History of the Rum Rebellion Another Captain Bligh Mutiny Part 2

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



On Jan. 25, Macarthur appeared before a court presided over by six army officers and Judge Atkins, who was a drunkard and heavily in debt to Macarthur. Macarthur gave an impassioned speech against the tyranny of Bligh and the incompetence of Atkins, who was consuming a bottle of rum. Macarthur demanded that Atkins be replaced by an impartial judge. After this, the court recessed, and Macarthur was returned to jail.

In a letter to Bligh, the six army officers on the court agreed that Atkins should be removed and that an unbiased judge should be found. Bligh regarded this as a challenge to his authority and ordered the six officers and their commander, Major Johnston, to appear before him the next morning at Government House. That evening, Judge Atkins told Bligh there was a conspiracy between Macarthur and the army to overthrow Bligh's government. The next morning, Major Johnston wrote that he could not see Bligh because he had had an accident. (He had crashed his carriage while racing drunkenly across the countryside.) This convinced Bligh that a conspiracy did exist, and he ordered the arrest of Johnston and Macarthur on charges of treason.

Hearing this news, Johnston, despite his injuries, rode to the barracks of the New South Wales Corps and ordered the release of Macarthur. The two men met in the barracks, where Macarthur convinced Johnston that their only course was to dethrone Bligh. Johnston assumed the title of lieutenant governor and roused his troops. On the evening of Jan. 26, Johnston and Macarthur led the soldiers of the New South Wales Corps--later dubbed the Rum Corps--against Bligh's residence at Government House. A throng of sightseers and children followed the red-coated British troops, giving the mutiny a carnival atmosphere. The mutineers stormed the undefended Government House without bloodshed and arrested Bligh, who was found hiding underneath a servant's bed.

Aftermath. Johnston proclaimed himself governor of New South Wales and Macarthur colonial secretary. Bligh was imprisoned for a year before he escaped to the island of Tasmania. In England, the Colonial Office received confusing dispatches from both Bligh and Johnston but, surprisingly, paid little attention to the affair. The mutineers ruled for two years, while the British government punished them by not sending any supplies to the rebellious colony. Because of this embargo, New South Wales's economy fell apart, and everyone became dissatisfied with the Rum Rebellion government.

In December, 1809, a new governor, Lachlan Macquarie, arrived at Sydney, and the mutineers surrendered. The New South Wales Corps was sent home, but only Major Johnston and Macarthur were arrested. In London, Bligh and the Rum Rebels hurled accusations and counteraccusations at each other. At the mutineers' trial, Bligh was exonerated, and he was later promoted to the rank of rear admiral. Johnston was found guilty of mutiny and cashiered from the army, but he was allowed to keep his extensive holdings in New South Wales, where he retired as a wealthy landowner. Macarthur was also pronounced guilty and banished from Australia for eight years, which he spent in England, profitably doing business.

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