‘Twenty- five [25] regiments of British infantry served in the colonies between [June] 1790 and 1870 they participated in the great struggle at the heart of the European conquest of this continent…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, 1986, Kangaroo Press, 1986


‘A knowledge of the position of the military and their immediate friends occupied from 1792- 1810, affords a key to the whole history of the colony; and without this knowledge many important transactions, affecting the civil, social and political interests of the community would appear almost incomprehensible’. Samuel Bennett, Australian Discovery and Colonisation Vol. 1 to 1800, Facsimile Edition, 1981.

Though Phillip recommended Lieutenant Gidley King RN replace him as Governor government failed to commission an immediate successor exposing the First Australians to the brutality of the infantry troops of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

The first contingent of the Corps had arrived in June 1790 aboard the second fleet. But the Corps commander Major Francis Grose  remained in London to recruit and satisfy establishment requirements.

‘The other great change came in the arrival with the second fleet and the first companies of the New South Wales Corps of Lieutenant John Macarthur  – a central figure in the military ‘mafia’ – which quickly established itself as Australia’s first governing and property owning elite.

This shift was commercially launched in 1793 when Macarthur organised a cartel that using credit accessed against pay bought 7,5000 gallons of rum and other cargo of an American trader [Hope], and sold it in the colony at a huge profit’. Pacific Explorations, Voyages of Discovery from Captain Cook’s Endeavour to the Beagle, Nigel Rigby Peter Van Der Merwe & Glyn Williams, Maritime Museum Greenwich, Bloomsbury, Adlard Coles, London 2018  etc ....

There was intense dissension within its senior officer ranks. Lieutenant John Macarthur, an ambitious junior officer, moved swiftly to fill the vacuum.Britain’s Grim Armada’. See: Dancing With Slavers – A Second Fleet

1792 -Sydney Cove, December 12 : Following repeated requests for repatriation Governor Arthur Phillip RN, after five (5) traumatic years as Britain’s first Governor of New South Wales, sailed home to England in the Atlantic.

By default, between December 1792 and September 1795, ‘the plentitude of power’ Britain vested in its naval governors fell into the hands of the military.

For the length of the interregnum the British government was greatly at fault’. Hunter, J.J. Auchmuty, Australian Dictionary of Biography

1794 – London, February 6: Eventually Captain John Hunter RN,  hero of the ‘First Fleet’ expeditionary force, was ‘commission[ed] as captain-general and governor-in-chief’ at the beginning of February 1794 [but] did not sail until 25 February 1795′.

1795 – Sydney, September 7: Governor Hunter arrived in the colony on September 7, 1795 and assumed office four [4] days later.See: A Black Hole: The First Interregnum 1792-1795

‘From 1788 there had been continuous disputation between the civil power represented by the autocratic uniformed naval governors, and the military’. John McMahon, Not a Rum Rebellion but a Military Insurrection, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol.92, 2006

Initially that ‘disputation’ was played out between Governor Phillip and Marine Major Robert Ross commander of the Sydney Garrison.

In March 1790 Phillip managed to get rid of Ross by transferring him, along with 50% of the English population to Norfolk Island, where Ross was to act as Lieutenant-Governor.

Phillip’s reprieve was short. John Macarthur more than adequately replaced Major Ross as tormentor.  Macarthur proved to be  the common denominator in the downfall of Governor Phillip’s immediate successors – all ‘autocratic naval governors’.

Governor John Hunter RN (1795-1800) See: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with Hunter

Governor Phillip Gidley King RN (1800-06) See: Alice – Down the Rabbit Hole with King

Governor William William Bligh RN (1806-8) See: Australia Day Rebellion – 26 January 1808


‘It is absolutely necessary, in order to understand the social, civil and political condition of the colonists at this period, and for many years afterwards, to keep steadily in view the abolition of civil authority and the substitution in its stead of what was at first virtually a military despotism, but which afterwards became a petty oligarchy‘. Samuel Bennett. ibid.

1792 – mid February, Sydney:  Seven (7) months before Governor Phillip departed the colony Major Francis Grose arrived to take command of the New South Wales Corps.

By then teetotaller Lieutenant Macarthur had organised his brother officers pool their monies to buy shares in trading cartels to import cheap ‘fiery Indian rum’ from Bengal.

