australian colonial history
meg dillon
© Meg Dillon 2008
Australian Colonial History

Moments in Australian History

The Rum Rebellion: Session 2

The Rise of the Officer Class:

The New South Wales Corps was a regiment specially raised by the British Government to serve in the new colony of New South Wales. Many were recruited from regiments serving in India. It was a gamble to join this regiment but many joined, particularly the officers, as they believed there were opportunities to make a lot of money in the new colony. Their primary duties were to keep order in the colony and guard against any rebellion by the convicts, who initially greatly outnumbered the free: they were also required to protect the colony from any outside attack by foreign powers, especially the French, who were thought to have ambitions in establishing a base in the Pacific. The British Government viewed the officer class as career officers who would serve a term of duty in NSW, then leave to further their military careers elsewhere in the Empire. This clash of aims contributed to the behaviour of the officers from the earliest days of the colony until their unwise decision to depose the legitimate Governor Bligh. They were recalled after this and a new regiment was sent out with Governor Macquarie in 1819. In the meantime, many had resigned from the regiment in order to stay in the colony and pursue wealth and influence. During this period serving officers were active in acquiring land, acquiring convict labour to work it and engaging in any trading or mercantile ventures that they could devise.

Land Policy and the status of owning land

Land was a status symbol for the officer class and highly desired. British Government’s priority was to create a class of small peasant farmers to produce grain and meat to feed the colony. Military officers and government officials were initially excluded from obtaining land grants. Because serving officers initially could not get land grants, many bought the grants issued to small farmers who failed at farming. In this way they gradually started to build up landed estates.

WHO GOT THE LAND GRANTS?

From 1788 to 1819 most official grants were fewer than 200 acres. Expirees: Convicts who had served their sentences could be grantd 30 acres for each man, 20 acres for his wife, 10 for each child. Non commissioned officers: 100 acres additional to the expirees. They could double this grant by serving for a further term of 5 years. Privates and sailors: 50 acres additional to the expirees. They could double this grant by serving for a further term of 5 years. Free settlers: received grants at the discretion of the governor, but not in excess of the size of grants received by non-commissioned officers. However during this period Acting Governor Patterson, the Commander of the New South Wales Corps, issued large grants to his fellow officers or former officers of the Corps who had resigned. In 1795 Paterson granted 5000 acres in 9 months while waiting for Governor Hunter to arrive. In 1809, Paterson as Acting Governor during Bligh’s imprisonment, issued land grants totalling 67,000 acres, mostly to officers or “gentlemen” with capital.

The Rise of the Officer Class and the Labour Market -

Despite having regular shipments of convicts, labour was always scarce in NSW until the 1820s. Government had an urgent need to use all tradesmen and fit laborers to build government infrastructure. [Churches, windmills, prisons, granaries, hospital, schools, court house etc] Prior to 1808, only about a quarter of the male convict population were physically fit for assignment to either the government or to settlers as assigned servants. Convict men experienced high sickness rates, absconding, deaths, old age and infirmities. Officers could not initially be granted the use of assigned convicts. Rule was relaxed when they started to accumulate many acres of land. A large estate of 1000+ acres needed at least 20 assigned convicts to work the land. During Paterson’s two periods as Acting Governor he granted former and serving officers large numbers of assigned male convicts.

