‘For the British army, fights on the Australian frontier…that war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

Paris – 1783:  The American Revolutionary War of Independence (1775-83) after lengthy negotiations ended formally with the signing the Treaty of Versailles on 3 September 1783.

Britain lost herFirst New World’ Empire. The thirteen (13) colonies; North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Along with them went the right, legislated in 1718 by King George I, to export convicted criminals reprieved death on condition they be ‘transported out of the realm’ to America.

‘During the period 1763 and 1793 the character of the Second British Empire was being formed…the empire of commerce in the Indian and Pacific Oceans…once more the discoveries of Captain Cook were influencing the direction of Britain’s overseas expansion’. Vincent T. Harlow, Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Vol. II, 1964.

Whitehall: Hard on the heels of the War of Independence Lord Sydney the Home Secretary advised (18/21 August 1786); ‘According to the accounts given by the late Captain Cook His Majesty…having been pleased to signify his Royal Commands that 750 convicts now in this kingdom under sentence of transportation should be sent to Botany Bay on the coast of New South Wales.’. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1

London – 1786, October 12:  Captain Arthur Phillip RN; We, reposing especial trust and confidence in your loyalty, and experience in military affairs, do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be said Governor of our territory called New South Wales…from the Northern extremity… Cape York…to the Southern extremity…South Cape’. His Majesty King George III to our trusted and well-loved Captain Arthur Phillip, 12 October 1786.

As expressed clearly in Governor Phillip’s official Instructions there was much more to Botany Bay than convicts.

‘It is generally appeared when we have been involved in a war with France, that Spain and Holland have engaged in hostilities against us’. John Hunter, Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, 1793, Bibliobazaar ed. 2008

New Holland’s geographical position in the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans made it perfectly placed for global warfare.

A military campaign, a pre-emptive strike,  was mounted to dispossess the First Nations’ Peoples of their home lands. See: Proximity Not Distance Drove Britain’s Invasion of New Holland.

 ‘After an absence of 219 days [2 October 1788 to 8 May 1789] – 51 of which lay in Table Bay Cape of Good Hope, so that, although during the[Sirius] voyage we had fairly gone around the world, we had only been 168 days in describing that circle…makes it [Port Jackson] an important Post, should it ever be necessary to carry…war in those seas…[Pacific] coast of Chile and Peru’. Hunter. op. cit.


France: ‘By 1784…it had become clear that the upsurge in French shipbuilding activity had reached new heights and that the French and the Dutch were manoeuvring for advantage in the India and the East’. Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne, London, 2013

‘A Second British Empire’: A permanent military and naval presence in New South Wales at the confluence of the Southern Hemisphere’s Pacific and Indian Oceans would secure Britain strategic and ‘commercial’ advantage by controlling trading routes to and from India, China and the Dutch East Indies.

Just as importantly, from Port Jackson in the Southern Ocean, Spain’s Central and South American Pacific Ocean ‘treasure’ colonies would be vulnerable to attack from the Royal Navy.


London –  1787, 25 April: ‘You [Arthur Phillip] are to endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affection, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them’. Court of St James, H.M. Government Instructions Captain Arthur Phillip, 25 April 1787. Historical Records of New South Wales

Portsmouth – May ’87: Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN, a large armed expeditionary force of eleven (11) ships, sailed from England at dawn on the 13th of May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland.

‘The way of war is a way of deception. When able feign inability; When deploying troops Appear not to be’. Sun-Tzu, The Art of War, John Minford Translator, Penguin, 2009 

The convoy, known in Britain and Australia as ‘First Fleet’, was fully funded by the government of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, with the approval of his ‘secretive’ inner cabinet – Home Secretary Henry Dundas and Lords Hawkesbury and Mulgrave.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the marines and the [male] convicts…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

The fleet’s complement, upwards of 1500 souls, was overwhelmingly male. One-half were convicted criminals – 570 male and 190 women.

HMS Sirius and HMS Supply were crewed by 200 Royal Navy personnel, 20 officials, 223 marines, 31 marine wives, 45 free children. See: G is for Genocide

Approximately 440 merchant seamen crewed six (6) troop carriers Alexander, Scarborough, Friendship, Prince of Wales, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn (female) and store-ships Fishburn, Golden Grove and Borrowdale .

 Botany Bay – 1788, January 20:  Via Spanish Tenerife, Portuguese Brazil and Dutch Cape Town, after a passage of 8 months voyaging 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of ‘imperfectly explored oceans’.

The fleet reached Botany Bay within 36 hours between 18-20 January 1788. After an examination of the beach-head Phillip decided it was not an ‘eligible situation for fixing a settlement’.

21 January: Taking Captain Cook’s charts from 1770 he set out with officers and surveyors in three (3) small open boats to search for Cook’s ‘Port Jackson’.

Late that afternoon nine (9) miles (14km ) north of Botany Bay they found its towering headlands. Through an entrance ‘a quarter-mile wide they rowed into a vast harbour.

Sydney Cove: From a myriad bays and inlets Phillip chose a ‘snug cove’ for permanent settlement naming it for the Home Secretary Lord Sydney.  See: Botany Bay – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Hush’ Christopher Robin Mark 2

Botany Bay – 23 January: By nightfall on the 23nd the party was back in Botany Bay with good news. The ‘First Fleet’ had found its home.  Phillip gave orders ‘evacuate at  sun-up tomorrow.’


