Sydney – June 1790: ‘On a high bluff, called South-head, at the entrance of the harbour…every morning from daylight until the sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon, in the hope of seeing a sail.

No communication  whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May 1787 the day of our departure from Portsmouth….The misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted even by those who have suffered under it’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961


‘Until, the year 1823 the government of New South Wales was vested entirely in the Governor who worked under the control of the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

He was an autocrat, wielding the widest powers, amenable to no criticism but than of the Minister [13,000 miles (21,000 km) away] in England’. Professor Ernest Scott, A Short History of Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1953


London – January 1790: ‘I am commanded to signify to you the King’s pleasure that directions be immediately given for the embarkation of the Corps raised for service in New South Wales and commanded by Major Grose’. Right Hon.W.W. Grenville to Secretary of War, London, 20 January 1790


‘It does not appear that Grose’s antecedents had qualified him in any way for the performance of gubernatorial functions. He had been trained from his youth to arms and was essentially and only a soldier’. M.H. Bladen, Journal Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. I


‘[Grose] had not been many hours in charge before [13 December 1792] he introduced into the Government of the colony the same system, and very much the same forms, which prevailed in his regiment…From this period, the ascendancy of the military dates. They became an aristocracy’ .Bladen. op.cit. 


‘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’. Ernest Scott. op.cit.


‘For the length of the interregnum the British Government was greatly at fault’. J.J. Achmutty, John Hunter, Australian Dictionary of Biography See: A Black Hole the First Interregnum December 1792-September 1795


‘Military power was the most decisive fact about the early settlements; it was the frame within which everything else happened’. R. Connell and T.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History, Documents, Narrative and Argument, 1987

Sydney – 1790, June: The first contingent, one hundred and fifteen (115) ,Officers NCOs and ORs of the New South Wales Corps, reached Sydney in June 1790.

Major Francis Grose their commander remained in England to recruit sufficient numbers to meet establishment requirement.

Lieutenant John Macarthur, an ambitious self-centred junior Corps Officer, took advantage of deep dissensions among his fellow officers and moved swiftly to fill the power vacuum created by Grose’s absence. See: The Switch 1790 – Context – War With France 1793-1815

Sydney -1792, 14 February:  Pitt  a convict transport with three hundred (300) male prisoners reached Sydney on Valentine’s Day 1792.  The Pitt also brought Major Grose with an additional two hundred (200) infantry troops.


After repeated requests for repatriation Governor Arthur Phillip RN, Britain’s first commissioned Governor ‘broken in health’ after five (5) traumatic years of service, received ‘Home Department’ permission to return to England.

1792 –  12 December:  Aboard the Atlantic, accompanied by warriors Bennalong and Yemmerrawannie, Phillip set sail for England at the end of 1792. See: Kidnapped – Manly – What’s In A Name 

1792 – 13 December: The following day; ‘Major Grose, by virtue of his military status, assumed the command, as Lieutenant-Governor.

Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples whose land Britain invaded in 1788 were abandoned to ‘a rogue military outfit’ the aptly named New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

Phillip’s successor Governor, Captain John Hunter RN commissioned in February 1794, would not reach Sydney until September 1795.

‘For the length of the interregnum [1792-1795] the British Government was greatly at fault’. J.J. Achmutty


London Gazette Extract 1789

London – 1789 June:  William Wyndham Grenville, a young cousin of Prime Minister Pitt, had replaced Lord Sydney as Home Secretary in June 1789.

A Corps. of Foot for New South Wales Major Francis Grose from the Half-Pay of the late 96th Regiment, is appointed to be the Major Commandant’.  https://www.the gazette.co.uk/London/issue/13140/p653

In mid-October 1789 the London Gazette informed the public reinforcements; ‘a proportion of the rank and file were drawn from the Savoy military prison’ were ordered to New South Wales to relieve the marines of the Sydney garrison.


1790 – 1 JANUARY @ SYDNEY 

‘Famine besides was approaching with gigantic strides…Men adopted the most extravagant conjectures…We had now been two [2] years in the country, and thirty-two [32] months from England, in which long period no supplies, except what had been procured at the Cape of Good Hope by the Sirius had reached us’. Tench. ibid.

Norfolk Island – 1790, 6 March: Creeping starvation forced Governor Phillip evacuate 50% of ‘his people’ to Norfolk Island.

‘At the present [weekly] ration…2 pounds [salted] pork until 2d July, 2 ½ pounds flour 20 August, 2 pounds rice 1 October’. 

Governor Phillip seized the opportunity to rid himself of Marine Major Robert Ross the troublesome garrison commander.

