‘The Act of 1786 [Geo. III. c.59] for the Encouragement of the Southern Whale Fishery proved to be the foundation of an important industry…in the wake of whalers other British traders would follow.

The furtherance of this plan became one of the central objects of Lord Hawkesbury’s commercial policy’. Vincent T. Harlow, Vol. 2, Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Longmans, 1964

Governor Arthur Phillip knew establishing land bases, to support a ship-based whaling industry in the Southern and Indian oceans, known to be teeming with marine life, was prominent among the many ambitions Prime Minister William Pitt and his ‘secretive inner circle’ of powerful politicians Lord Hawkesbury, Henry Dundas and Lord Mulgrave had for New Holland.

Britain post the American War of Independence (1775-1783), via the Treaty of Paris (Versailles September 1783), was in danger of being squeezed from Newfoundland’s fishing grounds and needed to acquire a cheap source of prized spermacetti whale oil. See: A Tale of Two Cities: Quebec 1769 – Sydney 1790

As the Industrial Revolution geared up in mid eighteenth century England whale oil, already essential for friction free lubrication of delicate machinery such as looms and flying shuttles, provided brighter lighting so extending work hours in England’s ‘dark satanic mills’ and textile factories.

When used for city and town lighting its characteristic white illumination brought about a significant reduction in urban street crime.

1790 – September 7, Manly: Therefore when a ‘monster’ whale stranded on Manly Beach on 7 September 1790 it galvanised Governor Phillip.

For local Aborigines whales had deep cultural and spiritual significance. Marine Captain Watkin Tench estimated, ‘at least two hundred [200]’ gathered around it.

When news of the stranding reached Sydney Phillip, whose naval career began hunting whale in icy Arctic waters, was rowed across to Manly where Wileemarin an Aboriginal warrior; ‘aimed his lance with such force and dexterity striking the governor’s right shoulder, just above the collar bone’. Tench. ibid.

The lance penetrated Phillip’s body, the head of the exited his back, but the shaft remained lodged ‘just above the collar bone’.

Why did Wileemarin attack Governor Arthur Phillip?

THE BACK STORY  1788 – 1790

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: A large naval expeditionary force commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN departed England to invade the island continent of New Holland, now Australia.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: All eleven (11) ships, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, anchored in Sydney Cove at the end of January 1788. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head – Captain Arthur Phillip & Comte Jean Francois La Perouse

1788 – 7 February, Sydney: Captain-General Arthur Phillip RN, raised the Union Jack, his nation’s flag, and contrary to international law of that time took ‘possession of the country’ without consent or dealing treaty with its Peoples

Governor Phillip in the name of King George III of England, claimed sovereignty over the entire eastern coast of New Holland from ‘Cape York in the most northern extremity to South Cape’. See: All the King’s Men: Criminals & the ‘First Fleet

Prior to leaving England Phillip was told logistical support would ‘follow shortly’ but none came. Over one thousand (1000) English men, women and children were marooned 13,000 miles (21,000 from their homeland. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

Why were they abandoned?

Revolutionary unrest across the English Channel, an impending war with France England’s arch-enemy and, at home fear of ‘the mob’  exemplified by the Gordon Riots (2 – 9 June 1780) ,

‘On 6 June 1780 the Gordon rioters burned Newgate. Crowds seized the area around the prison, broke in and freed the inmates, then set light to all they could find. Within a few hours, the newest and strongest prison in the realm had become a charred shell. The army was called in to suppress the mob, and prisoners recaptured locally were held in wooden cages hastily erected around St Paul’s Cathedral’. Richard Byrne, Grafton Publishing, London, 1992.

1788 – 2 October, Africa: The fleet’s flagship HMS Sirius, to save the Sydney settlement from starvation and annihilation, departed Sydney at the beginning of October 1788, on a perilous voyage via Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope where Captain John Hunter RN was to buy food and medicines from the Dutch at Cape Town.

1788 – November, Sydney: With hunger and mind-bending uncertainty came increasing desperation. On autopsy convict Charles Wilson’s stomach was found completely empty, in despair he hoarded his ration.

Thieving escalated as did severity of punishments. Convict James Daley hanged for theft. James David a Royal Navy seaman insulted an officer; sentenced to four hundred (400) lashes – fifty (50) on the spot and fifty (50) every Saturday following until the sentence was satisfied.

1788 – December, England: Fishburn and Golden Grove, last of the fleet’s nine (9) chartered vessels, departed Sydney for England leaving HMS Supply the lone English ship.

Each evening Supply went down the harbour trawling for fish; ‘with as much as four hundredweight being taken up’. Local Aborigines were now in great need and demanded a fair share of her catch.

What little was given was given grudgingly; ‘the natives becoming every day more troublesome and hostile…the governor determined to seize and bring into the settlement one [1] or [two [2]…whose language it was becoming absolutely necessary to acquire’. Tench. ibid.

