SWORD AND WORD BOTH ARE MIGHTY – GOVERNOR ARTHUR PHILLIP’S MILITARY CAMPAIGN FOR KING AND COUNTRY

1790 – 13 December, Headquarters:‘ Put to death ten…bring in the heads of the slain…bring in two prisoners…I 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’. Governor Phillip, General Orders to Captain Tench, cited, Marine Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1961

The reason Phillip gave for these ‘indiscriminate and disproportionate’ orders that put no limit on barbarity, was the spearing of convict John M’Entire by the warrior Pemulwuy that took place at Botany Bay in the early hours of 10 December 1790.

‘On the 9th of the month, a serjeant of marines, with three [3] convicts, among whom was M’Entire, the governor’s game-keeper (the person of whom Baneelon had, on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred) went out on a shooting party’. Tench. ibid.

Ostensibly the December raid was centred on Pemulwuy’s spearing of John M’Entire but all was not as it seemed. Bennalong, source of Phillip’s ‘dread and hatred’ intelligence, had been kidnapped in December 1789 and held captive within British lines until  he escaped in May 1790. See: Kidnapped – Manly What’s In A Name

‘But in this business of M’Entire I [Phillip] am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked’. The ‘but’ references Phillip’s ‘own spearing’ by Wileemarrin on Manly Beach three (3) months previously – September 1790. See: Manly, Location Location Location

In December 1790 Sydney’s Aborigines were at a low ebb. In May 1789 an outbreak of smallpox raged through their people an estimated, 50% of them died. See: Smallpox: A Lethal Weapon Boston – 1775  Major Ross & Captain Collins – Sydney – 1789

‘For the Sydney people to lose around 50 per cent or more of their military capability in a few weeks was a crushing blow’. Stephen Gapps, The Sydney Wars, Conflict in the early colony 1788-1817, NewSouth Books, 2018

The Governor’s orders, punishing both innocent and guilty, went well beyond what was acceptable in circumstances where the identity of a single assailant was known.

Tench, with the ‘Rules of Engagement’ – Laws of War – in mind, hesitated Phillip negotiated with Tench and the ‘scope of the order’ was changed.

Nevertheless Phillip’s orders remained ‘disproportionate – indiscriminate’ – ‘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’.

‘At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 14th we marched…with three days provisions, ropes to bind our prisoners, with hatchets and bags to cut off and contain the heads of the slain’. Watkin Tench. ibid. See: A Hatchet Job- Kill 10 & Cut Off Their Heads

THE BACK STORY

‘The cultural arrogance of the British was evident even before the First Fleet sailed. There was no recognition that the Aborigines had their own notion of right, that from their point of view they were entitled to defend themselves from invasion’. Professor Bruce Kercher, An Unruly Child, A History of Law in Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1995

1776 – May, Westminster: The Hulks Act of 1776 legislated English prisoners reprieved death and commuted ‘for transportation beyond the seas’ were ‘Servants of the Crown [their] Service is for the Crown’.

‘In determining the daily ration no distinction was drawn between the  marines and the [male] convicts. Apart the allowance of spirits the standard adopted was that of the troops serving in the West Indies’. Wilfrid Oldham, Britain’s Convicts to the Colonies, ed. W. Hugh Oldham, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1990

1787 – 13 May, Portsmouth: A large armed amphibious expeditionary force the ‘First Fleet – eleven (11) vessels with two hundred (200) Royal Naval personnel, four (4) companies of marines – two hundred and forty-five (245) officers and rank and file – commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip RN – sailed from England in mid May 1787 to invade the island continent of New Holland.

1788 – 18-20 January, Botany Bay: ‘Four companies of Marines landed with the first Europeans to settle in Australia’. Dr. Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788-1790, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

The other half of the fleet’s overwhelmingly male complement, were convicted criminals – five hundred and seventy (570) of them men rationed as ‘troops serving in the West Indies’ were available for combat with, one hundred and ninety-three (193 women) prisoners, their ‘service’ camp-followers.

