‘The bloody raw power of decapitation…the eternal tension between drama and control…lies at the heart of the death penalty’. Frances Larson, Severed, Granta Books, London 2015

PICTURE – London Gazette

1790 – Sydney, June: Major Grose the Corps’ commander of the New South Wales Corps remained in London to recruit sufficient numbers to satisfy establishment requirements.

The power vacuum was filled by by Lieutenant John Macarthur a ruthless, ambitious junior officer. In Phillip’s judgement the Pitt Administration in far off England was in danger of losing New South Wales (Australia) in a military coup.

Most certainly the threat did not come from the First Nations’ People. The previous year 1789, 50% of local Eora Aborigines died after contracting smallpox. The survivors were struggling to regroup. See: A Lethal Weapon Smallpox – Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

And there was a lot at stake. Not only was New Holland, known now as Australia, a gateway to India and China, its ‘proximity’ via the Southern Oceans to Spain’s South American ‘treasure’ colonies, drove the invasion.  See: Proximity Not Distance Drove Britain’s Invasion of New Holland.

1790 – Sydney, December : By December 1790 Governor Captain Arthur Phillip RN knew ‘certain officers’ of these newly arrived troops were circling the tents.

He had been down this road before. Then and now in the midst of a hostile soldiery, he had only one (1) option in his armoury – diversion. See: From Here to Eternity – Terror in Three Acts

And only one (1) sure arrow in his quiver. Previously (February 1788) the charismatic Thomas Barrett and in (December 1790)  M’Entire, the ‘hated’ convict, one (1) of  four (4) convicts authorised to carry a gun.

 1790 – Botany Bay, December 9: ‘On the 9th of the month, a serjeant of marines, with three convicts, among whom was M’Entire, the governor’s game-keeper (the person of whom Bannelon had, on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred) went out on a [kangaroo] shooting party’. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

1790 – Norfolk Island, March 19: HMS Sirius had been wrecked off Norfolk Island. Her crew of one hundred and sixty (160) Royal Navy personnel were now stranded on the island.

1790 – Jakarta, April 17: A month later to save the starving settlement, HMS Supply sailed to Batavia, present-day Jakarta. There her captain Lieutenant Henry Ball RN was to buy tonnes of urgently needed food and medicines and charter a Dutch ship to bring them to Sydney

Governor Phillip knew from the captured Bennalong, garnered during his five (5) months held captive within British lines, local Aborigines regarded John McIntyre with ‘hatred and dread’.See: Kidnapped – Manly – What’s in a Name

All First Fleet males, marine and convict ‘without distinction [were] fed  as troops serving…in the West Indies’. McIntyre had few friends in the white camp so he could be eliminated with little fear of back-lash from that quarter.

The cut and thrust of life for those sentenced under the the Hulks Act of 1776 for ‘transportation out of the realm…their service is for the state’ made Mc Intyre the perfect pasty.See: April Fool’s Day – The Hulks Act 1776


Phillip a practised strategist, but ailing following his own spearing on Manly Beach in September 1790 that he attributed to ‘misapprehension’, hatched a plot he believed had every chance of torpedoing the dangerous dynamic that had surfaced within the military chain of command.

Phillip’s disavowal; ‘but in this business of M’Entire I am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked’ does not hold water. In the face of evidence who can doubt the  inclusion of McIntyre in the ‘shooting party’ was designed to provoke.

Unless attributed otherwise Watkin Tench’s ‘First Four Years’ informs this narrative.

1790 – Botany Bay, December 9:   McIntyre with two (2) other armed convicts, accompanied by a senior NCO, set off from Sydney at dawn on the 9th of December to walk a well-trodden path to Botany Bay.

They intended to sleep overnight in a recently ‘erected small hut formed of boughs’.

10 December: ‘About one o’clock, the sergeant was awakened by a rustling noise in the bushes…Indians…one [Pemulway]…launched his spear at M’Entire, and lodged it in his left side…the wounded man immediately drew back and joining his party, cried, ‘I am a dead man’.

Sydney – 11 December: McIntyre ‘expressed a longing desire not to be left to expire in the woods’ and  was carried back to Sydney.

12 December: ‘To gain knowledge of their [Aborigines’] treatment of similar wounds, one of the surgeons made signs of extracting the spear; but this they violently opposed, and said, if it were done, death would instantly follow’.

But William Balmain the fleet’s senior surgeon rejected their advise; ‘the extraction was…judged practicable and was accordingly performed’.

Balmain’s effort however did McIntyre no favours. Death did not come quickly as predicted he lingered dying on the 21st of January 1791.

13 December, Headquarters: ‘The governor was at Rose Hill when this accident happened. On the day after he returned to Sydney… I [Tench] received a direction to attend the governor at head quarters immediately.

His Excellency pitched upon me ready to march tomorrow morning [14th] at daylight to execute the command…put ten [10] to death…bring in the heads of the slain…bring away two [2] prisoners…I [Phillip] am resolved to execute the prisoners…in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected’.Tench, ibid.


