September 18, 2007

18 September 2007, by David Povey

Declaration of Martial Law, Parramatta Janaury 26 1808

The interlude continues of - part 3 of the Friends' talk.

Manning Clarke questions whether so momentous a clash of civilizations would ever take place in this Southern Land; the personalities are not so grand, but the clash is still heard. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Britain's navy had conquered the world, and one of their possessions was New South Wales.

Britain lost America when the unilateralism of government became too much for the American settlers to bear, and those settlers shrugged off Britain. That same unilateralism then transported to the Colony of NS Wales and achieved a similar lack of success because it was deficient as a form of government.

The clash here was between this ante-trade ("ante" meaning "before") government and the rising Mercantilist class; between prosperity and hunger. When the Colony nearly starved in 1791, it was the officers of the NS Wales Corps who chartered the first private vessels to transport food and other supplies here, initially against the wishes of Governor Phillip but eventually with his approval. Those same officers then became successful private farmers and increased the land under cultivation ten-fold. The paucity of animals in the early years was overcome when the officers imported horses, sheep, cows and poultry from Cape Town and Madras in India; once again, Government hardly moved on this issue.

During the American War of Independence, the British Army strongly resented the English Navy's role, especially the capturing of four English man-o’-war ships early in the war by the American Navy. Although not especially "modern", the British Army had at least some form of collegiate decision-making, unlike the Navy. The power of individual captains on their ships was considerable, and when flying their broad pennant as Commodores, could be insufferable. That was certainly the case with Bligh.

The Governor of NS Wales had been an Admiralty appointment until Governor Bligh, paying less than one thousand pounds a year. In 1806 the appointment became a Civil one, in the Ministry's gift, and the salary was doubled. As it happened, they choose to appoint a serving Commodore, Captain William Bligh. By choosing a ranking naval officer, the Ministry insured some level of conflict with the highly ranked soldiers in Sydney.

The powers of the Governor related to the original intention of the Colony; almost complete power, in the opinion of one of the early commentators "as Great as any Caesar", over convicts serving their sentence and the civil administration, and over the ships and sailors bringing them here. However the dispute with Major Ross of the Marines indicates where the Governor's power was circumscribed, as Phillip for one could not get Marines to guard the convicts; Major Ross pointed to the regulations.

Jeremy Bentham's point was that rules for governing the maturing Colony had not been passed by Parliament in London, and so deprived the non-convict inhabitants of NS Wales of their British civil law and rights, such as habeus corpus and jury trial. It is around those points that the eruption in January 1808 takes place.

The settlers on the Hawkesbury petitioned Governor Bligh for trial by jury in January 1808, in a petition often seen as supportive of Bligh. John Macarthur, in the trial over the stills, refers to the abrogation by the Governor of the property rights of Englishmen in his primary defence and the Court found for Macarthur and dismissed the prosecution.

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