24 January: ‘Alarm’ at dawn two (2) French ships  L’Astrolabe and La Boussoule, under command of Jean-Francois La Perouse, appeared on the horizon.

The Sirius cannon and rough weather forced La Perouse out to sea.  ‘Consternation’ where had The French gone?  Phillip had failed to raise ‘English Colours’ at Port Jackson.

25 January:  New Holland was according to Eurocentric international law still up for grabs. At first light Phillip boarded HMS Supply. 

Captain John Hunter RN, Phillip’s 2-I-C,  was to stay at Botany Bay with the rest of the fleet in case La Perouse made another attempt to enter.

Rough seas held up Phillip’s departure until after mid-day. .Not until just on dark did Supply drop anchor in the newly named Sydney Cove.

‘There…would seem to be “some justification for the saying that England won Australia by six days”. Edward Jenk’s, History of Australian Colonies. Cited in British Colonial Policy, Hugh E. Egerton, 1928

Sydney Cove – 26 January:  Intent on claiming victory over France, Phillip landed at first light. The Union Jack was raised ‘from a hastily erected flag-staff’.

The remaining fleet managed an albeit dangerous exit from Botany Bay during the day. By evening on the 26th all were at anchor alongside Supply. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head


‘Owing to the multiplicity of pressing business necessary to be performed immediately, after landing, it was impossible to read the public commissions and take possession of the colony in form, until the 7th of February’. Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. L.F. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney 1961

Most marines and male convicts landed and the ‘pressing business’ began. Latrines and fire pits replaced trees. Tents erected, duck boards laid,  garden plots dug, a parade ground levelled.

A makeshift gallows was set-up between the convict and military lines. Before the end of February it claimed its first victim. See: From Here To Eternity 

6 February ’88: Ten (10) days passed before Phillip gave orders sufficient work had been done to allow the fleet’s  one hundred and eight-nine (189) women prisoners, thirty-one (31) wives of marines and approximately fifty (50) free children, leave the ships that had been home for just on a year.

7 February – ’88: ‘On that day…marine battalion drawn up…music playing… colours flying …convicts were assembled…His Majesty’s commission read appointing His Excellency Arthur Phillip….Governor and Captain-General in and over the territory of New South Wales and its dependencies…three vollies were fired in honour of the occasion, and the battalion marched back to their parade, where they were reviewed by the Governor’. Tench. ibid.


‘The misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted even by those who have suffered under it’. Tench

Sydney Cove: There the Robinson Cruscos of the ‘First Fleet’ stayed completely isolated from the outside world.

The isolation would not be broken until June 1790 when Lady Juliana, a convict ship with two hundred and twenty-six (226) ‘useless’ women prisoners and eight (8) free children, arrived from England.  See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790 

‘The main battle was about having enough to eat’. The Story of Australia, Don Watson, 1984

When the fleet’s store-ships Golden Grove, Borrowdale and Fishburn were unloaded an inventory confirmed Governor Phillip’s worst fears; ‘every specie of provisions’ were found deficient in quality and quantity.

Worse was to come. Most sheep purchased at Cape Town, fed dry fodder on the long sixty-eight (68) day leg to Sydney, when turned out on fresh grass, developed acidosis and died. See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To the Moon

It soon became plain European survival would depend on fish, Sydney’s Eora Peoples main source of protein; ‘our customary method was to leave Sydney Cove about four in the afternoon and go down in the harbour and fish all night’. Tench. ibid.

Sydney – March – ’88: ‘a deduction of 13 lb per 100 cwt. [hundredweight] of beef and 8 lbs in 100 cwt. of pork’.

May – ’88:  An inventory of livestock: ‘7 horses 2 bulls 6 cows 29 sheep 19 goats 74 pigs 18 turkeys 29 geese 35 ducks, 122 fowl, 87 chickens and 5 rabbits’.

May –  ’88: In the middle of May two (2 ) bulls and (5) cows wandered off into the bush. The remaining cow, separated from the herd, went mad was shot and eaten.

June – ’88:  Winter, fish left the harbour to spawn. ‘Now’ Phillip wrote ‘the fish caught were trifling’.

July – ’88:  They [Aborigines] seem very badly off for food, not having any fish’.

August – ’88: ‘Our stock of flour bore no proportion to the salt beef and pork’. Tench

With fish scarce the starving English population turned to gathering the plants that in winter were essential to the health and well-being of local Aboriginal families.

Many salutary herbs that made a wholesome drink and [are] of great use to our sick. Here is spinach, parsley, a sort of broad beans, several unknown vegetables…a sort of green berries that are pronounced a most excellent antiscorbutic [anti-scurvy] are gathered in abundance and a specie of sorrell, all of a peculiar fine acid’. Tench

Creeping starvation forced Phillip take radical action. He ordered Captain John Hunter RN prepare HMS Sirius for a voyage to the Cape of Good Hope to buy urgently needed food and medicines from the Dutch.

We had long turned our eyes with impatience towards the sea [in] the hope of seeing supplies from England…but none arriving…the Sirius sailed for the Cape of Good Hope’. Tench.


‘I endeavoured in sailing from New Zealand to Cape Horn to keep as well as possible on a parallel between the track of Cook’s the Resolution and Adventure [1772-1775] voyage.

