Botany Bay – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Hush Christopher Robin’ – Mark 2

‘It will be asked why, when we [Britain] have as great if not a greater, force than we ever had, the enemy are superior to us. To this it is to be answered that England till this time [1778-83] was never engaged in a sea war with the House of Bourbon [France and Spain] thoroughly united, their naval force unbroken, and resources, and having no other war or object to draw off their attentions and resources’. Lord Sandwich cited Robert .J. King, The Secret History of the Convict Colony, Sydney 1990 

 America – 1775: At Lexington in April 1775 Britain went to war with her North American colonists. But not all of them. Those loyal to the Crown fought their Patriot brothers alongside British troops.

Against all odds General George Washington’s Patriot rebels won America’s struggle for independence.

France – 1778: In February 1778 France signed a formal alliance with the United States.

England- 1778: The following month, March 1778, Britain declared war on France.

Spain – 1779:  In 779 Spain entered the conflict and assisted the French with logistical support.

‘Although Spain never officially allied with the United States its entry into the Revolutionary War alongside France turned a regional North American conflict into a global war and forced Britain to divert its vaunted Royal Navy to defend other interests around the world’.  The American Revolution – A World War, eds .notes, Spanish Naval Operations.  Ed. David K. Allison & Larrie D. Ferreiro, Smithsonian Books, Washington D.C. 2013


Soon after Spain entered the war the British went on the offensive and made two (2) attempts to ‘annoy and distress the Spaniards….in their South American possessions.

Jamaica- 1779:  In February 1779 Major William Dalrymple based at Jamaica, sailed from Kingston Harbour to attack Omoa a Spanish fortress at Honduras on the Mosquito Coast of Central America.

Omoa – 1779: Although the Spanish vastly outnumbered the English in the area of attack Dalrymple’s raiders managed to take the Spanish by surprise. They captured the main fort at Omoa on the 16th of September 1779.

But diseases, dysentery yellow fever and malaria, overtook them. The British managed to hold onto the fort until November 1779 when it was lost to a Spanish counter attack

The expedition’s naval contingent of three (3) vessels did much better. It managed to seize two (2) treasure ships laden with loot – silver equivalent of three million (3,000,000) Spanish dollars.

London: The ‘victory’ was overblown for home consumption. Medals were minted. Paintings, engravings, books, a plethora of print articles all screamed ‘treasure’.

Jamaica: So it was not difficult for William  Dalrymple who survived Omoa to suggest another attack on Spain’s rich South American territories. This time Dalrymple’s proposal involved the San Juan River area in present day Nicaragua.

‘The San Juan River…gave access to Granada…and Britain sought to take control of the area in order to reach the Pacific [Ocean]….According to Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, the San Juan Expedition was “among the most ambitious enterprises of the American Revolutionary War”. The American Revolution A World War, Eds. David K. Allison & Larrie D. Ferreiro,  Yale University, New Haven & London, 2013 

Britain also maintained settlements along that coast. Occupied in the main by white overseers of slave labourers who felled the mighty giants to satisfy the United Kingdom’s rapacious thirst for mahogany to fill the fine dining, drawing and bedrooms of wealthy Georgians.

If successful the expedition would split the Spanish Empire and establish access between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  It is little wonder San Juan had the enthusiastic backing of General John Dalling, Governor of Jamaica and, from far-off London, the support of Lord George Germain, secretary of state for America.

Their enthusiasm however was not supported by careful preparations. Haphazard planning spelt disaster.  Of approximately 1800 foot soldiers who sailed from Jamaica only 380 returned.

Of 1000 sailors who manned a flotilla of ships that took the troops to Nicaragua, commanded by a not yet 21 years old Lieutenant Horatio Nelson RN in HMS HinchenbrookeOf her crew of 200 only 10 survived.

‘Germain was to declare the expedition an entire failure in which “no public Benefit had been derived from the Loss of so many [2500] brave men”.  It not only failed but distracted from the British effort in North America’ . Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, The Men who Lost America, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2013


‘The combination of French and Spanish naval power had proven fatal for Britain in the American War 1775-1783…as Lord Sandwich admitted frankly’. Lord Sandwich cited R.J. King, The Secret History of the Convict Colony, Sydney, 1990

Virginia – Battle of the Capes  1781 September:  Defeat of the Royal Navy at Chesapeake by a French squadron led by Admiral de Grasse, starved General Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown of reinforcements and heavy artillery and tipped the scales in favour of Washington’s Continental Army.

Yorktown –   1781 October:   A month later – 19th October – 5000 survivors of General Cornwallis’ 8000 strong army surrendered to equal numbers of French regulars and American Patriot militia.

Although the war dragged on historians agree the loss of Yorktown sounded the death-knell for the British campaign in the American War.

Following the humiliation of San Juan and the loss of of Yorktown Britain’s fire to ‘harass’ the Spaniards’  burnt brighter than ever.

Even before peace talks began another raid against Spain, the so called Dalrymple Plan, was under discussion with the Home Secretary William Petty, Earl Shelburne.

London –  1782: Then in March 1782 Prime Minister Lord Frederick North who had held the post since 1770 resigned.

