New South Wales 1800-1808

Governor King. Governor Hunter, who left Sydney in the year 1800,

was succeeded by Captain King, the young officer who has been already

mentioned as the founder of the settlement at Norfolk Island. He was a

man of much ability, and was both active and industrious; yet so

overwhelming at this time were the difficulties of Governorship in New

South Wales, that his term of office was little more than a distressing

. The colony consisted chiefly of convicts, who were--many of

them--the most depraved and hardened villains to be met with in the

history of crime. To keep these in check, and to maintain order, was no

easy task; but to make them work, to convert them into industrious and

well-behaved members of the community, was far beyond any Governor's

power. King made an effort, and did his very best; but after a time he

grew disheartened, and, in his disappointment, complained of the folly

which expected him to make farmers out of pickpockets. His chances of

success would have been much increased had he been properly seconded by

his subordinates. But, unfortunately, circumstances had arisen which

caused the officers and soldiers not only to render him no assistance

whatever, but even to thwart and frustrate his most careful plans.

The New South Wales Corps. In 1790 a special corps had been

organised in the British army for service in the colony; it was called

the New South Wales Corps, and was intended to be permanently settled in

Sydney. Very few high-class officers cared to enter this service, so far

from home and in the midst of the lowest criminals. Those who joined it

generally came out with the idea of quickly gathering a small fortune,

then resigning their commissions and returning to England. The favourite

method of making money was to import goods into the settlement and sell

them at high rates of profit; and, in their haste to become rich, many

resorted to unscrupulous devices for obtaining profits. A trade in which

those who commanded were the sellers, whilst the convicts and settlers

under their charge were the purchasers, could hardly fail to ruin

discipline and introduce grave evils, more especially when ardent

spirits began to be the chief article of traffic. It was found that

nothing sold so well among the convicts as rum, their favourite liquor;

and, rather than not make money, the officers began to import large

quantities of that spirit, thus deliberately assisting to demoralise

still further the degraded population which they had been sent to

reform. So enormous were the profits made in this debasing trade that

very few of the officers could refrain from joining it. Soon the New

South Wales Corps became like one great firm of spirit merchants,

engaged in the importing and retailing of rum. The most enterprising

went so far as to introduce stills and commence the manufacture of

spirits in the colony. By an order of the Governor in Council this was

forbidden, but many continued to work their stills in secret. This

system of traffic, demoralising to every one engaged in it, was shared

even by the highest officials in the colony. In the year 1800 the chief

constable was a publican, and the head gaoler sold rum and brandy

opposite the prison gates.

State of the Colony. Under these circumstances, drunkenness

became fearfully prevalent; the freed convicts gave themselves up to

unrestrained riot, and, when intoxicated, committed the most brutal

atrocities; the soldiers also sank into the wildest dissipation; and

many of the officers themselves led lives of open and shameless

debauchery. This was the community Governor King had to rule. He made an

effort to effect some change, but failed; and we can hardly wonder at

the feeling of intense disgust which he entertained and freely


Mutiny of Convicts. Most of the convicts, on their arrival in

the colony, were "assigned"--that is, sent to work as shepherds or

farm-labourers for the free settlers in the country; but prisoners of

the worst class were chained in gangs and employed on the roads, or on

the Government farms. One of these gangs, consisting of three or four

hundred convicts, was stationed at Castlehill, a few miles north of

Parramatta. The prisoners, emboldened by their numbers and inflamed by

the oratory of a number of political exiles, broke out into open

insurrection. They flung away their hoes and spades, removed their

irons, seized about two hundred and fifty muskets, and marched towards

the Hawkesbury, expecting to be there reinforced by so many additional

convicts that they would be able to overpower the military. Major

Johnstone, with twenty-four soldiers of the New South Wales Corps,

pursued them; they halted and turned round to fight, but he charged with

so much determination into their midst that they were quickly routed,

and fled in all directions, leaving several of their number dead on the

spot. Three or four of the ringleaders were caught and hanged; the

remainder returned quickly to their duty.

Origin of Wool-growing. During Governor King's term of office a

beginning was made in what is now an industry of momentous importance to

Australia. In the New South Wales Corps there had been an officer named

Macarthur, who had become so disgusted with the service that, shortly

after his arrival in Sydney, he resigned his commission, and, having

obtained a grant of land, became a settler in the country. He quickly

perceived that wool-growing, if properly carried on, would be a source

of much wealth, and obtained a number of sheep from the Dutch colony at

the Cape of Good Hope, with which to make a commencement. These were of

a kind which did not suit the climate, and his first attempt failed; but

in 1803, when he was in England on a visit, he spoke so highly of New

South Wales as a country adapted for wool-growing, that King George III.

was interested in the proposal, and offered his assistance. Now, the

sheep most suitable for Macarthur's purpose were the merino sheep of

Spain; but these were not to be obtained, as the Spaniards, desirous of

keeping the lucrative trade of wool-growing to themselves, had made it a

capital crime to export sheep of this kind from Spain. But it so

happened that, as a special favour, a few had been given to King George,

who was an enthusiastic farmer; and when he heard of Macarthur's idea,

he sent him one or two from his own flock to be carried out to New South

Wales. They were safely landed at Sydney, Governor King made a grant of

ten thousand acres to Mr. Macarthur, at Camden, and the experiment was

begun. It was not long before the most marked success crowned the

effort, and in the course of a few years the meadows at Camden were

covered with great flocks of sheep, whose wool yielded annually a

handsome fortune to their enterprising owner.

