SYDNEY TO HOBART WITH CAPTAIN BLIGH – IMAGINE

‘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.

1808 – 26 January, Sydney: Major George Johnston commander of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps led his officers and men against Governor William Bligh RN on the twentieth (20th ) anniversary of Britain’s invasion of New Holland. See: Australia Day Rebellion – 26 January 1808.

Governor Captain Bligh, Britain’s fourth naval Governor of Australia with Mary Putland his recently widowed daughter, were imprisoned by the military throughout 1808, firstly in Government House and later at the military barracks in George Street.

1809 – 20 February:  One (1) year after the coup Governor Bligh and his daughter were released to board HMS Porpoise.

Governor Bligh in order to gain freedom gave his word as ‘an officer and gentleman’ to Major Foveaux, then head of the rebel administration, once aboard HMS Porpoise, he would immediately set sail for England and ‘not come ashore on any part of the New South Wales coastline’.

Lieutenant John Porteus RN had been sent from England to take command of HMS Porpoise. Bligh as senior Royal Naval Officer, took command of the vessel but instead of ‘immediately’ sailing Porpoise to England as promised, a week later she was still riding at anchor in Sydney Harbour.

1809 – 26 February: Anxiety and dissension grew in the rebel camp, the old hands had always known ‘Bounty’ Bligh was not one to give up without a fight. They began to breathe a little easier however when, on Sunday 26 February 1809, Porpoise set a light sail, weighed anchor and moved down the harbour.

But just short of the open sea Porpoise dropped anchor and Bligh proceeded to set up a blockade of Sydney Harbour. Porpoise intercepted all ships entering or leaving the harbour and each ship’s master was handed a declaration signed by Bligh proclaiming ‘a state of rebellious anarchy’ existed in the colony.

The declaration was accompanied by documents naming all mutinous officers and civilian rebels, including the implacable John Macarthur whose personal ambition drove the coup. See: Coup-ee An Armed Insurrection – 26 January 1808

Copies of Bligh’s declaration began to appear on Sydney streets, many found their way to farming settlements on the Hawkesbury, Nepean and Parramata River systems where Bligh had many supporters.

A furious Major Foveaux who, in July 1808 stole the colony’s administration from Major George Johnston the initial usurper,  reckoned himself the legitimate Lieutenant-Governor of Australia and rounded up Bligh’s supporters.

Some were hauled into court and sentenced to years of imprisonment at Coal River (Newcastle) a brutal penal settlement of secondary punishment.

John Macarthur an erratic sociopath, ex-officer of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps whose personal ambition drove the rebellion, ranted and raved threatening to serve defamation orders on anyone who challenged or offended him. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

1809 – March 1809: February morphed into March, the brig Admiral Gambier was now ready to sail for England with Major George Johnston and John Macarthur his co-conspirator. Both were required to return to London and answer for their rebellious actions in deposing Governor Bligh.

Captain Harrison her master, fearing Porpoise would fire on the Admiral Gambier, delayed departure.

1809 – 17 March: HMS Porpoise upped anchor on the 17th of March put on more sail and disappeared from view.

1809 – 19 March: Two (2) days later Porpoise reappeared at the harbour’s entrance but this time fear gripped the town. She was dressed for action with gun-ports open, her crew at battle-stations. Bligh appeared on the point of victory when he backed-off.

Why? The rebels had turned on each other as Bligh knew they would. Perhaps he felt he had made his point or, perhaps even ‘Bounty’ Bligh baulked at opening fire on Sydney Town. See: Pandora’s Box

Whatever the reason, later that same day, 19th March 1809, a fully-rigged HMS Porpoise sailed away. Bligh still had a trick or two up his sleeve, he set course not for England as promised, but sailed south to Hobart Town – Van Diemens Land – now Tasmania.

1809 – 30 March: HMS Porpoise anchored in Sullivans Cove on the Derwent River at the end of March 1809. Colonel David Collins, Lieutenant-Governor of southern Tasmania, boarded Porpoise and welcomed Governor Bligh. Twenty-one (21) years earlier, 26 January 1788, Marine Captain David Collins, had landed in Sydney Cove from the ‘First Fleet’.

