Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

A Little Revolution

It was in 1800 that Captain John Hunter was recalled and Captain King took his place. The new governor set himself at once to stop the trade in rum, which was bringing ruin on the Colony. Men sold everything to get it They bartered away their sheep and cattle and even their growing corn, until they who had been prosperous farmers became ruined beggars. But in putting down the trade in rum King brought upon himself the hatred of the soldiers who made a great deal of money out of it, and who were very angry to see their gains thus disappear. He had to crush rebellions among the convicts too. The work was not easy, but King was firm, and soon he brought some kind of order out of wild confusion. And although, as he said, he "could not make pickpockets into good farmers," he forced them to be less drunken and made them try to work, and so by good behaviour earn freedom.

It was during the time of Governor King's rule that the island of Tasmania was first colonised. For sixteen years, in all the wide island-continent, it was only in the few miles round Sydney that the white man had planted his foot and built his home. But French ships were now seen cruising about, and the British began to fear that the French meant to found a colony in Tasmania, which, since the discoveries of Bass, they knew was not joined to Australia, but was a separate island.

So to be beforehand with the French, King sent a lieutenant with a few soldiers, convicts, and freemen, to found a colony there. They landed and began to build a little town, which they called Hobart Town, in honour of Lord Hobart, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The new colony had its troubles and trials just as Sydney had had, but it conquered them all and began to prosper.

About this time, too, an attempt was made to found a town near where Melbourne now stands. But these first colonists did not think it a good place for a town. So they left their half-built houses there and went across to Tasmania, and settled down about fifteen miles from Hobart. Thus a beginning was made, and by degrees other towns were founded, and the lonely spaces of Australia began to be peopled by white men.

In 1806 Captain Bligh succeeded Captain King as governor. He was a stern, hard man with a fearful temper. He was known as "Bounty Bligh," because when he had been captain of the Bounty  his men had mutinied and cast him adrift, with eighteen others, in an open boat in the Pacific Ocean. But however stem and cruel Bligh might be, he was a clever seaman. Now, in this terrible plight, he showed it. With wonderful skill he steered his boat and ruled his men, and after a voyage of almost four thousand miles they readied land safely. This journey of his is one of the wonderful things of the story of the sea.

But although Bligh was a good seaman he was not a good governor. He soon made himself hated by nearly every one in the colony. He quarrelled, too, with Mr. MacArthur who, you remember, had brought wool-bearing sheep to the colony and who was now, after the governor, perhaps the chief man in all Australia.

Soon after Bligh arrived MacArthur went to him to talk about his farm and his hopes that sheep and wool would bring wealth to the colony. But Bligh flew into a temper at once. "What have I to do with your sheep and cattle?" he cried. "You have such flocks and herds as no man ever had before. You have ten thousand acres of the best land in the country. But, by heaven, you shall not keep it!"

Instead of help and sympathy, MacArthur only got angry words. So a quarrel was begun which as the months went on grew worse and worse. The fault was not all on one side, and these two strong and powerful men did not try to understand each other. At last Bligh put MacArthur into prison for refusing to pay a fine which he considered unjust. He threatened to put six officers of the "Rum Corps" in prison too, as they encouraged MacArthur.

At this, the barracks was in an uproar. Both men and officers declared that the governor was trampling on their liberty and rights, and that instead of keeping law and order he was upsetting both. They resolved not to suffer it and they rebelled.

So about half-past six one midsummer evening, which in Australia, you must remember, is in January, they gathered at the barracks. Then with fixed bayonets, drums beating, and colours flying, they marched to Government House, followed by a crowd of people all eager to see the downfall of the governor.

At the gate the governor's daughter tried to stop the soldiers. But she was told to stand aside, and the men marched unhindered into the house, for the very sentries had joined the rebels.

"I am called upon to do a most painful duty," said Major Johnston. "You are charged by the respectable inhabitants of crimes that make you unfit to rule another moment in the colony. I hereby place you under arrest by the advice of all my officers, and by the advice of every respectable inhabitant of Sydney."

Thus Bligh was taken prisoner and his rule was at an end. No one was sorry, for he had no friends. For some weeks he was kept prisoner, then promising that he would go direct to England, he was allowed to go on board a waiting vessel. But he broke his word and went to Tasmania instead. There he tried to make the colonists receive him back as governor. But although at first they treated him with all due honour, they soon grew tired of him. Bligh was then forced to leave Tasmania as he had left Australia, and for some time he cruised about in his ship.

Meanwhile Major Johnston ruled New South Wales. But after a time the news of the revolt reached England. A new governor, Colonel Macquarie, was at once sent out with a Highland regiment to restore order. Macquarie was told to make Captain Bligh governor again for twenty-four hours, just to show the mutineers that they could not do as they liked. Then he was to become governor himself and send home the whole of the New South Wales Corps, and every one who had had a part in the revolt, to answer for their misdeeds.

This was done; and the Rum Corps, which for years had been the greatest power and at times the greatest terror in the colony, went home for good and all. But no very heavy punishment was given to the mutineers. Major Johnston was expelled from the army, but he returned to Australia and became one of its most important settlers. MacArthur was forbidden to return for eight years, as he had been the chief cause of all the disturbance. But at the end of that time he did return, and his name is remembered as one of those who did most for Australia in the early days.

As for Bligh, he was made an admiral; and that, he no doubt felt, made up for all that he had gone through.

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