‘No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross. Of all Phillip’s problems, including the terrible famine of 1789 and 1790, probably none was so harassing as the persistent antagonism, both covert and open, which Ross pursued against him’.  John Moore, The First Fleet Marines, 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1986

Sydney: Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN who, to stymie the Frenchman La Perouse had, as early as February 1788 settled Norfolk Island, was to hand over to Ross and return to Sydney in HMS Supply.

China:  Phillip ordered  HMS Sirius, larger of the two (2) king’s ships, sail onto China from Norfolk Island and arrange an urgent rescue mission.

Norfolk Island – 19 March: But all did no go to plan.  After successfully landing her human cargo and most supplies,  Sirius caught in ‘pounding surf’ hit a submerged reef and sank.

‘Happily Captain Hunter, and every other person belonging to her was saved’.  The crew, one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel, were now marooned along the evacuees.


Sydney – 6 April 1790: ‘I [Tench] saw captain Ball [Supply] make an extraordinary motion with his hand, which too plainly indicated that something disastrous had happened…we learned [no China rescue] that the Sirius had been wrecked on Norfolk Island’.

The following day Governor Phillip called a meeting-in-council and ordered ; ‘a further reduction in our ration….to every child of more than 18 months old…and every grown person, two pounds of pork, two and a half pounds of half flour, two pounds of rice, or a quart of pease‘. Tench. ibid.

It was decided to send HMS Supply to Batavia, modern day Jakarta, to buy tons of relief supplies and charter a Dutch ship to bring them to Sydney.


‘All our hopes were now concentrated in the little Supply’. Tench. ibid.

Indonesia – 17 April 1790:  HMS Supply sailed for Jakarta in mid April. On board Lieutenant Gidley King RN who in the American War (1775-1783) had served under Governor Phillip in HMS Europa.  See Hush Hush  Whisper Who Dares

From Jakarta King, entrusted with Governor Phillip’s despatche, written after HMS Sirius’s triumphant voyage of circumnavigation to and from Africa (October 1788 – May  1789), was to make his way to England ‘by whatever means’ possible.

Before the Admiralty King was to emphasise the enormous benefits to be derived from securing the Sydney settlement as a strategic military and naval base from where to harass and loot Spain’s South and Central American Pacific Coast ‘treasure’ colonies. See Proximity not Distance Drove the Invasion of New Holland.


‘The great change came in the arrival with the Second Fleet of the first companies of the New South Wales Corps [among them] Lieutenant John Macarthur  – a central figure in the military ‘mafia’ which quickly established itself as Australia’s first governing and property elite’. Nigel Rigby, Peter van der Merwe, Glyn Williams, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, Pacific Explorations, Bloomsbury, Adlard Coles, London 2018 

1790 – June, Sydney: The first contingent of enforcers – one hundred and fifteen (115) of Foot, seventeen (17) officers and ninety-eight (98) rank and file of the New South Wales Corps, arrived at Sydney in June 1790 aboard Neptune, Scarborough, Suprize, the death ships of Britain’s Grim Armada the second fleet. See: Britain’s Grim Armada, The Dead and the Living Dead.

‘The slave trade’ declared Marine Captain Hill who sailed in Suprize in a letter written to William Wilberforce England’s prominent anti-slavery advocate ‘is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet’.

1794 – December, England:  Major Grose’s colonial adventure was short. Wounded in the War of Independence (1775-83), unable to bear the heat of another long Sydney summer, he departed for England at the end of 1794.

Power passed to Captain William Paterson Grose’s second-in-command also a wounded veteran of America’s Revolutionary War.

There were plans to use the corps in expeditions against Panama, Peru and the Phillipines, but nothing eventuated and the Corps’ first experience of war came in January 1795 on the Hawkesbury River north-west of Sydney’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

While Governor Hunter was still on the high seas Captain Paterson took a military decision that compounded difficulties on the Hawkesbury – Deerubbun – River. He moved against the local Dharug Aborigines sending a detachment of sixty-six (66) troops and two (2) officers to the river. See: A Worm Hole – Richard Atkin’s Diary & The First Black Hole 1792-1795

‘No one who knows anything about the history of the New South Wales Corps will deny the pernicious system of spirit traffic was universal, and that as already stated, enormous profits were made by the [Rum Corps] officers in defiance of repeated orders’. Bladen. ibid.

1795 -September: The colony of New South Wales remained under absolute ‘autocratic’ military rule until Governor John Hunter RN arrived in last quarter of 1795.

Lieutenant John Macarthur, clever ambitious and chief ‘racketeer’ who, in June 1790, had arrived with first contingent of the New South Wales Corps was ‘the power behind the military throne’. 

His power lay with ‘the pernicious system of spirit traffic’.  Rum from India oiled every wheel and made ‘certain officers’ very rich.