I am determined judging from the experience of those who had before made the eastern passage to pass southward of New Zealand and around Cape Horn’. Hunter, Journal of Transactions at New Holland and Norfolk Island, 1793, Bibliobaazar ed. 2008

Hunter an exceptional , courageous navigator, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the world’s winds and ocean currents, took his cue from the voyages of Captain James Cook. Taking advantage of prevailing winds he set his course for Africa via Cape Horn.

Africa –  2 October ’88: A leaky Sirius sailed out through Sydney Heads at the beginning of October 1788. Hunter headed into the Southern Ocean’s freezing waters with its myriad  icebergs on a lone perilous voyage to Cape Town.  See: Titanic – Australia’s Titanic HMS Guardian

‘…frequently obliged to alter our course to avoid high islands of ice’. As Sirius battled through tumultuous Drake Passage all on board suffered severe sea-sickness.

Cape Horn – Christmas Day – ’88:  ‘Strong gales…heavy frequent squalls’ taking on water, all hands to the pumps, there was no time to celebrate.

Robbin Island – New Year’s Day – ’89: Hunter brought Sirius to anchor off Robbin Island just shy of Cape Town on the first day of January 1789.


Sydney – November ’88: Meanwhile in summer fish returned to Sydney Harbour. HMS Supply’s trawling nets deployed constantly brought some relief. Little wonder Phillip wrote; ‘unabated animosity continued to prevail between the natives and us’.

By now the Aborigines knew who to trust, who to avoid. Not so the English they needed local language to sort friend from enemy.

Manly Beach – December ’88:  To alleviate ‘unabated animosity’ at the end of December the Governor ordered two (2) Aboriginal warriors be kidnapped.

One youth escaped. The other Arabanoo was ‘held fast’. Bound, thrown into a small boat, he was rowed across choppy seas to Sydney Cove and held captive within English lines.


Sydney – 1 January  1789:  On New Years’ Day Arabanoo lunched with Governor Phillip. He ate fish and roast pig with relish but refused wine.

Meanwhile desperation and thieving increased. On the 10th of January Thomas Sanderson a convict tried and found guilty of stealing from government stores, was hanged.

Tempers flared – convict to marine – ‘you can kiss my arse…100 lashes’. Thieving was punished at the triangle by the vicious cat-o-nine tails. Rebecca Holmes stole a shirt; ‘stripped…tied to a cart…50 lashes – 20 on the east side, 20 on the west side and 10 at the farm’.

February – ’89:  Ever increasing brutality, John Russell a man of sixty-five (65) years 300 lashes. John Rugless a convict of whom a great deal is known, 700 lashes. See: Three Amigoes + One  Thomas Barrett

March – ’89 : Thieving was not confined to convicts. A broken key was found stuck in the lock of the government storehouse on the 25th March.

Investigations revealed seven (7) marines using counterfeit keys had, over some months, systematically robbed the stores. Tried, found guilty,  all were sentenced to death.

One, said to be the ring-leader, ratted. On the 27th of March 1789 ‘at 9 o’clock 6 marines were executed’. See: Catch 22


Sydney – April – ’89: ‘The body of the [Aboriginal] woman showed that famine, super-added to disease [smallpox] had occasioned her death…but how a disease to which our former observations had led us to suppose them strangers could at once have introduced itself and have spread so widely seemed inexplicable’. Tench. ibid

An unknown number of counterfeit keys were still in circulation when, in April 1789, smallpox struck local Eora Aborigines killing 50% of their number.

‘It is true that our surgeons had brought out varilous [smallpox] matter in bottles’. Tench

The how – source of smallpox 1789  and the why – only Sydney’s Aborigines were infected with the smallpox virus, has not as yet been subjected to rigorous investigation.

‘Inexplicable’ more than adequately meets the dictionary definition ‘that which cannot be explained’.   In light of Covid 19 ‘inexplicable’  is grossly inadequate.


Sydney – May ’89:  ‘Flags up‘ –  HMS Sirius – ‘The night carried us by daylight in sight of the entrance of Port Jackson and in the evening [8 May] we entered between the heads of the harbour and worked up to Sydney, where we  anchored before dark after absence if 219 days – 51 of which we lay in Table Bay Cape of Good Hope, so that, although during the voyage we have fairly gone around the world, we had only 168 days in describing that circle’. Hunter, Journal. ibid.

HMS Sirius had not only completed a circumnavigation of the globe she brought medicines, rice and 127,000 lbs of flour. Provisions primarily for the king’s ships Sirius and Supply and what could be spared for the settlement.

However the voyage brought much more than that. Captain Hunter confirmed access; ‘to the Spanish settlement[s] and the coast of Chile and Peru…makes it [Port Jackson] an important Post, should it ever be necessary to carry…war into those seas’. Hunter Journal. ibid.

Map with possible route to Peru and Chile

Sydney – May ’89: Arabanoo had according to Tench;  ‘A gentle and placable temper[who] knew he was in our power, but the independence of his mind never forsook him. If the slightest insult were offered to him, he would return it with interest’ .

Arabanoo died of smallpox on the 18th of May 1789.

For the Aborigines most were sick, many dying, even more were dead. Those who survived the virus struggled to regain strength and regroup. See: Smallpox – A Lethal Weapon

For the English population the remainder of 1789 continued as before dominated by hunger, fear and desperation.


June ’89: Elizabeth Fowles -stealing; ‘public flogging 50 lashes for 3 successive Thursdays [from 25 June] to have her head shaved and to wear a canvas cap with the thief on it.’

