‘The first European settlements, from Port Jackson in 1788 [Tasmania 1803], Moreton Bay, Swan River and Adelaide during the next fifty years were intensive…This meant a complete undermining of the Aborigines’ way of life’. Professor A.P. Elkin, the Australian Aborigines, Epilogue, 5th edition, 1973

1792 – December: Governor Arthur Phillip RN returned to England after a five (5) year tenure as Britain’s first commissioned governor of New South Wales.

Whitehall failed to appoint a successor. As a result, by default, the immense power invested in Arthur Phillip, said to be unique in Britain’s long history of colonisation, fell to the military.

1792 – December t0 September 1795:

‘For the length of the interregnum the British government was greatly at fault…[His Hunter’s] commission as captain-general and governor-in-chief was dated 6 February 1794…[but] Hunter did not sail until 25 February [1795]….arrived [Sydney] 7 September 1795 and assumed office four days later’. J.J. Auchmuty, Australian Dictionary of Biography.

1795 – September: Until Captain John Hunter RN, the second commissioned Governor of New South Wales arrived in September 1795, the colony functioned as a military dictatorship.

‘The settlement was ruled as a military oligarchy…Grose [Major, commander of the New South Wales Corps] must have 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 Court of Law’. William Foster, Journal Royal Australia Historical Society, Vol. 1, part 3, 1968

During this first interregnum the colony was run for personal profit by Lieutenant John Macarthur, a parasitic teetotaller. Macarthur shipped in cheap ‘fiery Indian rum’ from Bengal and sold it on to sad lonely ex-convicts for ‘exorbitant’ profit. Grog drove the colony’s widespread lawlessness and laid the foundation of Macarthur’s future wealth and power.

1795 – September: By the time Governor Hunter did reach Sydney in September 1795 he was in his mid 60s and no match for an entrenched rogue military outfit, the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

Immediately following Governor Arthur Phillip’s departure in December 1792, Major Francis Grose the Corps’ commander had sacked all civil magistrates. When Governor Hunter reinstated the magistrates his action raised the ire of Machiavellian Macarthur.

Major Grose; ‘I cannot in safety hazard the event of another summer’. A veteran of the American War he found Sydney’s climate less than congenial and had left Sydney at the end of 1794. Grose was succeeded by Captain William Paterson as Corps’ commander and Lieutenant John Macarthur was well pleased.

‘Hunter proved quite unable to cope with the psychological consequences of his encounters with that particularly virulent form of commercial enterprise which characterized so many of his officers both trusted and otherwise’.  Introduction, John Hunter, First Fleet  Journal, reprint.

1798 – October: Governor Hunter, an accomplished navigator with an extensive knowledge of prevailing winds and ocean currents, was anxious to find out if Van Diemens Land – Tasmania – was separated from the mainland by a body of water.

With this aim in view Matthew Flinders and George Bass, two (2) young Royal Naval Lieutenants sailed south from Sydney Cove in the sloop Norfolk on a voyage estimated to take three (3) months.

1798 – November: Early in November 1798 ‘Norfolk’ reached the north eastern tip of Tasmania and found the entrance to a river they named Tamar.

The party spent about three (3) weeks exploring its inner reaches before setting off to the west. Rounding Cape Grim, Bass and Flinders sailed south working a difficult passage down Tasmania’s treacherous western coastline, surveying and mapping as they went.

‘Norfolk‘ rounded South Cape and sheltered in Adventure Bay before sailing north to enter and name southern Tasmania’s primary river the Derwent.

1799 – January: After eleven (11) weeks Bass and Flinders were back in Sydney with proof that indeed a strait – Bass Strait – separated mainland Australia from Tasmania.

1799: However by then -1799 – Governor Hunter, like his predecessor Governor Arthur Phillip in 1790, was fighting a rear-guard action, keeping at bay Lieutenant John Macarthur and certain other officers of the infamous New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

1800 – April: In April 1800 Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, governor- in-waiting, arrived from England aboard HMS Speedy. King presented Governor Hunter an official dispatch censuring him and ordering he return to London ‘by the first safe conveyance’.

1800 – September: John Hunter knew his ‘unwarranted and unjust‘ recall was due in large part due to Macarthur’s pernicious undermining. In September 1800 Hunter sailed for England in HMS Buffalo.

Hunter arrived at the Royal Navy establishment Spithead in May 1801. He ‘immediately asked for an inquiry into the charges which had been made against his administration’  but his request was ignored by the Admiralty and Home Office.

Governor Phillip Gidley King RN, like John Hunter RN, was a returning ‘First Fleeter’. On 23rd January 1788, twelve (12) years earlier, astounded he watched from the deck of HMS Sirius as two (2) French ships La Boussole and L’Astrolabe appeared in the entrance of Botany Bay.

