AN UGLY WAR – BRITAIN VERSUS ‘THE OTHER’

‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’. Professor Bruce Kercher, History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

2016 – September, Manly Beach:  FAKE NEWSROAD RAGE – violence broke out on both the Harbour and Spit Bridges when cars were caught in giant grid-lock as Sydney-siders rushed to Manly where a whale – as big as a bus – had beached itself on the sand.

1790 – September, Manly Beach: Real news – excited Aborigines and Englishmen rushed to Manly to marvel at, ‘a tremendous monster’ whale that had washed up at Manly. The stranding proved a tipping point in the near annihilation of a free people, Australia’s First Peoples.

1790 – 7 September, Manly Beach: Governor Phillip, whose naval career began in Arctic waters harpooning whales now, armed with a bottle or two of fine French reds, a dagger and pistol, was rowed across to Manly for a viewing. There he met up with Bennalong who in May, four (4) months earlier, had leapt over a fence and escaped from British lines where, on Phillip’s orders, he had been held prisoner since November 1789. See: Kidnapped – Manly What’s In A Name

‘[The governor] uncorked a bottle, and poured out a glass of it, which the other [Bennelong] drank off with his former marks of relish and good humour, giving for a toast, as he had been taught “the King”. Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961 

Meanwhile a group of ‘the other’Aborigines – stood a little way off watching this strange pantomime.

Tench sets the scene; ‘a native [Wileemarin] ‘with a spear in his hand came forward. His excellency held out his hand…advancing towards him…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 this side…the other alarmed at the rattle of the dirk…and probably misconstruing the action, instantly fixed his lance, aimed [it] with such force and dexterity striking the governor’s right shoulder, just above the collar bone’. See: Manly Location, Location, Location

Wileemarin’s spear could not be extracted on the spot. Phillip endured three (3) agonising hours as he was rowed across choppy seas to Sydney where surgeon William Balmain removed it. Phillip lost a great deal of blood so recovery was slow.

Phillip knew, in throwing ‘down the dirk’, he had contributed to Willeemrin’s attack and ordered there be no reprisals. It was a decision that was to have vast unintended consequences.

‘Military and police raids against dissenting Aboriginal groups lasted  from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries…These raids had commenced by December 1790’. Kercher. ibid.

THE BACK STORY

Enter the lists Lieutenant John Macarthur who had arrived three (3) months earlier, June 1790 with ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ with the first contingent of infantry, the New South Wales Corps. See: A Tale of Two Fleets

1790 – January 20, London: ‘I am commanded to signify to you the King’s pleasure that directions be immediately given for the embarkation of the corps raised for service in New South Wales and commanded by Major Grose’. Right Hon.W.W. Grenville, to the Secretary of War

Major Francis Grose remained in London to recruit sufficient men to satisfy establishment requirements. But with revolution raging across the Channel and talk of imminent war with France recruitment proved difficult. To make up numbers Grose sourced ‘derelicts and delinquents’ from London’s Savoy military prison.

‘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, a ruthless opportunist whose personal ambition knew no bounds, was quick to take advantage of Grose’s absence. ‘Certain Corps’ officers’ led by Macarthur saw  Phillip’s ‘no retaliation’ as weakness and honed in on the ailing Governor who, now without any naval support, was completely isolated in the midst of a hostile soldiery. See: Missing in Action – HMS Sirius, HMS Supply

Phillip, known for his insight, could not have failed to recognise a dangerous enemy in Macarthur and assessed, an already palpable threat to his position as Supreme Commander, had escalated from at risk to imminent. Phillip knew the risk to; ‘our territory called New South Wales’.

‘New Holland is a good blind, then, when we want to add to military strength of India’ Phillip knew, if not contained, such a dynamic could destroy Prime Minister William Pitt’s strategic ambition, the benefit of; ‘station[ing] a large body of troops in New South Wales’. Historical Records of New South Wales. Anon

‘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’. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery, Fontana Press, 3rd ed. London 1976

Global warfare shaped the destiny of this nation. Britain’s occupation of New Holland during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793 – 1815 assured Britain control of alternate strategic and logistical sea-routes to and from India and Asia.

‘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.’ Kennedy. Op.cit.

[Kercher] ‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’ that authorisation applied from whom-so-ever such threat arose. Phillip a proven strategist, intent on saving the Sydney settlement from insurrection and anarchy, moved to assert his authority. He had only arrow in his quiver – intelligence – and that intelligence came from Bennelong. See: John Macarthur The Great Pretender & Treasure Island

Bennalong had been kidnapped on Phillip’s orders in November 1789. He often dined with the Governor during six (6) months spent as a captive within British lines and spoke of the ‘dread and hatred’ local Aborigines’ felt for convict John M’Entire Phillip’s personal game-keeper. Phillip used that intelligence to take off the heat; create a diversion – emphasise a common enemy – ‘the other’.

Since 1788 official armed hunting parties of; ‘the best marksmen of marines and convicts’ had been essential to survival. On the 9 December 1790 such a party set off for Botany Bay to shoot kangaroo ‘among them was M’Entire’.

1790 – December 9, Botany Bay: ‘At dawn a serjeant of marines with three 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’.

1790 – December 10, Botany Bay: ‘About 1 am the serjeant was awakened by a rustling noise in the bushes supposing it to proceed from a kangaroo…two natives with spears one [Pemulway] launched is spear at M’Entire and lodged it in his side’. ‘Tench. ibid.

1790 – December 11, Sydney: The hunters returned to Sydney with the wounded M’Entire. See: M’Entire – Death of a Sure Thing

SNAP

1790 – December 12: ‘ I [Tench] received a direction to attend the governor at head quarters immediately…his excellency informed me…that we were, to put to death ten [10] cut off, and bring in the heads of the slain, for which purpose hatchets and bags would be furnished. 

If practicable, to bring away two [2] natives as prisoners..’I [Phillip] am resolved to execute the prisoners in the most public and exemplary manner’. Tench. ibid. See: Arthur’s Algorithm- ‘infuse universal terror’

1790 – 14 December: The scope of Arthur Phillip’s General Orders were amended when the detachment moved out Tench’s orders were; ‘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’.

1790 – 22 December: The order of 14 December were repeated on 22nd of December; ‘the orders under which I [Tench] was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last’.

Governor Phillip General Orders served as template for Britain’s war ‘nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’. See: Sword and Word Both  Are Mighty

EPILOGUE

The troops sent to garrison the Australian colonies participated in the great struggle at the heart of the European conquest of this continent…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.

War, and especially war waged against primitive peoples, is nasty and decidedly lacking in glory. This should not, however, diminish our interest in the British soldier in Australia, for these rather squalid skirmishes and the soldiers’ service as gaolers, represent the beginning of European military history in Australia’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army In Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

POST-SCRIPT

2017 – 16 September, Port Macquarie: A whale estimated to weigh 20 tonne washed up at Nobbey’s Beach on the mid-north coast of New South Wales.

An attempt to tow the ‘tremendous monster’ out to sea failed. In a decision ‘not taken lightly’ the animal was euthanased and buried. The locals however were deeply divided and after a good deal of argy-bargy the whale was dug up, cut up and disposed of by staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service at cost of $50,000 to the New South Wales Government.

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