JOHN M’ENTIRE – DEATH OF A SURE THING

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

1790 – December, Sydney: By December 1790 Governor Captain Arthur Phillip RN knew ‘certain officers’ of the newly arrived New South Wales Corps (June 1790) – led by Lieutenant John Macarthur an ambitious junior officer – were circling the tents.

In December 1790 the Pitt Administration in far off England was in danger of losing New South Wales Australia) her gateway to India and Asia.

The threat however did not come from the First Nations’ Peoples as, the previous year 1789, 50% of local Eora Aborigines had contracted smallpox and were dead; the survivors struggling to regroup. See: A Lethal Weapon Smallpox – Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

1790 – 9 December, Botany Bay: ‘On the 9th of the month, a serjeant of marines, with three convicts, among whom was M’Entire, the governor’s game-keeper (the person of whom Bannelon had, on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred) went out on a [kangaroo] shooting party’. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Phillip knew the serious threat to King and Country came from within military ranks but, now isolated with no naval support, he had but one option in his armoury – diversion  and one (1) sure arrow, the ‘hated’ John M’Entire .

Phillip’s isolation in the midst of a hostile soldiery was now absolute.

HMS Sirius had been wrecked off Norfolk Island in March 1790 and a month later April 1790, to save the starving Sydney settlement from complete disaster, HMS Supply sailed to Batavia, present-day Jakarta, to buy urgently needed food and medicines. Missing in Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

Governor Phillip a practiced strategist, but ailing following his own spearing in September 1790, knew local Aborigines viewed John Mc Entire with ‘hated and dread’. See: Manly Location, Location, Location

From this intelligence, gathered during Bennalong’s five (5) month captivity, Phillip hatched a plot he believed had every chance of success. With few friends in the white camp McEntire could be eliminated with little fear of back-lash from that quarter. An excellent ‘marksman’ Phillip’s convict game-keeper was the perfect patsy. See: Kidnapped – Manly – What’s in a Name

Despite Phillip’s disavowal; ‘in this business of M’Entire I am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked’ Mc Intyre’s inclusion in the ‘shooting party’ was designed to provoke.

Watkin Tench’s ‘First Four Years’ informs this narrative unless attributed otherwise.

1790 – 9 December, Sydney:  Accompanied by a senior NCO McEntire and two (2) convict companions set off from Sydney at dawn on the 9th of December to walk a well-trodden path to Botany Bay. They intended to sleep overnight in a recently ‘erected small hut formed of boughs’.

1790 – 10 December, Botany Bay: ‘About one o’clock, the sergeant was awakened by a rustling noise in the bushes…Indians…one [Pemulway]…launched his spear at M’Entire, and lodged it in his left side…the wounded man immediately drew back and joining his party, cried, ‘I am a dead man’.

1790 – 11 December, Sydney: The group returned to Sydney with the mortally wounded M’Entire who ‘expressed a longing desire not to be left to expire in the woods’.

1790 – 12 December, Sydney: ‘To gain knowledge of their [Aborigines’] treatment of similar wounds, one of the surgeons made signs of extracting the spear; but this they violently opposed, and said, if it were done, death would instantly follow’.

William Balmain the fleet’s senior surgeon rejected their advise; ‘the extraction was…judged practicable and was accordingly performed’.  Its removal however did McEntire no favours. Death did not come quickly he died on 21 January 1791.

1790 – 13 December, Rose Hill: ‘The governor was at Rose Hill when this accident happened. On the day after he returned to Sydney… I [Tench] received a direction to attend the governor at head quarters immediately.

His Excellency pitched upon me ready to march tomorrow morning at daylight to execute the command…put ten [10] to death…bring in the heads of the slain…bring away two [2] prisoners…I [Phillip] am resolved to execute the prisoners…in the most public and exemplary manner, in the presence of as many of their countrymen as can be collected’.

 COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT

Pemulway’s assault on McEntire was a targeted attack by a known assailant – ‘put ten to death’ – indiscriminate retribution – punished both innocent and guilty.

