1790 – 13 December, Sydney Headquarters:‘ Put to death ten…bring in the heads of the slain…bring in two prisoners…I am resolved to execute the prisoners…in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected’. Governor Phillip, General Orders to Captain Tench, cited, Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1961

The reason Phillip gave for his ‘indiscriminate and disproportionate’ directive, putting no limit on barbarity, was the spearing of convict John M’Entyre by the warrior Pemulwuy that took place at Botany Bay in the early hours of 10 December 1790.

‘The cultural arrogance of the British was evident even before the First Fleet sailed. There was no recognition that the Aborigines had their own notion of right, that from their point of view they were entitled to defend themselves from invasion’. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

Ostensibly Phillip’s orders of 13 December centred on Pemulwuy’s spearing of John M’Entire. But Phillip’s knowledge of M’Entire, his own game-keeper, makes nonsense of his claim they were unprovoked’.

‘On the 9th of the month, a serjeant of marines, with three [3] convicts, among whom was M’Entire, the governor’s game-keeper (the person of whom Baneelon had, on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred) went out on a shooting party’. Tench. ibid.

‘But in this business of M’Entire I [Phillip] am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked’. The ‘but’ refers to Phillip’s ‘own spearing’ by Wileemarrin on Manly Beach three (3) months previously – September 1790. See: Manly, Location Location Location

A year earlier, December 1789, on Governor Phillip’s orders Bennalong had been kidnapped. He was held captive within British lines until escaping in May of 1790. Bennalong was the source of Phillip’s intelligence ‘dread and hatred’. See: Kidnapped – Manly What’s In A Name

‘For the Sydney people to lose around 50 per cent or more of their military capability in a few weeks was a crushing blow’. Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817, NewSouth Books, 2018

In December 1790 Sydney’s Aborigines were at a low ebb. The previous year, April 1789, an outbreak of smallpox raged through their community killing 50% their number. The survivors were struggling to regroup. See: Smallpox: A Lethal Weapon Boston – 1775  Major Ross & Captain Collins – Sydney – 1789

Pemulwuy a single assailant speared the armed convict Mc Intyre. Governor Phillip’s orders, punishing both innocent and guilty, went well beyond what was legal in warfare. as required under the Laws of War at that time.

Captain Tench, with the Laws of War in mind, hesitated. The Governor negotiated with Tench and the ‘scope of the order’ was changed. However they remained illegal;  ‘bring in six [6] of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay; or, if that should be found impracticable, to put that number to death’.

What drove Governor Arthur Phillip to issue these orders? ‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’. Kercher. ibid. That authorisation applied when ever and from whom-so-ever such threat arose.

‘We feigned that our preparations were directed against…Willamarrin’. Tench. ibid.

Botany Bay  1790, December 14:  ‘At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 14th we marched…with three days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners, with hatchets and bags to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’. Watkin Tench. ibid. See: A Hatchet Job- Kill 6 & Cut Off Their Heads

Botany Bay – 1790,  December 22: ‘Our first expedition [14th] having so totally failed, the governor resolved to try the fate of a second; and the painful pre-eminence’ again devolved on me….The orders under which I [Tench] was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last’.  Tench. ibid.

2019: Surely the time has come to investigate John McIntyre’s death and Arthur Phillip’s motives. See: The Switch 1790 – Context – War With France 1793-1815




1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN the ‘First Fleet’ a large armed amphibious expeditionary force of   eleven (11) vessels sailed from England in mid May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [male] convicts. Apart the allowance of spirits the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, ed. W. Hugh Oldham, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990

One-half of the fleet’s overwhelmingly male complement – 1500 – consisted of two hundred (200) Royal Naval personnel, four (4) companies of marines – two hundred and forty-five (245) officers and rank and file – thirty-one (31) marine wives and about four hundred and forty (440) merchant seamen.

The other half were convicted criminals. The Hulks Act of 1776 legislated two (2) categories of prisoner. Those reprieved death and sentenced ‘for transportation beyond the seas’, were deemed ‘Servants of the Crown [their] Service is for the Crown’.

Five hundred and seventy (570) men rationed as ‘troops serving in the West Indies’ their ‘service’ for the Crown was as combatants. One hundred and ninety (190 women) prisoners their ‘service’ for the use of officers.

1788 – 18-20 January, Botany Bay: After traversing 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’ by mid-January 1788 the fleet was safely anchored in Botany Bay.

Lack of water and protection for the fleet caused Phillip to immediately set off in one (1) of three (3) small boats to find a reliable water source and examine the surrounding country.

1788 – 21 January, Port Jackson: Using Lieutenant James Cook’s charts of 1770 the scouting party came up a vast harbour and a snug cove.

