‘What is the most arresting thing in all these recordings is the way in which they perceive Aboriginal Australians on not exactly equal terms, but on terms of people who have a right to the occupancy of this land’. Dr Nicholas Brown,  Australian National University and National Museum of Australia, on inclusion of some ‘First Fleet’ Journals onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List. AM Programme, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 15 October 2009

A great change came with the arrival of John ‘MacMafia’ Macarthur the teetotaller who introduced ‘firey India rum’ into the equation via the infamous New South Wales Rum Corps.

‘The great change came in the arrival with the Second Fleet of the first companies of the New South Wales Corps [and] Lieutenant John Macarthaur – 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

The first Corps of infantry was raised  in October 1789 to replace the four (4) companies of marines who departed England in the ‘First Fleet’ on the 13th of May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland, now Australia.

Twenty-five regiments of British infantry 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 to 1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

Sydney – June 1790: The first contingent of infantry arrived with the second fleet at the end of June 1790. Among them; lowly placed  ‘Ensign M’acarthur, from the 68th Regiment, to be Lieutenant.

‘Macarthur’s haughty quarrelsome nature which manifested itself on the voyage was to provoke much more conflict after his arrival in New South Wales in June 1790’. Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet, Britain’s Grim Armada of 1790, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1993


Botany Bay – 20 January 1788:  The ‘First Fleet,’ an armed expeditionary force of eleven (11) ships commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, reached Botany Bay in mid-January 1788.

Wide open so difficult to defend, with an inadequate water supply, Botany Bay was deemed unsuitable for permanent settlement.

Sydney Cove – 21 January:  After exploring  countryside south as far as Sutherland, Phillip entered a vast harbour nine (9) miles (14 km) to the north of Botany Bay. He chose a ‘snug’ deep-water cove naming it for Lord Sydney.

Botany Bay – 23 January: Phillip returned to the fleet on the 23rd and gave the fleet orders  to‘evacuate’ the area at first light the following day.

Botany Bay – 24 January:  Next morning to his astonishment and intense ‘consternation’, two (2) French ships La Boussole  and L’Astrolabe commanded by Jean-Francois de Galaup, La Perouse appeared at the entrance to Botany Bay.

The Sirius cannon and wild seas forced the French to seek safety and shelter at Sutherland.

Botany Bay – 25 January:  In ‘foul’ weather Phillip with, some officers and a detachment of marines aboard HMS Supply quit Botany Bay and made for Sydney Cove arriving just on dark.

‘Raising the flag was one of the acts recognised as an assertion of a prior claim against other colonial powers eyeing off the same land’. Larissa Behrendt, The Honest History Book, Ed. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, New South Publishing, 2017

Sydney Cove: – 26 January: Rising at dawn a party rowed ashore. A flagstaff was  ‘hastily erected’ and the Union Jack of Queen Anne hoisted.

A few shots were fired and the loyal toast to King George 111 tossed down. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head – Captain Arthur Phillip & Jean Francois La Perouse

During the day the remaining English ships survived a dangerous exit from Botany Bay. Last to leave was HMS Sirius.  Captain John Hunter RN stayed behind to guide La Perouse to a safe anchorage off Bare Island. See: A Band of Brothers and Mortal Enemies.

Sydney Cove – 7 February 1788: Ten (10) days later without consent’ of its Peoples or seeking a Treaty with them Governor Arthur Phillip, first of four (4) ‘autocratic uniformed naval governors’, formally claimed British sovereignty over New Holland, now Australia.

Norfolk Island:  During the second of his three (3) voyages Captain Cook had landed from HMS Resolution on an uninhabited the island he named Norfolk.

He gathered samples of flax for rope-making and, timber for masts and planking, to take to England.

Since then the island had been in Britain’s sights and now of intense interest to; ‘Jean-Francois, de Galaup, Comte de La Perouse, [who] was hanging around  with two ships)’. Behrendt. op. cit


A mere five (5) years earlier Britain had suffered a humiliating defeat in the America’s Revolutionary War of Independence (1775-1783).

Britain’s loss was due in large part to France’s intervention and to a lesser extent Spain joined alliance with France.

Vast amounts of French money, men, munitions and military know-how had catapulted General George Washington and his Patriot home-spun militia to victory.

Britain lost her thirteen (13) colonies –  North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Accepting defeat ‘was not in the English character‘.

‘The administration of the 24-year old Prime Minister William Pitt was under no illusions about the pretensions of its enemies…As Sir James Harris, the foremost diplomat of the age and then British ambassador at The Hague put it: ‘Our wealth and power in India is their great and constant object of jealously; and they will never miss an opportunity of attempting to wrest it out of our hands’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne Sydney, 2013

In 1788, with La Perouse ‘hanging around’ Governor Phillip acted, if not in panic, in great haste. To stymie the French he moved to occupy Norfolk Island 1650 km. from Sydney

‘New Holland is a good blind, then…stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales…when we want to add to military strength of India’. Anon. Historical Records of New South Wales.