‘The bloody raw power of decapitation…the eternal tension between drama and control…lies at the heart of the death penalty’. Frances Larson, Severed, Granta Books, London 2015

Collective punishment: Governor Phillip’s savage General Orders – illegal then and now – stunned Tench; ‘here the governor stopped and address[ed] himself to me’.

‘I begged to offer for consideration...instead of destroying ten [10] persons the capture of six [6] a 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 this number be shot”. See: Terror – Arthur’s Algorithm – ‘instil universal terror’ – Open Sesame

CATCH – KILL – BEHEAD

To that end Tench assembled a detachment of fifty (50) troops; ‘consisting of two [2] captains, two [2] subalterns, and forty [40] privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers, from the garrison’.

1790 – 14 December, Sydney: At four o’clock on the morning of the 14th...led by myself [Tench] we marched with three days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners…hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain. By nine o’clock this terrific procession reached the peninsula, at the the head of Botany Bay’.

For Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples the make-up of this detachment is of utmost importance.

‘The Marines, members of the Royal Navy …prey to starvation, lethargy and despair remained in New South Wales only as long as they had to and from 1790 Australia was to be garrisoned by the army’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia, 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

Dr Stanley’s picture of starving lethargic despairing marines, Robinson Cruscos marooned and left to starve, align with Tench’s assessment of his marines. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve – January 1788 to June 1790

The misery and horror of our situation cannot be imparted even by those who have suffered under it…The insufficiency of our ration soon diminished our execution of labour. Both soldiers and convicts pleaded such loss of strength, as to find themselves unable to perform their accustomed tasks’.

It is safe therefore to assert the bulk of ‘forty privates’ in this ‘terrific procession’ were infantry-men of the recently arrived New South Wales Corps who came to Sydney in June 1790 with a second fleet – ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’. See: Dancing with Slavers – Britain’s Grim Armada- The Dead and the Living Dead

1790 – 14 December, Botany Bay: ‘By 9 o’clock [we] reached the peninsula, at the head of Botany Bay’.

Heavily laden soldiers thrashed about, sweating and swearing as magpies swooped and black cockatoos screeched overhead; ‘after having walked in various directions until four o’clock, without seeing a native, we halted for the night’.

1790 – 15 December, Botany : At first light next morning they spotted their quarry; ‘five Indians on the beach…before we came near enough to effect our purpose [they] ran off’.

Sloppy map-reading had led the detachment astray; ‘instead of finding ourselves on the south-west arm, we came suddenly upon the sea shore, at the head of the peninsula, about midway between the two arms’.

Another stifling frustrating day spent in a muddy quagmire was followed by a; ‘night of restless inquietude, where weariness is denied repose by swarms of musquitoes and sand-flies, which bite and sting the traveller, without measure or intermission’.

1790 – 16 December, Sydney: Tench, his troops exhausted and their provisions low abandoned his mission.

‘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’.

1790 – 17 December, Sydney: The detachment straggled into camp hot thirsty, stinking uniforms stiff with salt and mud to find everything had changed.

At first light that morning Waaksamheyd the 300 ton Dutch brig Lieutenant Ball of HMS Supply had chartered at Jakarta in July 1790 – arrived from Batavia crammed with tons of food and medicines.

Tench reported to Governor Phillip; ‘our… expedition [had] totally failed’; no ‘heads in bags’ no ‘prisoners to execute in the most public and exemplary manner’.

Surely a win-win for Governor Phillip, he had asserted his authority at no cost, that should have been the end of it.

But no, despite Waakssamheyd with her bounty, probably because of her presence, Phillip ordered a second assault on the Bidjigal of Botany Bay.

‘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’.

While Waaksamheyd was received with rapture wily Governor Phillip saw danger.

Waaksamheyd was ripe for seizure and she also brought hope of escape. Indeed for some freedom was realised. See: The Great Escape – The Botany Bay Escapees

Deter Smidt, Waaksamheyd’s Dutch master, assisted eleven (11) to escape – nine (9) convicts, Emanuel a baby and three (3) year old Charlotte.