The Rise of the Officer Class and mercantile trading

Some officers chose to concentrate on trading ventures; others included trading in the suite of farming and business ventures they tried. Basically, they would set up in anything that appeared likely to make money. They often used convicts and expirees to manage these ventures while they provided the capital and took most of the profits. Not only did they need staff to do this, but some didn’t want to appear to be involved in trade, as this devalued their social standing in their eyes. The shortage of sterling currency in colony caused many problems for business. Some currencies were imported eg Spanish dollars, but most people had to rely on issuing personal promissory notes especially for large ventures. These could be traded in the general population and the original issuer could be called on at any time to honour the debt of the promissory note, a practice responsible for a lot of bankruptcies. One reason that the New South Wales Corps cornered the rum trade was to use it as an alternate currency, especially with convicts and emancipists. Trading in goods was a highly risky business. Most trading was with India and the Pacific Islands. Officers would purchase a vessel, and have a manager, sometimes a relative, to hire a captain and crew and accompany the ship to organise the purchase of goods to be taken back to NSW for sale. Officers started trading ventures with China and India. They would buy a shipload of goods and import them into the colony. They would charge huge mark ups on all goods from household items, clothing and farming equipment. Profits of 100% - 500% were common. This created enormous difficulties for small farmers and townsfolk putting many into debt. Some officers started whaling and sealing ventures. A Pacific trade in pork and sandalwood was also initiated by officers wanting to buy sandalwood to export to Asia. Officers trading monopolies were broken by Gov. King (1799 - 1807) who encouraged small emancipist traders to start trading and whaling. As well the rum trade was partially curtailed. American traders and whalers started arriving by 1802 providing competitive prices for imported goods. During Governor King’s administration it became harder for officers to make the enormous profits they were used to. Some went bankrupt, one of the most prominent failures was of Capt. John Piper who built the luxurious mansion at Point Piper only to lose it through failed trading ventures.

If officers were already losing their trading monopoly why was Bligh deposed?

A declining class will fight savagely to retain their residual powers as much as fighting to gain them. Governor Bligh was tasked with cleaning up the economic mess in the colony by curtailing the officers’ unfair economic powers. He did this methodically from the start of his arrival. Bligh prevented profits being made from the wheat scarcity when Hawksbury Floods by setting a maximum price for wheat so that officers and others who had stockpiles could not force up the prices to the point of starvation and ruin for ordinary townsfolk and the Government Stores. Bligh prevented the large scale employment of convicts on officers farms. He rescinded the permissions granted by Paterson for large numbers of assigned convict servants to be released to work for officers. Instead he granted them in small numbers to small farmers and retained large numbers for government employment in building necessary infrastructure for the town. There were still problems with general drunkenness and the payment of wages in rum. Bligh tried to prevent the sale of rum at inflated prices by using a general distribution to the poorer classes from the Government Stores. Officers involved in whaling were also prevented from paying a percentage of wages in rum to sailors. His most important move was to curtail the monopoly of sterling currency that officers had. The regiment was paid in sterling by their regimental paymaster. This gave officers and soldiers a fiscal advantage in the colony and also cemented their loyalty to their military commander instead of to the Governor. Bligh stopped their pay from being distributed through their paymaster and instead paid them directly from the Treasury. This showed a shrewd understanding of the officers’ power base. It also made him detested by the officers who saw him interfering with their ability to make quick fortunes.

Let’s Look at the film of the ‘Rum Rebellion of 1808’ in Rogue

Nation, Screen Australia, ABC, DVD. (35 mins)

Group discussion of the events depicted by the film.

Basic Events of the Mutiny and the Role played by John Macarthur

in the Rebellion.

John Macarthur: soldier, entrepreneur and pastoralist, 1767 – 1834 Refer to Australian Dictionary of Biography. Online adb.anu.edu.au/biography

