‘The new Governor [Hunter] therefore, in common with his successors, [King and Bligh], did not have it in his power to enforce his commands.

To exacerbate an already intolerable position, Hunter proved quite unable to cope with the psychological consequences of his encounters with [the importation of rum] that particularly virulent form of commercial enterprise which characterized so many of his officers, both trusted and otherwise.

This was an impossible situation and its inherent danger was fully revealed when Governor Bligh, notwithstanding his appointment as Commodore, found himself entirely at the physical mercy of [New South Wales Corps’ officers] his supposed subordinates’. Introduction, Governor John Hunter, First Fleet Journal.

1792 – 11 December, Sydney: Arthur Phillip, after five (5) traumatic years as Britain’s first commissioned Governor of New South Wales (Australia), departed Sydney for England in mid December 1792 aboard the Atlantic. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve at Sydney Cove January 1788 to June 1790 

‘When all is said and done, the most malignant policy is less mischievous probably in its results than a policy of drift’. Hugh W. Egerton, British Colonial Policy, Methuen, 1928

Earlier in dispatches Governor Phillip, hoping for a smooth transition of authority, nominated Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN succeed him. Whitehall not only ignored Phillip’s request government did nothing.  

1793 – 23 July, London: Phillip arrived at Falmouth in May 1793. In July he submitted a formal application of resignation, again he strongly recommended Phillip Gidley King succeed him, but once more this wise advice was ignored.

‘Most of the disquiet which has agitated this settlement is chiefly attributed to the unfortunate mixture of civil and military duties which exist in this country’. Captain Paterson, Historical Records of New South Wales

‘Drift’ – by default governance of Australia fell into the hands of the military – the corrupt New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps – commanded by Major Francis Grose who, the day following Phillip’s departure 12 December 1792, dismissed all civil magistrates replacing them with his officers.

‘The settlement was ruled as a military oligarchy…Grose must have realized that in superceding the magistrates he was making an alteration in judicial government which was contrary to the Royal Instructions expressed both in Phillip’s Commission and the Letters Patent establishing the Courts of Law’. William Foster, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 51, part 3.

Major Grose, woulded in America’s War of Independence 1775-1783, found Sydney’s intense summer heat and humidity too much to bear. In December 1794 Grose returned to England and his 2-I-C, Captain William Paterson, also wounded in the American conflict, assumed governance of New South Wales.

‘For the length of the interregnum [1792-95] the British government was greatly at fault’. J.J. Auchmuty, Hunter, Australian Dictionary of Biography

Governor John Hunter RN the second commissioned governor did not reach Sydney until September 1795.

‘For the first twenty years, settlement in New South Wales was confined largely to the Cumberland Plain around Sydney’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1870, Kangaroo Press, 1964

The Derrubbun [Hawkesbury] River area ‘the bread-basket of the Sydney settlement’ had farms strung along ‘thirty miles along the banks on both sides of the river’.

Land fenced for crops and grazing denied local Dhurag Aborigines access to their yam fields, watering holes and hunting grounds. When the Dharug sought to access their land to feed their hungry families, these actions were deemed ‘plundering’ and outrage’.

‘The Europeans explained such resistance by referring to the Aborigines’ ‘Spirit of Animosity and Hostility’, as if the invasion of their land would call for any other response but armed resistance’. Stanley. op. cit.

1795 – 7 June, Hawkesbury: Three (3) months before Governor Hunter’s arrival, Captain William Paterson military commander and Acting Lieutenant-Governor, dispatched sixty-six (66) privates and two (2) lieutenants with ‘firearms[to] destroy’ the Dhurag. See: Terror – Arthur’s Algorithm – ‘instil universal terror’ – Open Sesame

The Corps’ first experience of war came in January 1795 on the Hawkesbury River  north-west of Sydney’. Stanley. ibid.

As a direct result of Paterson’s intervention conflict between ex-convict settlers, now with an extreme sense of entitlement, and the Dhurag escalated from hit-and-run raids to ‘open warfare’.


‘Governor Hunter’s arrival [September 1795] terminated the first period of military rule in the settlement, and commenced the epoch of simmering discontent and covert antagonism amongst the military, which culminated in the deposition of Governor Bligh on the 25th January 1808′.  Historical Records of Australia, Commentary, Series 1, Vol 2. 