Norfolk Island -14 February 1788: Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN departed Sydney with a party of twenty-three (23). He was to assume the role of Lieutenant-Governor and ‘raise the flag…against other colonial powers’.

March 1788: The island surrounded by submerged reefs and ‘pounding surf on all sides’, lacked a safe harbour.  On the 6th of March 1788  Lieutenant Ball captain of HMS Supply pulled off an extremely difficult landing without loss of life.

Sydney Cove – 10 March 1788: La Boussole with La Perouse at the helm and L’Astrolabe set sail for the return to France. Both ships were lost with all hands.

Each year their fleeting presence is commemorated at the Sydney suburb of La Perouse.



Sydney Cove –  1 January 1790: ‘No supplies…entirely cut off since the 13th of 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. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961  

England callously abandoned the Robinson Cruscos of the ‘First Fleet’ leaving her fellow country men women and children to starve 15,000 miles (23,000 km) from their homeland. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve, Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790  

‘No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross. Of all Phillip’s problems, including those of the terrible famine of 1789 and 1790, probably none was so harassing as the persistent antagonism, both covert and open, which Ross pursed against him’. John Moore, The First Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987

‘Terrible famine’ no wonder Major Robert Ross commander of two hundred and forty-five (245) marines, the military arm the Royal Navy, found little difficulty inculcating a spirit discontent and rebellion.

The previous year – April 1789 – 50% of Sydney’s Gadigal Aboriginal population died of smallpox. See: Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat Smallpox & Starvation 1789

 March 1790:  Phillip drew on the experience. In March 1790 he evacuated  50% of  ‘his people’ to Norfolk Island. In doing so he rid himself of Major Ross by appointing him to replace Lieutenant Gidley King RN as Lieutenant-Governor of Norfolk Island.


Sydney – June 1790: ‘No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross’. This statement held true until June 1790 when Lieutenant John Macarthur landed from Scarborough one (1) of the second fleet’s three (3) death ships.

‘War-Office – A Corps of Foot for New South Wales, Major Francis Grose of the late 96th Regiment is appointed to be Major Commandant’. The London Gazette, issue: 13140, October, 1789

But Major Gross did not sail to New South Wales with his troops. He remained in London to recruit numbers sufficient to satisfy establishment requirements.

‘In the eighteenth century the Indian subcontinent was already in chaos, and the American Revolution provided the spark for renewed hostilities and the increase of British Dominance’. Richard Sambasivam, British Global Ambitions and Indian Identity, The American Revolution A World War, Ed. David K.Allison & Larrie D. Ferreiro, Smithsonian, Washington D.C. 2015

Along with news of family, lovers and friends the second fleet brought news of the ‘chaos’ of the 1789 French Revolution.

Knowing the streets of Paris were running with blood Governor Phillip knew India was now out of the immediate equation.

War between Britain and France was edging ever closer and recruitment proved difficult. Grose was forced to recruit ‘derelicts and delinquents’ from the Savoy military prison.

Meanwhile at Sydney Lieutenant Macarthur, a junior officer driven by over-arching personal ambition, was quick to pick-up on existingantagonism’.

He moved swiftly to fill the power vacuum created by Major  Grose’s absence.

Governor Phillip with a wealth of experience could not fail to recognise in John Macarthur a ruthless enemy. Dangerous to the ambitions of ‘King and Country’. And the stakes could not have been higher.

‘That the fighting against France in [the American war] what was originally and essentially a European war should have spread so swiftly to the tropics was a result of many factors, most of them predictable. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, 3rd ed. Fontana Press, London

If Phillip failed to hold the line against Macarthur and ‘certain’ of hisofficer’ cronies Britain’s chances of attaining ‘command of the seas’ and retaining the undoubted strategic advantages of; ‘stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales’ would be lost. See: Proximity – Not Distance -Drove Britain’s Invasion of New Holland.

Map or §

‘From the coast of China it [New Holland] lies not more than about a thousand leagues, and nearly the same distance from the East Indies, from the Spice Islands about seven hundred leagues, and near a month’s run from Cape of Good Hope…or suppose we were again involved in a war with Spain, here are ports of shelter and refreshments for our ships, would it be necessary to sent any into the South Sea’. Admiral Sir George Young’s Plan to Home Home Secretary, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol.1

‘Predictable’ Britain’s invasion of New Holland was an essential part of that ‘European war’.

Brazil: In February 1793 when Republican France declared war on England Governor Arthur Phillip was at Rio on his way from New South Wales to England and Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty.