‘There would seem to some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days’. Edward Jenks, History of Australian Colonies, cited in A Short History of British Colonial Policy, Hugh E Egerton, Metheun, 1928 

1800 – It is understandable then King, in 1800 as Governor of New South Wales, was spooked by increasing numbers of French ships appearing ‘in and about Australian waters’.

He had no doubt France, England’s traditional enemy, was intent on establishing a physical presence in Australia and he determined it not happen on his watch. Governor King sent urgent requests to England for additional front-line support. Lord Hobart, then Home Secretary, allocated two (2) ships HMS Calcutta and, Ocean a supply ship, to occupy Port Phillip.

‘The tyranny of distance’; Calcutta and Ocean, under command of Marine Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins, yet another returning First Fleeter, would not sail from England until 27 April 1803.

Meantime in Sydney the French presence presented Governor King an immediate dilemma.

Should he consolidate Britain’s sovereignty by extending occupation on the mainland or, having in mind the potential for enormous profits to be had from commercial whaling and sealing, cross treacherous Bass Strait to occupy and secure Tasmania an island that; ‘showed promise of being a valuable colony to Great Britain’ ?

1801: King, with very limited resources, did both. From Sydney he sent Lieutenant James Murray RN south west to survey Port Phillip [now Victoria] on the mainland, and Lieutenant James Grant RN due south to further assess Bass Strait.

1802: Murray, in mid-January, sighted the entrance to Port Phillip but ‘turned away’ in extreme weather. He went on to chart the east coast of King Island before returning to enter Port Phillip Bay on 31st of January 1802.

As for Tasmania, Governor King accepted Lieutenant Grant’s positive report and decided a crossing of Bass Strait was viable. He provided two (2) ships Albion and Lady Nelson and ordered Lieutenant John Bowen RN sail to Tasmania and establish a settlement there.

‘The original motive for the white settlement of Van Diemens Land was political rather than economic. the British wanted to prevent the French from establishing a colony. They achieved this in September 1803 when a colony of forty-nine (49) people was established at Risdon Cove’. Bruce Elder, Blood on the Wattle, 1998

1803 – September: Bad weather, a seasonal east coast low, delayed departure from Sydney. Not until early September 1803 did Lieutenant John Bowen RN with twenty-five (25) convicts – 21 men and 3 women – and Lieutenant William Moore with twenty-five (25) rank and file of the New South Corps establish camp at Risdon Cove.

In a pattern established at Sydney 1788, where ‘the main battle was about having enough to eat’, so it was in Tasmania where kangaroo was the main source of protein for local Aboriginal families.

‘We have lately and are now about in a state of starvation…but we have such an abundance of Kangaroo’. George Harris to his mother Dorothy in England, 12 October 1805. The Oxford Book of Australian Letters, ed. Brenda Niall and John Thompson, Oxford University Press Melbourne,1998.

What of Port Phillip ?

1803 – September: HMS Calcutta and Ocean arrived off Port Phillip at the end of September 1803 where they encountered many a sailing ship’s nemesis, cyclonic winds and churning seas. The ships managed to ride it out but on landing found the area inhospitable, fresh water negligible and local Aborigines extremely hostile.

Marine Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins, who headed up the expedition, assessed with their backs to the sea, his marine detachment, approximately one hundred (100) men, three hundred (300) convicts, most not to be trusted, plus a handful of frightened free settlers, could be over-run by local Aboriginals who knew their country well.

1804 – February: After a difficult few  weeks Collins aborted his efforts at Port Phillip and directed his attention to Tasmania. He and his party of about four hundred and fifty (450), mostly men, joined Lieutenant Moore at Risdon Cove on 15th of February 1804.

‘From 1788 there had been continuous disputation between the civil power represented by the autocratic uniformed naval governors and the military. In 1792 the military power was significantly strengthened when Phillip, due to ill health, returned to England’. Not a Rum Rebellion But a Military Insurrection. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 92, John McMahon, 2006

1804: At Risdon Collins found a striking echo of Sydney 1788, a dysfunctional chain of command. At Sydney constant dissension between Governor Arthur Phillip RN and Marine Major Robert Ross commander of the Sydney garrison; at Risdon Cove 1804 Lieutenant Bowen of the Royal Navy and Lieutenant Moore of the New South Wales Corps were at loggerheads.

Collins certainly knew fifty (50) men sharing three (3) women was not a peaceable equation. While in Sydney 1788-1796 Collins fathered two (2) children by convict Ann Yeates. A performance he was to repeat in Tasmania with convict Margaret Eddington 1804-1810.