1786 – October, London: It appears when Captain Arthur Phillip RN was chosen to lead Britain’s thrust into the southern oceans in October 1786 Lord Howe First Sea Lord, head of the Royal Navy in William Pitt’s Ministry, had not been consulted.

Admiral Howe, less than enthusiastic with the covert decision of Pitt’s powerful inner cabinet of three (3) Hawkesbury, Dundas and Mulgrave, wrote to Lord Sydney; ‘I cannot say the little knowledge I have of Captain Philips [sic] would have led me to select him for a service of this complicated nature’. 

During the American War of Independence (1775-1783) Captain John Hunter had won Admiral Howe’s patronage. Post-war, although a navigator of note, Hunter’s naval career stalled. He was anxious to return to Australia as its Governor and lobbied Lord Howe help him achieve his ambition.

Given Phillip’s resignation [July 1793] Howe was determined to assert influence over the selection of his successor and Hunter, a hero of Governor Phillip’s administration (1788-1792), had impeccable credentials.

Hunter earlier, in October 1788, to save the Sydney settlement from starvation, had sailed HMS Sirius from Sydney on a perilous lone voyage to Africa via Cape Horne to buy urgently needed food and medicines from the Dutch at Cape Town.

Sirius returned from Cape Town in May 1789 having circumnavigated the earth. See: A Snap-Shot of Famine

1794 – 6 February, London: Captain John Hunter RN was formally commissioned as Britain’s second naval governor of Australia in February 1794.

1795 – 25 February, England: Inexplicably a whole year passed before he left England for Australia in HMS Reliance.

1795 – September, Sydney: Governor Hunter arrived at Sydney in September 1795 and took up his appointment four (4) days later.

He faced a; ‘turbulent and refractory colony [where] the whole concerns were taken into the hands of the military….Had the original regulations of Governor Phillip, as things stood when I left the colony in 1791 remained….I should have known what to do [however] the whole thing had been abolished’. Hunter, First Fleet Journal. ibid.

Hunter began his tenure by reinstating all magistrates dismissed by Major Grose thereby restoring ‘civil government’ however ‘opposition to the civil government was throughout dominated by John Macarthur’. Hunter. ibid. See: Machiavellian Macarthur

Hunter, by then in his early 60s, was no match for the unscrupulous young bloods of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps, especially an arrogant, clever, ruthless junior officer – Lieutenant John Macarthur – whose personal ambition knew no bounds.

‘The decade that followed [Hunter’s arrival] represents a particularly controversial period in the history of New South Wales, in which a succession of naval governors strove unsuccessfully to curb the commercial monopoly established by the officers, both civil and military, of the colony’. Hunter, Dictionary of Biography. ibid. 

Major Grose had on Governor Phillip’s departure appointed Macarthur Inspector of Public Works, Hunter made a powerful enemy when he dismissed Macarthur from that lucrative post.

But it was the appointment of Richard Atkins, a civilian to replace Macarthur in that role, that echoed down the years to the detriment of Governor, Captain William ‘Bounty’ Bligh RN. See: Australia Day ‘Rum’ Rebellion – 26 January 1808

1795: By the time Governor Hunter arrived in the colony upwards of four hundred (400 ) settlers – ex-convicts, soldiers and their families with the labour of some ticket-of-leave prisoners and assigned convicts, had established farming settlements centred on the fertile flats of the Derrubbun – Hawkesbury River.

1795: Most convicts were city folk, thugs, thieves, beggars, pick-pockets, pimps and prostitutes, many from teeming London, some from large cities, all lived hand to mouth in grinding poverty.

Shut out from England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ they knew nothing of ‘owning’ anything, granted Aboriginal land ‘ownership’ proved a heady aphrodisiac.

