‘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 holds the key to the success of the ‘First Fleet’ voyage and Arthur Phillip was very familiar with Brazil. A decade earlier, fluent in Portuguese, he was seconded to the Portuguese Navy, during his four (4) year stint in Rio de Janeiro the good relations he built did much to ensure Britain’s victory over France in the race for New Holland a victory that guaranteed the winner ease of access to India.

‘In November [1784] Henry Dundas, possibly Pitt’s closes advisor, warned that ‘India is the fist quarter to be attacked, we must never lose sight of keeping such a force there as well be sufficient to baffle or surprise’. Dundas, cited Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy, Harper Grant Books, Victoria, 2013

‘New Holland is a blind then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Anon, Historical Records of Australia

‘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.

Phillip’s Secret Service payments were made through under-secretary Nepean to the then Home Secretary Lord Sydney. 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 prisons hulks, decommissioned ship 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’. 

Edmund  Burke’s passionate representations in the House of Commons had put an end to Africa as a penal destination as a result no better way presented than 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 of these issued on 12 October 1786 laid 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 of 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”

‘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, Fontanta Press, 3rd ed. London, 1976

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 ‘no person will ever know from whence this proceeds’ a code was necessary to future-proof the authenticity of any communication from New South Wales.

So the ‘exact purposes of the settlement‘ would remain within Pitt’s ‘secretive inner circle of government’ the powerful politicians Dundas, Hawkesbury and Mulgrave 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. See: Arthur Phillip – Trade and the Defence of Trade

‘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.


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

‘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

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…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’. Anon. ibid.











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