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Series 40: Correspondence, being mainly letters received by Banks from William Bligh, 1805-1811

Provenance note

Most of the documents in this series were part of an accession of Banks papers purchased for the Mitchell Library from Sotheby's, London, in May 1929.

These include documents 3, 12-48 and 50-61, previously located at ML A84; documents 62-69, 71-74, 76-87, 89-90, 92-118, 120-133, 136-137, and 139-145, previously located at ML A85. Document 134 was previously located at ML A83.

Other documents were purchased in 1884 from Lord Brabourne by Sir Saul Samuel, the Agent-General for New South Wales. They were transferred to the Mitchell Library in 1910 and were part of the accession which became known as the Brabourne collection.

The documents in this series from the Brabourne collection are 1-2, 6, 49, 70, 75, 88, 91, 119, 135, 138 and the enclosure to document 71, previously located at ML A78-5.

Documents 9-11 in this series were previously located at ML C218; document 7 was previously located at ML Safe 1/40. These were bequeathed to the Library by David Scott Mitchell in July 1907. They include small folio numbers written in ink in the top right hand corner, possibly in the hand of Banks, and larger folio numbers written in ink, possibly imposed by a previous owner.

Document 5, previously located at ML C208, was purchased for the Mitchell Library from Angus & Robertson Pty Ltd in December 1912.

Document 4, previously located at ML MSS 1612/2, was purchased for the Mitchell Library in 1968 from Leslie Maurice Lennard.

The remaining document in this series, document 8, was previously located at DL MS Q158. It was part of the personal library of Sir William Dixson which was bequeathed to the State Library of New South Wales in 1952. Dixson's bequest was formally handed over when the Dixson Library was opened in 1959.

Document 76 in this series was used by the compilers of Historical records of New South Wales, vol 6 (1898). Historical records has erroneously named Banks as the addressee of this letter instead of Charles Francis Greville who presumably forwarded it to Banks where it remained. Document 138 was used by the compilers of Historical records of New South Wales, vol 7 (1901).

Some of the documents also bear the original folio numbers assigned by Banks, written in ink in an unknown hand in the top right hand corner.

It is now not possible to reconstruct Banks' original arrangement, the series has therefore been arranged chronologically.

Background note

On 22 April 1805, the appointment of William Bligh as the fourth Governor of the colony of New South Wales was approved by King George III. Sir Joseph Banks had recommended Bligh to succeed Governor Philip Gidley King. The conditions offered to Bligh included several inducements: his salary as Governor was doubled to 2,000 pounds, he would retain his naval rank and remain eligible for future promotion. Banks even cited better marriage prospects for Bligh's daughters.

Bligh left Britain in February 1806 on board the Lady Madeleine Sinclair, in convoy with HMS Porpoise and a fleet of transport ships. Bligh travelled without his wife Elizabeth but was accompanied by his daughter Mary Putland whose husband, Lieutenant John Putland was on board the Porpoise under the command of Captain Joseph Short.

Short, accompanied by his wife and children, was migrating to New South Wales to settle as a landowner. The voyage was his last naval command. An ongoing and bitter disagreement consumed Bligh and Short throughout most of the voyage over which of them was in overall command. Bligh, nominated first captain of HMS Porpoise, was senior to Short. Short's instructions however, which he followed assiduously, were to take command of the convoy in Bligh's absence, bring it to New South Wales and there place himself under the command of Bligh who, as Governor, had command of all naval vessels in Australian waters. Bligh's decision to travel on board Lady Madeleine Sinclair was interpreted by Short as Bligh's absence. Short acted accordingly.

On 6 August 1806 the convoy arrived at Sydney Cove. On 14 August Philip Gidley King, who had received notice of his recall as early as mid 1804, was succeeded by Bligh. On assuming office Bligh was presented with an address of welcome signed by George Johnston, commander of the New South Wales Corps, on behalf of the military; Richard Atkins, Judge-Advocate, for the civil authorities; and John Macarthur on behalf of the free settlers. A counter address, presented by free settlers, objected to Macarthur claiming to represent them.

At the time of Bligh's arrival, the colony was badly effected by severe flooding which had occurred in the Hawkesbury River region during March 1806. The floods had ruined substantial acreages of grain producing farmland causing food shortages and dramatic increases in food prices. Bligh also inherited a corrupt New South Wales Army Corps, its officers intimately involved both in the importation and distribution of spirits for considerable personal profit, and as their own farming concerns. King's measures to limit monopoly trading by officers and to stop the use of spirits as currency had limited success.

