‘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.

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

Whitehall: 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 British infantry troops.

‘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

Sydney  – 1790 June: First contingent of infantry, the infamous New South Wales Corps, had arrived in June 1790 aboard the second fleet Britain’s Grim Armada’. See: Dancing With Slavers – A Second Fleet

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

Major Francis Grose the Corps’ commander remained in London to recruit and satisfy establishment requirements. There was intense dissension within officer ranks. Lieutenant John Macarthur, a junior officer, moved swiftly to fill the command vacuum. See: A Black Hole: The First Interregnum 1792-1795

London – 1794, 6 February,: 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′.

Sydney – 1795, September 7: Governor John Hunter RN arrived 7 September 1795 and assumed office four days later.  

‘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 Major Robert Ross commander of the Sydney Marine Garrison.

In March 1790 Phillip had rid himself 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 in the role of tormentor.  Macarthur proved to be  the common denominator in the downfall of Governor Phillip’s immediate successors, three (3) ‘autocratic naval governors’.

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

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

Governor, Captain William William ‘Bounty’ 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.

However 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 Major Grose abolished all ‘civil’ magistrates replacing them with officers of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps. The colony fell under absolute military rule.

‘Grose must had realized that in superceding 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 ‘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 a wounded veteran of America’s Revolutionary War (1775-1783) , proved  a disinterested ruler. He appointed Lieutenant John  Macarthur Inspector of Works giving him to day to day running of the colony.

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

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

Grose returned to England in December1794 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. While officers and non-coms with larger parcels were assigned numbers of serving convicts.

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 prisoners, permitted to roam more or less freely, 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 land.

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 River.

It was a ‘lawless’place’ 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 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 the Reliance in early September 1795. Four (4) days later he took up his commission as Britain’s second Governor of New South Wales bringing an end to the lengthy interregnum December 1792 to September 1795.

‘From 1788…continuous disputation between…autocratic uniformed naval governors and the military’. McMahon. ibid.

Lieutenant John Macarthur took the lead role in bringing down Governor Hunter. As Captain of HMS Sirius Hunter had been a 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 he had more success than Hunter in staring down the military as he strove to bring law and order to ‘an unruly outpost of Empire’ See: The Irish & the English King in Australia

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

Macarthur turned this to his advantage, resigned his commission, sought friends in high places and deftly turned the tables on Governor King. As a result of Macarthur’s persistent white-anting, King 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 establishing an Australian sheep and wool industry.


With war raging and Napoleon winning more than losing France again looked at New Holland. Government sought to consolidate Britain’s sovereignty over Australia and selected Captain William Bligh RN of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame or infamy to replace Governor Gidley King.

Whitehall, influenced by Sir Joseph Banks, was certain Bligh’s bombastic ‘martinet’ style and blistering ‘quarter-deck’ language, could restore law and order to an out of control colony and 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. Hee 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 and within eighteen (18) months Bligh was under lock and key a prisoner of the military. 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.

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

1809 – February, Sydney: Throughout 1808 Governor Bligh and Mary Putland, his recently widowed daughter, remained prisoners of the military in Government House. In 1809 both were confined for a short time at the George Street barracks from where, by way of deception, Bligh talked his way to freedom.

1809 – 22 February, Tasmania: Bligh gained their freedom by promising to sail immediately to England. However once in command of HMS Porpoise he set course for Van Diemens Land now Tasmania. See: Sydney to Hobart with Governor Bligh – Imagine

1809 – 29 March, England: It was John Macarthur who supplied the fine wines that fuelled the Australia Day rebellion. With Major George Johnston who led his troops against Governor Bligh, both sailed for England in the Admiral Gambier at the end of March 1809 to answer for their pivotal 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. Macquarie brought insurance; a Scots regiment – the 73rd  Black Watch; troops he had commanded previously.

The troops in full battle kit lined the decks of HMS Hindostan and HMS Dromedary as 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 after his wife Elizabeth’s Scottish birthplace. Appin situated beyond Cowpastures, adjacent to Macarthur’s large land grant, along the Cataract and Grose River. It was thought 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 soldiers and sailors were thrown onto the scrapheap of the unemployed and unemployable.

1815 – New South Wales: As well as convicts 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 were 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, playing 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.

Britain stole New Holland an island continent, its peoples’ freedoms, 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.

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

Governor Macquarie’s war of 1816 was Governor Phillip’s 1790 war; ‘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 South Devons. Regiment.

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 tribe 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 and their skulls 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, 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 erecting 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 man is wounded by them…bring in six of those who reside near the head of Botany Bay; or if if that should be found impracticable, to put that number six [6] to death’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN, General Orders to Marine Captain Watkin Tench, cited Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. 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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