At Macarthur’s instigation ‘certain officers’ pooled their monies and bought shares valued at £200. The enterprise raised £4000. Visiting ships were chartered to sail to Bengal and buy the rum

‘Rum afforded the best and speediest means of maddening the brain and sickening the stomach…The men got to their third nip before they fell upon each other screaming, yelling and punching the living daylights out of each other’.

It seemed that Smokey rum was made up from the foulest, rankest, colonial tobacco that could be found shoved into a rum barrel – filled to the top with rum – sealed and left to ferment’. Wayne Kelly, Booze Built Australia, 1994.

Cartels operated as both wholesale retail merchants pledged not to under-cut each other.

‘Every commodity arriving in port they bought cheaply and sold at extortionate prices’. H.V. Evatt, Rum Rebellion, A Study of the overthrow of Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps, Angus and Robertson, 1944

Rum as currency enabled the military ‘aristocracy’ maintain a stranglehold over the whole of the colony’s commercial dealings

‘Until 1795 racketeering [Corps] officers…a regiment of army derelicts and delinquents… conducted the government of the settlement’. Brian Fitzpatrick, The Australian People 1788-1945, Melbourne University Press, 1951. Fitzpatrick. op.cit.

1795 – September: Fuelled by grog and greed they ruled the colony until Governor John Hunter RN arrived in Sydney in the last quarter of 1795.

In 1800 Hunter, a hero of the First Fleet’ was recalled to London and replaced by Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN. See: Alice – Down The Rabbit Hole With Hunter


Following a duel in which Macarthur severely wounded Colonel William Paterson, his commanding officer, Governor King sent him to England for censure.

Due to misadventure – shipwreck and loss of documents – the case against Macarthur collapsed from lack of evidence. A relieved Macarthur resigned his commission, sought friends in high places

Lord ‘Plantations’ Camden one such mentor intent on diversity -a shift from cattle and cropping to sheep grazing and wool production – handed Macarthur a large grant – 5000 acres of Aboriginal land.

As a direct consequence of Macarthur’s white-anting Governor King too was recalled to London. See: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with King


‘New South Wales had now proved to be the grave-yard of the ambitions both of Hunter and King he [Joseph] Banks knew that both Hunter and King had failed to repel the attacks of the officers and rum traffickers and that the new governor must be a man of sterner fibre’. H.V. Evatt. ibid.

Banks convinced government Captain Bligh RN, hero or anti-hero of the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, had credentials to be a strong administrator and possessed the ability to rein in an out of control military.

There was however another reason for Bank’s advocacy of Bligh to be Britain’s

Sir Joseph Banks a wealthy botanist with the ear of government played no small part in Bounty Bligh’s appointment as Britain’s  fourth ‘autocratic naval governor’ of Australia.

Banks,  Keeper of the ‘King’s Flock’ at Kew,  had an obsessive interest in preserving the integrity of the ‘royal’ flock’s blood-line.

1805 – May, Soho Square: London: With an aristocrat’s instinctive distrust of the up-start Macarthur he recruited the cantankerous Bligh, then a frequent carping caller on Bank’s at his fashionable London home, to keep a sharp eye on Macarthur.

Macarthur no doubt knew it and rose the challenge.

1806 –  8 August, Sydney: Governor William Bligh RN, full of confidence and enthusiasm, arrived in Sydney aboard Lady Madeline Sinclair accompanied by HMS Porpoise, with an equally cantankerous Captain Short at the helm.

Bligh could not have conceived that cold blustery winter’s morning, the military opposition that plagued Governor Phillip and triumphed over Hunter and King (2nd and 3rd naval governors) would – within 18 months – overthrow and imprison him. See: Coup-ee

‘One of Bligh’s first official acts was to publish a Government and General Order prohibiting under heavy penalties the use of spirits as a means of exchange. The publication of this order is in itself a proof that neither Hunter nor King had been able to enforce obedience to the general orders’. Bladen. ibid.

When Bligh arrived alcohol was the colony’s only currency. Everything bought or sold was exchanged for rum and all work paid for with rum.

When Governor Bligh moved to stop its importation he threatened the wealth and power of the military ‘mafia‘.

At the beginning of 1808 officers of the New South Wales Corps, egged on by ex-officer Macarthur, now a powerful, preening man-about-town proud of his 5000 acres, resorted to mutiny.

1808 – 26 January, Sydney: At Macarthur’s instigation Governor Bligh was seized and held prisoner in Government House. See: Australia Day Rebellion – 26 January 1808.


‘Military power was the most decisive fact about the early settlements; it was the frame within which everything else happened’. R. Connell and T.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History, Documents, Narrative and Argument, 1987

Lieutenant John Macarthur was the common denominator in the downfall of the naval Governors Hunter, King and Bligh.

London Gazette Extract 1789




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