The ‘amity and kindness’ most Australian historians and story-tellers insist characterised British relations with the First Australians, if they ever existed, ended dramatically in December 1790 when Governor Phillip ordered a punitive raid on the Bidgigal. See: Tethered Goat – John McEntire, 10 December 1790 

‘Bring in six [6] of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay; or if that should be found impracticable, to put that number to death…cut off and bring in the heads of the slain.‘General Orders – Governor Phillip to Marine Captain Watkin Tench. Cited Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1961

Governor Phillip orders of the 13th of December and, with clear intent to ‘seek and destroy’ repeated on the 22nd of December, triggered an algorithm that brought about the near annihilation of Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples. See: ‘Terror – Arthur’s Algorithm ‘infuse universal terror’ 

‘Terror’ amply demonstrated by Captain Paterson’s actions on the Hawkesbury in June 1795. Officers and rank and file of the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps owed allegiance not to Governor Hunter – the King’s representative – but to their wealthy officers.

Governor Hunter ‘did not have it in his power to enforce his commands’. With no loyal hands to command he was powerless to curtail the punitive actions of the military.

‘Almost from the day of  his arrival Hunter was engaged in an interminable struggle to overcome and regulate the abuses which developed in the colony. In his efforts he did not receive the loyal and whole-hearted sympathy of the English authorities’. Commentary Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, Vol. 2

Governor Hunter wrote to the Home Office complaining of ‘this horrid practice of wantonly destroying the natives’ but his plea fell on deaf ears for, although he did not know it, Hunter had already been discarded, recalled ‘by a distant and ungrateful government’.

1800 – 15 April, Sydney: Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN arrived from England aboard HMS Speedy bringing a Home Office dispatch that ‘severely censured Hunter and ordered him to return to England by the first safe conveyance’.

Lieutenant Gidley King RN was to take up his commission as Britain’s third naval governor of Australia however, due his ‘anomalous commission’ only if Hunter died or departed the colony was King enabled.

The Home Office had unjustly judged Governor Hunter’s tenure a failure. Yet, under Hunter’s guidance, George Bass and Matthew Flinders circumnavigated Van Diemens (Tasmania) confirmed a body of water – Bass Strait – separated Tasmania from mainland Australia.

Hunter also oversaw expansion of the extremely profitable whaling and sealing industries, one (1) of the ‘exact purposes’ that drove Britain’s invasion of New Holland.

‘Once more the discoveries of Captain Cook were influencing the direction of Britain’s expansion. It was known that the prized sperm-whale was abundant beyond the Capes of Good Hope and Horne; and these were the gateways into the regions with a vast trading potential.

If a whaling industry in these areas could be established, Britain could supply herself and Europe at cheap rates independently of the Americans. In the wake of the whalers other British traders would follow. The furtherance of this plan became one of the central objects of [Lord] Hawkesbury’s commercial policy’. Vincent T. Harlow, The Founding of the Second British Empire 1763-1793, Longmans, 1964

Sealing and whaling began as early as 1790 when some second fleet convict transports having dumped their human cargo, sailed deep into the southern fisheries to reap brutal bloody harvests of whale and seal and enslave, rape and murder Tasmania’s indigenous women. See: A War Grave – Tasmania

1800 – 28 September: Hunter, despite King’s determined efforts to get rid of him, hung on until the end of September 1800 when he sailed for home in HMS Buffalo commanded by Captain William Kent his nephew.

1801 – 24 May, England: Captain Hunter returned to England on arriving at the naval base Spithead in May 1801 he immediately requested the Home Office institute an inquiry ‘into the charges which had been made against his administration’.

Hunter’s request was ignored as neither the War nor Home Office was; ‘desirous of publishing the facts by holding an investigation’.

But Captain Hunter’s involvement with Australia did not end there.

1801 – June, London: Hunter took a carriage to London knocked on the door of 32 Soho Square and delivered Sir Joseph Banks; ‘a diversity of specimens [including] one large box of fleeces…the first identifiable fleeces from the Southern continent…36 pounds of wool sent by Captain John Macarthur’. H.B. Carter, His Majesty’s Spanish Flock, Sir Joseph Banks and the Merinos of George III of England, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1964     

And that is how history was made. See: Joseph Banks – A Finger in Every Pie 


The ‘Rum Corps’ had not been Governor Hunter’s only problem. Increasing numbers of Irish convicts arrived, among them literate agitators some motivated by politics some by religion, reprieved death on condition of transportation to Australia.

Hunter described the Irish ‘as refractory, turbulent, extremely insolent and dissatisfied with their situation here…for a number of years there were continual reports of proposed risings of the Irish convicts’ he established an inquiry into the ‘Irish Question’. See: The Irish and the English King in Australia


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