David Collins left Risdon and set up head-quarters at Sullivan’s Cove on the west bank of the Derwent. He cited its superior harbour and adequate fresh water as more suitable for over four hundred (400) permanent settlers.

1804 – March: Governor Collins; ‘ hoisted His Majesty’s Colours with the usual Ceremony’ and claimed southern Tasmania to be part of the British Empire. He named the settlement Hobart Town after Home Secretary Lord Hobart.

‘The English settled on the Aborigines’ land and took their food; in return, the natives interfered with the Englishmen’s livestock. The natives were then attacked in retaliation, and so relations went from bad to worse, as had happened in New South Wales’. A.G.L. Shaw, A New History of Australia, ed. Professor F. Crowley, 1990

1804 – May: Within three (3) months of Collins taking possession of southern Tasmania, the first killing of Tasmanian Aborigines took place at Risdon Cove.

‘We have lately & are now almost in a state of starvation having been on the allowance of 4 lb bread, 2 lb Pork per man pr. week, owing to not having had any supplies from Sydney, but as we have such abundance of Kangaroo here we can never want’. George Harris, letter to his mother in England. ibid.

1804 – 3 May: There is little documentation on the Risdon action. But it appears two (2) hungry populations; ‘inhabitants from the earliest times’ – Aboriginals and ‘uninvited – unwelcome’ intruders, clashed when competing for the same food resource – kangaroo.

The Aborigines carried hunting clubs and it seems no Englishmen were killed or injured. Lieutenant Moore fired cannon into the group of Aboriginals. He reported three (3) kills and many injured.

1804 – 3 May: The beginnings of the near annihilation of Tasmania’s Aborigines can be pinpointed to Lieutenant Moore’s use of ‘cannonade’ at Risdon Cove in May 1804.

Just as on the mainland the near annihilation of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples can, with laser accuracy, be traced to Governor Arthur Phillip’s orders issued to Marine Captain Watkin Tench in December 1790.

‘Proceed to the peninsula at the head of Botany Bay…put to death ten [10]…bring in the heads of the slain…if practicable bring away two [2] natives as prisoners…I am resolved to execute the prisoners who may be brought in, in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected’. Cited in Captain Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Governor Phillip’s general orders went on to serve as a template for; ‘twenty-five regiments of British infantry who served in the colonies from 1790 to 1870…they fought in one of the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British empire’. Dr Peter Stanley, the Remote Garrison, Kangaroo Press, 1964 

1804: With southern Tasmania secured, London ordered Governor King direct his attention to the unoccupied north, centered on the Tamar River; ‘near the eastern entrance to Bass’s Strait’.

Governor King from ‘a political point of view peculiarly necessary’ sent a detachment of soldiers and convicts from Sydney to Port Dalrymple aboard HMS Buffalo.

Colonel William Paterson, given command of the expedition, was recuperating from serious injury. In a duel of honour, a shot from John Macarthur’s pistol, had shattered Paterson’s shoulder. His condition, as much as heavy seas pounding the entire south-east coast of New South Wales, held up Buffalo’s departure from Sydney.

1804 – 11 November: At Port Dalrymple on 11 of November 1804 Colonel Paterson; ‘with the usual Ceremony hoisted His Majesty’s Colours thereby securing the whole of Tasmania for the British Empire. Governor King’s actions effectively stymied the French but did not quench their ambition.

‘In 1802 [Governor] King had strictly forbidden any act of injustice, let alone cruelty, to the natives, but by 1805 he had been converted to the belief that the Aborigines were all treacherous and ungrateful and felt compelled to resort to military measures’. A.G.L Shaw, History of Australia, ed. F. Crowley, 1990

Governor King had hoped to support both Hobart and Port Dalrymple from Sydney. However, on the Hawkesbury and Nepean river systems, flooding rains followed years of severe drought and inundated farms destroying promising crops and causing heavy stock loss.

‘We are in daily expectation of a Ship from Sydney…with Supplies which will be delightful occurrence for us’. Hobart, George Harris to his mother. ibid

But nature and haphazard planning meant, aside irregular supplies of food and rum from India, survival at Hobart in the south and, the settlements of Yorktown and George Town on the Tamar, relied on poaching the Aborigines’ resources.

‘ The English settled on the Aborigines’ land and took their food; in return, the natives interfered with the Englishmen’s livestock. The natives were then attacked in retaliation, and so relations went from bad to worse, as had happened in New South Wales’. A.G.L. Shaw. ibid.

As happened in New South Wales; ‘official hunting parties’ of soldiers, dogs and armed convicts were sent out to hunt kangaroos and kill Aborigines.