William Boggis – stealing; ‘100 lashes on his bare breach…work with an iron on his leg’. John Ferguson; ‘100 lashes [for]writing a scandalous and obscene paper’.

August ’89: Sensing rebellion Governor Phillip, in an effort to enforce law and order, on the 10th of August 1789 made what, on the face of it was an outrageous decision. He set a thief to catch a thief and established a ‘night watch’.

Headed up by Herbert Keeling an educated raffish one-eyed convict the ‘night-watch’ was made-up entirely of convicted criminals. See: Mutiny on Swift and Mercury

Marine Major Robert Ross the recalcitrant marine commander, ever a thorn in Phillip’s side, refused to allow his troops act as policemen.

The ‘watch’ comprised; ’12 persons, divided into four parties…fully authorized to patrol all hours in the night…visit such places as may be deemed necessary for the discovery of any felony, trespass, or misdemeanour and for the apprehending and securing for examination any person or persons’. Historical Records of New South Wales. ibid.

The patrols proved hugely controversial and Major Ross was outraged. For as well as stalking and accosting convicts Phillip allowed; ‘any soldier or seaman found straggling after the beating of the taptoo; or may be found in a convicts’ hut, is to be detained; and information of him immediately given to the nearest guard’. Tench. ibid.


Lord Howe Island: HMS Supply hoping to make up some protein short-fall sailed to island for turtle meat but managed to capture only three (3) animals.

Butter being expended….This was the first of the provisions brought from England which had wholly failed’. Weekly ration; ‘5 lbs 5 oz of flour…3 pounds 5 oz of pork, and 2 pints of pease’. Marine Captain David Collins, Journal, September 1789

September  ’89: With warmer weather fish returned to the harbour. HMS Supply made large hauls, so many fish ‘taken up‘ her nets broke. The Aborigines had to fight for a share as the catch was divided among the Europeans.

October  ’89: Rats proved very troublesome, destroying the few vegetables grown by enterprising individuals. Even more devastating rats attacked the settlement’s slender reserves of flour and rice.

Except for a settlement at Rose Hill, the Englishmen fronting a vast ocean and hemmed in by bush, were confined to an area centred on Sydney’s semi-circular cove.

November – ’89:  Following the loss of Arabanoo Phillip; Tench says; ‘for the purpose of knowing whether or not the country possessed any resources, by which life might be prolonged’ turned once more to kidnapping.

Manly:  Two (2) Aboriginal men – Bennalong ‘robust…haughty’ Colbee ‘less sullen…not so robustly framed’ were seized from the beach and taken to Sydney where they were imprisoned within British lines.

December – ’89:  A party was subsequently sent beyond Rose Hill towards the Carmarthen [Blue] mountains to search for much needed ‘resources’; ‘but they found the country so rugged, and the difficulty of walking so excessive, that in three [3] days they were able to penetrate only fifteen [15] miles; and were therefore obliged to relinquish their object’. Tench. ibid.

1 JANUARY 1790

1790 – January:  ‘Since the 13th May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth…From the intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country.

Tench greeted the new year with intense trepidation.

‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year. We had now been two years in the country, and thirty-two months from England, in which long period no supplies, except what had been procured in the Cape of Good Hope by the Sirius, had reached us’.

February – ’90: During Sydney’s hot summer months a generous supply of fish, oysters and a variety of crustaceans kept the Europeans alive.

‘Famine was approaching with gigantic strikes, and gloom and dejection overspread every countenance…The public stores; ‘contained salt meat sufficient to serve until the 2d of July; flour until the 20th of August; and rice, or pease in lieu of it, until the 1st October [1790]’. Tench. ibid.

The inventory revealed it was crunch time. If Phillip did nothing ‘his people’ were doomed.

The previous year (1789) 50% of local Aborigines had died from smallpox. Phillip knew their deaths had relieved pressure on shared resources. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

Drawing on that knowledge Phillip decided on a logistical nightmare. Evacuate 50% of his people to Norfolk Island two (2) weeks sailing time away where fish were plentiful year-round and vegetables thrived in fertile soil.

Earlier  (February 1788) to stymie the French from settling there, Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, had established a satellite settlement on the island.

Norfolk Island – March ’90:  HMS Sirius accompanied by HMS Supply, loaded with marines, convicts, flour and rice, essential carbohydrates not available on the island, departed for Norfolk Island on the 6th March 1790.

China:  Sirius, Captain Hunter RN with its full complement, one hundred and sixty (160) naval personnel, would then sail onto China and organise a rescue mission.

Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN was to hand his command to Major Robert Ross and return to Sydney in HMS Supply.


Governor Phillip’s health was in steady decline. Isolated amidst an increasingly disaffected soldiery, led now by Ross’ replacement the equally arrogant disgruntled Marine Captain James Campbell.

The Governor was in great need of a trust-worthy ally and who better than Gidley King a fellow naval officer and long-time friend.  See: Monte Video – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Hush’ Christopher Robin Mark 1

‘It became necessary’ with hunger biting ever deeper ‘to put the colony upon a still shorter ration of provisions’. Work hours, given such an extended period on a low calorie intake, were reduced.

Sydney – March ’90: From 27th of March;‘the governor directed that the provisions should in future be served daily…without distinction…the ration issued for the week to consists of 4 lb flour, 2 & one-half pound salted pork, and 1 & one-half lbs of rice.’ Tench. ibid.

