‘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, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

1790 – 13 December, Sydney: Governor Phillip summoned Marine Captain Watkin Tench to ‘Headquarters’ on 13 December 1790.

Tench was ordered to march to Botany Bay at ‘day-light to-morrow morning…to put to death ten[10] we were to cut off, and bring in the heads of the slain, for which purpose, hatchets and bags would be provided [and] if practicable, bring away two [2] natives as prisoners.

I [Phillip] 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’. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

1790 – 14 December, Botany Bay: Tench’s detachment consisted of; ‘two [2] captains, two [2] subalterns, and forty [40] privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers’.

The raid was in response to Pemulway’s spearing of convict John McEntire Governor Phillip’s own game- keeper who, a few days prior (10 December) had gone to on an official kangaroo hunt. M’Entire was known to be hated by local Aborigines.

‘From the aversion uniformly shown by all the natives to this unhappy man he [McEntire] had long been suspected of having, in his excursions, shot and injured them’. Professor G. A. Wood, Lieutenant William Dawes and Captain Watkin Tench, Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, Vol. 10, Part 1, 1924

In light of this evidence, Phillip’s claim the attack had been ‘unprovoked’ was spurious and it does not take a military strategist to smell a rat. Emphasise a common enemy to take off the heat and the heat was intense. Create a diversion; give the hungry, angry, scared, bored guys with the guns something to do. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

At Sydney Cove from day one – 26 January 1788 – Governor Phillip had struggled to keep starvation at bay. He authorised official hunting parties of marines and convicts. Some were sent into the bush to forage for food, others shot anything that moved, trawled for fish and the weakest gathered shellfish.  See: Abandoned and Left to Starve January 1788 to June 1790

1790 – 10 December, Botany Bay: John M’Entire was one (1) of three (3) armed convicts sent with a marine NCO to Botany Bay to kill kangaroo.

The inclusion of McEntire was deliberate provocation. On two (2) occasions Governor Phillip had kidnapped Aboriginal men. Bennalong when a prisoner had told Phillip of the ‘hatred and dread’ the locals felt for M’Entire.

Tench showed dismay when given his orders and the scope of the initial Orders was modified.

Phillip agreed with Tench’s suggestion; ‘bring in six [6]…out of this, part might be set aside for retaliation; and the rest at a proper time, liberated, after having seen the fate of their comrades. This scheme, his excellency was pleased instantly to adopt, adding if six [6] cannot be taken let that number [6] be shot. Tench. ibid. 

Marine Captain Tench and Lieutenant William Dawes both friend and confrere, had very different responses to Governor Phillip’s orders.

Tench had been perfectly willing, after discussion with the Governor, to lead the expedition, and heartily enjoyed the humour of its adventures.

But Dawes, whose tour of duty it was to go out with that party, refused that duty by letter “and persisted in his refusal, even after the Governor had “taken great pains to point out the consequences if his being put under an arrest’. G.A. Wood. ibid.

Tench no doubt counselled Dawes that his refusal to obey would have dire consequences and, if Marine Major Robert Ross his Commanding Officer had not been evacuated to Norfolk Island in March 1790, he would now be under arrest for gross dereliction of duty. If found guilty at court-martial he could be shot or hanged as a traitor.

It is not known if Marine Captain David Collins judge-advocate, the settlement’s senior law man although not a lawyer, knew Dawes should be spared drawing and quartering while still alive. In 1782 that barbarity had been legislated out as punishment for military treason.

Nevertheless Dawes the fleet’s principal scientific officer persisted in his refusal. Adjutant Lieutenant Lowe instructed Dawes to put his objections in writing which he did. Dawes however did approach Reverend Richard Johnson the First Fleet Chaplain who counselled him on his  military obligation.

Lieutenant Dawes then; ‘informed Captain Campbell that the Rev. Mr. Johnson thought he might obey the order, and that he was ready to go out with the party, which he did’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – December 14: At dawn on the 14th of December Tench’s detachment of fifty (50) men moved out for Botany Bay with; ‘three [3] days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners, and hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’. Tench. ibid. 

The raid failed – no heads, no prisoners.

1790 – December 17: ‘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’ where they found the  air was filled with the heady smell of cooking.

