During Lord Sydney’s time as secretary of state, the Home Office was a clearing house. Its jurisdiction included overseeing of naval officers involved in trade regulation, secret service and special projects. As a result, Sydney crossed paths with three men who left their mark on history – Horotio Nelson, William Bligh and Arthur Phillip. Andrew Tink, Life and Times of Tommy Townshend, 2001

All three (3) – Nelson Bligh Phillip – have links to the fate of Australia’s First Peoples.

Nelson tangentially; when Captain Trail master of the second fleet death ship Neptune a convict transport of ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ – the appeared at the Old Bailey accused of the brutal mistreatment of convicts and murder of two (2) of Neptune’s crew, it is thought Nelson’s favourable character reference led to Trail’s acquittal. See: A Tale of Two Fleets

1790 – December, Botany Bay: Phillip directly; when in December 1790 he introduced ‘universal terror’. See: A Hatchet Job – Kill 6 & Cut Off Their Heads

And Captain ‘Bounty’ Bligh arrived in New South Wales in August 1806 to take up his commission as Britain’s fourth ‘autocratic’ naval governor.

In January 1808, just a year and a half into his term, at the instigation of John Macarthur the ex-officer who put rum into the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps, Governor William Bligh RN was seized and imprisoned by the military. See: Australia Day Rebellion 26 January 1808

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

In January 1788 Phillip, master-spy, master-mariner and master-strategist pulled off ‘a special project’. He won the race for New Holland and Britain gained secure alternate strategic and logistical sea-routes to and from India and Asia via the Southern Ocean, and a blockade-breaker in time of war.

‘Parallel to, and dependent upon, the Anglo-French duel for command of the sea went their struggle for overseas bases and colonies; here too, the culminating point in a century-long race was reached, with Britain emerging in 1815 with a position so strengthened that she appeared to be the only real colonial power in the world’. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, Fontana Press, 3rd ed. London, 1976

Britain’s invasion of New Holland was remarkably prescient, within five (5) years  1793 – Britain was at war with France. That conflict  morphed into twenty-five (25) years of global warfare – the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815.

‘That the fighting against France in what was originally and essentially a European war should have spread so swiftly to the tropics was a result of many factors, most of them predictable’. Kennedy. op.cit

New Holland was all about global warfare; ‘New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales


1785 – August, France: Phillip had watched from the shadows as two (2) French naval ships put to sea. Comte Jean-Francois La Perouse in command of La Boussole with L’Astrolabe, sailed from Brest on a wide-ranging expeditionary voyage. Modelled on the voyages of Captain Cook, intended to take three (3) years, it was to include New Holland.

1786 – 6 August, London: An attempt to assassinate King George III, ‘fear of the unruly mob’ fuelled by memory of the Gordon Riots (1780), ramped up among England’s elite.

1786 – August, Brazil: Phillip was in Rio de Janeiro keeping track of La Perouse when called on by the Admiralty to return home and head Britain’s race for New Holland. See: Arthur Phillip – The Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold  

1786 – 12 October, London: ‘George III & to our trusty and well-beloved Captain Arthur Phillip, We, reposing especial trust and confidence in your loyalty, courage and experience in military affairs constitute and appoint you to be Governor our territory called New South Wales’. Historical Records of New South Wales

1787 – 25 April, Court of St James: The fate of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples was sealed on 25 April, 1787 when; ‘Under our Great Seal constituting and appointing you [Arthur Phillip] to be our Captain-General and Governor- in-Chief of our territory called New South Wales the entire eastern coast of New Holland…Cape York to South Cape’.

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: Captain Phillip RN in command of a large armed squadron of eleven (11) ships with a complement of 1500 souls, known in Britain and Australia as the ‘First Fleet’, sailed from England to invade the island continent of New Holland.

All males – convicts and marines – were rationed as ‘troops serving in the West Indies’. See: All The King’s Men The Criminals of the First Fleet 

1788 – January, Botany Bay: The entire convoy reached Botany Bay between 18-20 of January 1788 a remarkable feat of navigation. See: William Dawes & The Eternal Flame

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay: Three (3) days later L’Astrolabe and La Boussole with La Perouse at the helm arrived off Botany Bay but the sight of Sirius, gun-ports open, cannon at the ready and bad weather, forced them south to the safety of Sutherland Point.

‘He [Phillip] ordered a party to be  sent to Point Sutherland to raise English Colours. He also stipulated that the move to Port Jackson be kept secret’. John Moore, The First Fleet Marines 1786-1792, Queensland University Press, 1987

Phillip knew it was essential he get to Port Jackson sighted by him three (3) days prior, in case the French happened upon it and raised their Colours.

1788 – 25 January, Port Jackson: He quit Botany Bay aboard HMS Supply, sailed nine (9) miles (14km) north. Supply entered the vast harbour and just on nightfall anchored in a sheltered cove; ‘here’ Phillip wrote ‘a thousand Ship of the Line may ride in perfect Security’.