Tench’s comment; ‘when the age of this provision is recollected its inadequacy will more reality appear. The pork and rice were brought with us from England….pork salted between three and four years, and every grain of rice was a moving body from the inhabitants lodged within it’.


Meanwhile HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island on the 19th of March 1790, after successfully discharging most of her cargo,  struck a submerged reef.

Stuck fast in ‘pounding surf on every side’ she broke up over a number of days. Though there had been no loss of life the Sirius crew were now stranded on the island along with the evacuees.

Sydney – April ’90: ‘Flags Up’ –  HMS Supply sailed back through the Heads on the 5th of April 1789 with the news all hope of a China rescue was gone.

‘When the tidings were proclaimed at Sydney…dismay was painted on every countenance’. 

Tench continued ‘at six o’clock in the evening, all officers of the garrison, both civil and military, were summoned to meet the governor in council’.

Among the decisions taken, a reduction in the ration, an increase in the number of hunting parties with; ‘the best marksmen of the marines and convicts [and] the immediate departure of the Supply for Batavia was also determined’.

During Supply’s absence there could be no large-scale trawling.  Now her nets were deployed as often as possible; ‘about four hundred-weight of fish being brought up, it was issued’ to very hungry Englishmen.

Sydney – April  ’90: From 7 April; ‘To every child of more than eighteen months old and to every grown person, two & half pounds of pork, two & ½ pounds of flour, two pounds of rice, or a quart of pease, per week, and…under eighteenth months old, same quantity of rice and flour, and one pound of pork’.

Batavia – April ’90: HMS Supply  (Lieutenant Henry Ball RN) departed Sydney for Batavia, modern day Jakarta, on 17 April 1790. With her went any possibility of communicating with the outside world and all hope of escape.

As Supply disappeared over the horizon Tench, not for the first time, turned to Virgil; ‘In te omnis domus inclinata recumbit’ – ‘thou the support of all [t]his tottering house’ .

A willing team had worked feverishly to strengthen Supply’s warped timbers, repair her sails ropes and gear.  Most experienced sailors doubted a ship of only 170 tons could reach Batavia, let alone purchase tonnes of supplies, charter a Dutch ship to bring them to Sydney and, herself return in quick time, with sufficient food and medicines to save the settlement from complete disaster.

The only ‘hope’ lay with K1 an exact replica of John Harrison’s  ‘pocket watch’ – the H-4 – the chronometer so disgracefully denied James Cook for the Endeavour voyage. See: James Cook, John Harrison, Charles Green – Three Yorkshire-men Walked Into A Bar –  Nevil Maskelyne – Astronomer Royal &  Endeavour 

K-1 had accompanied Cook on his second and third voyages and proved beyond doubt the pocket-watch kept ‘true time’ essential for the calculation of longitude when a ship was at sea, beyond sight of land. See: Lotto and Longitude

Captain John Hunter RN had taken K-1 with him on the Sirius voyage to Africa (1788-9). He made sure it was one of the first things taken from Sirius before she sank off Norfolk Island.

Marine Lieutenant Dawes, into whose care K1 had been entrusted for the voyage to Botany Bay, instructed Lieutenant Ball on its intricacies and use of this precious time-piece.

Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King also boarded Supply.  He had with him details of Captain Hunter’s triumphant African voyage. King was to  make his way from Batavia to England by whatever means and report to the Admiralty of the enormous benefits to be derived from having a naval base at Port Jackson.


Sydney – May ’90: ‘The distress of the lower classes for clothes was almost equal to their other wants…the stores had been long exhausted, and winter was at hand’.

Tench echoed Shakespeare’s Othello; “Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war were no more” describing his near skeletal men  parading barefoot in tattered uniforms.

Work hours were further reduced. Severity of punishments increased, a convict stole potatoes; ‘300 lashes immediately, to be chained for six months to two other criminals…and have his allowance of flour stopped for six months’.


Sydney – 1790 – 3 June:  Lady Juliana – The Brothel Ship – ‘with two hundred and twenty-five [225] of our countrywomen, whom crime or misfortune had condemned to exile’. Tench. ibid.

Lady Juliana was first of four (4) vessels dubbed ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’. The fleet’s death ships Suprize Scarborough & Neptune with approximately 850 male convicts arrived by the end of June 1790. T

London Gazette Extract

The second fleet brought the  first contingent of enforcers, the infantrymen of the New South Wales Corps, raised to replace the garrison marines.  Their presence ignited a; ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. Stanley. ibid.

The second fleet did not bring salvation although this view is widely held by many historians. Excited crowds gathered at the landing stage. They gasped as gaunt near-naked men in chains, covered in vomit and faeces appeared on deck.

Tethered two (2) together at the ankle by a short bolt – the ‘Guinea slave shackle’ – most unable to stand were carried from the ships. See: Britain’s Grim Armada, The Dead and the Living Dead

William Wyndham Grenville, a cousin of Prime Minister Pitt, had replaced Lord Sydney as Home Secretary,. Grenville contracted convict transportation to Camden, Calvert and King a London firm of Atlantic slavers.

Of 1038 convicts embarked at Plymouth, only 78 were women, eleven (11) of whom died on the passage. Up to  25% of the men died during the voyage. Of the survivors 15% died within weeks of arrival.

