the removal of their transports [convicts]’. The Organisation of the Convict Trade to Maryland, William and Mary Quarterly, Kenneth Morgan

Transportation, buying and selling a convict’s ‘service’, was more profitable than shipping slaves. It was a cruel bitter trade.

‘The only difference between [convict and slave] one was sold for life and the other for a term of years‘. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America, The Transportation of British Convicts to America.

Under the Transportation Act 1717 [18] government contracted merchants to ship convicts ‘out of the realm’ mainly to America.

Between 1718 and commencement of the American war in 1775 Britain, at the rate of 1,000 per year, shipped 50,000 criminals reprieved death and sentenced ‘for transportation to America’, had their ‘service’ sold for profit.

A participating merchant having paid Treasury, generally through a local Sheriff’s Office, ‘shall have a property and interest in the service of such offender for such terms of years’.

In America that ‘interest’  was for sale.  Male and female prisoners were sold, some from ships, others at regular ‘slave scrambles’. Purchasers were mainly plantation owners.

Skilled men, known as ‘mechanics‘, brought the highest price. As most men and boys were unskilled they were purchased cheaply to labour in tobacco fields alongside slaves shipped in from Africa.

Women and girls worked as farm labourers or house servants. An even darker fate awaited less desirable prisoners. Many fell into the hands of ‘soul drivers’.

‘Soul drivers…bought “lumps” of multiple convicts…A whole shipload or a parcel and then drive them throughout the Country like a parcel of Sheep until they could sell them to advantage’.  Edith Ziegler, Harlots, Hussies and Poor Unfortunate Women, Crime, Transportation & The Servitude of Female Convicts 1718-1783, University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2014

During eight (8) years of the American war (1775 -1783) many English judges showed a distinct reluctance to execute their fellow countrymen. They continued to reprieve death ‘for transportation to America’ and England’s ‘putrid’ gaols soon reached capacity.

‘In writing of the recruitment of criminals into the armed forces, Stephen Conway observed. “it was still found necessary periodically to clear both the putrid and congested gaols and the equally overcrowded and insanitary hulks’. Stephen Conway, cited in Alan Frost, Botany Bay Mirages, 1994.

Traditionally in time of war male prisoners were ‘impressed’. That is, in lieu of gaol time, criminals were absorbed ‘into the armed forces‘. In America and, later New Holland, they lived and died alongside  enlisted paid professional soldiers.

1775: Under the auspices of Sir Charles Bunbury a parliamentary committee was convened to examine problems arising from increasing numbers of criminals sentenced ‘for transportation to America’ but with nowhere to go they were held over.

Convict transportation was a profitable business and prisoners a valuable commodity. Bunbury’s committee  recommended confining prisoners in damp decaying ships, the hulks, moored along the Thames River. Stock-on-hand and ready for shipment at war’s end.

1776: Legislation, the Hulks Act of 1776, allowed male prisoners reprieved death ‘for transportation to America’ be held in hulks moored in the River Thames. Female ‘transports’ were excluded from hulks.

Living conditions were appalling. During the first two (2) years of their operation the death rate  was particularly high and drew critical attention from John Howard the English philanthropist and prison reformer.

In reality the hulks held an army of angry men, ‘desperate villains’ positioned at the very heart of London. The situation screamed danger causing London’s city fathers great concern and  forced government focus on Africa as an alternate penal destination.

1781 – Africa: As a consequence in 1781 and 1782 convicts were shipped to Goree and Cape Coast Castle in West Africa. At these fort settlements most prisoners died of disease, starvation and brutality.

1783: America, via the Treaty of Paris signed in September 1783, won independence from Britain. A question mark had long hung over England’s export of ‘desperate villains’ to her American colonies.

‘ From the first starting of the first American colony [Virginia] there had been frequent complaints of the practice employed by the home authorities of making it a receptacle for convicted felons.

In April 1670 we find an order of the General Court of Legislature of Virginia held at James City, which set  forth the danger to the colony  caused by the great number of felons and other desperate villains who were sent over from the prisons in England.

It was said that the horror yet remained of the barbarous designs of those villains who in September 1663 attempted the subversion of our religion, laws, liberties, rights and privileges’. H. Egerton, The Causes and Character of the American Revolution, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1928.

During the intervening century nothing much had changed.  In 1751 Benjamin Franklin, leading American statesman and revolutionary, described; ‘transportation an insult and contempt…the cruelest perhaps ever one people offered another‘. Franklln suggested exporting ‘rattlesnakes’ to Mother England as a satisfactory exchange.

