REAR WINDOW & ‘THE BUSINESS OF WAR’ : 7 FEBRUARY 2018 – 7 FEBRUARY 1788

1788 – 7 February, Port Jackson: ‘We have come today to take possession of this fifth great continental division of the earth on behalf of the British people. I do not doubt that this country will prove the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made.

How grand a prospect which lies before this youthful nation’. Governor Arthur Phillip RN, Historical Records of New South Wales.

How ‘grand a prospect’ lay before The First Peoples of this ancient land?

1838 – 21 December, London: ‘You cannot overrate the solicitude of H. M. Government on the subject of the Aborigines of New Holland. It is impossible to contemplate the condition or the prospects of that unfortunate race without the deepest commiseration.  Still it is impossible that the government should forget that the original aggression was ours’ Lord John Russell to [Governor] Sir George Gipps, 21 December 1838, Historical Records of Australia, Series 1. Vol. XX

1788 – 6 February, Sydney Cove: At 5 am on 6 February 1788 all one hundred and eighty-nine (189) women prisoners of the ‘First Fleet’ began to leave what had been home for the past eight (8) months. By evening all were housed in tents erected by male convicts who disembarked on the 27th and 28th of January.

1788 – February 7, Sydney Cove: At 11 am on the 7th February 1788 Governor Phillip, accompanied by Marine Major Robert Ross, Chaplain Richard Johnson, Judge-Advocate David Collins marched with ‘other dignitaries’ amid ‘flying Colours’ through a guard of honour formed from ranks both arms of the naval service.

Daniel Southwell a young midshipman wrote to his father the marine band belted military tunes, suited to the business’; the business of war.

By mid-day the convicts had spent more than an hour sitting in a circle surrounded by armed soldiers with fixed bayonets who sweltered in scarlet woollen battle-dress as they waited to hear Judge-Advocate, Marine Captain David Collins, read the minutia of Governor Arthur Phillip’s commission; ’embodied in the Act of Parliament…by which the colony had been founded’.

Westminster, Act 24, Geo. III (second session) c. 56; ‘From the passing of this Act the sentence “transportation overseas” became the usual one, the King in Council later determining the destination of the convicted’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, Library of Australian History, 1990

Marine Captain Watkin Tench turned to Shakespeare’s  ‘pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war’ as Governor Arthur Phillip RN, flanked by Officers of both land and sea, took centre stage to address his audiences.

One indigenous ‘belonging to the soil’ on which they stood – the other ‘convicted criminals’ deemed ‘too evil to remain within the kingdom’ whose evil was to be rewarded with grants of Aboriginal land, another the military. 

Captain Collins wrote a vain hope that; ‘we might not sully that purity by the introduction of vice, profaneness, and immorality. But this, though much to be wished, was little to be expected.

The habits of youth are not easily laid aside, and the utmost we could hope in our present situation was to oppose the soft harmonizing arts of peace and civilisation to the baneful influence of vice and immorality’. Marine Captain David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. 1. ed. Brian H. Fletcher, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney, Wellington, London, 1975

Governor Phillip before leaving England in May 1787 had been assured more ‘convicts and supplies would follow shortly’. Neither came. By mid 1788 the supplies brought from England were severely depleted. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve

1788 – 2 October, Africa: As the year wore on without the expected support Phillip, desperate with over (1000) thousand hungry English men, women and children to feed, ordered HMS Sirius sail to the Cape of Good Hope to buy food and medicines from the Dutch at Cape Town.

1789 – April, Sydney:  ‘Famine was approaching with gigantic strides’ Englishmen with their guns and trawling nets competed with Aborigines’ spears and hooks for local foods. But even that inequity was not enough.