July – ’90: Captain William Hill, who sailed in Suprize wrote to William Wilberforce, England’s leading parliamentary anti-slavery advocate.

‘The slave trade is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet [in] the most trifling gale…the convicts were considerably above their waists in water….The irons used upon these unhappy wretches were barbarous.

‘The contractors had been in the Guinea trade, and had put on board the same shackles used by them in that trade…thus fettered it was impossible for them to move but at the risk of both their legs being broken’. Captain William Hill, Sydney Cove, July 28, 1790, Historical Records of Australia

The immense task of caring for the sick and dying fell to ‘First Fleet’ physicians whose medicine chest was all but empty. The second fleet and the following one, with more than 2000 mainly male criminals, were an integral part of Britain’s slave trade. See: How the mind-set of slavery came to New South Wales


But it was what traumatised survivors of ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ saw or, rather didn’t see, that filled them with despair. Six (6) months from England’s hustle and bustle, most from London’s teeming streets, nothing was familiar.

Man, woman, soldierr criminal, none could comprehend their surroundings. No cobbled streets, no houses or shops, no horses or carriages, no spires or bridges, no taverns or coffee houses, no rag-fairs or alleys ways, no gin and no pockets worth picking.

A number panicked at the prospect of staying in such a desolate place. ‘All’ Tench says ‘came out on the last fleetsimply took off ‘with a view of asserting their freedom’ and walked north in the hope of reaching China.

Growing resentment between Phillip’s ‘people’, both military and criminal, and these newcomers, military and criminal, are well documented.

Known for his insight Phillip could not have failed to recognise danger in young Lieutenant Macarthur, already at odds with his fellow Corps’ officers.

This was not the first time Phillip had perceived danger in such widespread unrest, sniffed rebellion and snuffed it out. See: A Vicious Circle – The Hangman’s Noose

To Phillip’s hard-won success in keeping ‘his people’ alive was added a steely determination New South Wales must be retained for ‘King and Country’. 

Why? The arrival of the Second Fleet, June 1790, with indeed ‘a water shed’.

News of the French Revolution {July 1789) brought the realisation, with the French fighting each other,  India had been taken out of the immediate equation, relegated once more to the ‘back-burner’.



Since the time of Queen Elisabeth the First, snatching the fabulous riches of the ‘Spanish Conquest’ – Peru, Chile, Panama and Nicaragua, was restricted to bloody pirate attacks on Spanish ships making their way to Lisbon laden with looted gold, silver and diamonds.

Following Captain Hunter’s return from Sirius’ voyage to the Cape of Good Hope via Cape Horn (October 1788-May1789) Governor Phillip was armed with the knowledge that, from Port Jackson, the dazzling wealth of Spain’s Central and South American Pacific coast  ‘treasure’ colonies were now vulnerable to attack from a humiliaited Royal Navy bent on revenge.

In Phillip’s estimation that raised New Holland to the top of Britain’s must-have pile. Nothing demonstrates this pivot more clearly than the single-minded resolution of Captain Governor Arthur Phillip RN as a military commander than two ( 2) incidents, that took place three (3) months apart – September and December 1790.


Manly Beach – September ’90 : A ‘monster’ whale stranded on the sand in September. Phillip was rowed over to Manly where he met up again with Bennalong the Aboriginal warrior who had escaped his imprisonment .

A year earlier  (November 1789) on Phillip’s orders, Bennalong and Colbee had been kidnapped from Manly Beach. Colbee spent a week or so in captivity. With Bennalong’s help he escaped ‘with a small iron ring round his leg…it was thought proper to continue a watch over him [Bennalong]. See: Kidnapped – Manly What’s In A Name 

Bennalong ate what the Governor’s ‘French cook’ prepared and quaffed Phillip’s fine French reds. But when the ‘watch over him’ relaxed he too escaped. 

Although their September 1790 meeting was  friendly it had an intriguing undertone.

‘Bennalong love[d] wine and the governor, [at Manly] to try whether it still subsisted uncorked a bottle of wine and poured out a glass of it which the other drank off with his former marks of relish and good humour, giving for a toast, as he had been taught, ‘the king’. Tench. ibid.

A knot of Aborigines stood a little way off watching this bizarre pantomime. A solitary warrior described as ‘middle-aged, short of stature, sturdy, and well-set’, identified later as Wil-ee-ma-rin, detached himself from the group.

When Phillip ‘threw down a dirk’ tension escalated the ‘rattle alarmed the man…he aimed his lance with such force and dexterity…striking the governor’s right shoulder…it came out at his back’.

The spear armed with a single barb, intended to injure not kill, struck Phillip and exited below his shoulder. Bleeding profusely he was rowed across the choppy waters to Sydney Cove where Surgeon William Balmain removed the lance.

On advise from local Aborigines his wound was regularly irrigated with a diluted antiseptic solution distilled from the tips of eucalyptus leaves. Phillip lost a lot of blood and recovered slowly.

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

Knowing, in throwing ‘down a dirk’ he had contributed to the attack, Phillip ordered there be no reprisals. It is highly likely his no retaliation stance was the source of ‘further mischief’ flagged by Tench.


October 17:  ‘Joy sparkled in every countenance to see our old friend the Supply enter the harbour from Batavia,…We had witnessed her departure with tears: we hailed her return with transport’. Tench. ibid.

