History of the Rum Rebellion Another Captain Bligh Mutiny Part 1

About the history of the Rum Rebellion on New South Wales another mutiny that took place on Captain William Blight's watch.



Background. In 1789 Capt. William Bligh lost his ship the Bounty to mutineers led by Fletcher Christian, and in 1797 mutineers ousted him from command of another ship during the Nore Mutiny. Despite these setbacks, Bligh's career advanced, and in 1806 he arrived at Sydney, Australia, as the new governor of New South Wales. However, after only 17 months, Governor Bligh was confronted with an army mutiny which deposed him from office.

In the early 1800s, New South Wales was classified as a penal colony, where English convicts were sent to work in chain gangs. Besides the convicts, there were large numbers of free farmers who were ex-convicts, their descendants, or emigrants. On top of the social ladder was a wealthy class, engaged in sheep ranching, commerce, shipping, and rum distilling and trading. Although the rum traffic was illegal, it was one of the most important industries in the colony. No currency was printed in New South Wales, and there was hardly any British money in circulation; therefore, rum was used like cash, to buy wool, food, land, and houses and to pay wages.

The rum business throve because the military officers of the British New South Wales Corps not only sanctioned it but were actively involved in it. These officers, including their commander. Maj. George Johnston, had economically allied themselves with the colony's upper class. Together they held a very prosperous rum monopoly.

Governor Bligh's arrival in August, 1806, upset this arrangement. With a long scar on his cheek caused by a hatchet wound inflicted upon him by his father, Bligh was a short and portly yet domineering man. Believing that his will was law, he ruled New South Wales by decree, much as he would a warship. To the consternation of the military officers and the Sydney businessmen, Bligh viewed the rum trade as not only illegal but immoral. During his first months in office, he wrote and enforced strict laws to destroy the rum traffic.

John Macarthur, the richest man in the colony and the leader of the commercial class, visited Bligh at Government House in Sydney in an effort to reason with him concerning the rum business. However, Bligh would not listen to him. Instead, he unleashed his explosive temper, attacking Macarthur with a shower of abusive and foul language and threats of violence. From that day on, Macarthur became Bligh's most implacable and dangerous enemy. As the months passed and business declined, Bligh won a legion of enemies because of his dictatorial policies, his uncompromising nature, and his bad temper. Among these new enemies were the officers of the New South Wales Corps, who disliked Bligh because he was a navy officer and because he had deprived them of their lucrative rum income.

The Mutiny. John Macarthur began a deliberate campaign of harassing Bligh with lawsuits against the colonial government, while using his influence and power to undermine Bligh's position. In early January, 1808, Bligh retaliated by having one of his henchmen, Judge Richard Atkins, issue a warrant for Macarthur's arrest on a trivial charge of allowing sailors from one of his ships to go ashore without government permission.

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