‘Raising the flag was one of the acts recognised as an assertion of a prior claim against other colonial powers eyeing off the same land’. Prof Larissa Berendt, The Honest History Book, Ed. David Stephens & Alison Broinowski, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, 2017

1788 – 26 January, Sydney Cove: At first light Phillip landed ordered a flag-pole built and raised the Union Jack. By late afternoon on the 26th of January the entire fleet was riding alongside Supply. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

1788 – 27 January – 5 February: While the male convicts left the ships, found their land-legs and worked to set up camp, the women stayed on board what had been their home for the best part of a year.

1788 – 6 February, Sydney Cove: Not until February 6th were the fleet’s female complement – one hundred and ninety-three (193) female prisoners, thirty-one (31) marine wives and thirty (30) free children rowed ashore.

It is said a noisy sexual orgy occurred that dark and stormy night – 200 women – a heterosexual ‘orgy’ certainly – 1300 men – a homosexual ‘orgy’ definitely. See: G for Genocide 

1788 – 7 February, Port Jackson: Captain, now Governor Phillip, per instructions issued in the name of King George III on 25 April 1787, ignored New Holland’s First Peoples and without their consent or seeking a treaty, claimed British sovereignty of over ‘the entire eastern coast of New Holland from Cape York…to South Cape’. See: A Cracker-Jack Opinion – no Sweat

1788 – 10 March, Botany Bay:  A month later La Boussole and L’Astrolabe sailed for France, sadly La Perouse and his men were never seen again. See: A Band of Brothers & Mortal Enemies

Before leaving England Phillip had been told more convicts and supplies would ‘shortly follow’ and sure enough on 13 November 1787, first night out from Cape Town on the last leg of the voyage to Botany Bay, HMS Sirius spotted a ship flying the English flag.

Disappointment, she turned out to be Kent a whaling ship. Kent signalled news that more ships were; ‘being taken up for Botany Bay’ but nothing could have been further from the truth. See: Abandoned and left to starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790 

1788 – July, Sydney: Dr John White, the Chief Medical Officer, via a convict transport returning to England in July of 1788 sent Lord Sydney a revealing dispatch. See: An Evacuation – Saving Lieutenent William Collins

‘The prevalence of disease among the troops and convicts, who on landing were tainted with scurvy…our situation, not having any fresh animal food, nor being able to make a change in the diet which has and must be salt meat, makes these things [medicines] more necessary here than, perhaps, in any quarter of the globe’. John White to Lord Sydney, Historical Records of New South Wales

1788 – August, Africa: When by the end of August 1788 no supplies had arrived Phillip ordered Captain John Hunter prepare Sirius for a lone voyage to Africa to buy food and medicines from the Dutch. To lighten the load her guns were removed and mounted at Dawes Battery to guard the settlement in her absence.

1788 – 2 October, Cape of Good Hope: Sirius sailed on a perilous passage for Cape Town at the beginning of October that took her deep into the Southern Oceans through ‘islands of ice’ and around Cape Horn.

1788 – 31 December, Manly: With ‘famine approaching’ Phillip needed; ‘to learn whether or not the country possessed any resources, by which life might be prolonged’ and ordered a number of Aboriginal men be taken prisoner; ‘enticed by courteous behaviour’ two (2) men were seized. See: Kidnapped – Manly – What’s in a Name

One (1) broke free and fled, the other Arabanoo, was ‘fastened by ropes to the thwarts of the boat’ and rowed across to Sydney where he was held within British lines.


‘It is true that our surgeons had brought our variolous matter in bottles’. Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge , Angus and Robertson, 1961

1789 – April, Sydney: Smallpox struck local Aborigines in April 1789 killing 50% of their number, Arabanoo among them. See: Smallpox -A Lethal Weapon Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

‘Not one case of the disorder occurred among the white people either afloat or on shore although there were several children in the settlement; but a North American Indian…took the disease and died’. Samuel Bennett, Australian Discovery and Colonisation, Volume 1 to 1800, facsimile edition 1981 See: Joseph Jefferies – From New York to Rio and Old Sydney Town – One – Then There Was None

1789 – April, Sydney: Sirius returned from Africa with medicines and 127,000 pounds of flour intended mainly for the king’s ships and what could be spared for the colony.

1789 – 31 December: ‘Famine was approaching with gigantic strides’ and Phillip turned again to kidnapping. Bennalong and Colbee, both now  pock-marked, were seized.  A week or so later, Colbee escaped ‘with a small iron ring round his leg’ and surveillance was stepped up on Bennalong. See: Manly Location, Location, Location


1790 – 1 January: ‘We have been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May, 1787 the day of our departure from Portsmouth. We had now been two years in the country, and thirty-two months from England, in which long period no supplies…had reached us’. Tench. ibid.

