June 1790: In which long time no supplies [from England] had reached us. From the intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson,1961.

1790  – 3 June, Sydney: When on 3 June 1790  Lady Juliana with ‘London on her stern’ sailed into Sydney Harbour three (3) years had passed since a large convoy of eleven (11) English ships, known in Britain and Australia as the  ‘First Fleet’, sailed from Portsmouth, England bound for Botany Bay, New Holland.

Lady Juliana was first of four (4) ships of a second fleet. Government contracted Neptune, Suprize and Scarborough  three (3) of the fleet’s vessels to Camden, Calvert and King a firm of Atlantic slave traders working out of London.

1790 – 3 June: Lady Juliana broke the terrible isolation of abandoned Englishmen callously left to starve since January 1788. Dubbed ‘The Brothel Ship’ she brought two hundred and twenty-six (226) women convicts and eight (8) children, some conceived and born during her year long voyage but very little food.

No supplies…entirely cut off…no communication whatever…since the 13th May 1787′. Of isolation, fear, uncertainty and sustained semi-starvation Watkin Tench wrote; ‘ the misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted, even by those who have suffered under it’. ibid.

Sydney Harbour was empty of English ships when Lady  Juliana arrived.

As planned the First Fleet’s six (6) chartered transports; Prince of Wales, Friendship, Alexander, Scarborough, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn and three (3) supply ships Borrowdale, Golden Grove and Fishburn had returned to England.

But where were HMS Sirius and HMS Supply the First Fleet’s warships?

Supply was at Jakarta and Sirius at the bottom of the sea.


1790  Sydney: In March 1790 three (3) months before the second fleet reached Sydney and with winter fast approaching fish were becoming increasingly scarce. Governor Phillip, in order to save the Sydney settlement from complete disaster, took a difficult and dangerous decision.

He ordered Sirius and Supply evacuate 50% of the Sydney population to Norfolk Island. Two (2) weeks sailing time from Sydney vegetables thrived in the island’s fertile soil and fish were plentiful year round.

Marine Major Robert Ross antagonistic, always at odds with Governor Phillip, resulted in a dysfunctional chain of command. Phillip took the opportunity to send Ross to Norfolk Island where he would take command and relieve Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN. King, Philip’s long-time friend and fellow naval officer, would return to Sydney and support the now ailing Governor.

HMS Sirius was to sail onto China and arrange a rescue mission. However landing people and supplies on Norfolk Island, surrounded by uncharted reefs, was always going to be dangerous and so it proved.

In a tricky operation, after successfully unloading people and supplies, HMS Sirius struck submerged rocks and sank. Her crew, one hundred and sixty (160) naval personnel, were stranded on Norfolk along with the evacuees.

1790 – 6  April: Lieutenant King returned to Sydney aboard HMS Supply in early April 1790 with the devastating news; Sirius was lost and all hope of a China rescue gone.

Governor Phillip knew survival of the Sydney settlement was on a knife’s edge and, although Supply might not survive a long sea-voyage during the approaching monsoon season, nevertheless he felt compelled to order her captain Lieutenant Henry Ball RN sail HMS Supply to Batavia, modern day Jakarta. Once there he was to negotiate with a hostile Dutch bureaucracy  to buy tons of food and medicines and charter a ship to bring them to Sydney.

In this endeavour Ball would have, for a short time at least, the assistance of Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN. Governor Phillip had relinquished King’s support so his trusted friend could return to England with vital intelligence for Prime Minister William Pitt.

The intelligence that command and control of the southern oceans satisfied and exceeded the expectations of Prime Minister Pitt and the ambitions of his  ‘inner circle’, the powerful politicians Lord Hawkesbury, Lord Mulgrave and Henry Dundas. The Sydney settlement was ideally situated in time of war; ‘when we [Britain] want to add to the military strength of India’.

in time of war a military and naval presence on the south eastern coast of New Holland could frustrate French efforts to effect an economic blockade of England by providing a secure alternate sea route to India, Africa, India, China and South America.

1790 – 17 April:  When HMS Supply sailed from Sydney to Jakarta in mid April 1790 an anguished Captain Tench wrote; ‘we followed her with anxious eyes until she was no longer visible…every thing which zeal, fortitude, and seamanship, could produce, was concentrated in [Ball] her commander’. 

The absence of Sirius and Supply with two hundred (200) naval personnel left Governor Captain Arthur Phillip RN completed isolated in the midst of a hostile soldliery, the marines of the Sydney garrison.

Australia’s official Historical Records confirm, there was a near fatal flaw in the chain of command at Sydney. At the instigation of Major Robert Ross commander of the Sydney garrison, aside from Marine Captain David Collins, Governor Phillip was without friends among the officers and men of the garrison.