1788 – 24 January, Botany Bay: Comte Jean Francoise La Perouse in command of La Boussole and L’Astrolabe arrived in the entrance to Botany Bay. Bad weather and, the sight of HMS Sirius with gun-ports open for ‘business’, forced them south to seek safety at Sutherland.

1788 – 26 January, Port Jackson: The English fleet departed Botany Bay for Port Jackson anchoring in Sydney Cove just on sunset where, at first light that very morning Captain Phillip, having quit Botany Bay on the 25th, had raised ‘English Colours’ – the Union Jack and claimed victory over France. See: Australia: Britain By A Short Half-Head

1788 – 7 February, Sydney Cove: ‘The battalion was drawn up on parade…music playing…convicts assembled…His Majesty’s commission read….Nor have Government been backward in arming Mr. Phillip with a plenitude of power’. Tench ibid.

1790 – JANUARY

1790 – 1 January, Sydney: ‘We had been entirely cut off, no communication whatever having passed with our native country since the 13th May 1787 the date of our departure from Portsmouth. Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year [as] we have now been two years in the country, and twenty-two months from England’. Tench. ibid.

The men, women and children of the ‘First Fleet’ were abandoned. Not until June 1790 did any supplies or reinforcements arrive although, before departing Portsmouth, Phillip had been assured more convicts, soldiers and supplies would ‘follow shortly. See: Abandoned and Left to Starve Sydney – January 1788 to June 1790

‘Perched precariously on the edge of an impenetrable continent, the threat of starvation constantly present, death was never remote from the tiny colony’. Dr. Bryan Gandevia, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 61, Part 1, 1975

1790 – JUNE – ‘FLAGS UP’ –  ‘LONDON ON HER STERN’

1790 – 3 June: Lady Juliana, dubbed ‘The Brothel Ship’ – first of four (4) vessels of a second fleet broke the ‘misery and horror’ of absolute isolation. See: Missing In Action HMS Sirius & HMS Supply

Juliana brought two hundred and twenty-six (226) women prisoners, eight (8) children with more on the way. Reinforcements, one hundred and five (105) officers and men of the New South Wales Corps, first contingent of ‘twenty-five regiments of British infantry’ were distributed throughout the fleet’s death ships Neptune, Scarborough and Suprize‘Britain’s Grim Armada’.

1790 – 30 June, Sydney: By the end of June 1790 five (5) English ships had reached Sydney; four (4) convict transports and a store-ship Justinian.  Caught in a severe east-coast low, Justinian very nearly went the way of HMS Guardian. See: TITANIC: HMS GUARDIAN – AUSTRALIAS TITANIC

Neptune, Scarborough and Neptune arrived with six hundred and ninety-two (692) male convicts and sixty-seven (67) female prisoners. Two hundred and fifty-six (256) men and eleven (11) women embarked at Plymouth had died during the voyage; 15% of survivors died within weeks of landing.

Captain William Hill who sailed in Suprize, wrote to William Wilberforce England’s leading parliamentary anti-slavery campaigner, ‘the slave trade is merciful compared with what I have seen in this fleet’. Historical Records of New South Wales. Vol. 1 See: Britain’s Grim Armada – The Dead and the Living Dead 

The newcomers, five (5) months from the teeming streets of London found starving, weak, ragged, bare-foot ‘First Fleet’ Robinson Cruscos, clinging precariously to life on a ration well below subsistence level; ‘to every child of more than eighteen (18) months old, and to every grown person per week, two pounds of pork, two pounds and a half of flour, two pounds of rice or a quart of pease, to every child under eighteen months old, the same quantity of rice and flour, and one pound of pork.

The pork and rice we brought with us from England; the pork had been salted between three and four years, and every grain of rice was a moving body, from the inhabitants lodged within it’. Tench. ibid.

None, soldier or criminal, could comprehend their new surroundings; well documented animosity surfaced quickly between them and the  old lags of 1788.

1790 – September, Manly: When a ‘monster’ whale stranded on Manly Beach a large number of Aborigines gathered around it. Governor Phillip, anxious to see if it was the type that produced the much valued spermacetti oil, was rowed across to Manly where Wileemarrin, a warrior from the Broken Bay area, speared him through the shoulder. See: Manly Location, Location, Location.