1788 – 23 January, Botany Bay: ‘The boats returned on the evening of the 23d. with such an account of the harbour and advantages attending the place, that it was determined the evacuation of Botany Bay should commence the next morning’. Tench. ibid.

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay: Comte Jean- Francoise La Perouse in command of La Boussole and L’Astrolabe arrived in the entrance to the wide open bay. Bad weather and, the sight of HMS Sirius with gun-ports open for business, forced them to seek safety at Sutherland.

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson: Captain Phillip quit Botany Bay and made for Port Jackson nine (9) miles (14 km) to the north arriving there late that evening.

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: Victory over France; ‘at daylight a marine party from the Supply and everybody else who would be spared, began clearing a small area near the Tank Stream. A flagstaff was erected to its east from which the Union Jack was flown’. Tench. ibid. See: Australia: Britain By A Short Half-Head

1788 – 26 January, Port Jackson: During the day the remaining English fleet departed Botany Bay for Port Jackson. Just on sunset all of the fleet ships anchored alongside Supply.

1788 – 6 February: Two (2) weeks later the convict women and their children landed from the ships that had been home for just on a year.

1788 – 7 February, Sydney Cove: ‘The battalion was drawn up on parade…music playing…convicts assembled…His Majesty’s commission read….Nor have Government been backward in arming Mr. Phillip with a plenitude of power’. Tench ibid.


‘Perched precariously on the edge of an impenetrable continent, the threat of starvation constantly present, death was never remote from the tiny colony’. Dr. Bryan Gandevia, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 61, Part 1, 1975 See: Abandoned and Left to Starve @ Sydney – January 1788 to June 1790

The men, women and children of the ‘First Fleet’ were abandoned. Not until the middle of June 1790 did a word or supplies from England reach them. See: Missing In Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

1790 – 1 January, Sydney: ‘We had been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May 1787 the date of our departure from Portsmouth. Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year [as] we have now been two years in the country, and twenty-two months from England’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – 1 June: ‘per week without distinction…to every child of more than eighteen (18) months old and to every grown person two [2] pounds of pork, two and a half [2 ½] pounds of flour, two [2] pounds of rice, or a quart of pease…To every child under eighteen [18] months old, the same quantity of rice and flour, and one [1] pound of pork’. 


1790 – 3 June, Sydney: Lady Juliana, dubbed ‘The Brothel Ship’ – first of four (4) vessels of a second fleet broke the ‘misery and horror’ of absolute isolation.

Juliana brought two hundred and twenty-six (226) women prisoners, eight (8) children with more on the way but no food aside from a small flock of sheep salvaged from the wrecked HMS Guardian.

Reinforcements, one hundred and fifteen (115) officers and men of the New South Wales Corps, first contingent of ‘twenty-five regiments of British infantry’ were distributed throughout the fleet’s death ships Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize‘Britain’s Grim Armada’.

1790 – 30 June, Sydney: By the end of June 1790 five (5) English ships had reached Sydney; four (4) convict transports and Justinian a fully laden store-ship.

Justinian, within sight of the Heads, was caught in a severe east-coast low weather system and very nearly went the way of HMS Guardian. See: TITANIC: HMS GUARDIAN – AUSTRALIA’S TITANIC

Of approximately one thousand (1000) mainly male prisoners embarked onto Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize at Plymouth two hundred and fifty-six (256) men and eleven (11) women died during the voyage.

Six hundred and ninety-two (692) male convicts and sixty-seven (67) females survived the horror passage. Of those landed alive 15% died within weeks of landing.

Captain William Hill who sailed in Suprize, wrote to William Wilberforce England’s leading parliamentary anti-slavery campaigner, ‘the slave trade is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet’. Historical Records of New South Wales. Vol. 1 See: Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead 

The newcomers, five (5) months from London’s teeming streets found neither fortress or redoubt but tents and starving, weak, ragged, bare-foot ‘Robinson Cruscos‘ clinging precariously to life on a ration well below subsistence level.

‘The pork and rice we brought with us from England; the pork had been salted between three and four years, and every grain of rice was a moving body, from the inhabitants lodged within it’. Tench. ibid.

None, soldier or criminal, could comprehend their new surroundings. Well documented animosity surfaced quickly between them and the  old lags of 1788.

1790 – September, Manly: A tipping point came when a ‘monster’ whale stranded on Manly Beach in September and a large number of excited Aborigines gathered around it.

Governor Phillip was rowed across to Manly anxious to see if it was the type that produced the much valued spermacetti oil. A confrontation ‘unhappy catastrophe’ developed between Phillip and Wileemarrin, a warrior from the Broken Bay area.

When the Governor ‘threw down a dirk he wore at his side’ Wileemarrin, speared him through the right shoulder.

Wileemarrin had every reason to interpret Phillip’s action as aggression. Manly was the place where earlier three (3) Aboriginal men Ararbanoo, Bennalong and Colbee, had been seized and taken captive. See: Manly Location, Location, Location.