There can be no doubt the remarkably prescient  pre-emptive positioning of a military presence and naval base in the Indian and Southern Oceans had figured prominently in Prime Minister William Pitt’s planning.


When In June 1790 the second fleet reached Sydney the harbour was empty of English ships. Governor Phillip was without any naval support. He was isolated completely in the midst of an extremely hostile soldiery. See: Missing in Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

HMS Sirius was at the bottom of the sea off Norfolk Island. Her crew, one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel, were stranded on the island.

HMS Sirius was at the bottom of the sea off Norfolk Island. Her crew, one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel, were stranded on the island.

The other king’s ship HMS Supply was at Jakarta bargaining with the Dutch to buy tons of supplies and medicines. Lieutenant Ball was authorised to charter a Dutch vessel [Waaksamheyd] to bring them to Sydney as soon as possible.


‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Australian Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

That authorisation applied when ever, from where ever and from whom-so-ever such threat arose.

‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries…These raids had commenced by December 1790’. Kercher. ibid.

Post the arrival of the second fleet in June 1790 the threat to Governor Phillip came not from the Bidjigal people of Botany Bay ravished by smallpox the previous year (1789).  See: A Lethal Weapon – Smallpox: Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

It came from within military ranks. Phillip, wily experienced, a proven strategist intent on saving the Sydney settlement from insurrection and anarchy, had but one (1) arrow in his quiver – ‘intelligence’- its source Bennalong.

‘M’Entire, the Governor’s game-keeper( the person of whom Baneelon had, on former occasions, shown so much dread and hatred’. Tench. ibid.

Phillip moved to assert his authority. In doing so he ignited ‘one of the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British empire’. See: John M’Entire – Death of a Sure Thing


25% of the 2nd fleet’s mainly male convicts died on the voyage and the wretched condition of the sick and dying survivors, had radically altered the supply- demand equation for the worst.

Documentary evidence shows animosity surfaced quickly between Phillip’s ‘people’ of January 1788 and those of June 1790. Soldier and convict, most drawn from the teeming streets of London, both groups were gripped by fear. See: A Plague of Locusts

‘Without distinction’ , since April 1790 the weekly ration; ‘per week to every child of more than eighteen months old and to every grown person without distinction…two pounds of pork, two pounds and a half of flour, two pounds of rice, or a quart of pease…

At that rate; the public stores contained salt meat until…2d July; flour…20 August; rice, or pease in lieu…until 1st of October’.Tench.

Then before the end of June 1790 Justinian, a fully laden store-ship,  arrived with the first supplies from England.

‘We were joyfully surprised on the 20th of the month to see another sail enter the harbour…and our rapture doubled on finding that she was laden entirely with provisions for our use. Full allowance, and general congratulations immediately took place’. Tench. ibid

‘Full allowance (if eight pounds of flour, and either seven pounds of pork, served alternately per week, without either peas, oatmeal, spirits, butter or cheese, can be so called ) is yet kept up; but if the Dutch snow [Waaksamheyd] does not arrive soon  from [Jakarta] it must be shortened, as the casks in the store house, I observed yesterday are woefully decreased’. Tench, cited Egan, Buried Alive

1790 – July, Winter: ‘Fish is by no means plenty at least, they are not in abundance’.

The local Aborigines were extremely hungry. Their birds, animals, fish, oysters and variety of various crustaceans had kept the ‘troublesome’ English alive for just on three (3) years.

The local Gadigal  quite rightly felt entitled to a fair share of Justinian’s bounty. In this they were proved wrong. What was given was given grudgingly.

They throng the camp every day and sometimes by their clamour and importunity for bread and meat (of which they now all eat greedily) are become very troublesome God knows we have little enough for ourselves!’. Tench. ibid


1790 -September, Manly Beach: In an atmosphere of anger and betrayal born of hunger and fear of capture; ‘A native [Wileemarine] with a spear in his hand aimed his lance with such force and dexterity striking the governor’s right shoulder, just above the collar bone’. Tench. ibid. See: Kidnapped: Manly – What’s In A Name

Phillip was rowed back to Sydney where William Balmain, the fleet’s senior surgeon, extracted the spear. Phillip had lost a great deal of blood and recovery was slow.

The Governor refused to retaliate. His passive response, judged by the military arm as weakness, when linked to John Macarthur’s boundless personal ambition, created a perfect storm.


 ‘That the fighting against France in [the American war] what was originally and essentially a European war should have spread so swiftly to the tropics was a result of many factors, most of them predictable…the culminating point in a century-long race was reached, with Britain emerging in 1815 with a position so strengthened that she appeared to be the only real colonial power in the world’. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, 3rd ed. Fontana Press, London

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