‘The tremendous monster, who had occasioned the unhappy catastrophe just recorded was fated to be the cause of farther mischief to us’. Tench. ibid.

Phillip recovered slowly and ordered there be no reprisals. But his decision not to retaliate, seen as weakness – even cowardice – raised ire among ‘certain officers’ of the New South Wales Corps. Principal among them, Lieutenant John Macarthur the teetotaller who would put the rum into the New South Wales ‘Rum’ Corps.

1790 – 9 December, Botany Bay:  A serjeant of marines and three (3) armed convicts including the ‘hated’ M’Entire went to Botany Bay to hunt kangaroo. Early next morning; ‘awakened by a rustling noise in the bushes…two Aborigines…one…launched his spear at M’Entire’. 

‘But in this business of M’Entire I [Phillip] am fully persuaded that they [Aborigines] were unprovoked’ and retaliation was swift and brutal.

For Phillip M’Entire, fed as a duck armed as a duck, his ‘service…for the Crown’ was that of a sitting duck. See: A Tethered Goat – John M’Entire – 10 December 1790

1790 – 13 December, Sydney: ‘His excellency pitched upon me [Tench] be ready to march at daylight…party, consisting of two captains, two subalterns and forty privates, with a proper number of non-commissioned officers from the garrison, with three days provisions…to execute the command…if six [6] cannot be taken let that number be shot’. 

1790 – 14 December, Botany Bay: Led by Marine Captain Tench the detachment’s forty (40) privates most, given the marines’ physical condition, would have been drawn from the ranks of the New South Wales Corps.

‘At four o’clock in the morning…we marched…By nine o’clock this terrific procession reached the peninsula, at the head of Botany Bay. See: Lieutenant William Dawes The Eternal Flame & Universal Terror

‘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’.

1790 – 22 December: Phillip ordered a second raid and emphasised the Governor’s clear intent: ‘to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethical, racial or religious group, such as; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group…’ United Nations 1948 Convention on the Prevention of Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. See: G is for Genocide  – Testosterone Fuelled

 Tench made significant tactical alterations; ‘it was 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”

And as a sop to the enemy within ‘certain officers’ of the New South Wales Corps ‘we feigned that our preparations were directed against Broken  Bay; and that [Wileemarrin] the man who had wounded the governor was the object of punishment’. See: The Enemy Within (coming shortly)

Early morning of the 23rd the detachment sighted; ‘five Indians on the beach, we pursued; but the contest between heavy-armed Europeans and naked unencumbered Indians, was too unequal to last long. They darted into the wood and disappeared’.

1790 – 24 Christmas Eve: ‘Our final effort was made at half past one o’clock next morning ; and after four hours toil, ended as those preceding it had done, in disappointment and vexation. At nine o’clock…we returned to Sydney to report our fruitless peregrination’.

‘But‘ Tench says ‘if we could not retaliate on the murderer of M’Entire, we found no difficulty in punishing offences committed within our own observations’. 

1790 – December, Sydney: ‘Two natives…detected in robbing a potatoe garden…the ardour of the soldiers transported them so far, that instead of capturing the offenders, they fired among them… the women were taken…two men escaped…one…Ban-g-ai died’. Tench. ibid.

EPILOGUE

‘Henry Reynolds argues that the unsuccessful operations against the Bidjigal were the prototype for future punitive expeditions which only ended with the Conistan Massacre of 1928’. Peter Turbet, The Occupation of the Sydney Region 1788-1816, Rosenberg, Sydney, 2011.

The ‘barbarity’ of Governor Phillip’s orders of December 1790 and his;‘fixed determination to repeat it whenever any future breach of good conduct on their side, shall render it necessary’ remained extant and served as a template for;‘twenty-five [(25] regiments of British infantry who served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870.

They fought in 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 1790-1870, Kangaroo Press, Sydney, 1986

‘Phillip was authorised to see to the defence of the colony’. Kercher. ibid.

2018: That authorisation applied when ever and from whom-so-ever such threat arose. Now is the time to investigate the circumstances  that surround John M’Entire’s death. See: ‘Terror’ Arthur Phillip & John Macarthur – The Elephant In The Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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