A look-out was erected on South Head Tench says; ‘Here on the summit of the hill every morning from daylight until the sun sank did we sweep the horizon hope of seeing a sail’ but to no avail; ‘vigorous measures were become indispensable’.

1790 – February, China:The governor, early in February, ordered the Sirius [Captain Hunter] to prepare for a voyage to China’.

1790 – 6 March, Norfolk Island: HMS Sirius accompanied by HMS Supply evacuated 50% of Sydney’s starving white population to Norfolk Island; Sirius was then to sail onto China for rescue.

1790 – 19 March, Norfolk Island: After unloading her evacuees and most supplies Sirius caught ‘in pounding surf’ swung wildly on her anchor, ran onto submerged rocks, and sank. The crew, one hundred and sixty (160) naval personnel, were stranded on the island along with the evacuees.

1790 – 5 April, Sydney: HMS Supply; ‘The flag on the South-head was hoisted…I [Tench] saw captain Ball make an extraordinary motion with his hand, which too plainly indicated that something disastrous had happened’. Tench. ibid.

There would be no China rescue.

1790 – 6 April, Sydney:to every child of more than eighteen [18] months old and to every grown person [ration] to commence immediately, two pounds of pork, two pounds and a half of flour, two pounds or rice, or a quart of [dried] pease, per week [and] bring your own bread…even to the governor’s table’.

There was nothing for it but to order HMS Supply to Batavia, modern-day Jakarta, to buy food and medicines from the Dutch.

1790 – 17 April, Batavia:Supply sailed for Batavia…and all our labour and attention were turned on one object – the procuring of food…the distress of the lower classes for clothes were almost equal to their other wants’. Tench. ibid.

The isolation was absolute. See: Missing In Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

1790 – April, Sydney: ‘To prolong existence…the best marksmen of the marines and convicts…put under the command of a trusty serjeant, with directions to range the woods in search of kanguroos’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – May: Bennalong managed to escape and return to his people. During his five (5) months in captivity Governor Phillip and Bennalong learned a lot about and from each other.

June – ‘Flag’s up – with London on her stern’

1790 3 June: ‘At length the clouds of misfortune began to separate and on the evening of the 3d of June, the joyful cry of “the flag’s up” resounded in every direction’.

Not until June 1790 did the castaways of the First Fleet hear ‘news’ of their ‘native country’ of family, lovers, friends, conflict with Spain, the ‘Madness of King George’, revolution across the Channel and impending war with France.

Lady Juliana with two hundred and twenty-six (226) female convicts broke the terrible silence. She was first of four (4) ships of a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’.

Government awarded the contract for Neptune, Scarborough, Suprize the fleet’s death ships to Camden, Calvert and King, a firm of slave traders working out of London.

One-quarter of the fleet’s mainly male convicts died during the voyage; ‘of 1038 convicts embarked at Plymouth; 237 died on the voyage, 486 landed sick, of these 124 died in hospital at Sydney’. See: Convict Transportation – The Hulks Act and When the mindset of Slavery Came to Australia

One hundred and fifteen (115) infantry troops, first contingent of the New South Wales Corps were distributed throughout the three (3) ships. They included Lieutenant John Macarthur a junior officer whose overarching personal ambition would rightly earn his nick-name ‘The Perturbator’. See: Macarthur The Great Disrupter

1790 – 7 September, Manly Beach: On a warm spring morning, three (3) months after the second fleet arrived, a ‘monster’ whale beached at Manly and changed forever the future of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples.

1790 –  September, Manly: The stranding caused great excitement. For local Aborigines it had deep cultural and spiritual significance, prefacing as it did the return of summer’s abundance. For Phillip, whose sea-going career began hunting whale in icy Arctic waters its presence evoked intense interest.  See: Arthur Phillip – Trade and the Defence of Trade

‘The Act of 1786 [Geo.III. c.59] for the Encouragement of the Southern Whale Fishery proved to be the foundation of an important industry…in the wake of whalers other British traders would follow. The furtherance of this plan became one of the central objects of Lord Hawkesbury’s commercial policy’. Vincent T. Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Longmans, London, 1964

Phillip was well aware, foremost among the plans Prime Minister William Pitt and his ‘secretive inner circle’ of three (3) powerful politicians – Hawkesbury, Dundas and Mulgrave – had for New Holland was the establishment of a land base to support a ship-based whaling and sealing industry.

Phillip, anxious to see if the ‘monster’ was a prized sperm whale, was rowed across to Manly and there he met up with Bennalong who, In May 1790, had escaped from captivity within British lines. See: Kidnapped – Manly What’s in a Name

Tench sets the scene, after some hesitation on Bennalong’s part; ‘they discoursed for some time, Baneelon expressing pleasure to see his old acquaintance…the governor… to try whether it [Bennalong’s love of wine] still subsisted, uncorked a bottle, and poured out a glass of it, which the other drank off with his former marks of relish and good humour, giving a toast, as he had been taught, ‘the King‘.