1782 – July: Charles Watson-Wentworth – Lord Rockingham – succeeded but died four (4) months later in July 1782.

In July 1782 William Petty, Earl Shelburne relinquished his position as Home Secretary and took over the Prime Ministership as Lord Lansdowne.

Shelburne, when  Home Secretary, had not been impressed by the spin put on Omoa . It appears he hesitated until Sir John Dalrymple a prominent member of the influential Scots ‘Dalrymple Dynasty’ took up his younger brother’s cause.

Paris: While treaty terms were still under negotiation at Versailles Shelburne approved the ‘Dalrymple Plan’.

In July 1782 Lord Sydney became Home Secretary and inherited the ‘Dalrymple’. It aimed to mount hit and run raids on two (2) of Spain’s South American colonial possessions – Monte Video and Buenos Aires.

map of south america

With the hope of salvaging some honour after the ignominy of the Omoa and San Juan disasters 1779-81 Lord Sydney tasked Captain Arthur Phillip RN to bring the now re-badged Monte Video Plan to life.

Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese Phillip had spent nigh on four (4) years in Brazil spying and reporting directly to fellow linguist Lord Sandwich at the Admiralty. See: Monte Video – Lord Sydney, Arthur Phillip & ‘Hush Christopher Robin’ Mark 1


Portsmouth- 1783 :  On the 16th of January 1783, while peace terms were well advanced, Lieutenant Arthur Phillip RN captain of HMS Europa  with three (3) other ships under overall command of Sir Robert Kingsmill in HMS Elizabeth, HMS Grafton and HMS Iphiguria a supply vessel,  departed Portsmouth.

It was planned to rendezvous with a similar sized convoy sailing from the East Indies. When it became known, peace terms between Spain and Britain had been settled, the raid was abandoned.

The squadron was damaged when caught by a hurricane in the Bay of Biscay and the ships parted company.  Along with Grafton and Iphiguria Kingsmill returned to England in HMS Elizabeth.

Phillip however made for India to repair Europa and await further orders. See: Arthur Phillip The Spy Who Never Came In From The Cold.

Paris – 1783, September: America’s Revolutionary War of Independence ended formally in September 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.


Brazil – September 1787: As the First Fleet ‘bound for Botany Bay’ prepared to sail from Rio for New Holland via Cape Town, Captain Arthur Phillip RN ‘Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy’ was able to supply Evan Nepean, his long-time ‘handler’ at the Home Office, with vital up to date intelligence.

Rio de Janeiro – 3 September 1787: ‘Dear Nepean, this is my last letter, as I hope to sail [for Cape Town] tomorrow.

You know how much I was interested in the intended expedition against Monte Video [1783], and that it was said that the Spaniards had more troops than I supposed…obtained from a person who was there [Monte Video] all of the war and I am certain that the account…of the number of Spaniards exact’. Phillip to Evan Nepean Under Secretary to Home Secretary Lord Sydney 3 September 1787. Franck Murcott Bladen, Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. 1, Parts 1 & 2,  1892, Nabu Public Domain Reprint

Skin in the game; Phillip regarded the Kingsmill group’s ‘failure to act’ against the Spanish in 1783 had robbed the Royal Navy of much needed ‘glory’. 

When I conversed with Lord Sydney….The place New South Wales holds on our globe might give it a very commanding influence in the policy of Europe. If a colony from Britain was established in a large tract of [that] country…the check which New South Wales would be in time of war…make it a very important object when we view it in the chart of the world with a political eye’.  James Matra, Plan for Botany Bay, August 23rd 1783, Bladen, Historical Records

Failure rankled and Phillip determined to make amends.  The conquest of New Holland, now Australia situated  deep in the South Seas could restore that ‘lost glory’.

If he succeeded, there would be an opportunity to prove the Pacific Coast of Spain’s Central and South American ‘treasure colonies’ would be  vulnerable to attack by the Royal Navy.

London Gazette Extract 1789

Strategically the conquest and dispossession of New Holland’s First Nations’ Peoples  was an essential ingredient in a century long period of global warfare that has been characterised as The Second Hundred Years’ War 1701 -1815.

‘Four [4] companies of Marines landed [in 1788] with the first Europeans…and twenty-five [25] regiments of British infantry served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870.

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’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia  1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney 1986.  

The War of Spanish Succession 1701-14, War of Austrian Succession & War of Jenkin’s Ear 1739- 48, Seven Years’ War 1754-1763, War of American Independence 1775-1783, Invasion of New Holland & Frontier Wars 1788 -1870, French Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars 1793- 1815. See: Why New Holland – Britain + America + India + France + Spain  = European Australia’


‘When you arrive on the Spanish Coast of the South Seas you are to do your best to annoy and distress the Spaniards… by sinking, burning or otherwise destroying all their ships and vessels that you shall meet’. Instructions to Commodore George Anson,  January 1740, cited Glyn Williams The Prize of All the Oceans,  Harper Collins, 2000

See: Apollo 11 – Fly Me To the Moon, Voyage of the First Fleet

Hush hush whisper who dares’. A.A. Milne, Vespers, When We Were Very Young

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