Under the Hulks Act of 1776, convicts sentenced ‘for transportation out of the realm’ were deemed; ‘servants of the Crown’.

The convicts being servants of the Crown till the time from which they are sentenced expires…their labour is for the public’. Governor King, Instructions to Lieutenant John Bowen, Historical Records of Australia, 9 May 1803, Series 1, Vol. 4

In Tasmania, as on the mainland, thatlabour’ included killing those who got in their way –  Australia’s First Peoples. At this point John Macarthur, early colonial Australia’s malignant trouble-maker, reappears.

Governor King had sent Macarthur to England for censure. Instead, while there, Lieutenant Macarthur resigned his commission and made mischief for Governor King.

1805 – June: Macarthur returned to Sydney as a civilian in early June 1805 aboard Argo his own vessel. In his bulging satchel Macarthur carried paper-work granting him 5000 acres (2000 ha) of land with a promise from Lord Camden for 5000 more, if he succeeded in establishing a local wool industry. England, engaged in the French Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) was in desperate need of wool.

As a result of malicious trolling, vicious ‘pipes’ circulated under various pseudonyms, Macarthur experienced sweet revenge when Governor King was eventually recalled to England. But Gidley King would not leave Sydney until Captain William Bligh had taken up his commission as Governor of New South Wales.

For John Macarthur Governor Bligh became just another enemy to knock down and send packing.

1805 – 14 May: Government had commissioned Captain William Bligh RN of’ ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ fame or infamy, to replace Governor Gidley King in May 1805. Bligh’s instructions were a replica of those given Governors Hunter and King; ‘put an end to the barter of spirits which appears to have been abused to the great injury and morals of the colony [and] ensure that no spirits land in the colony without his consent’.

The Admiralty felt a ‘tyrannical [naval] martinet’ was needed to re-establish law and order in a colony stinking of corruption, riddled with vice and drowning in alcohol. Whitehall naively believed Captain William Bligh could succeed where Hunter and King had failed.

1806 – 8 August: In the depth of winter, in the teeth of icy southern gales, Bligh with his daughter Mary Putland, wife of Lieutenant John Putland Bligh’s aide- de- camp, sailed into Sydney Harbour aboard the Lady Sinclair.

When Bligh arrived he found a white population of about 7,500 strong. Many were living corrupt, lawless lives in a rough and ready colony awash with rum. The economy was held in a stranglehold by cartels of military officers who dictated the price of everything and especially what was paid to farmers for their produce.

Bligh’s efforts to break the ‘colonels’ was welcomed particularly by ex-convicts and ticket-of-leave men farming on the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers.

But Bligh’s shape up or ship out quarter-deck language, offended the delicate military ear and earned Bligh lasting enmity. Behind the scenes Macarthur, who had a few personal tussles with Bligh and, whose influence permeated all ranks of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps, masterminded a rebellion – the ‘Rum Rebellion’.

1806 – 4 January: The death of Lieutenant John Putland on 4th January 1810 had presented the plotters a perfect opportunity to increase their wealth.

They reckoned Bligh, supporting Mary his grieving daughter, would be completely distracted. But they reckoned wrongly.

1808 – mid January: A ship carrying 22,000 gallons (100,000) litres of rum  and 7000 gallons (30,000 litres) of wine arrived in port. Bligh ordered the wine be landed and placed in government storage.

But he refused permission for the rum to be unloaded. It proved the last straw for certain officers who saw immense profits sail back out through Sydney’s towering sandstone headlands. The die was cast.

1808 – 24 January: Major George Johnston, the Corps’ commander, hosted a commemorative dinner on the 24th January to celebrate the twenty (20) year anniversary of the founding of the Sydney settlement – January 1788.

John Macarthur, due in court the following day to answer ‘contempt’ charges, did not attend the dinner. He did however donate ‘a large quantity of wine’ to the mess. Edward Macarthur reported to his father the table-talk was of rebellion.

1808 – 25 January: Macarthur appeared in the dock before a jury of six (6) army officers accused of publishing; ‘false, scandalous, libelous, wicked seditious, unlawful words’ designed to bring Governor Bligh into ‘disrespect, hatred and contempt’.

The military challenged the capacity of Richard Atkins, the civilian prosecutor, to present the case. The day ended in stalemate and Macarthur was taken to the lock-up.

1808 – 26 January: In an armed coup soldiers of the New South Wales Corps, led by Major George Johnston their commanding officer, marched on Government House and seized Governor William Bligh RN.

1808: Throughout 1808 Bligh and Mary were held prisoner in Government House.