America had declared independence in 1776 and her Congress legislated to ban further importation of English criminals.

‘Before the Revolutionary War the sale of felons in the American colonies had made the problem [banishment] a comparatively simple one’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990.

1782: The shooting war was over by mid 1782 however the Treaty of Paris, bringing an official end to the American War, was not signed until September 1783.

1783 – January, Whitehall: ‘Their Lordships of the Treasury had agreed…convicts should be removed immediately without waiting to settle the terms of transporting them to America’. George Rose, Treasury to Lord Sydney, Home Office

1783: Before the Treaty of Paris was signed at least two (2) attempts to revive the ‘simple’ solution were sanctioned at the highest level of government, by Lord Sydney at the Home Office.

‘The British Government was prepared to encourage any contractor who would undertake the task of conveying that labour to the Southern States or elsewhere’. ibid.

The first attempt, in January 1783, was made by George Rose, Treasury Under-Secretary.

In George Moore government found its contractor.  An experienced pre-war transporting merchant he lost a lucrative business during the lengthy conflict.

1783 – 16 August, London: One hundred and forty-three (143 ) prisoners crowded aboard Moore’s ship Swift and set sail for America in mid August 1783.

1784 – 4 April, London:  Mercury, another Moore vessel, sailed for America early in April 1784 with one hundred and seventy-nine (179) convicts.

On both voyages numbers of convicts mutinied before leaving home waters.  Some were retrieved from the sea. All those who escaped into the English countryside were recaptured. Some escapees hanged, most returned to Thames hulks.

Swift’s prisoners who did reach America, refused permission to land, were held on board and sold from the ship. These illegal transactions are shrouded in secrecy. Sold off in dribs and drabs the prisoners suffered greatly throughout an exceptionally icy winter.

1784: But when Mercury attempted to dock on arriving in America she was forced out to sea. Her captain made for Honduras where it is thought most crew and prisoners died of disease and starvation. Rumours reached London some had been murdered by local mahogany loggers.

Under Lord Beauchamp a Parliamentary Select Committee was set up to examine the whole system of transportation and, if possible, find an alternate solution.

Beauchamp’s Committee invited submissions from interested parties. It rejected many bizarre suggestions such as employed in cod-fishing , working salt mines, or be locked down in dark, disused mines.  Another suggested selling prisoners into slavery by exchanging them for touring English Christians captured by Muslim Turks.

The Beauchamp Committee found transportation ‘fit for purpose’ and set about finding an alternate destination for England’s ‘undesirables’.

1785 – Africa:  Africa was again considered. Prisoners from the hulks would be sent to Lemaine a small Island in Gambia. But Edmund Burke in the House of Commons vehemently opposed Africa as a penal destination.

He characterised Lemaine; ‘the capital seat of plague, pestilence, and famine…the gallows would rid them of their lives more mercifully than the climate and the natives of Africa would’. 

1785 – 26 July, London: Burke’s fiery eloquence won the day. On 26th July 1785 government abandoned its intention to send prisoners to Lemaine.

However the Beauchamp Committee was not yet finished with Africa and went on to consider Da Voltas Bay. But, given Burke’s keen interest in the subject of Africa, it was decided to send Nautilus, a survey vessel there to assess its suitability.  Nautilus found Da Voltas; ‘unhealthy…barren…waterless’. 

Britain faced an unpalatable truth, she no longer possessed territory;  ‘subject to the Crown of Great Britain that could be forced to accept English criminals’. So Britain set out to acquire one – New Holland.

William Pitt’s Government again sought advise from Joseph Banks on the suitability of New Holland to replace America as her off-shore prison. Bank’s response ticked all the boxes; ‘ideal climate…escape difficult…return impossible’.

With New Holland Britain would gain not only an off-shore prison, in time of war the southern  oceans could serve as a blockade breaker and a strategic sea route; ‘when we want to add to the military strength of India’.

But first Britain had to invade, conquer and subdue the inhabitants of New Holland.




‘Soldiers: three hundred knowing their work thoroughly may be stronger than three thousand less sure of their  game’. The Cestus of Aglaia, John Ruskin, 1866

King George 111 commissioned Captain Arthur Phillip RN to lead Britain’s thrust into the South Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans.

1786 – 12 October, London: [George III] ‘ We, reposing special trust and confidence in your loyalty and experience in military affairs, do, by these presents constitute and appoint you [Arthur Phillip] to be Governor of our territory called New South Wales, extending from the northern cape or extremity of the coast called Cape York…to the southern extremity of the said territory of New South Wales or South Cape.