‘These [officers] under guidance of Lieutenant Macarthur, had subscribed over £4,000 in £200 shares to charter her [Britannia]….Ere Britannia departed Captain Raven of the Britannia whaler, with permission from the Governor [Phillip], had sailed for the Cape of Good Hope as the agent of the New South Wales Corps members’. M.H. Ellis, John Macarthur, Angus and Robertson 

Governor Phillip’s ‘permission’ – in reality Phillip was dismayed by this development. But Major Grose ‘whose guiding hand already was gradually but imperceptibly beginning to take over the reins on which Phillip’s grip was loosening’ [Ellis] was very supportive of his officers’ enterprise.

Sydney – 1792, 13 December: The day following Phillip’s departure the colony fell under absolute military rule. Major Grose abolished all ‘civil’ magistrates replacing them with officers of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

‘Grose must had realized that in superseding the magistrates he was making an alteration in judicial government which was contrary to the Royal Instructions expressed both in Phillip’s Commission and the Letters Patent establishing the Courts of Law.’ William Foster, Journal of Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol 51, part 3, 1948

The first rum import delivered by Britannia was sold to starving ex-convict settlers in Sydney Town, Rose Hill and those farming along the Deerubbun – Hawkesbury River.

‘Fiery Indian rum’ sold for exorbitant profit made ‘certain officers’ very wealthy.

Awash with grog the colony’s dynamic changed ‘until some homes “became no better than porter houses’ and the less controlled part of the populous grew riotous, burning their houses, trampling their crops, and beating their wives”. Richard Atkins Diary, cited Ellis. See: A Worm Hole – Richard Atkin’s Diary

Major Grose proved  a disinterested ruler. He appointed Lieutenant John  Macarthur Inspector of Works. The assignment gave Macarthur the day to day running of the colony.

As pay-master, by giving and withholding favours Macarthur consolidated his power. Both commissioned and non-commissioned officers fell quickly into line.

1794 – December, England: Major Grose, wounded in America’s War of Independence (1775-1783), found Sydney’s intense summer heat draining and the humidity unbearable.

Grose returned to England in December 1794 and governance of the colony passed to Captain William Paterson his second-in-command.


As the spread of agriculture disrupted their ancient economy…the strain on traditional food resources must have been immense, forcing Aborigines onto the farms of settlers. Aborigines were forced to take some of the settlers’ crops and spear their stock. Reprisals by the Whites led to guerilla warfare over a large part of the Cumberland Plain’. Peter Turbet, The First Frontier, The Occupation of the Sydney Region 1788-1816, Rosenberg, 2011

Criminals ‘on expiry of sentence’ had their villainy rewarded with grants of Aboriginal land; thirty (30) acres, plus twenty (20) for a wife or de facto plus ten (10) acres for each child. Officers and non-coms with larger parcels were assigned numbers of serving convicts to work the land.

English-style static agriculture, tied always to water sources, meant more and more river land was fenced off for cropping. Local Aborigines were denied access to yam fields their main winter crop.

Confrontation between black and white escalated; ‘as if’ Dr Stanley rightly asserts ‘the invasion of their land would call for any other response but armed resistance’.

1794 – February, Prospect: At Prospect in February 1794; ‘the Watchmen claimed to have killed three [3] Darug…they returned to Toongabbie with the head of one [1] of the slain’. Peter Turbet. ibid.

Trusted armed serving prisoners were permitted to roam more or less freely. They often came into conflict with local Aborigines.

Governor Phillip’s ‘universal terror’ algorithm of December 1790 ; kill, catch, behead; ‘whenever any future breach of good conduct on their [Aborigines’] part render it necessary’ was played out as ‘parcel by parcel’ Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples were dispossessed of their lands.

1795 – Hawkesbury River: By 1795 settlers, ex-convicts and military land-owners, had established farming settlements along ‘thirty (30) miles’ on both sides of the Hawkesbury.

A ‘lawless’place’  the Hawkesbury was awash with rum, guns and white settlers with an overwhelming sense of entitlement to their stolen land.

Although Captain Paterson also a wounded veteran of the American war expressed some regret; ‘it gives me concern to have been forced to destroy any of these [Darug] people, particularly as I have no doubt of their having been cruelly treated by some of the first settlers who went out there’ nevertheless his only answer for the troubles on the Hawkesbury was violence -the gun.