The troops returned to a very different settlement from the one they left only three (3) days before. At first light that very morning  Waaksamheyd a ‘Dutch Snow’ from Jakarta sailed into Sydney Harbour; the landing stage was already crammed with bales of stuff and barrels of supplies. See: Missing in Action – HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

1790 – December 19: ‘[Dawes] informed the Governor that he was sorry he had been persuaded to comply with the order and very clearly showed that he would not obey a similar order in future’. Tench. ibid

Lieutenant Dawes wrote to Governor Phillip through Captain Campbell who, in March 1789, had replaced Major Ross as commander of the Sydney garrison when imminent starvation had forced Phillip evacuate 50% of ‘his people’ to Norfolk Island.

The necessity for such a letter may have been prompted by Governor Phillip’s initial order that specified;‘ my [Phillip’s] fixed determination to repeat it, whenever future breach of good conduct on their side, shall render it necessary’.

Or there may have been a very different reason.

Waaksamheyd’s arrival had opened a Pandora’s Box of possibilities; among them escape, capture of the Dutch vessel with its armaments, thereby enhancing a pathway to insurrection and anarchy – the overthrow of Phillip as Governor and Captain-General.

The first of these possibilities was realised when a group of convicts stole Phillip’s cutter escaped from Sydney and rowed to Coupang, West Timor in one of the world’s most extraordinary sea-sagas. And from Timor by various means to Batavia, to Cape Town, to Portsmouth, to Newgate gaol and back to the Old Bailey. See: HMS Gorgan and the Botany Bay Escapees

Phillip deftly averted the second scenario, capture of Waaksamheyd, and the third – rebellion – by ordering a second raid against the Bidjigal.

1790 – December 22: ‘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 was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last’.

Lieutenant William Dawes was not among them when ‘ little before sunset on the evening of the 22d, we marched. Lieutenant Abbot and ensign Prentice of the New South Wales Corps were the two [2] officers under my command, and with three [3] sergeants, three [3] corporals, and thirty [30] privates completed the detachments’. See: William Dawes & ‘The Eternal Flame’

Tench says his orders ‘differing in no respect from the lastclarified Governor Phillip’s stated intent ‘infuse universal terror…kill…cut off…bring in the heads of the slain…two [2] prisoners to execute’. See: Terror – Arthur’s Algorithm

But what had changed was Captain Tench’s attitude, it differed markedly from the enjoyable ‘adventure’ Professor Wood claimed for the first raid.

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

I [Tench] resolved to try once more to suprise the village beforementioned. And in order to deceive the natives, and prevent them from again frustrating our design by promulgating it, we feigned that our preparations were directed against Broken Bay, and that the man [Willamarin] who had wounded the governor [September 1790 at Manly] was the object of the punishment’.

Here is deliberate deception but who was it Tench was trying to kid?

It is highly likely ‘our preparations’ were designed to dampen dissatisfaction within the ranks of the New South Wales Corps. Some officers were outraged by Phillip’s refusal to retaliate after his own spearing by the warrior Willeemarin .See: Manly Location, Location Location

This first contingent of infantry troops had arrived with the second fleet in June 1790 but without Major Francis Grose their commanding office. The power vacuum was filled by Lieutenant John Macarthur – who can best be described as Australia’s Machiavelli.  See: John Macarthur – The Great Disrupter

It must be emphasised, other than Marine Captain Watkin Tench, the rank and file of the detachment assembled for both raids, in particular the second foray, would have been made up almost entirely of infantry-men from the New South Wales Corps ‘who fought in one of the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British empire’.

‘Twenty five regiments of British infantry served in the colonies between 1790 and 17870…ensuring the literal survival of white settlement…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…war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986.


‘A smokescreen of legal confusion and argument covered up a continuing pattern of killings at the frontiers of the Australian colonies. Kercher. ibid.

There was no ‘confusion’ when it came to Phillip’s orders. Governor Phillip’s ‘rules of engagement’ demonstrated clear intent, put no limit on brutality and served as a template; ‘whenever a future breach of good conduct on their side shall render it necessary’..  

1790 – December: Intent; ‘differing in no respect from the last’ it is from this second raid that Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples can, with laser accuracy, plot ‘a continuing pattern of killings’ that led to their near destruction. See: A Cracker Jack Opinion – No Sweat

2019: Don’t know – don’t care. Surely it is time to have the argument and disperse the ‘smokescreen of confusion’ and the place to start is our schools.

Try a vox pop at any local supermarket and see what our school-leavers know of Australia’s history, that is aside from Captain Cook he is covered in third grade primary.


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