Macarthur’s early career

Born Plymouth England of Scottish parents; drapers business. At 15 years he got an ensigns commission in Fish’s Corps 1782. The Corps was intended for the American war but was disbanded when war ended in 1783. Next 5 years on farm in Devon trying to get another commission. On half pay. Got commission as ensign in 68 th Regiment stationed at Gibraltar. Following year he enhanced his rank by transferring as a lieutenant to NSW Corps, being assembled for Botany Bay. He, wife & son sailed with 2nd Fleet on the Neptune where he had a duel with the 1 st Master then quarrel with his successor. Transferred to the Scarborough. Caught a critical illness which affected his health for the rest of his life. Arrived Port Jackson in June 1890. Posted to Rose Hill. Haughty behaviour; fell out with Governor Phillip and severed contact with Government House. Major Grose newly arrived brought him back to Paramatta and increased his responsibilities by appointing him paymaster, which doubled his salary. Acting Governor Grose gave him the unpaid job of Inspector of Public Works. He then had extensive control over colony’s resources, including full access to convict labour. 1793. Some mercantile speculation; also grants of land and stock from Grose. Established Elizabeth Farm on 100 acres of best Parramatta land. Cleared 50 acres which won him an additional 100 acre grant. Started selling produce to the Government Store. Promoted to Captain in March1795. Capt. Paterson succeeded Grose and also supported Macarthur. Macarthur. fell out with new Governor Hunter who accepted his resignation as Inspector of Works. Bitter feuds continued to develop between Macarthur and Hunter’s administration. Macarthur complained to Secretary of State in London and Hunter was recalled. At this point Macarthur tried to sell his estates for £4000 to return to England. He needed to recover from some ill advised trading ventures. Meanwhile Governor King had arrived and Macarthur began a campaign against him but failed to get Capt. Paterson alienated from the Governor. Angered Macarthur challenged Paterson to a duel and wounded him. Macarthur was put under immediate arrest by King who sent him to England for a court martial. Macarthur and 2 children sailed back to England in 1801, arrived 1802. At Amboina, he met young British resident son of the physician to the Prince of Wales, Sir Walter Farquhar, who pushed Macarthur’s cause in England for many subsequent years. Britain was buying wool for soldiers’ clothing due to French wars. Fleeces previously sent to Sir James Banks by Macarthur got noticed by two clothiers with government contracts who approached Macarthur whilehe was in England, interested in his quality wool. Within days Macarthur had penned a paper Statement of the improvement and Progress of the Breed of Fine Woolled Sheep in NSW , London, 1803. Macarthur canvassed for his scheme in London and was promised a huge land grant of 5000 acres of the best land in the colony with further 5000 on offer if he proved his scheme of fine wool production. Macarthur also got hold of some rare Spanish sheep from the royal flock. This would further improve his NSW flock’s wool production. 1805 Macarthur arrived back in NSW. Hannibal Macarthur , a nephew, who accompanied him as assistant. Governor King however refused to grant the 5000 acres at the coveted Cow Pastures. A relative of Farquhar also accompanied him and he took up 2000 acres next to Elizabeth Farm, which Macarthur eventually acquired. King was forced to honour the first grant of 5000 acres and in 1805 Macarthur had 8500 acres and 35 convict servants. King rejected Macarthur’s offer to also manage the government herd of cattle at the Cow Pastures. Admitting defeat King returned to England.

Bligh and Macarthur

See Wikipedia, The Rum Rebellion, for a more detailed account of the following events. Bligh arrived in 1806 and was unimpressed by Macarthur and gave him nothing he asked for. Macarthur’s mercantile schemes were the tinder for the confrontation between them. Macarthur was part owner of the schooner Parramatta and resisted obligations to pay the sailors wages leaving it to the Captain to do this. Bligh committed him to trial Jan 1808. Bligh then refused him the bail granted by an illegally constituted court, consisting of cronies and officers. Major Johnston then ordered Macarthur’s release and may have been persuaded at that point, by Macaurthur, to depose Bligh, arguing that Bligh was tyrannical and this justified deposing him. Major Johnson then took a contingent of NSW Corps soldiers to Government house and arrested the Governor. Johnson then took temporary command of the colony and remained as such for the following six months. Over the next two years the colony was under military rule. In June 1808 Lieut. Col Joseph Forveaux took charge and in January 1809 Lieutenant Colonel Paterson, on duties in Tasmania, returned to Sydney and assumed control. In March 1809 Paterson sent both Macarthur and Johnson back to England to be tried for treason. Mysteriously the documents detailing their actions and the charges disappeared on the ship taking both men back to England. Without these the trial could not proceed. Johnson was cashiered, but Macarthur, who be this time had resigned his commission, was regarded as a civilian and could only be tried for treason back in NSW. The new Governor Lauchlan Macquarie was told to have Macarthur arrested and tried if he returned to Sydney. Military rule ended and the NSW Corps were recalled in 1809 and replaced by the 73 rd Regiment of Foot after Governor Macquarie arrived to assume control of the colony. By 1812 all M’s capital had been used up by his mercantile ventures and he was in debt. He was unable to return to NSW and claimed he needed an income of £1600 a year to educate & establish his sons. He considered selling his holdings in NSW but wool prices rose and he instructed Hannibal & Elizabeth to concentrate on the breeding of sheep & wool. After protracted negotiations Macarthur had the charges dropped and was able to safely return to NSW in 1817 after being in voluntary exile for seven years. He had to agree to take no part in public life.