Despite the arrival of Justinian  (20 June 1790) with the first supplies from England and, HMS Supply’s return.with news a Dutch ship, the Waaksamheyd chartered at Jakarta would soon arrive with supplies, a mood of despair continued to grip the colony.

November:’ ‘Troublesome... natives throng the camp every day for bread and meat. God knows we have little enough for ourselves! The casks in the storehouse I observed yesterday are woefully decreased…If the Dutch snow does not arrive soon…’ Tench. ibid. 

Phillip, faced with an influx of physically sick, psychologically damaged men from the second fleet, scaled up numbers of official hunting parties with; ‘the best marksmen of the marines and convicts’. Since 1788 these had been essential to survival.

December – 9: At dawn ‘a serjeant of marines with three [3] convicts, among them was M’Entire, the governor’s game-keeper (the person of whom Bennalong had on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred) went out on a shooting party’ set off to walk the rough well-trodden path to Botany Bay. Tench. ibid.

The plan, sleep overnight in ‘a small hut formed of boughs which had lately been erected on the peninsula’, to be ready at first light to hunt kangaroos necessary to supplement a ration that, for a prolonged period, stood just shy of starvation.

December – 10, Botany Bay: ‘About I AM the sergeant was awakened by a rustling noise in the bushes…supposing it to proceed from a kangaroo…two [2] natives with spears… one [Pim-el-wi] launched his spear at M’Entire, and lodged it in his left side’.

The shooting party returned to Sydney with the injured M’c Intyre, still alive but in very bad shape.

Aborigines advised leaving the multi-barbed spear in place. Their advice was rejected the spear was removed. John Mc Intyre lingered on dying on 20 January 1791.

An autopsy revealed seeds and sharpened stones, torn from the shaft during removal, were embedded in his left lung.

December 13: Governor Phillip addressed Captain Tench; ‘I am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked, and the barbarity of their conduct admits of no extenuation’.

Phillip would have us believe his inclusion of Mc ‘Intyre  was not deliberate provocation. Captain-General Arthur Phillip RN was well aware of his role of conqueror; ‘nothing will make these people amends for the loss of their liberty’.

‘The natives will be made severe example of whenever any [English]man is wounded by them’ was polar opposite to that generated by his own wounding.

Why? Phillip had intelligence.  ‘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.

John Mc Intyre was one (1) of three (3) convict marksmen (John Randall and Patrick Burn) licensed by Phillip to carry firearms.  But the only one regarded with ‘dread and hatred’. John Mc Intyre – Death of a Sure Thing


‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted from the eighteenth into the twentieth centuries regardless of legal status of these subjects. These aids had commended by December 1790. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australia, Allen & Unwin, 1995

Once more it fell to Watkin Tench, ever present witness caught in the eye of the storm, to record events.

December 13, Sydney Cove: ‘Instil universal terror …’bring away two [2] prisoners and put ten [10] to death…cut off, and bring back the heads of the slain; for which purpose ropes to bind our prisoners, hatchets and bags were provided’. Governor Phillip General Orders to Captain Watkin Tench

Pemulway a known assailant. Collectivise punishment the innocent as well as the guilty. Captain Tench expressed shock. ‘His excellency’ paused and invited Tench’s input.

The scope of orders were amended; ‘destroy all weapons of war…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 [6] to death…bring back the heads of the slain’.

To that end Captain Tench assembled; ‘A party consisting of two [2] captains, two [2] subalterns, and forty [40] private, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers, from the garrison with three [3] days provisions, .ropes to bind our prisoners with, and hatchets and bags, to cut-off and contain the heads of the slain.

March to-morrow morning at daylight, in order to 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’.

For Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples the make-up of the detachment is of utmost importance. Captain Hill’s position as second in command, indicate most ‘forty privates’ infantry of the New South Wales Corps.

‘The insufficiency of our ration soon diminished our [marines] execution of labour.’

When the New South Wales Corps arrived six (6) months earlier (June 1790) the marine garrison was a spent force. Some officers as had their men, went blind, mad or both.  End stage syphilis hung over many.

‘Both soldiers and convicts pleaded such loss of strength, as to find themselves unable to perform their accustomed tasks’. Tench. ibid.


‘The Marines, members of the Royal Navy…prey to starvation, lethargy and despair…remained in New South Wales only as long as they had to, and from 1790 Australia was to be garrisoned by the army…[and] late in December [1790]…were at last called upon to perform the military duties for which the officers had reserved themselves’. Peter Stanley. ibid.

1790 – 14 December, Botany Bay: By 9 o’clock; ‘this terrific procession reached the peninsula, at the head of Botany Bay, after having walked in various directions until four o’clock, without seeing a native, we halted for the night’ .

15 December -Botany Bay:  Sloppy map-reading led them astray; ‘instead of finding ourselves on the south-west arm, we came suddenly upon the sea shore, at the head of the peninsula, about midway between the two arms’.

ThereTench’s men spied their quarry; ‘five [5] Indians on the beach…before we could near enough to effect our purpose [they] ran off’. The rest of the day was spent thrashing about.

The overnight bivouac was anything but comfortable; ‘a night of restless inquietude, where weariness is denied repose by swarms of musquitoes and sand-flies, which…bite and sting the traveller, without measure or intermission’.

16 December: Beaten by guile, without success now short of water and provisions; ‘we bent our steps homeward and after wading breast-high through two arms of the sea as broad as the Thames at Westminster, were glad to find ourselves at Sydney between one and two o’clock in the afternoon’.

