‘His [Phillip’s ] failure to invite the French commander [La Perouse] there [Sydney Cove] reflect some fear that he might be known as a spy.’ Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip 1783-1814 His Voyaging, 

Until quite recently it was generally held Arthur Phillip was ‘plucked from obscurity’ to command the ‘First Fleet’. But like ‘amity and kindness’, Australia’s foundation myth – benign colonisation – nothing could be further from the truth.

Brazil would prove to be the key to the success of the ‘First Fleet’ voyage and Phillip was very familiar with Brazil. A decade earlier he served there seconded to the Portuguese Navy. Fluent in Portuguese, the good relations he built during his four (4) years in Rio de Janerio, did much to ensure success.

‘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. Lord Sydney [the life and times of Tommy Townshend] Andrew Tink, 2011.

Arthur Phillip lived in a world of intrigue. In the 1770s jockeying for power between England and France, Spain, Portugal and the Dutch was intense.

‘Evan Nepean received ‘an astonishing promotion’ when Lord Shelburne appointed him as under-secretary of state to the Home Office during which time he began to specalize in intelligence’ Roger Knight, The Pursuit of Victory.

1773 – France: The Admiralty urgently needed intelligence on the disposition and ordnance of the French Navy. To that end  Phillip spent all of 1773 in France spying and reporting his observations to the Admiralty.

Under Lord Sydney, the then Home Secretary, Phillip’s Secret Service payments were made through under-secretary Nepean.  Arthur Phillip and Evan Nepean, a naval officer turned politician, had known each other since the early 1770s.

1783 – Britain: In 1783 Britain lost the American War of Independence and her thirteen (13) colonies: North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

The Home Office was charged with finding a place of exile for approximately 10,000 criminals sentenced ‘for transportation to America’ during the War of Independence (1775-1783) and held-over either in England’s gaols or on decommissioned ships, prison hulks, moored along the Thames River.

1786 – 18 August: ‘According to the accounts given by the late Captain Cook His Majesty has thought it advisable to fix on Botany Bay situated on the coast of New South Wales’. Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1

1786 – August, Brazil: Arthur Phillip was ‘in the Brazils’ keeping track of Frenchman La Perouse, already on the high seas and making for New Holland, when informed of his selection to command a large expeditionary force of eleven (11) vessels into the Pacific and Southern Oceans.

The ‘First Fleet’ was a, two-for-the-price-of-one, venture. England felt compelled to get to New Holland before France her traditional enemy and having lost America could no longer off-load those considered ‘too evil to remain within the kingdom’ and how better to do this than by implementing a traditional blend – one size fits all –  criminals as soldiers.

‘In writing of the recruitment of criminals into armed forces, Stephen Conway observed. ‘It was still found necessary periodically to clear both the putrid and congested gaols and the equally overcrowded and insanitary hulks’. Conway, cited, Alan Frost, Botany Bay Mirages, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1994

Phillip left Brazil and returned to England where he received a multitude of formal instructions relating to the invasion of New Holland.

1786 – 12 October, London: First and most important of these, was issued on 12 October 1786 laying out the Crown’s intention regarding the island continent of New Holland and emphasising unequivocally, the military nature of the project.

‘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 of the coast called Cape York…to the Southern extremity…South Cape.

And you are to observe and follow such orders and directions from time to time as you shall receive from us, or any other your superior officer according to the rules and disciplines of war’. Instructions, King George III to Captain Arthur Phillip RN, 12 October 1786.

Below is a brief extract from a ‘mission accomplished’ letter sent from New South Wales to Evan Nepean at the Home Office. See: Australia – Britain By A Short Half-Head

‘New Holland is a blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India….I need not enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales’. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales

The lengthy letter reveals the true nature of Britain’s plans for; ‘our territory called New South Wales…from Cape York… to South Cape’.

‘If La Perouse had arrived at Botany Bay before Phillip, and had fronted him with a French annexation, the act would have been equivalent to declaration of war on Great Britain’. Professor G.A. Wood, The Discovery of Australia, 1969 edition.

Global warfare – February 1793 to June 1815 ‘the great event of the late eighteenth century’ – Phillip’s secret pre-emptive mission; gain territory and secure strategic supremacy for Britain over the southern oceans, was known to very few government officials.

‘Since Sir George Young, an admiral who was intensely interested in the proposal to send the first fleet to New South Wales, did not know even in 1788 that Norfolk Island was part of the design, it seems clear that only a few men in the inner circle of government knew the exact purposes of the settlement; Eden [William Eden – later Lord Auckland] was probably not in that secretive circle. Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Gotham City, The Founding of Australia, The argument about Australia’s origins, ed. Jed Martin, 1978

Evan Nepean, Phillip’s handler, was among those in the know. So ‘the inner circle of government’ could be rely on the authenticity of any communication, a code was necessary to future-proof the secret and conceal the ‘exact purposes of the settlement’ ensuring Britain’s motives remained within ‘the inner circle of government’.

Phillip and Nepean chose a code-name that mirrored England’s ambitions for Britain’s ’empire in the south. It reflected the ambitions of another distinguished master-mariner and master-spy, serving another English monarch at another time, some two hundred (200) years earlier.

‘The revival of Tudor ambition, the return to an ideal of trade…the search for a new Cathay led unexpectedly perhaps not to Nootka Sound as a halfway house to Canton or to a business deal between George III and the Emperor of China but to settlement in Australasia’. Vincent T. Harlow, The Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Vol.11, 1964.


‘The short term consequence [loss of America] were less dramatic than many expected. Though Britain’s eclipse as a world power was confidently predicted her economic recovery was swift and the colonial development of Australia, New Zealand, India and part of Africa went some way to compensating for the loss of the first British Empire’. J.A. Cannon, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, cited Oxford Companion to British History.

Arthur Phillip and Evan Nepean began a remarkably successful subterfuge. In Australia and Britain the ‘First Fleet’ continues to be sold; ‘as a small, peacetime convoy’. 

‘In British eyes it [First Fleet] has been seen, if it has been noticed at all, as a small, peacetime convoy, which founded a colony; it is overshadowed by greater events of the late eighteenth century’. Roger Knight, The First Fleet, Studies from Terra Australia to Australia, ed. John Hardy and Alan Frost, 1989

2018 – Australia: The invasion of New Holland ‘ IF…NOTICED AT ALL’ remains hidden in plain sight.

‘It is much to the credit of those in office [Pitt administration] that an empire has been founded in the south, which time will render much superior to that which their predecessors [North administration] have lost in the west [America]. Anon. ibid

Anon sought to protect Evan Nepean’s anonymity; ‘I have taken this method because I wish to be unknown….No person…shall ever know whence this proceeds, and I give my honor not a hint of it shall ever transpire’.








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