Questions for discussion:

1. Is it fair to see Bligh’s tenure as a failure considering that the three governors before him - Grose, Hunter and King – had been under similar orders and were unable to bring the officers under control? 2. Did the Rum Rebellion bring these issues to a head, thus creating the opportunity for the English Government to clean out the entire military establishment and start afresh with Lachlan Macquarie and a new regiment? 3. Was John Macarthur the key organiser of the rebellion or only a catalyst able to manipulate his former commander and regiment to an act of treason? 4. Did Macarthur’s seven year exile create the opportunity to rid the colony of his vexation presence and allow Macquarie the freedom to set a new course for the colony?

Some historians’ views

Interested in reading more about this? These are a good start. H.V. Evatt, The Rum Rebellion, latest edition 1978, an older legalistic interpretation of the rebellion. Ross Fitzgerald and Mark Hearn, Bligh, MacArthur and the Rum Rebellion, 1988. The Economy of NSW 1788 – 1810, Jill Eastwood in Essays in Economic History of Australia, ed James Griffin, 1967. A short but succinct introduction to this topic. Australian Dictionary of Biography, see Governor Phillip King’s entry by A.G.L. Shaw on breaking the officers trading monopolies. Online version at adb.anu.edu.au/biography. Australian Dictionary of Biography, see Capt. John Piper’s entry by Marjorie Barnard on his risky trading ventures and eventual bankruptcies. Online version at: adb.anu.edu.au/biography. Australian Dictionary of Biography, see both John and Elizabeth Macarthurs’ entries by Margaret Steven, then Jill Conway. Online version at: adb.anu.edu.au/biography See Wikipedia, The Rum Rebellion, for a more detailed bibliography
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© Meg Dillon 2008
Australian Colonial History
australian colonial history
history of australia

Moments in Australian

History

The Rum Rebellion: Session 2

The Rise of the Officer Class:

The New South Wales Corps was a regiment specially raised by the British Government to serve in the new colony of New South Wales. Many were recruited from regiments serving in India. It was a gamble to join this regiment but many joined, particularly the officers, as they believed there were opportunities to make a lot of money in the new colony. Their primary duties were to keep order in the colony and guard against any rebellion by the convicts, who initially greatly outnumbered the free: they were also required to protect the colony from any outside attack by foreign powers, especially the French, who were thought to have ambitions in establishing a base in the Pacific. The British Government viewed the officer class as career officers who would serve a term of duty in NSW, then leave to further their military careers elsewhere in the Empire. This clash of aims contributed to the behaviour of the officers from the earliest days of the colony until their unwise decision to depose the legitimate Governor Bligh. They were recalled after this and a new regiment was sent out with Governor Macquarie in 1819. In the meantime, many had resigned from the regiment in order to stay in the colony and pursue wealth and influence. During this period serving officers were active in acquiring land, acquiring convict labour to work it and engaging in any trading or mercantile ventures that they could devise.

Land Policy and the status of owning land

Land was a status symbol for the officer class and highly desired. British Government’s priority was to create a class of small peasant farmers to produce grain and meat to feed the colony. Military officers and government officials were initially excluded from obtaining land grants. Because serving officers initially could not get land grants, many bought the grants issued to small farmers who failed at farming. In this way they gradually started to build up landed estates.

WHO GOT THE LAND GRANTS?