1788 – 30 December, Manly: To that end Governor Phillip gave orders to; ‘seize and carry off some of the natives’. At the end of December two (2) dinghies rowed across to Manly where; ‘courteous [kidnappers]…enticed…entered into conversation’ with a group of Aborigines digging pippie for lunch.

‘At a proper opportunity…our people rushed in among them and seized two [2] men: the rest fled but the cries of the captives soon brought them back, with many others, to their rescue; and so desperate their struggles.

Only one [1] of them was secured, the other effected his escape…stones. spears, firebrands…[thrown]…nor did they retreat…until many musquets were fired over them’. Eyewitness account, cited Tench. ibid.   

Arabanoo the kidnapped warrior, aged about thirty (30), was wrestled into a dinghy and fastened by ropes to the thwarts of the boat’ rowed across to Sydney.

Watkin Tench stood on shore as the boat came to rest and commented; ‘his agitation was excessive, and the clamourous crowds who flocked around him did not contribute to lessen it’.

‘Many unsuccessful attempts were made to learn his name; the governor therefore called him Manly, from the cove in which he was captured; this cove has received its name from the manly undaunted behaviour of a party of natives seen there, on our taking possession of the country’. Tench. ibid.

The Governor’s main purpose in kidnapping Arabanoo was to learn local language and Indigenous customs and food sources. Phillip named him Manly, ordered he be well treated.

But always the prisoner; ‘a convict was selected to sleep with him and to attend him wherever he might go’. Immersed into life within military lines Arabanoo often dined at the Governor’s table, ate what was offered, but refused wine.

In an effort to learn names of various physical landmarks, Phillip took Arabanoo down to the harbour. When his friends puzzled as to why he did not rejoin them, Arabanoo ‘pointed to the fetter on his leg, by which he was bound’. Tench. ibid.

1789 – April, Sydney: ‘A smallpox epidemic struck the Aboriginal population round Sydney….Phillip estimated that it resulted in the death of 50% of the local Aboriginal community’. People of Australia, Macquarie Series, Ed. Bryce Fraser, 1998

1789 – May, Sydney: Arabanoo still held within military lines contracted smallpox and died in May 1789. See: Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

‘Inexplicably, the epidemic did not affect the European population’. Cited People of Australia. See: A Lethal Weapon Smallpox: Boston – 1775, Sydney – 1789 

‘Inexplicable’ and statistically impossible. One of the strongest indicators for the origin of the epidemic lies with Thucydides, ‘writing about the Plague of Athens’.

When the ‘speckled monster’ – smallpox – swept through Athens in the fifth century the celebrated historian of the Peloponnesian Wars contracted the virus.

‘Yet it was with those who had recovered from the disease that the sick and the dying found most compassion. These knew what it was from experience, and had now no fear for themselves, for the same man was never attacked twice – never at least fatally’. Thucydides, cited Professor David Isaacs, Defeating the Ministers of Death, Harper & Collins, 2019, Sydney

In the intervening centuries Athens 430 BC – Boston 1721 AD – Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789 – inoculation; the deliberate use of a mere vestige of infected matter was known to create an immune response that reduced or eliminated mortality in a targeted group.

From the early 1700s inoculation was widely used by the British military establishment especially in Britain’s North American theatres of colonial conflict.

Sydney’s judge-advocate Marine Captain David Collins and Marine Major Robert Ross, both of whom served in the conflict that immediately preceded the invasion of New Holland – American War of Independence 1775-1783, they would have been inoculated against the ‘speckled monster’.

Given hard evidence bottles of ‘variolous matter brought from England’ in reviewing the current contested origin of the epidemic in Sydney 1789 it is the ‘compassionate’ behaviour of treating white physicians who ‘had now no fear for themselves’, as revealed in The Historical Records and First Fleet Journals, that offers the most striking of a plethora of circumstantial evidence – the origin was a deliberate release.

‘The body of the woman shewed that famine, superadded to disease, had occasioned her death…In the evening, captain Ball and I crossed the harbour, and buried the corpse of the woman before mentioned’. Tench. ibid.

The same air of invulnerability was displayed by named officers and officials who, holding firm to the belief a survivor of prior infection acquired either ‘in the natural way’ or via successful inoculation, ‘the same man [woman or child] was never attacked twice’ moved among ‘the dead and dying’.

1789 – November, Sydney: With Arabanoo now dead Governor Phillip once again ordered the capture of Aboriginal men. In November 1789 Colbee and Bennalong ‘roped & fettered’ were taken prisoner.

1790 – Sepember 7: A large whale beached at Manly; ‘the tremendous monster was fated to be the cause of farther mischief to us’. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Kidnap, disease and death – Wileemarin had every reason to fear the advancing Governor Phillip. See: Manly – Location, Location, Location 


The spearing of Governor Phillip was fated to be’ a tipping point that led to the near annihilation of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples. See: An Ugly War: Britain Versus ‘The Other’






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