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

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 Governor Phillip was in danger of losing New South Wales. The threat did not come from the First Nations’ Peoples as, the previous year 1789, smallpox had killed 50% of local Aborigines. See: A Lethal Weapon Smallpox – Boston 1775 – Sydney 1789

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

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

With Sirius wrecked and Supply in Jakarta Governor Phillip a brilliant strategist but ailing following his wounding in September 1790, and now isolated in the midst of an extremely hostile soldiery, hatched a plot he believed would not fail. See: Manly, Location, Location, Location

Phillip’s game-keeper was the perfect patsy. The inclusion of M’Entire in a hunting party was sure to provoke the desired outcome – a cohesive response. With few friends in the white camp M’Entire could be eliminated without fear of a back-lash from any quarter. See: Kidnapped – Manly – What’s in a Name

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

1790 – 9 December, Sydney:  M’Entire set off from Sydney with three (3) marines 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 shooters’ party 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’.

The surgeon probably William Balmain, rejected their advise; ‘the extraction was…judged practicable and was accordingly performed’.  Its removal did M’Entire no favour as 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’.


‘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

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

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

‘I begged to offer for consideration...instead of destroying ten persons the capture of six…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 cannot be taken let this number be shot”. See: Terror – Arthur’s Algorithm – ‘instil universal terror’ – Open Sesame


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 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, the Robinson Cruscos of the ‘First Fleet’ marooned and left to starve, aligns with Tench’s assessment of his men. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve – 1788 to 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 therefore safe 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 with a second fleet – ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’– in June 1790. See: Dancing with Slavers – Britain’s Grim Armada

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; ‘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 the following day 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 another; ‘ 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: With exhausted troops and low on provisions Tench 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’.

The detachment straggled into camp hot thirsty, uniforms stiff with salt and muck. And they came alone with no heads and 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 not so.

1790 – 17 December: The morning Tench’s men returned from Botany Bay Waaksamheyd the 300 ton Dutch brig Lieutenant Ball – HMS Supply chartered at Jakarta in July 1790 – had arrived from Batavia crammed with tons of food and medicines.

She was received with rapture but wily Governor Phillip saw a down-side in her arrival. Ripe for seizure Waaksamheyd also brought hope of escape. Indeed, freedom for some was realised when Deter Smidt her Dutch master, assisted eleven (11) convicts escape from Sydney.

The ‘Botany Bay escapees’, as they became known, stole Phillip’s cutter and in an epic sea-saga rowed to Timor.  See: Boswell Goes Into Bat for the Botany Bay Escapees


‘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. The orders under which I [Tench] was commanded to act differing in no respect from the last’.

Despite Waakssamheyd with her bounty, perhaps because of her presence, Phillip ordered a second assault on the Bidjigal of Botany Bay.

‘The orders which I 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 serjeants, three corporals, and thirty privates completed the detachment [with] ropes, hatchets and bags, to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’.

1790 – 23 December, Botany Bay: At dawn the search to catch kill and behead Aborigines began again. Seasonal ‘Christmas’ high tides surged in turning firm ground into muddy swampland. In heavy scarlet woollen uniforms some soldiers sucked into what Tench described ‘a rotten spongy…Serbian bog’ nearly drowned.

Guns jammed with mud, hair matted once sodden clothes now stiff and stinking the troops, as on their previous incursion, passed a night of ‘restless inquietude’.

1790 – 24 December, 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’.


‘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

Yet currently Governor Phillip’s General Orders of December 1790 have been written off as ‘charade – a melodramatic show of force’ certainly Marine Lieutenant William Dawes did not think so, initially refusing to take part.

1790 – December: The First Nations’ Peoples with laser accuracy can pinpoint their near annihilation to Governor Phillip’s loyalty to his King and Country. See: Lieutenant William Dawes and The Eternal Flame [coming shortly]

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