In the face of these difficulties, which had plagued the administrations of both Hunter and King, Bligh was determined to reform the colony. In October 1806 he issued new port regulations concerning the landing of spirits. On 1 November 1806 he issued his proclamation on currency decreeing that the term currency would only apply to money in sterling and not to barter in goods. Barter, in spirits in particular, was outlawed, though the practice continued. All promissory notes were henceforth to be paid in sterling. An order was issued banning the use of non-government stills, and formal approval from London was required for all land grants. His commitment to town planning resulted in the demolition of several private homes.

In October 1807 Governor William Bligh was called upon to intercede in a dispute between Anthony Fenn Kemp, a captain in the New South Wales Corps, and Major George Johnston, commanding officer of the Corps. In 1804 Captain Kemp had been appointed second-in-command to Colonel William Paterson at Port Dalrymple [Launceston]. In acknowledgment of three years service at an outpost Kemp was transferred to headquarters in Sydney. Johnston, ordered to post a replacement to Port Dalrymple and finding no one suitable, ordered Kemp's return. Kemp accused Johnston of depriving him of his military rank and command in the Corps. Following a complaint to Bligh, Johnston's order was annulled. As was his habit, Bligh provided copies of the documentation surrounding the dispute to Sir Joseph Banks.

In December 1807, Bligh came into conflict with John Macarthur over the latter's breach of landing regulations. As a measure to prevent escape by convicts, a colonial regulation was issued compelling the masters of ships to pay a bond of 900 pounds which was forfeited if a successful escape was made by a convict stowing away on a departing vessel.

In June 1807 the Parramatta, owned by Macarthur and Garnham Blaxcell, left Sydney Cove with the convict John Hoare on board. Hoare jumped ship in Tahiti. When the Parramatta returned to New South Wales in December 1807, the bond on the vessel was deemed by the civil court to have been forfeited. Macarthur refused to pay or to obey a warrant for his appearance in court on 16 December. Instead he abandoned the Parramatta. Macarthur was then called upon to explain the abandonment of his crew who were 'thrown on the Publick (sic) without support.' His refusal to cooperate resulted in his arrest. Granted bail, he was committed for trial before the criminal court on 25 January 1808.

The animosity between Bligh and Macarthur had accelerated during January as Bligh thwarted a number of Macarthur's plans including his intended distribution of large quantities of recently arrived wine to the Corps at low prices, and his illegal importation of brewing stills. Macarthur was also prevented from taking possession of and enclosing an area of land granted him by Governor King but which conflicted with Bligh's town planning interests.

When the court sat for the trial Macarthur protested against the Judge-Advocate, Richard Atkins, being sworn in citing Atkins' infamous character - he was an alcoholic - and enmity towards Macarthur as reasons. Macarthur also claimed a conflict of interest on the basis of an unsettled debt of Atkins'. Macarthur's protest had the support of the other six members of the court, all officers of the Corps. Without the Judge-Advocate the trial could not take place and the court dissolved.

Bligh again ordered the arrest of Macarthur on 26 January, and the return of court papers now in the hands of officers of the Corps. The Corps countermanded with a request for a new Judge-Advocate and the release of Macarthur on bail. Bligh summoned the officers to Government House to answer charges made by Richard Atkins and informed George Johnston he considered the action of his officers to be treasonable.

Johnston, pressured by Macarthur and on the pretext of a hastily prepared public petition, led the Corps to Government House to depose Governor Bligh. Arrested on the evening of 26 January 1808, Bligh was confined to Government House for a year. He steadfastly refused to leave for England until lawfully relieved of his duty.

In January 1809 he was given control of HMS Porpoise on condition that he return to England. Instead he sailed for Hobart hoping vainly to gain the support of David Collins, Lieutenant-Governor. He remained in Hobart until the news of Governor Lachlan Macquarie's arrival in Sydney reached him. He returned to Sydney in January 1810, and sailed for England on board the Hindostan in May.

Macarthur and Johnston also sailed for England to present their defence. Johnston was court martialled in May 1811 for his role in the Rebellion which deposed Bligh, cashiered and he returned to New South Wales as a free settler. Macarthur, a civilian, could not be tried for treason in England where he remained in exile until 1817 thereby avoiding the trial which awaited him on return to New South Wales. Bligh reached the rank of Vice Admiral of the Blue.