From 1788 to 1819 most official grants were fewer than 200 acres. Expirees: Convicts who had served their sentences could be grantd 30 acres for each man, 20 acres for his wife, 10 for each child. Non commissioned officers: 100 acres additional to the expirees. They could double this grant by serving for a further term of 5 years. Privates and sailors: 50 acres additional to the expirees. They could double this grant by serving for a further term of 5 years. Free settlers: received grants at the discretion of the governor, but not in excess of the size of grants received by non-commissioned officers. However during this period Acting Governor Patterson, the Commander of the New South Wales Corps, issued large grants to his fellow officers or former officers of the Corps who had resigned. In 1795 Paterson granted 5000 acres in 9 months while waiting for Governor Hunter to arrive. In 1809, Paterson as Acting Governor during Bligh’s imprisonment, issued land grants totalling 67,000 acres, mostly to officers or “gentlemen” with capital.

The Rise of the Officer Class and the Labour

Market -

Despite having regular shipments of convicts, labour was always scarce in NSW until the 1820s. Government had an urgent need to use all tradesmen and fit laborers to build government infrastructure. [Churches, windmills, prisons, granaries, hospital, schools, court house etc] Prior to 1808, only about a quarter of the male convict population were physically fit for assignment to either the government or to settlers as assigned servants. Convict men experienced high sickness rates, absconding, deaths, old age and infirmities. Officers could not initially be granted the use of assigned convicts. Rule was relaxed when they started to accumulate many acres of land. A large estate of 1000+ acres needed at least 20 assigned convicts to work the land. During Paterson’s two periods as Acting Governor he granted former and serving officers large numbers of assigned male convicts.

The Rise of the Officer Class and mercantile

trading

Some officers chose to concentrate on trading ventures; others included trading in the suite of farming and business ventures they tried. Basically, they would set up in anything that appeared likely to make money. They often used convicts and expirees to manage these ventures while they provided the capital and took most of the profits. Not only did they need staff to do this, but some didn’t want to appear to be involved in trade, as this devalued their social standing in their eyes. The shortage of sterling currency in colony caused many problems for business. Some currencies were imported eg Spanish dollars, but most people had to rely on issuing personal promissory notes especially for large ventures. These could be traded in the general population and the original issuer could be called on at any time to honour the debt of the promissory note, a practice responsible for a lot of bankruptcies. One reason that the New South Wales Corps cornered the rum trade was to use it as an alternate currency, especially with convicts and emancipists. Trading in goods was a highly risky business. Most trading was with India and the Pacific Islands. Officers would purchase a vessel, and have a manager, sometimes a relative, to hire a captain and crew and accompany the ship to organise the purchase of goods to be taken back to NSW for sale. Officers started trading ventures with China and India. They would buy a shipload of goods and import them into the colony. They would charge huge mark ups on all goods from household items, clothing and farming equipment. Profits of 100% - 500% were common. This created enormous difficulties for small farmers and townsfolk putting many into debt. Some officers started whaling and sealing ventures. A Pacific trade in pork and sandalwood was also initiated by officers wanting to buy sandalwood to export to Asia. Officers trading monopolies were broken by Gov. King (1799 - 1807) who encouraged small emancipist traders to start trading and whaling. As well the rum trade was partially curtailed. American traders and whalers started arriving by 1802 providing competitive prices for imported goods. During Governor King’s administration it became harder for officers to make the enormous profits they were used to. Some went bankrupt, one of the most prominent failures was of Capt. John Piper who built the luxurious mansion at Point Piper only to lose it through failed trading ventures.

If officers were already losing their trading

monopoly why was Bligh deposed?

A declining class will fight savagely to retain their residual powers as much as fighting to gain them. Governor Bligh was tasked with cleaning up the economic mess in the colony by curtailing the officers’ unfair economic powers. He did this methodically from the start of his arrival. Bligh prevented profits being made from the wheat scarcity when Hawksbury Floods by setting a maximum price for wheat so that officers and others who had stockpiles could not force up the prices to the point of starvation and ruin for ordinary townsfolk and the Government Stores. Bligh prevented the large scale employment of convicts on officers farms. He rescinded the permissions granted by Paterson for large numbers of assigned convict servants to be released to work for officers. Instead he granted them in small numbers to small farmers and retained large numbers for government employment in building necessary infrastructure for the town. There were still problems with general drunkenness and the payment of wages in rum. Bligh tried to prevent the sale of rum at inflated prices by using a general distribution to the poorer classes from the Government Stores. Officers involved in whaling were also prevented from paying a percentage of wages in rum to sailors. His most important move was to curtail the monopoly of sterling currency that officers had. The regiment was paid in sterling by their regimental paymaster. This gave officers and soldiers a fiscal advantage in the colony and also cemented their loyalty to their military commander instead of to the Governor. Bligh stopped their pay from being distributed through their paymaster and instead paid them directly from the Treasury. This showed a shrewd understanding of the officers’ power base. It also made him detested by the officers who saw him interfering with their ability to make quick fortunes.

