Thursday, January 30, 2003


By the time of John Hunter's arrival in September 1795, the rort was taking a heavy toll on the economic life of the new nation, despite the restraint of the officers. Many looked to the god-bothering Hunter to solve the problem but, from the first, Hunter was outmatched. If mateship was significantly absent from the convict population it flourished among the rorters. Hunter rapidly found himself in conflict with the foremost among them Lieutenant John MacArthur. MacArthur had all the advantages in the struggle: the somewhat naïve Hunter, believing that right was on his side, was too apt to believe that justice would prevail. MacArthur, more realistically, put his trust in his mates.

In 1796, MacArthur, in the prevailing spirit of public service, made a number of suggestions to Hunter for the administration of the government commissary at Paramatta which Hunter rejected. The conflict between MacArthur and Hunter deepened when Hunter started to protect Richard Atkins (who was not a mate) from MacArthur’s attacks on his reputation. This was a clear signal to MacArthur that Hunter was not going to be a mate and he responded with a number of attacks on Hunter’s character and governorship, including a letter to the Duke of Portland, lambasting Hunter’s poor administration and failure to prevent the moral decline of the colony. Hunter was shocked and stunned.

Hunter brought Bennilong back to nascent Australia with him as another demonstration to the natives of the benefits of English civilization. Bennilong proved to be as useful in this capacity as the public floggings previously staged for the edification of the natives. He eventually declined into alcoholism, derided by settlers and natives alike. Relations with the natives continued their decline.

In 1799 Hunter ordered the arrest of 5 men for the murder of 2 aboriginal boys: in their defence, the men pleaded necessary vengeance on a “treacherous, evil-minded, bloodthirsty set of men” (Clark). Nonetheless they were found guilty, but rather than passing sentence straight away, Hunter appealed to England for guidance. By the time it came, Hunter was gone: the continuing exchange of correspondence between Hunter and Portland and Hunter’s detractors in the colony (such as lefty cleric Thomas Fyshe Palmer) and such of their mates in England who could be trusted to pass the word on to Portland ended with Hunter’s recall in 1800. It was a clear demonstration of the importance of having a good mate or two to look after you.

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