Did Britain invade New Holland?

1790 – December Sydney: ‘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…punishment inflicted on them for their own bad conduct’.  General Orders: Governor Arthur Phillip RN to Marine Captain Watkin Tench, December 1790, Historical Records of New South Wales

in time of war a military and naval presence on the south eastern coast of New Holland could frustrate French efforts to effect an economic blockade of island England by providing a secure alternate sea route to India, Africa, India, China and South America.

‘I need no enlarge on the benefit of stationing a large body of troops in New South Wales…New Holland is a good blind, then, when we want to add to the military strength of India’. Letter to Evan Nepean Under-Secretary to Lord Sydney, Home Office London, 1789. Anon, Historical Records of New South Wales.

1790 – January – Sydney: ‘Our impatience of news from Europe strongly marked the commencement of the year….thirty-two [32] months from England, in which long period no supplies…had reached us.

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’. Captain Watkin Tench, Sydney’s First Four Years, ed. F.L. Fitzhardinge, Angus and Robertson, 1961

‘Bad conduct’

‘As if the invasion of their land would call for any other response but armed resistance’. Dr Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison, The British Army in Australia 1788 – 1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

1790  – 3 June, Sydney: For the marooned First Fleeters who had sailed from England on 13 May 1787 bound for Botany Bay the Lady Juliana was the first vessel to reach them.

Lady Juliana was first of four (4) ships of a second fleet. Government contracted the other three (3) vessels Neptune, Suprize and Scarborough to Camden, Calvert and King a firm of  Atlantic slave traders working out of London.

Lady Juliana broke the terrible isolation of Englishmen callously left to starve. Dubbed ‘The Brothel Ship’ she brought two hundred and twenty-six (226) women convicts and eight (8) children but very little food.

No supplies…entirely cut off…no communication whatever’. Of the isolation, fear, uncertainty and starvation Watkin Tench wrote; ‘the misery and horror of such a situation cannot be imparted, even by those who have suffered under it’. Tench Ibid.

When Lady  Juliana sailed into Sydney Harbour on the 3rd of June 1790 it was empty of English ships.

As planned the First Fleet’s six (6) chartered transports; Prince of Wales, Friendship, Alexander, Scarborough, Charlotte, Lady Penrhyn and three (3) supply ships Borrowdale, Golden Grove and Fishburn had returned to England.

But where were HMS Sirius and HMS Supply the First Fleet’s warships?

Supply was at Jakarta and Sirius at the bottom of the sea.

1790  Sydney: Three (3) months earlier, March 1790, with winter fast approaching fish were becoming increasingly scarce. Governor Phillip, in order to save the Sydney settlement from complete disaster, took a difficult and dangerous decision.

He ordered Sirius and Supply evacuate 50% of the Sydney population to Norfolk Island. Two (2) weeks sailing time from Sydney vegetables thrived there in the island’s fertile soil and fish were plentiful year round.

No one in the colony caused Phillip more trouble than Major Ross. Of all Phillip’s problems, including the terrible famine of 1789 and 1790, probably none was so harassing as the persistent antagonism, both covert and open, which Ross pursued against him’. John Moore, First Fleet Marines, Queensland University Press, 1987

Marine Major Robert Ross troublesome, antagonistic, always at odds with Governor Phillip the direct result of a dysfunctional chain of command, was to relieve Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN and take charge at Norfolk Island.

Gidley King, Philip’s long-time friend and fellow naval officer, would return to Sydney and support the now ailing Governor.

HMS Sirius was to sail onto China and arrange a rescue mission. But landing people and supplies on an island surrounded by uncharted reefs, was always going to be a tricky operation and so it proved.

After successfully unloading people and supplies, HMS Sirius struck submerged rocks and sank. Her crew, one hundred and sixty (160) naval personnel, were stranded on Norfolk along with the evacuees.

1790 – 6  April: Lieutenant King returned to Sydney aboard HMS Supply in early April 1790 with the devastating news; Sirius was lost and all hope of a China rescue gone.

Governor Phillip knew survival of the Sydney settlement was now on a knife’s edge and, although Supply might not survive a long sea-voyage during the approaching monsoon season, nevertheless Phillip felt compelled to order Lieutenant Henry Ball RN sail HMS Supply to Batavia, modern day Jakarta.

At Jakarta Ball was to negotiate with a hostile Dutch bureaucracy  to buy tons of food and medicines and charter a ship to bring them to Sydney.

In this endeavour Ball would have, at least for a short time, assistance of Lieutenant Phillip Gidley King RN.

Governor Phillip relinquished King’s much needed support so his trusted friend could return to England with vital intelligence for Prime Minister William Pitt.

INTELLIGENCE:  ‘when we [Britain] want to add to the military strength of India’ the Sydney settlement was ideally suited for the task.

INVASION: Securing command and control of the southern oceans had been front and centre of Britain’s invasion plan.

In Phillip’s opinion military and naval bases at New Holland far exceeded the expectations of Prime Minister Pitt and the commercial ambitions of his ‘inner circle’, the powerful politicians Lord Hawkesbury, Lord Mulgrave and Henry Dundas.