1809 – 20 February: Using a mix of guile on Bligh’s part and, a frisson of sexual intrigue between Mary and young Lieutenant Finucaine, Bligh and his daughter were released to board HMS Porpoise.

In order to gain freedom, Bligh gave his word as ‘an officer and gentleman’ to Major Joseph Foveaux, who had bumped George Johnston from leadership of the rebels, when given command of  Porpoise, he would immediately set sail for England.

But of course that was never going to happen.

1809 – March: Bligh set up a blockade at the entrance to Sydney Harbour. As February morphed into March  Bligh continued to intercept vessels attempting to enter Port Jackson. Ships’ masters were handed a declaration stating the colony was in ‘a state of rebellious anarchy’.

1809 – 17 March: Bligh ordered more sail and at dawn on 17 March 1809 HMS Porpoise weighed anchor and disappeared. The rebels breathed a deep sigh of relief.

1809 – 19 March: But on Sunday the 19th Porpoise reappeared. This time she was dressed for action with gun-ports open and her crew at battle-stations. Bligh appeared on the point of victory when he backed off.

The rebels had turned on each other as he knew they would, perhaps even Bligh baulked at the logical next move, open fire on Sydney Town. Whatever the reason, later that same day HMS Porpoise, now fully-rigged, sailed away.

But not to England.

1809 – 30 March: HMS Porpoise anchored in Sullivans Cove on the Derwent at Hobart. Governor David Collins boarded Popoise to welcome Governor Bligh. Mary, who suffered severe sea-sickness left the ship for more comfortable quarters in Government House, while Bligh elected to stay with his ship.

1809 – 10 April: News of Bligh’s arrival in Tasmania reached Sydney on 10 April 1809 and sent Major Foveaux into a frenzy. Hobart at the time was reliant on supplies shipped from Sydney. Foveaux withheld provisions and livestock bringing the spectre of starvation to the settlement.

Governor Collins changed his attitude from welcome to hostility. Although the reason may not have been pressure from Foveaux alone. It may have been Mary’s prudish disdain for Margaret Eddington, the ex-convict who had recently given birth to the couple’s second child.

Or it may have been down to Bligh’s response. He wrote of his shock on seeing Collins; ‘walking with his kept woman (a poor low creature) arm in arm about the town’. 

Or it may have had to do with Collin’s son by convict Ann Yeates. At Hobart Collins asked Bligh to take him on as a midshipman. Young Collins was late on parade one morning, Bligh charged him with ‘neglect of duty’ and had him flogged.

A furious Collins removed a sentry he had posted for Mary’s protection. Bligh warned her of impending danger and rounded-up of his shore- party. Once more Bligh and his daughter were prisoners this time aboard HMS Porpoise.

Bligh set up a blockade of the Derwent stopping all vessels entering and exiting the river. He threatened to fire on any ship refusing to supply Porpoise with food and water. Month after month, during the dark, freezing winter of 1809, the impasse went on.

Buffeted by winds sweeping in from the Antarctic Porpoise rolled like a bottle, her strained timbers became increasingly less water-tight.

1809 – 22 December: ‘Porpoise’ stopped ‘Albion’ a large whaler to be told troops who spoke a strange lingo had  landed in Sydney.

1810 – 1 January, Hobart: HMS Porpoise, now barely sea-worthy, slipped quietly from the Derwent and set course  for Sydney.

1810 –  1 January, Sydney: Colonel Lachlan Macquarie on the same day – 1 January 1810 – took up his commission as Britain’s fifth Governor of New South Wales. Macquarie, the first governor drawn from the ranks of the military, had brought insurance – the 73rd ‘Black Watch’ Regiment.

Loyal troops Macquarie had commanded previously they would, without doubt, have been only too willing to take on the rebellious New South Wales Corps.

1810 – mid January: Porpoise, with Bligh and Mary aboard, sailed into Sydney Cove in mid- January 1810.

Bligh had hoped to resume his Governorship but London ordered he to return to England and give evidence against Major George Johnston and John Macarthur at an official inquiry set up to examine the ‘Rum Rebellion’.

Mary Putland married Lieutenant Maurice O’Connell the Highlanders’ commander and remained in Sydney.

1818- September: In the Lord Eldon John Macarthur returned from exile in England on 30 September 1818. He was in plenty of time to lend his particular brand of vitriol to the character assassination of Governor Lachlan Macquarie orchestrated by Commissioner John T. Bigge at the behest of the British Government.

Government had not sent Bigge to go after Governor Macquarie for killing the First Nations’ Peoples defending their lands at Appin, Windsor and Nepean in 1816, but for wasting money by erecting beautiful buildings on the land Britain had stolen from the First Australians.

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