Let’s Look at the film of the ‘Rum

Rebellion of 1808’ in Rogue

Nation, Screen Australia, ABC,

DVD. (35 mins)

Group discussion of the events depicted by the film.

Basic Events of the Mutiny and

the Role played by John

Macarthur in the Rebellion.

John Macarthur: soldier, entrepreneur and pastoralist, 1767 – 1834 Refer to Australian Dictionary of Biography. Online adb.anu.edu.au/biography

Macarthur’s early career

Born Plymouth England of Scottish parents; drapers business. At 15 years he got an ensigns commission in Fish’s Corps 1782. The Corps was intended for the American war but was disbanded when war ended in 1783. Next 5 years on farm in Devon trying to get another commission. On half pay. Got commission as ensign in 68 th Regiment stationed at Gibraltar. Following year he enhanced his rank by transferring as a lieutenant to NSW Corps, being assembled for Botany Bay. He, wife & son sailed with 2nd Fleet on the Neptune where he had a duel with the 1 st Master then quarrel with his successor. Transferred to the Scarborough. Caught a critical illness which affected his health for the rest of his life. Arrived Port Jackson in June 1890. Posted to Rose Hill. Haughty behaviour; fell out with Governor Phillip and severed contact with Government House. Major Grose newly arrived brought him back to Paramatta and increased his responsibilities by appointing him paymaster, which doubled his salary. Acting Governor Grose gave him the unpaid job of Inspector of Public Works. He then had extensive control over colony’s resources, including full access to convict labour. 1793. Some mercantile speculation; also grants of land and stock from Grose. Established Elizabeth Farm on 100 acres of best Parramatta land. Cleared 50 acres which won him an additional 100 acre grant. Started selling produce to the Government Store. Promoted to Captain in March1795. Capt. Paterson succeeded Grose and also supported Macarthur. Macarthur. fell out with new Governor Hunter who accepted his resignation as Inspector of Works. Bitter feuds continued to develop between Macarthur and Hunter’s administration. Macarthur complained to Secretary of State in London and Hunter was recalled. At this point Macarthur tried to sell his estates for £4000 to return to England. He needed to recover from some ill advised trading ventures. Meanwhile Governor King had arrived and Macarthur began a campaign against him but failed to get Capt. Paterson alienated from the Governor. Angered Macarthur challenged Paterson to a duel and wounded him. Macarthur was put under immediate arrest by King who sent him to England for a court martial. Macarthur and 2 children sailed back to England in 1801, arrived 1802. At Amboina, he met young British resident son of the physician to the Prince of Wales, Sir Walter Farquhar, who pushed Macarthur’s cause in England for many subsequent years. Britain was buying wool for soldiers’ clothing due to French wars. Fleeces previously sent to Sir James Banks by Macarthur got noticed by two clothiers with government contracts who approached Macarthur whilehe was in England, interested in his quality wool. Within days Macarthur had penned a paper Statement of the improvement and Progress of the Breed of Fine Woolled Sheep in NSW , London, 1803. Macarthur canvassed for his scheme in London and was promised a huge land grant of 5000 acres of the best land in the colony with further 5000 on offer if he proved his scheme of fine wool production. Macarthur also got hold of some rare Spanish sheep from the royal flock. This would further improve his NSW flock’s wool production. 1805 Macarthur arrived back in NSW. Hannibal Macarthur , a nephew, who accompanied him as assistant. Governor King however refused to grant the 5000 acres at the coveted Cow Pastures. A relative of Farquhar also accompanied him and he took up 2000 acres next to Elizabeth Farm, which Macarthur eventually acquired. King was forced to honour the first grant of 5000 acres and in 1805 Macarthur had 8500 acres and 35 convict servants. King rejected Macarthur’s offer to also manage the government herd of cattle at the Cow Pastures. Admitting defeat King returned to England.