1790 – 17 April:  When HMS Supply sailed from Sydney for Jakarta in mid April 1790 an anguished Captain Tench wrote; ‘we followed her with anxious eyes until she was no longer visible…every thing which zeal, fortitude, and seamanship, could produce, was concentrated in [Ball] her commander’. 

The absence of Sirius and Supply and  two hundred (200) naval personnel left Governor Captain Arthur Phillip RN completed isolated in the midst of a hostile soldlery, the marines of the Sydney garrison.

Australia’s Historical Records confirm, there was a near fatal flaw in the chain of command. Aside from Marine Captain David Collins and, very few other officers, Governor Phillip was without friends in the Sydney garrison.

1790 – 26 27 28 June: By the end of June 1790 the second fleet’s death ships Suprize, Scarborough and Neptune dubbed ‘Britain’s Grim Armada’,  survived a cyclonic east-coast low weather system before they made through Sydney Heads.

DEATH SHIPS: William Wyndham Grenville had replaced Lord Sydney as Home Secretary in mid 1789. Grenville young, a cousin of Prime Minister Pitt,  had contracted Neptune, Suprize and Scarborough to Camden, Calvert and King a London firm of brutal ‘Guinea‘ slave traders.

Of one thousand (1,000) mainly male prisoners embarked in England 25% died during the voyage and a further 15% within a month or so of arriving in Sydney.

Such an avalanche of sick and dying placed enormous strain on the ‘First Fleet’ physicians and on the settlement’s depleted resources.

The second fleet also brought the first contingent, one hundred and four (104) officers and men of an infantry regiment, the New South Wales Corps.

These fresh troops had been raised specifically to replace the ‘troubled’ marine garrison. However, rather than alleviating Governor Phillip’s troubles, the New South Wales Corps compounded his myriad difficulties.

Major Francis Grose, the Corps’ commander, remained behind in England to recruit a further two hundred (200) men necessary to satisfy establishment requirements.

Lieutenant John Macarthur, a junior Corps officer, used Major Grose’s absence to advantage. Arrogant, fueled with over-arching ambition, aided by Elizabeth his young  savvy wife Macarthur, as history attests, seized his opportunity to stake a personal claim to New Holland.

Matters were made worse by intense resentment and animosity that surfaced between ‘Phillip’s people’, the old lags of 1788, and the newcomers.

Barely six (6) months from the hustle and bustle of London’s teeming streets, soldier and criminal alike, none could comprehend their strange new surroundings.

1790 – June, Sydney: The food situation was still critical despite the arrival of Justinian a fully  laden stores ship in late June 1790 with the first logistical support from England.

Fresh protein foods were still scarce. Phillip increased numbers of official hunting parties that had, since 1788, been essential toprolong life’.

1790 – 9 December, Botany  Bay: One such party set off for Botany Bay on the 9th of December to camp over-night and be ready at first light to shoot hungry kangaroos as they came along to graze.

The group included convict John Mc Intyre, Governor Phillip’s personal game-keeper, ‘the person’ Tench tells ‘of whom Baneelon [Bennalong] had on former occasions, shewn so much dread and hatred.’

1790 – 10 December, Botany Bay:  Just after mid-night the men were woken by ‘a rustling noise in the bushes…two natives with spears…one [Pemulway] launched his spear at M’ Entire, and lodged it in his left side…I am a dead man’.    

 1790 – 11 December: Next day the party began retracing its steps towards Sydney where John Mc Intyre died some weeks later.

Governor Phillip, after three (3) years of fighting a rear-guard action to maintain Britain’s presence in New Holland, faced a dangerous enemy within.

Phillip, an experienced leader of men, knew Lieutenant Macarthur and ‘certain Corps officers’ were circling the tents.

If he did nothing his position as supreme commander could well be in jeopardy. Phillip saw in Mc Intyre’s wounding an opportunity to keep dissenting officers at bay and change the settlement’s dangerous dynamic.

Diversion: Governor Phillip with few options chose diversion;  give the guys with the guns something to do;  ‘infuse universal terror’.

Given Phillip’s isolation it is highly likely his  inclusion of the armed Mc Intyre was deliberate.

 1790 – 13 December: ‘Put ten [10] to death…cut off, and bring back the heads of the slain…bring away two [2] prisoners to execute 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 Marine Captain Watkin Tench, cited Sydney First Four Years.

‘Infuse universal terror’ Governor Phillip’s rules of engagement’ placed no limits on brutality. They ignited a ‘war nasty and decidedly lacking in glory’ and served as template; ‘twenty-five regiments of British infantry [who] served in the colonies between 1790 and 1870.

They fought in one of 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, 1788 – 1870, Kangaroo Press, 1986

Australia’s First Nations’ Peoples can, with laser accuracy, pinpoint their near annihilation to Governor Arthur Phillip’s General Orders of 13th and 22nd December 1790.

‘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, An Unruly Child, A History Of Law In Australia, Allen & Unwin, 1995

War; ‘one of the most prolonged frontier wars in the history of the British empire‘ is the only war for which Australia has no stomach.

See: An Ugly War – Shock and Awe – ‘Infuse universal terror’

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