In April 1789 smallpox struck down the Cammergal people on the south side of Sydney Harbour, the Eora on the north and the Bidgigal to the south and west, killing 50% of their number. Phillip earlier estimated approximately one thousand five hundred (1500) had their homes in these places. See: Smallpox – Dead Aborigines Don’t Eat

‘No person among us has been afflicted with the disorder since we had quitted the Cape of Good Hope, seventeen [17] months before. It is true that our surgeons had brought out variolous matter in bottles; but to infer that it was produced from this cause were a supposition so wild as to be unworthy of consideration’. Marine Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

Tench was right the ‘supposition’ – a deliberate release of the ‘variolous matter’ – continues ‘to be unworthy of consideration’.

And Tench was wrong ‘No person among us has been afflicted’. See: Joseph Jefferies, From New York to Rio and Old Sydney Town:  One – Then There Was None

1789 – 5 May, Sydney Cove: HMS Sirius returned from Cape Town in May 1789 with limited supplies mainly flour intended for the two (2) king’s ships and, what could be spared, for the colony.

1790 – January 1, Sydney Cove: ‘From the intelligence of our friends and connections we had been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May, 1787, the day of our departure from Portsmouth…Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year’. Tench. ibid.

We had now been two [2] years in the country, and thirty-two [32] months from England, in which long time no supplies, except what  had been had reached us’. 

1790 – March, China: The supplies brought from England were now all but gone as was much of what had been‘ procured at the Cape of Good Hope by the Sirius’.

Phillip ordered the evacuation of 50 % of Sydney’s starving white population to Norfolk Island two (2) weeks sailing time away. Sirius was then sail onto China for help ‘but’ as Tench says ‘the Sirius was destined not to reach China’.

1790 – March 19, Norfolk Island: HMS Sirius having successfully landed the evacuees and most supplies struck a submerged reef and sank. One hundred and thirty (130) of her crew of one hundred and sixty (160) naval personnel were marooned on Norfolk Island along with the evacuees.

1790 – April, Sydney:Without distinction’ the weekly ration ‘to every child of more than eighteen months old and to every grown person, two pounds of pork, two pounds and a half of flour, two pounds of rice, or a quart of [dried] pease’. Tench. ibid.

1790 – April 5, Sydney: HMS Supply had accompanied Sirius to the island and returned to Sydney in early April with Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN, thirty (30) Sirius crew, and the devastating news – no China rescue.

1790 – April 17, Jakarta: HMS Supply sailed to Batavia – modern day Jakarta – a matter of months sailing time away, to buy food and medicines from the Dutch. See: Missing in Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

‘All our labour and attention were turned on one object – the procuring of food’. Tench. ibid. 

EPILOGUE

‘There are two kinds of error: those of commission, doing something that should not be done, and those off omission , not doing something that should be done. The latter are much more serious than the former’. Russell Lincoln Ackoff, Forward, The Puritan Gift, Kenneth Hopper and William Hopper, I.B. Tauris, 2008

1790 – 3 June: Tench tells; ‘the misery and horror’ of absolute isolation ‘such a situation cannot be imparted, even by those who have suffered under it’.

Lady Juliana, first of four (4) convict transports of a second fleet ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’ broke that isolation at the beginning of June 1790. See: Transportation – The Hulks Act and How The Mindset of Slavery Came to Australia

Although it is widely held the Second Fleet brought salvation, for the First Australians nothing could be further from the truth. Dissension, division and unbridled personal ambition sealed their fate as a free people. See: John M’Entire – Death of a Sure Thing

2018 – 7 February:  On the cusp of two hundred and thirty (230) years of ‘occupy’ and ‘rule’ there is an urgent need to shine a light on the ‘vice, profaneness and immorality [of the] original aggressors [and] contemplate how grand [the] prospect’ for the First Peoples.

1788 – 7 February: ‘[We] have founded here a State which we hope will not only occupy and rule this great country, but also will be a shining light among all the nations of the Southern Hemisphere’. Phillip, Historical Records. ibid

We the beneficiaries of Britain’s original aggression’‘and from all the lands on earth we come’ daily perpetuate its ‘immoralities’ by refusing to acknowledge the glittering prize that is Australia was not freely given.

 

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