Pemulway’s assault on McIntyre was a targeted attack by a known assailant. Collective punishment ‘put ten to death’ – indiscriminate retribution – punished both innocent and guilty.

Governor Phillip’s savage General Order,s that put no limit on brutality, stunned Tench; ‘here the governor stopped and address[ed] himself to me’.

 ‘I [Tench] begged to offer for consideration...instead of destroying ten [10] persons the capture of six [6] a part might be set aside for retaliation; and the rest, at a proper time, liberated, after having seen the fate of their comrades…this scheme his excellency was pleased instantly to adopt, adding “if six [6] cannot be taken let this number be shot”. See: Terror – Arthur’s Algorithm – ‘instil universal terror’Open Sesame


‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’. Professor Bruce Kercher, History of Law in Australia, Allen & Unwin, 1995

Tench assembled a detachment of fifty (50) troops; ‘consisting of two [2] captains, two [2] subalterns, and forty [40] privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers, from the garrison’.

Botany Bay – 14 December: At four o’clock on the morning of the 14th...led by myself [Tench] we marched…by nine o’clock this terrific procession reached the peninsula, at the the head of Botany Bay’.

For Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples the make-up of this detachment is of utmost importance.

‘The [1788] Marines, members of the Royal Navy …prey to starvation, lethargy and despair remained in New South Wales only as long as they had to and from 1790 Australia was to be garrisoned by the army’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia, 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

Dr Stanley’s picture of starving, ragged, lethargic despairing marines, England’s Robinson Cruscos marooned and left to starve, align with Tench’s assessment of his marines.

‘The insufficiency of our ration soon diminished our execution of labour. Both soldiers and convicts pleaded such loss of strength, as to find themselves unable to perform their accustomed tasks.

The misery and horror of our situation cannot be imparted even by those who have suffered under it’. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve @ Sydney Cove – January 1788 to June 1790

It is safe to assert the bulk of ‘forty privates’ in this ‘terrific procession’ were infantry-men of the New South Wales Corps recently arrived (June 1790) with a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’. See: Dancing with Slavers – Britain’s Grim Armada- The Dead and the Living Dead

14 December: Soldiers heavily laden; ‘with three days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners…hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’ thrashed about, sweating and swearing as magpies swooped and the black and white cockatoos screeched overhead.

‘After having walked in various directions until four o’clock, without seeing a native, we halted for the night’.

15 December: At first light they spotted their quarry; ‘five Indians on the beach…before we came near enough to effect our purpose [they] ran off’.

Sloppy map-reading had led the detachment astray; ‘instead of finding ourselves on the south-west arm, we came suddenly upon the sea shore, at the head of the peninsula, about midway between the two arms’.

16 December: Another stifling frustrating day spent in a muddy quagmire was followed by a; ‘night of restless inquietude, where weariness is denied repose by swarms of musquitoes and sand-flies, which bite and sting the traveller, without measure or intermission’.

17 December, Sydney:  With provisions low and his troops exhausted Tench abandoned the mission. ‘We bent our steps homeward, and after wading breast-high through two arms of the sea [Cook’s River] as broad as the Thames at Westminster, were glad to find ourselves at Sydney between one and two o’clock in the afternoon’.

The detachment straggled into camp hot, thirsty, their stinky uniforms stiff with salt and mud, only to find everything had changed.

At first light that morning Waaksamheyd the 300 ton Dutch brig Lieutenant Ball of HMS Supply had chartered at Jakarta in July 1790 had arrived crammed to the gunnells with tons of food and medicines. See: Missing in Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

Tench, minus ; ‘heads in bags’ [or] ‘prisoners to execute in the most public and exemplary manner’   reported to Governor Phillip.‘our expedition [had] totally failed’ .

Surely a win-win for Governor Phillip. He had asserted his authority at no cost to the local Aborigines. That should have been the end of it – but no.

‘Our first expedition having so totally failed, the governor resolved to try the fate of a second; and the ‘painful pre-eminence’ again devolved on me’.

Despite Waakssamheyd and her bounty, more probably because of her presence, Phillip ordered a second assault.


Waaksamheyd was received with rapture but wily Governor Phillip smelt danger. Even more than food Waaksamheyd    brought hope.  Ripe for seizure she might facilitate an’ insurrection’ or an ‘escape’.

For some freedom became reality. Deter Smidt, Waaksamheyd’s Dutch master assisted eleven (11) to escape.

Nine (9) convicts, three (3) year old Charlotte Bryant and Emanuel her baby brother, escaped in Governor Phillip’s own cutter and, in an epic sea-saga, rowed to Coupang in West Timor. See: The Great Escape – The Botany Bay Escapees

The surviving ‘Botany Bay escapees’, as they became known in a high-profile court case, ended up in the Old Bailey where, years earlier their transportation story began. See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees


1790 – 21 December: The second raid; ‘the orders which I [Tench] was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last.