That done Phillip moved nearer the whale; ‘a native, [Wileemarin] with a spear in his hand came forward…His excellency held out his hand…advancing…the nearer, the governor approached, the greater became the terror and agitation of the Indian.

To remove his fear, governor Phillip threw down a dirk, he wore at his side…the other, alarmed at the rattle of the dirk and probably misconstruing the action, instantly fixed his lance, aimed his lance with force and dexterity striking the governor’s right shoulder, just above the collar bone’. Tench. ibid.

The spear could not be removed Phillip endured two (2) agonising hours as he was rowed through the harbour’s choppy waters to Sydney where surgeon William Balmain extracted the lance but, having lost a lot of blood, recovery was slow.

Phillip knew in withdrawing and ‘throw[ing] down the dirk, he wore at his side’ he had contributed to Willeemrin’s attack and ordered there be no reprisals.

 ‘What is the most arresting thing in all these recordings is the way in which they perceive Aboriginal Australians on not exactly equal terms, but on terms of people who have a right to the occupancy of this land’. Dr Nicholas Brown, Australian National University and National Museum of Australia, on the inclusion of some ‘First Fleet’ Journals onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List. AM Programme, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 15 October 2009

1790 – June: All that changed with the coming of Lieutenant John Macarthur in June 1790. Major Francis Grose commander of the New South Wales Corps stayed in London to recruit and satisfy establishment requirements. Macarthur, driven by over-arching personal ambition, moved swiftly to fill the power vacuum created by Grose’s absence.

‘Macarthur’s haughty quarrelsome nature which manifested itself on the voyage was to provoke much more conflict after his arrival in New South Wales in June 1790’. Michael Flynn, The Second Fleet, Britain’s Grim Armada of 1790, Library of Australian History, Sydney 1993

Macarthur did not have long to wait before he swung into action. See: Sword and Word Both are Mighty- Governor Arthur Phillip’s Military Campaign For King and Country

‘But in this business of M’Entire I am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked, and the barbarity of their conduct admits of no extenuation…and my [Phillip] fixed determination to repeat it whenever any future breach of good conduct on their side, shall render it necessary’. Tench. ibid.

Phillip’s ‘but‘ referenced his ‘own spearing’ by Willmerin at Manly Beach in September 1790 but when he ordered there be no reprisals his refusal to retaliate was assessed by ‘certain officers’ of the New South Wales Corps as weakness or even cowardice and created a perfect storm.

Phillip’s measured response to his spearing was that of a proven strategist with loyalty to King and Country front and centre of his thinking.  At stake-  ‘New Holland is a good blind, then, when we want to add to the military of strength of India’.

1790 – 9 December, Botany Bay: ‘On the 9th of the month, a serjeant of marines, with three convicts…went out on a [kangaroo] shooting party…to the north arm of Botany Bay…among them M’Entire the governor’s game-keeper (the convict] of whom Baneelon had, on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred’). Tench. ibid.

1790 – 10 December: ‘[Early] about about one o’clock, the serjeant was awakened by a rustling noise…two natives…one [Pemulwuy] launched his spear at M’Entire, and lodged it in his left side…The wounded man immediately drew back and cried, ‘I am a dead man’. Tench. ibid.

Wily and experienced Phillip was intent on saving the Sydney settlement from insurrection and anarchy. ‘Dread and hatred’ the ‘intelligence’ supplied by Bennalong during his captivity, was the only arrow in Phillip’s quiver and he used it to assert his authority. See: John M’Entire – Death of a Sure Thing

1790 – 13 December, Headquarters:Infuse universal terrorHis excellency pitched upon me [Tench]…be ready to march tomorrow morning at daylight to execute the…command…put ten (10) to death…bring in the heads of the slain…bring away two (2)prisoners…I [Phillip] 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 Marine Captain Watkin Tench.


‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries….These raids had commenced by December 1790’. Professor Bruce Kercher, History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

Just as in June 1914 a shot fired on a Sarajevo street began the count-down to war, a spear thrown on Manly Beach in September 1790 began the count-down to a war that led to the near destruction of Australia’s First Peoples. A war Stanley characterised as; ‘war, nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’.

Phillip’s perceived passivity presented John Macarthur with an opportunity and, linked to the young officer’s boundless personal ambition, it proved too good an opportunity to pass up.

‘The tremendous monster who had occasioned the unhappy catastrophe just recorded [Phillip’s spearing] was fated to be the cause of further mischief to us‘. Tench. ibid. See: Machiavellian Macarthur


Twenty-five regiments of British infantry served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870. They fought in one of 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 1790-1868, Kangaroo Press, Sydney 1986




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