1790 – 26, 27, 28 June: By the end of June 1790 three (3) death ships Suprize, Scarborough and Neptune of the second fleet, aptly dubbed ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’, had survived a cyclonic east-coast low weather system to anchor in Sydney Cove.

William Wyndham Grenville had replaced Lord Sydney as Home Secretary in mid 1789. Grenville young, a cousin of Prime Minister Pitt,  had contracted Neptune, Suprize and Scarborough to Camden, Calvert and King a London firm of brutal  ‘Guinea‘ slavers.

Of one thousand (1,000) mainly male prisoners embarked in England 25% died during the brutal voyage and a further 15% within a month or so of arriving in Sydney. An avalanche of sick and dying placed enormous strain on the ‘First Fleet’ physicians and on the settlement’s almost depleted resources.

The second fleet also brought the first contingent, one hundred and four (104) officers and men of an infantry regiment, the New South Wales Corps. These fresh troops raised specifically to replace the ‘troubled’ marine garrison, rather than alleviating Governor Phillip’s isolation, immeasurably compounded his myriad difficulties.

Importantly Major Francis Grose, commander of the New South Wales Corps, remained in England to recruit a further two hundred (200) men necessary to satisfy establishment requirements.

Lieutenant John Macarthur, a junior Corps officer, used Major Grose’s absence to his advantage. Arrogant, fueled with over-arching ambition, aided by Elizabeth his young  savvy wife, history attests Macarthur seized his opportunity to stake a personal claim to New Holland.

Matters were made worse by intense resentment and animosity that surfaced between ‘Phillip’s people’, the old lags of 1788, and these newcomers. Barely six (6) months from the hustle and bustle of London’s teeming streets, soldier and criminal alike, none could comprehend their strange new surroundings.

1790 – June, Sydney: Despite the arrival of Justinian a fully laden stores ship with the first logistical support from England the food situation was still critical. Fresh protein foods were especially scarce. Phillip increased numbers of official hunting parties that, since 1788, had been essential to ‘prolong life‘.

1790 – 9 December, Botany  Bay: One such hunting party set off for Botany Bay on the 9th of December to camp over-night and be ready at first light to shoot hungry kangaroos when they came to graze.

The hunting group included convict John Mc Intyre, Governor Phillip’s personal game-keeper, ‘the person’ Tench tells ‘of whom Baneelon [Bennalong] had on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred.’

1790 – 10 December, Botany Bay:  Just after mid-night the men woke to  ‘a rustling noise in the bushes…two natives with spears…one [Pemulway] launched his spear at M’ Entire, and lodged it in his left side…I am a dead man’.    

 1790 – 11 December: Next day the party returned to Sydney where John Mc Intyre died some weeks later.

Governor Phillip, after three (3) years of fighting a rear-guard action to maintain Britain’s presence in New Holland, faced a dangerous enemy within. He knew Macarthur and certain other Corps officers were circling the tents. If he did nothing his position as Captain-General and supreme commander could well be in jeopardy.

 1790 – 13 December: ‘Put ten [10] to death…cut off, and bring back the heads of the slain…bring away two [2] prisoners to execute in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected’. Governor Phillip, General Orders to Marine Captain Watkin Tench Cited in Sydney First Four Years, Angus and Robertson, 1961

These order were amended  so when Tench’s detachment marched to Botany Bay at dawn on the 14th December his orders were:

‘Bring in six (6) of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay; or if that should be found impracticable, to put that number to death…punishment inflicted on them for their own bad conduct’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN to Marine Captain Watkin Tench, December 1790, Historical Records of New South Wales.

It is highly likely Phillip saw in Mc Intyre’s wounding an opportunity to keep dissenting officers at bay and change the settlement’s dangerous dynamic. The strategy?  diversion – Phillip gave the guys with the guns something to do;  ‘infuse universal terror’.

Governor Phillip’s General Orders were issued, through Marine Captain Watkin Tench, to Officers and rank and file of the New South Wales Corps.

‘infuse universal terror‘ set down rules of engagement. Phillip’s General Orders served as a template for; ‘twenty-five regiments of British infantry [who] served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870…They fought in one of the most prolonged frontier 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

Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples can, with laser accuracy, pinpoint their near annihilation to Governor Arthur Phillip’s General Orders of 13th and 22nd December 1790. Orders that placed no limit on brutality.

‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries…These raids had commenced by December 1790’. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History Of Law In Australia, Allen & Unwin, 1995

War; ‘one of the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British empire‘ is the only war for which Australia has no stomach.

See: An Ugly War – Shock and Awe – ‘Infuse universal terror’

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply