‘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 that 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 ambitions of Prime Minister Pitt and his ‘secretive inner circle’ of powerful politicians Lord Hawkesbury, Henry Dundas and Lord Mulgrave.

Post the American War of Independence (1775-1783) Britain, via the Treaty of Paris (Versailles, September 1783), was in danger of being squeezed from Newfoundland’s fishing grounds and needed to acquire an independent and 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 lubricating fine machinery such as looms and flying shuttles, provided brighter lighting in textile factories extending work hours. When used for city and town lighting it brought about a significant reduction in urban street crime.

1790 – September 7, Manly: So when a ‘monster’ whale stranded on Manly Beach on 7 September 1790 it galvanised Governor Phillip whose naval career had began hunting whale in icy Arctic waters.

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

When news of the stranding reached Sydney Phillip was rowed 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, its head exited his back, but the shaft remained lodged firmly.

THE BACK STORY  1788 – 1790

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: All eleven (11) ships of a large invasion force, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’ anchored in Sydney Cove where their commander Captain, now Governor Arthur Phillip RN, raised his nation’s flag – the Union Jack. See: All the King’s Men: Criminals & the ‘First Fleet

Prior to leaving England – 13 May 1787 – Governor Phillip was told logistical support would ‘follow shortly’ but none came. Over one thousand (1000) English men, women and children marooned 13,000 miles (21,000 from their homeland. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790

Why? Across the Channel revolutionary unrest, impending war with France 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: To save the settlement from annihilation the fleet’s flagship HMS Sirius, departed Sydney at the beginning of October 1788, on a perilous voyage via Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope 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 punishment. 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 alone in Sydney Harbour. Every evening Supply went trawling for fish and local Aborigines now in great need, demanded a fair share of her catch.

‘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 order to; ‘seize and carry off some of the natives’. Two (2) of Supply’s 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 in Tench. ibid.   

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

Watkin Tench who stood on shore as the boat came to rest said; ‘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 purpose in kidnapping Arabanoo was to learn local language and customs. Phillip named him Manly and ordered he be well treated. Immersed into life within military lines; ‘a convict was selected to sleep with him and to attend him wherever he might go’.

Arabanoo often dined at the Governor’s table, ate what was offered, but refused wine. But always a prisoner when, in an effort to learn names of various physical landmarks, Phillip took Arabanoo down to the harbour his friends puzzled as to why he did not rejoin them, he ‘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 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 

1789 – November, Sydney: Governor Phillip once again ordered the capture of Aboriginal men. In November 1789 Colbee and Bennalong were seized, ‘roped fettered’ and taken to Sydney.


1790 – September, Manly:  kidnap, disease and death – Wileemarin had every reason to fear the advancing Governor. See: Manly – Location, Location, Location 

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

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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