There is ample evidence, intense fear and simmering rebellion, the first raid on 14th December, was primarily a diversionary tactic.  See: A Tethered Goat – John McIntyre – 10 December 1790

Marine Lieutenant William Dawes believed His Excellency Governor Phillip’s General Orders were unlawful and ‘refused that duty by letter’.

‘He [Dawes] was the scholar of the expedition…whose tour of duty it was to go out with that party[14 December] refused that duty by letter…even after the Governor had taken great pains to point out the consequences of his being put under an arrest’. Professor G.A. Wood, Lieutenant William Dawes and Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Australian Historical Society Journal; Vol. 19, Part 1, 1924.  See: Lieutenant William Dawes, The Shock of the New South Wales Corps and ‘The Eternal Flame’.

However with so much at stake ,Governor Phillip could not accept, or be seen to accept, failure. He ordered a second raid.

‘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, Botany Bay: In order to avoid intense heat a slightly smaller unit departed Sydney;‘a little before sun-set on the evening of the 22nd, we marched. Lieutenant Abbot, and ensign Prentice of the New South Wales Corps, were the two officers under my command, with three serjeants, three corporals, and thirty privates, completed the detachment’.

Weighted down by muskets they set off with; ‘our knapsacks burdened by…ropes to bind our prisoners, hatchets [to] cut off heads…bags to contain heads of the slain’.


Were Phillip’s rules of engagement consistent with what England expected of a British officer engaged in defence of His Majesty’s territory ‘called New South Wales…from the northern extremity coast called Cape York…to the southern extremity South Cape’?





For Dawes – the Shock of the New South Wales Corps –  bits and pieces.

A full moon, hot sweaty weather, sand-flies and mosquitoes, guaranteed their overnight bivouac was as uncomfortable as the previous one.

1790 – 23 December, Botany Bay: The detachment moved out at first light just as Christmas high tides began their surge; ‘we were suddenly stopped by a creek, about sixty yards wide, which [before] appeared dry from the tide being out’.

[now] we were immersed, nearly to the waist in mud, so thick and tenacious…I am sinking…resounded on every side….Our distress would have terminated fatally, had not a soldier called out to those on shore to cut boughs off trees and throw them to us; a lucky thought, which certainly saved many of us from perishing miserably’.

Having escaped the ‘Serbonian Bog’ another night was detachment spent another night swatting mosquitoes.

1790 – 24 December: ‘at nine o’clock we returned to Sydney to report our fruitless peregrination’.


Governor Arthur Phillip was the main reason any First Fleeters were still alive when, in June of 1790, the second fleet reached Sydney and broke the mind-bending isolation of the Robinson Cruscos marooned13,000 miles (21,000 km) from their homeland.

At this point it is essential to back-track. A time-line for the year 1790 is necessary to understand the sequence of events that had devastating and on-going consequences for Australia’s First Nations.


Marine Captain Watkin Tench, ever present witness caught in the eye of the storm, tells it best. ‘No communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth. From the intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off.’

Tench greeted 1790 with intense trepidation; ‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year. We have had been two [2] years in the country and thirty-two [32] months from England. Famine besides was approaching with gigantic strides, and gloom and dejection overspread every countenance’. See: 1790 – The Year of Living Dangerously [pending]


The Act of 1786 [ Geo.III. c. 50] for the ‘Encouragement of the Southern Whale Fishery’ proved to be the foundation of an important industry. The furtherance of this plan became one of the central objects of Lord Hawkesbury’s commercial policy’. Harlow. op.cit

‘Commercial policy’ – just as importantly New Holland Britain gained a land base to support a ship-based ‘Southern Whale Fishery’ [and] in the wake of the whalers other British trades would follow. 

YYYYYYImage London Gazette for Second Fleet

‘The Second Fleets arrival [with] the first companies of the New South Corps proved a water shed….Lieutenant John Macarthur – a central figure in the military ‘mafia’…[the Corps] quickly established itself as Australia’s first governing and property owning elite’. attributeXXXXX ….



QED –  Britain’s  ‘plans to use the corps in expeditions against Panama, Peru, Chile   via the southern oceans were viable.

YYYYYOn the 14th of December 1790 Governor Arthur Phillip ditched ‘amity and kindness’ for; ‘bring in six [6] of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay, or if that should be found impractical put that number [6] to death…bring in the heads of the slain’. Extract, General Orders, Governor Phillip to Marine Captain Watkin Tench, 14 December 1790, Historical Records of New South Wales.YYYYYY xxxxx John Macarthur the Great Pretender and Treasure Island ……Word and Sword are Mighty Macarthurxxxxx

Macarthur’s insidious white-anting went on to destroy Governor Arthur Phillip’s immediate successors the naval Governors John Hunter and Phillip Gidley King. In 1808 he instigated the ‘Rum Rebellion’ that saw Corps’ officers depose and imprison Captain William Bligh RN of HMS Bounty fame or infamy. See: Nine Months…In a Leaky Boat

Later still, there can be little doubt Macarthur’s scurrilous ‘pipes’ in support of Commissioner Bigge, sent from London to spy on Lieutenant-Colonel Governor Lachlan Macquarie played no small a part in the downfall Britain’s fifth Governor of New South Wales, the first drawn from military ranks.

‘For the British army, fights on the Australian frontier…that war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986



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