New South Wales Corps

(previous ... Governor Philip Gidley King)

In 1790, a special corps had been organized in the British Army for service in the colony and it was called the New South Wales Corps. The Corps was intended to be permanently settled in Sydney. Very few high-class officers cared to enter this service as it was so far from home and having to deal with the lowest of criminals. Those who joined generally came out with the idea of quickly gathering a small fortune, then resigning their commissions and returning to England.

Making a Quick Fortune

The favourite method of making money was to import goods into the settlement and sell them at inflated prices. So in their haste to become rich many resorted to the most unscrupulous ways for obtaining high profits. A trade in which those who commanded were the sellers, whilst the convicts and the settlers under their charge were the purchasers, could hardly fail to ruin discipline and introduce grave evils, especially when alcoholic spirits began to be the chief product to traffic.

Selling Rum to the Convicts

It was found that nothing sold so well among the convicts as rum, their favourite liquor. So rather than not make money, the officers began to import large quantities of that spirit, thus deliberately assisting in demoralizing still further the degraded population which they had been sent to reform. So enormous were the profits made in this trade that very few officers could refrain from joining in it.

Officers and Spirit Merchants

Soon the New South Wales Corps became like one great firm of spirit merchants engaged in the importing and retailing of rum (that was all they did). The most entreprising went so far as to introduce stills and commence the manufacture of spirits in the colony. By an order of the Governor-in-Council this was forbidden, but many continued to work their stills in secret. This system of traffic included even the highest officials of the colony. In 1800, the chief constable was a publican and the head gaoler sold rum and brandy opposite the prison gates.

State of the Colony

Under these circumstances, drunkeness became fearfully common. The freed convicts gave themselves up to unrestrained rioting and when intoxicated committed the most brutal atrocities. The soldiers also sank into the wildest pleasures with many officers leading open and shameless lives of debauchery. This was the community Governor King had to rule and in  which he made efforts to change, but failed. We can hardly wonder at what feelings of intense disgust he so freely expressed.

(continues ... Mutiny of convicts)


History of Australia