1795 – 15 June, Hawkesbury River: In mid June Paterson sent a detachment of; ‘two subalterns and sixty privates of the New South Wales Corps to the river, as well as to drive the natives to a distance, as for the protection of the settlers’. op.cit


1795 September, Sydney: Governor John Hunter RN arrived aboard Reliance in early September 1795. Four (4) days later he took up his commission as Britain’s second .autocratic uniformed naval governor’  bringing an end to the lengthy interregnum December 1792 to September 1795.

John Macarthur took the lead role in bringing down Governor Hunter. As Captain of HMS Sirius Hunter was the hero of Governor Phillip’s administration.

But because he failed to control a rogue military outfit and stop the importation of rum his tenure as Governor was seen as a failure and Hunter was recalled to London. See: Down the Rabbit Hole with Hunter

GOVERNOR KING RN: 1800 – 1806

Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN another ‘First Fleeter’ succeeded Hunter.

When Governor King took up his commission the colony was a hotbed of jealous tittle-tattle, back-stabbing, double-dealing and snide, sniggering gossip.

Initially, as he strove to bring law and order to this ‘unruly outpost of Empire’  King had more success than Hunter in staring down the military. See: The Irish & the English King in Australia

And when Macarthur in a duel shot Captain Paterson his commanding officer King sent him to England for censure. However the ship carrying Macarthur’s sword and Governor King’s written evidence sank with all hands and the case against Macarthur collapsed.

Macarthur seized the moment. He resigned his commission, sought friends in high places and deftly turned the tables on Governor King who too was recalled to England. . See: Down the Rabbit Hole with King

1805 – Sydney: Macarthur returned to Sydney a powerful business-man aboard his own ship Argo in mid 1805. In his satchel a grant for 5000 acres of land issued by Lord ‘Plantations’ Camden with a promise of 5000 more if he succeeded in establishing a viable Australian sheep and wool industry.


War was raging and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was winning more than losing France again looked towards India and New Holland seeking to consolidate Britain’s sovereignty of Australia,

Influenced by Sir Joseph Banks  government selected a man of ‘sterner fibre’ Captain William Bligh RN of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame or infamy to replace Governor Gidley King.

Banks was certain Bligh’s bombastic ‘martinet’ style and blistering ‘quarter-deck’ language, would bring a rogue military outfit to heel.

Banks however had quite another reason for fostering Bligh. He did not trust Macarthur. Lord Camden’s land grant of 5000 acres and permission to launch an Australian wool industry was not to Banks liking.

He needed Bligh on hand to keep a sharp eye on Macarthur and Macarthur knew it. 


1806 – August, Sydney: Governor William Bligh RN arrived aboard Lady Sinclair in early August 1806 . Macarthur had by then perfected his bullying skills.

When Bligh, like his predecessors Hunter and King, attempted to stop the rivers of gold flowing from sales of ‘fiery Indian rum’ Macarthur took careful aim. Within eighteen (18) months Bligh was a prisoner of the military, under lock and key in Governor House.See: Coup-ee

1808 – 26 January, Government House: On 26 January 1808, 20th anniversary of Governor Phillip’s hoisting the Union Jack at Sydney Cove in 1788, troops led by Captain George Johnston of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps, marched up Bridge Street and breached Government House.

John Macarthur did not attend the commemorative regimental dinner that immediately preceded the coup but supplied the fine wines that fuelled it.

A battering-ram smashed the entrance door, Governor Bligh was seized at gun-point. A cannon mounted in the grounds, was made ready and crewed to mow down anyone who might try to intervene on Bligh’s behalf. See: Australia Day Rebellion 26 January 1808

Throughout 1808 Governor Bligh and Mary Putland, his recently widowed daughter, remained prisoners in the Vice Regal residence.

1809 – February, Sydney: In 1809 both were confined for a short time at the military barracks in George Street from where, by way of deception, Bligh talked his way to freedom.

1809 – 22 February, Tasmania: Bligh gained their freedom by promising, if given command of HMS Porpoise  he would to set sail immediately to England.