The ‘Botany Bay escapees’, as they became known in a high-profile court case – escaped Sydney in Governor Phillip’s own cutter and, in an epic sea-saga, rowed to Coupang in West Timor.  See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees

1790 – 21 December, Botany Bay: ‘The orders which I [Tench] was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last. If six [6] cannot be taken let this number be shot…bring away two [2] prisoners…I [Phillip] am resolved to execute…in the most public and exemplary manner’.

1790 – 22 December, Sydney: ‘A little before sun-set on the evening of the 22d, we marched. Lieutenant Abbot, and ensign Prentice of the New South Wales corps, three [3] serjeants, three [3] corporals, and thirty [30] privates completed the detachment [with] ropes, hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’.

The second raid: Tench approached his task very differently.

‘In order to deceive the natives, and prevent them from again frustrating our design……it was now also 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’.

1790 – 23 December, Botany Bay: At dawn the search to catch, kill and behead Aborigines began. Now as before seasonal ‘Christmas’ high tides surged in and turned firm ground into muddy swampland.

Late in the day some soldiers nearly drowned when, weighed down by their heavy scarlet woollen uniforms, some were sucked into what Tench described ‘a rotten spongy…Serbian bog’.

Guns jammed with mud,  the troops their once sodden clothes now stiff, passed yet another night of ‘restless inquietude’.

1790 –  Christmas Eve, Sydney: ‘Our final effort was made at half past one o’clock  next morning…ending in disappointment and vexation. At nine o’clock we returned to Sydney to report our fruitless peregrination‘.

‘Fruitless’ – not so – it is Tench caught in the eye of the storm who tells us so.

1790 – 28 December, Sydney: ‘But if we could not retaliate on the murderer of M’Entire, we found no difficulty in punishing offences committed within our own observation.

Two natives robbing the potatoe [sic] garden…a party of soldiers dispatched…the[ir] ardour transported them so far, that, instead of capturing the offenders, they fired in among them…[one] Ba-g-ai…was dead’.

EPILOGUE

‘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, History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

2019: The First Nations’ Peoples with laser accuracy can pinpoint their near annihilation to Governor Phillip’s loyalty to King and Country.

Currently Governor Phillip’s General Orders of December 1790 are written off as ‘charade – a melodramatic show of force’. A recent high-profile publication omits mention a second raid altogether.

Most certainly Marine Lieutenant William Dawes did not think either raid a ‘charade’ so much so he was prepared to put his life on the line.

Dawes initially refused to go on the raid of the 14th of December but after consulting Reverend Richard Johnson the ‘First Fleet’ Chaplain he complied.

On returning to Sydney on the 17th, Dawes addressed his objections to Governor Phillip in writing via Adjacent Lowe.

He expressed regret for obeying in the first instance and stated he would not in future comply if given a similar order. See: Lieutenant William Dawes – ‘The Eternal Flame’& ‘Universal Terror’

ADDENDUM

‘From 1790 Australia was to be garrisoned by the army’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

On the orders of Governor Lachlan Macquarie issued 10 April 1816 Australia’s first officially recognised ‘massacre’  – fourteen (14) or more dead Aborigines – occurred at Broughton Gorge, Appin in April 1816.

Tench’s ‘night raid’ approach – 22nd December 1790 – set the precedent for ‘future’ confrontations between the invaders and the invaded.

Governor Macquarie’s orders echo almost precisely Governor Phillip’s orders of December 1790.

Some Aborigines were shot and ‘to instil terror’ the bodies were to be hung in the trees.

Two (2) warriors were beheaded, their heads boiled down, the skulls sent to the Anatomy Department at  Edinburgh University. See: Dark Matter, Lieutenant Macarthur, The New South Wales Corps &  Governor Phillip, Major Grose, Captain Paterson, Governors Hunter, King, Bligh, Macquarie 

Some women were shot. Others with children were rounded up and driven to their death in Broughton Gorge.

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