Despite Governor Arthur Phillip being Royal Navy, David Collins had been Phillip’s staunchest ally in his unending confrontation with Major Robert Ross, then David Collins’ commanding officer. See: Take Two – Rules of Engagement

1809 – April, Hobart: Now in April 1809 Governor Colonel Collins was dismayed to learn of the Australia Day rebellion and offered Bligh the hospitality of Government House Bligh however chose to stay on Porpoise.

Mary Putland who suffered severe sea-sickness gratefully accepted the offer and moved into Government House. Dinners and entertainments were arranged and for a few short weeks all went well but the good times did not last.

1809 – 10 April, Sydney: Meanwhile at Sydney Major Foveaux flew into a rage when news of Bligh’s arrival in Hobart reached him on the 10th April 1809. Foveaux rounded up and gaoled more of Bligh supporters but this time without benefit of a trial.

Hobart was by no means self-sufficient relying on supplies from Sydney. Foveaux’s decision to deliberately withhold livestock and provisions – food and rum shipped into Sydney from Bengal – brought again the spectre of starvation to the isolated settlement on the Derwent. See: A War Grave – Tasmania 

After a time Governor Collins’ attitude towards Bligh changed. While the reason for his change-of-heart is not known; probably it was not pressure from Major Foveaux alone.

Its origin, in part at least, may have been domestic. Perhaps it sprang from Mary’s prudish disdain for Margaret Eddington, an ex-convict and David Collins’ common-law wife, who had recently given birth to the couple’s second child.

In Mary’s defence, childless and recently widowed when shut up for a year (1808) in Sydney’s Vice Regal residence, while Major George Johnston the man responsible for her imprisonment lived comfortably in leafy Annandale with Esther Abrahams his ex-convict common-law wife, and their growing brood of  children.

In similar vein it could have been down to Bligh. Difficult and vindictive very much his own worst enemy, Bligh wrote of being shocked on seeing Governor Collins ‘walking with his kept woman (a poor low creature) arm in arm about the town’ and no doubt he found it difficult to keep that opinion to himself.

Earlier, during his first tour of duty in New South Wales, Governor Collins had fathered a daughter and son with Ann Yeates a young convict ‘First Fleeter’. Bligh at Collins’ request took the son of that liaison onto Porpoise as midshipman.

One morning young Collins appeared late for inspection, perhaps a little-worse-for-wear, Bligh charged him with ‘neglect of duty’ and had him flogged.

A furious Governor Collins removed a sentry posted outside Mary’s apartment for her protection. Warned of impending danger Bligh in great haste rounded-up those of his party ashore. Father and daughter were prisoners once more, this time aboard HMS Porpoise.

Whatever the reason for Governor Collins’ rage it knew no bounds. He threatened to fire on anyone attempting to come ashore from Porpoise issuing orders that any settler attempting to supply Bligh would be flogged.

An example was made of one (1) such man who died after receiving a ferocious five hundred (500) lashes.

Bligh a Royal Navy warrior well versed in the art of blockade, having tried it at Sydney, set up a one-ship blockade of the Derwent River.

Porpoise bailed up vessels entering or exiting Hobart, threatening to open-fire if a selected ship refused to supply food and water.

Month after month throughout a long dark freezing winter Porpoise, buffeted by wild winds rolled like a bottle, her strained timbers became increasingly less water-tight, but for Mary’s presence it is highly likely Bligh would have met with ‘an unfortunate accident’.

1809 – 22 December, Hobart:  Porpoise, intercepted Albion a large whaler on 22nd of December 1809. Her master brought Bligh what he hoped was welcome news; fresh troops had recently landed in Sydney, they appeared not to be English perhaps Scots or Irish.

1810 – 1 January, Hobart:  At first light on New Year’s Day 1810 HMS Porpoise now barely seaworthy slipped silently from the Derwent to face a turbulent Tasman Sea and treacherous Bass Strait. Bligh an excellent navigator plotted a course for Sydney, a voyage of six hundred and twenty-eight (628) nautical miles.

1810 – 1 January, Sydney: On New Year’s Day 1810 Governor Lachlan Macquarie took up his commission as Britain’ fifth Governor of New South Wales, the first drawn from military ranks. See: Sliding Doors * Bligh * Johnston * Foveaux * Macquarie

 

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