However on taking command he set course for Van Diemens Land now Tasmania. See: Sydney to Hobart with Governor Bligh – Imagine

1809 – 29 March, England: John Macarthur and Major Johnston who led his troops against Governor Bligh, sailed for England in the Admiral Gambier at the end of March 1809 to answer for their roles in the ‘Rum Rebellion’.


Following the military insurrection governance of ‘The Distracted Settlement’ was now in the dubious hands of brutal Major Joseph Foveaux and Colonel William Paterson the man who earlier, in 1801, Macarthur had wounded with a shot from his duelling pistol.

Paterson never fully recovered from that injury and by 1809 was a shell of a man with a ‘two-bottle-a-day’ habit. He took up residence at Parramatta while Foveaux ran the show from Government House, Sydney. 


1810 – 1 January, Sydney: Colonel Macquarie, Britain’s fifth Governor of Australia, the first raised from military ranks, took up his commission on the first day of January 1810.

A Scots regiment – the 73rd  Black Watch; troops he had commanded previously, in full battle kit lined the decks of HMS Hindostan and HMS Dromedary.

To the skirl of pipes perhaps ‘When blue bonnets came over the border’ the two (2) warships sailed slowly up Sydney Harbour leaving Foveaux and Paterson in no doubt, under Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice O’Connell, the Regiment’s Irish commander, his feared Scots would be only too willing to take on the rebellious New South Wales Corps.


During Governor Macquarie’s tenure 1810-1821 convict transportation continued apace. To feed an ever-increasing white population of criminals and settlers more and more Aboriginal land was taken and given over to cropping and grazing.

1811 – Appin:  In 1811 Macquarie named one area Appin after his wife Elizabeth’s Scottish birthplace. Situated adjacent to Macarthur’s large land grant, along the Cataract and Grose Rivers. It was hoped this fertile Aboriginal land might not be so prone to flooding.

‘The settlement of these lands had been partly precipitated by the disastrous floods along the Hawkesbury in 1809…the first in May, had destroyed practically all the previous harvest and the second in August had destroyed the growing crop’. Peter Laut, Agricultural Geography, Vol. 2. Thomas Nelson Publishing, 1968

1815 – England: Following the end of the French and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), in addition to the pressure exerted by a natural increase in population, an avalanche of traumatised demobbed soldiers and sailors were thrown onto the scrapheap of the unemployed and unemployable.

1815 – New South Wales: And Australia needed men; navvies, shepherds, farm labourers, whalers and sealers. Macquarie insisted Britain send males not ‘useless‘ females

‘Deserving’ paupers were swept from England’s appalling workhouses. The ‘undeserving poor’ scooped up from under bridges, off squalid streets and dug out of filthy alley-ways these were also shipped off to New South Wales.

To get rid of more ‘undesirables’ Britain introduced forced migration combined with both assisted and ‘bounty’ schemes. By 1820 the population of Sydney and its environs had a ratio of 6:1 – one (1) white woman for every six (6) white men . See: G for Gender

Towards the First Australians Macquarie, steeped in the internecine intricacies of Scottish clan dynamics, adopted a Jekyll and Hyde stance. He knew instinctively how to manipulate alliances and ignite enmities. He played favourites setting one group against another.

An expanding white population centred on the Hawkesbury and Nepean River systems in ‘a land of drought and flooding rains’ was subject to the scourge of cyclic natural disasters.

Severe drought, raging floods, plagues of flying-foxes, locusts and caterpillar saw crops fail, stock drown or die from lack of water and feed.


War nasty and decidedly lacking in glory…British troops helped to to determine the civilisation which would replace the culture of the Australian Aborigines’. Stanley. ibid.

Britain stole New Holland an island continent, its peoples’ freedom, their languages, their children, their culture. When Aborigines, in an attempt to survive  stole sheep, cattle and corn, the combatants – settlers, soldiers and Aborigines killed each other.

1816 – April: Governor Lachlan Macquarie; ‘fire on them…to strike the greater terror…hang the bodies up on trees’.

Governor Macquarie’s war of 1816 at Appin was Governor Phillip’s 1790 war at Botany Bay; ‘infuse universal terror…whenever any future breach of good conduct on their part render it necessary’. See: Arthur’s Algorithm‘universal terror’ – Open Sesame

1816 – 10 April, Sydney: ‘I have this day ordered three [3] separate military detachments to march into the interior and remote parts of the colony for the purpose of punishing hostile natives by clearing the country of them entirely, and driving them across the mountains.