If six [6] cannot be taken let this number be shot…bring away two [2] prisoners…I [Phillip] am resolved to execute…in the most public and exemplary manner’.

22 December: ‘A little before sun-set on the evening of the 22d, we marched. Lieutenant Abbot, and ensign Prentice of the New South Wales corps, three [3] serjeants, three [3] corporals, and thirty [30] privates completed the detachment [with] ropes, hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’.

However this time Tench went about the ‘business’ very differently. The second raid was a night raid.

‘In order to deceive the natives, and prevent them from again frustrating our design……it was now also determined, being full moon, that our operations should be carried on in the night, both for the sake of secrecy, and for avoiding the extreme heat of the day’.

23 December, Botany Bay: At dawn the search, catch, kill and behead Aborigines began. As before seasonal ‘Christmas’ king tides surged in turning firm ground into muddy swampland.

Some troops weighed down by heavy scarlet woollen uniforms nearly drowned when sucked into what Tench described ‘a rotten spongy…Serbian bog’.

Guns jammed with mud. Sodden clothes baked by the sun, were dry and stiff. Little wonder another night passed in‘restless inquietude’.

24 December: ‘Our final effort was made at half past one o’clock  next morning…ending in disappointment and vexation. At nine o’clock we returned to Sydney to report our fruitless peregrination‘.

‘Disappointment and vexation’ yes ‘fruitless’ no. Again it is Tench, caught in the eye of the storm, who tells us so.

‘But if we could not retaliate on the murderer of M’Entire, we found no difficulty in punishing offences committed within our own observation.

28 December: Two natives robbing the potatoe [sic] garden…a party of soldiers dispatched…the[ir] ardour transported them so far, that, instead of capturing the offenders, they fired in among them…[one] Ba-g-ai…was dead’.


‘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, History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

The First Nations’ Peoples with laser accuracy can pinpoint their near annihilation to Governor Phillip’s determination to satisfy his obligation as demanded by the Admiralty’s Articles of War delivered to Phillip aboard HMS Sirius on 11th May 1787 ‘to[on pain of death] ‘do his utmost’ for King and Country.

‘On its face the object of the hunting party was to take the lives of the innocent instead of the guilty. In reality, it was an extravagant charade. …The expedition served only as a melodramatic show of force – to reassure the convicts and to impress the Aborigines’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, London 2013

‘A show of force’ nothing could be further from the truth.

There was one (1) player in this drama, Marine Lieutenant William Dawes who, on the 13 December 1790, saw clearly the inevitable ‘future’ consequences of Governor Phillip’s General Orders.

Initially Dawes had refused to go on the raid of the 14th of December. He complied after consulting Reverend Richard Johnson the ‘First Fleet’ Chaplain.

However on his return to Sydney from the first raid on the 17th of December 1790 Lieutenant Dawes addressed his objections in writing to Governor Phillip, via Adjutant Lowe.

He wrote expressing regret for obeying in the first instance – 14th December 1790 – and, if given a similar order in the future, he could not comply. See: Lieutenant William Dawes – ‘The Eternal Flame’& ‘Universal Terror’

Dawes, an officer with combat experience in the American War of Independence (1775-1783) did not consider either raid a ‘charade’ nor would he have put Aboriginal lives at risk in ‘a melodramatic show of force’.

Yet currently Governor Phillip’s General Orders of 13 December 1790 remain characterised as ‘a melodramatic show of force’.

Just as damaging in that same publication no mention is made of the second raid – 22nd of December 1790.


Sydney – April 1816: Australia’s first officially designated ‘massacre’ occurred in Sydney’s south-west, Broughton Gorge at Appin, in April 1816. The criteria being fourteen (14) or more dead Aborigines in one (1) action.

Sydney – 10 April 1816: Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s orders ‘instil terror’ echoed almost precisely Governor Phillip’s orders of the 13 December 1790.

Appin – 15 April: In daylight away from their home camp a number of Dharawal men were shot and the bodies strung among the trees.

‘To instil terror’ two (2) named warriors were beheaded. Their bloodied bodies were bound by the ankles and left dangling .

Broughton Gorge: During the night of the 15th April Captain Wallis moved his troops onto the home camp where the women were waiting for the men to arrive with the food.

At; ‘1 am [16th] my men held a child cry’.

Some women were shot dead on the spot. Others, elders and mothers with their children, were rounded up and driven over Broughton Gorge to their death.

The severed heads of two (2) Dharawal men were taken to Sydney and boiled down. Their skulls were sent to the Anatomy Department at Edinburgh University from where they have recently been repatriated.

Who can doubt Tench’s ‘feint’ a treacherous ‘night raid’ – 22nd December 1790 – set the precedent for ‘future’ confrontations between the English invaders and the invaded First Nations’ Peoples.

See: Pandora’s Box – The Bounty Mutineers and the Botany Bay Escapees 

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