Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Shock and Awe in Early Australian History

"A 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, &c. are to be ready to march tomorrow at day-light, in order to bring in six of those natives who reside near the head of Botany Bay; of if that be should be found to be impracticable, to put that number to death."

Just previous to this order being issued the author of this publication received a direction to attend the governor
[Governor Phillip] at head quarters immediately. I went and his excellency informed me that he had pitched on me to execute the foregoing command. He added, that the two subalterns who were to be drawn from the marine corps, should be chosen by myself: that the serjeant, and the two convicts who were with M'Entire, should attend as guides: that we were to proceed to peninsula at the head of Botany Bay; and thence, or from any part of the north arm of the bay, we were, if practicable, to bring away two natives as prisoners: and to put to death ten: that we were to destroy all weapons of war, but nothing else: that no hut was to be burned: that all women and children were to remain uninjured, not being comprehended within the scope of the order ... That we were to cut off, and bring in the heads of the slain, for which purpose hatchets and bags would be furnished.

December 1790, His Excellency was now pleased to enter into the reasons which had induced him to adopt measures of such severity. He said that since our arrival in the country, no less than seventeen of our people had either been killed or wounded by the natives: - that he looked upon the tribe known by the name of Bid-ee-'gal, living on the aforementioned peninsula, and chiefly on the North Arm of Botany Bay, to be the principal aggressors - that against this tribe he was determined to strike a decisive blow, in order at once to convince them of our superiority, and to infuse an universal terror, which might operate to prevent further mischief.

... [he] said, if I could propose any alteration of the orders under which I was to act, he would patiently listen to me: encouraged by this condescension, I begged leave to offer for consideration, whether, instead of destroying ten persons, the capture of six would not better answer all the purposes for which the expedition was to be undertaken; as out of this number, a part might be set aside for retaliation; and the rest, at a proper time, liberated, after having seen the fate of their comrades, and being made sensible of the cause of their detention.

December, 1790. This scheme, his excellency was pleased instantly to adopt, adding, "if six cannot be taken, let this number be shot" ...
[my emphasis]

Watkin Tench, Sydney's First Four Years cited in Frontier by Henry Reynolds (Allen & Unwin, Sydney 1996 p 33)

Update: Geoff Honnor's comment prompted me to haul my bum to the Library, to check out Tench's account for myself. The passage in bold is quoted by Reynolds, in Frontier. Reading Tench's account settled those niggling doubts I was starting to have about whether Reynolds represented this incident fairly. He did.

Update Too: Wendy James (also from Troppo Armadillo) has also commented with a link to this discussion of Phillip's "scandalous orders".

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