Bligh and Macarthur

See Wikipedia, The Rum Rebellion, for a more detailed account of the following events. Bligh arrived in 1806 and was unimpressed by Macarthur and gave him nothing he asked for. Macarthur’s mercantile schemes were the tinder for the confrontation between them. Macarthur was part owner of the schooner Parramatta and resisted obligations to pay the sailors wages leaving it to the Captain to do this. Bligh committed him to trial Jan 1808. Bligh then refused him the bail granted by an illegally constituted court, consisting of cronies and officers. Major Johnston then ordered Macarthur’s release and may have been persuaded at that point, by Macaurthur, to depose Bligh, arguing that Bligh was tyrannical and this justified deposing him. Major Johnson then took a contingent of NSW Corps soldiers to Government house and arrested the Governor. Johnson then took temporary command of the colony and remained as such for the following six months. Over the next two years the colony was under military rule. In June 1808 Lieut. Col Joseph Forveaux took charge and in January 1809 Lieutenant Colonel Paterson, on duties in Tasmania, returned to Sydney and assumed control. In March 1809 Paterson sent both Macarthur and Johnson back to England to be tried for treason. Mysteriously the documents detailing their actions and the charges disappeared on the ship taking both men back to England. Without these the trial could not proceed. Johnson was cashiered, but Macarthur, who be this time had resigned his commission, was regarded as a civilian and could only be tried for treason back in NSW. The new Governor Lauchlan Macquarie was told to have Macarthur arrested and tried if he returned to Sydney. Military rule ended and the NSW Corps were recalled in 1809 and replaced by the 73 rd Regiment of Foot after Governor Macquarie arrived to assume control of the colony. By 1812 all M’s capital had been used up by his mercantile ventures and he was in debt. He was unable to return to NSW and claimed he needed an income of £1600 a year to educate & establish his sons. He considered selling his holdings in NSW but wool prices rose and he instructed Hannibal & Elizabeth to concentrate on the breeding of sheep & wool. After protracted negotiations Macarthur had the charges dropped and was able to safely return to NSW in 1817 after being in voluntary exile for seven years. He had to agree to take no part in public life.

Questions for discussion:

1. Is it fair to see Bligh’s tenure as a failure considering that the three governors before him - Grose, Hunter and King – had been under similar orders and were unable to bring the officers under control? 2. Did the Rum Rebellion bring these issues to a head, thus creating the opportunity for the English Government to clean out the entire military establishment and start afresh with Lachlan Macquarie and a new regiment? 3. Was John Macarthur the key organiser of the rebellion or only a catalyst able to manipulate his former commander and regiment to an act of treason? 4. Did Macarthur’s seven year exile create the opportunity to rid the colony of his vexation presence and allow Macquarie the freedom to set a new course for the colony?

Some historians’ views

Interested in reading more about this? These are a good start. H.V. Evatt, The Rum Rebellion, latest edition 1978, an older legalistic interpretation of the rebellion. Ross Fitzgerald and Mark Hearn, Bligh, MacArthur and the Rum Rebellion, 1988. The Economy of NSW 1788 – 1810, Jill Eastwood in Essays in Economic History of Australia, ed James Griffin, 1967. A short but succinct introduction to this topic. Australian Dictionary of Biography, see Governor Phillip King’s entry by A.G.L. Shaw on breaking the officers trading monopolies. Online version at adb.anu.edu.au/biography. Australian Dictionary of Biography, see Capt. John Piper’s entry by Marjorie Barnard on his risky trading ventures and eventual bankruptcies. Online version at: adb.anu.edu.au/biography. Australian Dictionary of Biography, see both John and Elizabeth Macarthurs’ entries by Margaret Steven, then Jill Conway. Online version at: adb.anu.edu.au/biography See Wikipedia, The Rum Rebellion, for a more detailed bibliography