In the event of the natives making the smallest show of resistance – or refusing to surrender when called upon so to do – the officers commanding the military have been authorised to fire on them to compel them to surrender, hanging up on trees the bodies of such natives as may be killed on such occasions, in order to strike the greater terror into the survivors’. Governor Lachlan Macquarie Diary, 10 April, 1816

Macquarie appointed Captain James Wallis lead the raid on the Dharawal at Appin. In terms of body-count Wallis’ raid was the most successful of three (3) separate forays carried out by the 46th Regiment. the South Devons.

War nasty and decidedly lacking in glory…British troops helped to to determine the civilisation which would replace the culture of the Australian Aborigines’. Stanley. ibid.


1816 – April, Appin: ‘The Massacre of men, women and children of the Dharawal Nation occurred near here [Appin] on 17th April, 1816. Fourteen were counted this day, but the real number will never be known’. The Appin Massacre Monument, Cataract Dam, Citied Turbet, The First Frontier. ibid.

1816 – 16 April: The detachment appears to have engaged the Dharawal in two (2) separate actions. Captain Wallis dealt first with a hunting party of Dharawal men who were attacked and killed. The women, children and old people awaiting their return were now easy prey.

1816 – 17 April, Appin: The detachment reached the home camp in the early hours of 17th April 1816; ‘a few of my men heard a child cry…I formed ranks, I regret to say some had been shot and others met their fate while rushing in despair over the precipice…in the end only five [5] Dharawal could be counted’. Captain James Wallis, Reel 6045, New South Wales State Archives, St Marys

‘To strike the greater terror’ two (2) headless corpses were; ‘hung up on trees’ headless but not anonymous.

‘He [Wallis] ordered Lieutenant Parker to hang the corpses of Cannabaygala and Dunell on a prominent hill near Lachlan Vale…strung up just north of Wilton Road…Cannabaygals’s skull was described in Sir George Mackenzie’s 1820 book, Illustrations of Phrenology’. Turbet. ibid.

The heads of Cannabaygala and Dunell were taken to Sydney. Boiled, their skulls were exported to the Anatomy Department of Edinburgh University, Scotland.

According to Peter Turbet the skulls ‘returned to Australia in the early 1990s’. At present they are thought to be held at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.


1817 – 30 September, Sydney: John Macarthur’s eight (8) year exile in England, post the ‘Rum Rebellion’, ended at the end of September 1817. He returned to Camden and after assessing the way the wind blew, hitched his star to Commissioner Thomas Bigge, sent from London to spy on Governor Macquarie.

Macarthur added his own particular brand of vitriol to the process of denigration. London censored Governor Macquarie, not for killing and beheading First Nations’ Peoples, but for beautiful buildings and attempting to straighten Sydney’s crooked streets.


1816 – April, Appin: ‘to strike the greater terror into the survivors’.

1790 – 13 December, Sydney: ‘to infuse an universal terror, which might operate to prevent further mischief…the natives will be made severe examples of whenever any [English] man is wounded by them…bring in two [2] prisoners…I am resolved to to execute in the most  public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be  collected …and my fixed deterination to repeat it , whenever any future breach of good conduct on shall render it necessary’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN, General Orders to Marine Captain Watkin Tench, cited Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

‘On 14 December [1790] a troop of over 50 men departed for Botany Bay armed with muskets, hatchets for beheading and bags for carrying the heads. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Spy Governor, Hardie Grant Books, 2013

‘Differing in no respect from the last’ Governor Phillip’s orders of 13 December 1790 were repeated with the same intent ‘catch, kill, behead.  See: Arthur’s Algorithm

1790 – 22 December, Botany Bay: ‘A second [raid] the painful pre-eminence again devolved on me. The orders under which I was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last’. Tench.ibid.

Marine Captain Watkin Tench tells of Governor Phillip’s ‘fixed determination to repeat [them] whenever any future breach of good conduct on their [Aborigines’] part render it necessary’.

Extant – Phillip’s orders served as a template for; ‘twenty-five regiments of British infantry’ who served in Australia between June 1790 and September 1870. 


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