Governor Bligh. In 1806 Governor King was succeeded by Captain

Bligh, whose previous adventures have made his name so well known. In

his ship, the Bounty, he had been sent by the British Government to

the South Sea Islands for a cargo of bread-fruit trees. But his conduct

to his sailors was so tyrannical that they mutinied, put him, along with

eighteen others, into an open boat, then sailed away, and left him in

the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Bligh was a skilful sailor, and the

voyage he thereupon undertook is one of the most remarkable on record.

In an open boat he carried his little party over 3,500 miles of unknown

ocean to the island of Timor, where they found a vessel that took them


In appointing Captain Bligh to rule the colony, the English Government

spoiled an excellent seaman to make a very inefficient Governor. It was

true that New South Wales contained a large convict population, who

required to be ruled with despotic rigour; yet there were many free

settlers who declined to be treated like slaves and felons, and who soon

came to have a thorough dislike to the new Governor. Not that he was

without kindly feeling; his generous treatment of the Hawkesbury

farmers, who were ruined by a flood in 1806, showed him to have been

warm-hearted in his way; he exerted himself to the utmost, both with

time and money, to alleviate their distress, and received the special

thanks of the English Government for his humanity. And yet his arbitrary

and unamiable manners completely obscured all these better qualities. He

caused the convicts to be flogged without mercy for faults which existed

only in his own imagination; he bullied his officers, and, throughout

the colony, repeated the same mistakes which had led to the mutiny of

the Bounty. At the same time, he was anxious to do what he conceived

to be his duty to his superiors in England. He had been ordered to put a

stop to the traffic in spirits, and, in spite of the most unscrupulous

opposition on the part of those whose greed was interested, he set

himself to effect this reform by prompt and summary measures, and with a

contemptuous disregard of the hatred he was causing; but, in the end,

the officers were too strong for him, and in the quarrel that ensued the

Governor was completely defeated.

Expulsion of Bligh. Month after month Bligh became more and more

unpopular; those whom he did not alienate in the course of his duty he

offended by his rudeness, until, at last, there was scarcely any one in

the colony who was his friend. Many were inflamed by so bitter a hatred

that they were ready to do anything for revenge, and affairs seemed to

be in that critical state in which a trifling incident may bring about

serious results.

This determining cause was supplied by a quarrel which took place

between Mr. Macarthur and Mr. Atkin, the new judge-advocate of the

colony. Mr. Macarthur was condemned to pay a heavy fine for neglect, in

having permitted a convict to escape in a vessel of which he was partly

the owner. He refused to pay, and was summoned before the court, of

which Atkin was the president. He declined to appear, on the ground that

Atkin was his personal enemy. Thereupon Atkin caused him to be seized

and put in gaol. Bligh appointed a special court to try him, consisting

of six officers, together with Atkin himself. Macarthur was brought

before it, but protested against being judged by his enemy, stating his

willingness, however, to abide by the decision of the six officers. The

officers supported his protest, and the trial was discontinued. Bligh

was exceedingly angry, and, by declaring he would put the six officers

in gaol, brought matters to a crisis. The officers of the New South

Wales Corps all took part with their comrades; they assisted Mr.

Macarthur to get up a petition, asking Major Johnstone, the military

commander, to depose Governor Bligh, and himself take charge of the

colony. Major Johnstone was only too glad of the opportunity. He held a

council of officers, at which Mr. Macarthur and several others were

present. Their course of action was decided upon, and next morning the

soldiers marched, with colours flying and drums beating, to the gate of

the Governor's house. Here they were met by Bligh's daughter, who

endeavoured to persuade them to retire; but they made her stand aside

and marched up the avenue. Meantime the Governor had hidden himself in

the house; the soldiers entered and searched everywhere for him, till at

length they discovered him behind a bed, where he was seeking to hide

important papers. He was arrested, and sentinels were posted to prevent

his escape. Major Johnstone assumed the Governor's position, and

appointed his friends to the most important offices in the Government

service. He continued to direct affairs for some time, until Colonel

Foveaux superseded him. Foveaux, in his turn, was superseded by Colonel

Patterson, who came over from Tasmania to take charge of the colony

until a new Governor should be sent out from home. Patterson offered

Bligh his liberty if he would promise to go straight to England, and not

seek to raise a disturbance in the colony. This promise was given by

Bligh, and yet no sooner was he free than he began to stir up the

Hawkesbury settlers in his behalf. They declined to assist him, however,

and Bligh went over to Tasmania, where the settlement to be described in

the next chapter had been formed. Here he was received with great

good-will, until the news arrived from Sydney that, according to the

solemn promise he had given, he ought at that time to have been on his

way to England. An attempt was made to capture him, but he escaped to

England, where his adventures in New South Wales were soon forgotten,

and he rose to be an admiral in the English navy. When the news of the

rebellion reached the authorities in England, Major Johnstone was

dismissed from the service, and Major-General Lachlan Macquarie was sent

out to be Governor of the colony. Major Johnstone retired to a farm in

New South Wales, where he lived and prospered till his death in 1817.