You are to observe and follow such orders and directions…you shall receive from us…according to the rules and disciplines of war’. Given at our Court of St. James…in the twenty-sixth year of Our Reign…12 October, 1786. Historical Records of New South Wales.

Captain Phillip was given command of a large naval expedition, fully funded by government. This squadron of eleven (11) ships is known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’.

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth:  At dawn on 13th May 1787 the expedition sailed from England bound for Botany Bay in the island continent of New Holland now Australia. Its complement of 1500 souls was overwhelmingly male.

Two (2) warships, HMS Sirius and HMS Supply, were crewed by two hundred (200) naval personnel. Two hundred and forty–five (245) marines, officers, non-commissioned officers with enlisted men of the Sydney garrison, were distributed throughout the convoy.

Nine (9) chartered vessels, Alexander, Friendship, Scarborough, Prince of Wales, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn, Golden Grove, Fishburn, Borrowdale were crewed by approximately four hundred and forty (440) merchant seamen.

One-half of the fleet complement, seven hundred and fifty (750), were convicted criminals.

‘In determining the ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [male] convicts…The standard adopted was that of troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990

All five hundred and eighty (580) male convicts fed as troops ‘serving in the West Indies’, although ‘less sure of their game’, were available for combat.

One hundred and ninety-three (193) were women prisoners. Many prostitutes, all paupers, some younger women, proved free of venereal disease, were selected to serve the traditional role of military ‘camp-follower’  for use by officers.

‘The Way of War is a Way of Deception, When Deploying troops Appear not to be’. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Penguin, 2009

The ‘First Fleet’ with a complement of 1500 was, by any definition, a formidable invasion force but; ‘not a hint of it shall ever transpire’.


1788 – January 18-20,  Botany Bay: After eight (8) months voyaging ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ Captain Arthur Phillip aboard HMS Supply entered Botany Bay on 18th January 1788. Within 36 hours all eleven (11) ‘First Fleet’ vessels rode at anchor there.

‘There would seem to be “some justification  for the saying that England won Australia by six days”. Edward Jenks, History of Australian Colonies, Cited in British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton, Methuen, London, 1928

1788 – January 23, Botany Bay: ‘Phillip noticed two [2] French ships in the offing’. Instant recognition; L‘ Astrolabe and La Boussole, with commander La Perouse at the helm, arrived at the entrance of Botany Bay.

‘His [Phillip’s] failure to invite the French commander there [Sydney Cove] may reflect some fear that he might be known as a spy’. Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip 1758-1814, His Voyaging, 1987

1788 – January 24, Sydney Cove: Before first light on 24 January, 1788, despite deteriorating weather, Phillip quit Botany Bay and sailed nine (9) miles (14 km) north to Port Jackson and the deep sheltered anchorage of Sydney Cove.

1788 – January 26, Botany Bay:  Notorious for its contrary cross-currents, squally gusting winds cut across the bay’s wide open face, prevented the English fleet from leaving and La Perouse entering Botany Bay until the afternoon of 26 January 1788.

1788 – January 26, Sydney Cove:  Just on night-fall on the 26th January 1788 with the ‘First Fleet’ assembled, Captain now Governor Phillip ‘raised English Colours‘ and claimed victory over France.

1788 – 7 February, Sydney Cove: Governor Phillip; us[ing] a form of words’ declared British sovereignty over New Holland.

1788 – March 10, Botany Bay: La Boussole and L’ Astrolabe sailed for France on 10th March 1788. Sadly La Perouse and his men perished at sea.

‘The men who founded the second British Empire during the reign of George 111 revived a policy which had animated their predecessor in the age of the Tudors’. Vincent Harlow, The Founding Of A Second British Empire 1763-1793, Vol. 2, Longmans, 1964

The ‘First Fleet’ masqueraded as a convict fleet.

“W. Raleigh” ‘not a hint of it shall ever transpire’.

Edward Jenks: ‘England won Australia by six days’.

Wilfrid Oldham: ‘No distinction marine and [male] convict… the standard [ration] adopted was that of troops serving in the West Indies’.

Sun Tzu ‘When Deploying troops Appear not to be’.

The ‘ First Fleet was and remains a clever hoax.

‘I seek not death, nor flee the end’ motto of Sir Walter Raleigh, Tudor Elizabeth’s favourite adventurer-spy, provides an apt coda for King George 111s’ man, Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip RN.





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