‘The tremendous monster, who had occasioned the unhappy catastrophe just recorded was fated to be the cause of farther mischief to us’. Tench. ibid.

Phillip owned his part in the melee and ordered there be no reprisals. But his decision ‘was fated to…cause…farther mischief’. Seen as weakness it raised ire among ‘certain officers’ of the New South Wales Corps led by Lieutenant John Macarthur the teetotaller who went on to put rum into the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

1790 – 9 December, Botany Bay:  Provocation – a serjeant of marines and three (3) armed convicts including the ‘hated’ M’Intyre were sent to Botany Bay to hunt kangaroo. Under the Hulks Act of 1776 convicts reprieved death on condition of transportation; ‘their service…is for the Crown’.

1790 – 10 December: Early next morning; ‘awakened by a rustling noise in the bushes…two Aborigines…one [Pemulwuy] launched his spear at M’Entire’. 

But in this business of M’Entire…I [Phillip] am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked’. All evidence is to the contrary. See: A Tethered Goat – John M’Intyre

1790 – 11 December, Sydney Cove: The group returned to Sydney with the mortally wounded M’Intyre who begged not to be left to die in the bush.  See: Lieutenant William Dawes The Eternal Flame & Universal Terror

1790 – 13 December, Sydney: ‘His excellency pitched upon me [Tench] be ready to march at daylight…party, consisting of two captains, two subalterns and forty privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers from the garrison, with three days provisions…to execute the command…if six [6] cannot be taken let that number be shot’. 

1790 – 14 December, Botany Bay: ‘At four o’clock in the morning’ led by Marine Captain Tench ‘we marched…By nine o’clock this terrific procession reached the peninsula, at the head of Botany Bay.

Given the physical condition of the marines the detachment’s rank and file must have been drawn from the ranks of the New South Wales Corps.

1790 – 17 December, Sydney:  After three (3) days; ‘we bent our steps homeward…wading breast-high’ through water ‘as broad as the Thames at Westminster, were glad to find ourselves at Sydney, between one and two o’clock in the afternoon’ without heads or prisoners.

Tench’s troops returned to a very different settlement from the one they had left. At first light that morning Waaksamheyd, the Dutch ship chartered at Jakarta by Lieutenant Henry Ball had arrived. Unloading of tons of supplies was well under-way and the heady smell of cooking filled with the air. .. See: Missing in Action. HMS Sirius & HMS Supply  

‘Our first expedition having so totally failed the governor resolved to try the fate of a second and the; ‘painful pre-eminence’ again devolved on me…the orders under which I [Tench] was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last’.

1790 – 22 December: The second raid ‘differing in no respect from the last’ emphasised Governor Phillip’s clear intent: ‘to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, such as; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group’. United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention of Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. See: G is for Genocide  – Testosterone Fuelled

The second raid was a whole new deal. Tench made significant tactical alterations.

‘It was determined, being full moon, that our operations should be carried on in the night, both for the sake of secrecy, and for avoiding the extreme heat of the day.’

And there was a significant sop to the enemy within ‘certain officers’ of the New South Wales Corps led by Lieutenant John Macarthur.

We feigned that our preparations were directed against Broken  Bay; and that [Wileemarrin] the man who had wounded the governor was the object of punishment’.

Early morning on the 23rd December the detachment sighted; ‘five Indians on the beach, we pursued; but the contest between heavy-armed Europeans and naked unencumbered Indians, was too unequal to last long. They darted into the wood and disappeared.

1790 – 24 Christmas Eve: Our final effort was made at half past one o’clock next morning ; and after four hours toil, ended as those preceding it had done, in disappointment and vexation. At nine o’clock…we returned to Sydney to report our fruitless peregrination’.

Not ‘fruitless’ Tench tells ‘if we could not retaliate on the murderer of M’Entire, we found no difficulty in punishing offences committed within our own observations’. 

1790 – December, Sydney: ‘Two natives…detected in robbing a potatoe garden…the ardour of the soldiers transported them so far, that instead of capturing the offenders, they fired among them… the women were taken…two men escaped…one…Ban-g-ai died’. Tench. ibid.


‘Henry Reynolds argues that the unsuccessful operations against the Bidjigal were the prototype for future punitive expeditions which only ended with the Conistan Massacre of 1928’. Reynolds, cited Peter Turbet, The Occupation of the Sydney Region 1788-1816, Rosenberg, Sydney, 2011.

Governor Phillip’s orders of December 1790 his;‘fixed determination to repeat it whenever any future breach of good conduct on their side, shall render it necessary’ remained extant.

They served as a template for;‘twenty-five [(25] regiments of British infantry who served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870… They fought in the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British empire, and 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, The British Army in Australia 1790-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986


















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