On a Rum Rebellion

William had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. This was the major character trait that won him appointment as the Governor of New South Wales, representing his Majesty, King George, in 1805. The settlement had the reputation of lawlessness, and William was seen as the man to handle the situation. Once he was established in office in the capital city of Sydney, William began implementing his model of what an effectively functioning administration in a royal colony should be.

William immediately made it his goal to bring discipline to soldier, clerk, and administrator alike. He wanted the government to run smoothly, efficiently, and answerable for the choices each person made. This emphasis on responsibility came from his time in the Royal Navy, having captained ships for years before his appointment. He would confront people to their faces, often embarrassingly so, and publicly call out any infraction of law or rule. But, the people of New South Wales, both in the government and the settlers, were not used to this confrontational style of management. As you can imagine, William’s tactics rankled everyone he interacted with.

In addition, William wanted to stop any illegal (that is, not taxed) trade that came to or went out of Sydney. Well, again, things in New South Wales had been done differently for years, and the people there who made a living trading illegally weren’t about to put up with some hot-shot administrator coming in and messing with their livelihoods.

Finally, the government officials, soldiers, and even the settlers of the area had seen enough. In 1808, they all marched on the government house and had William arrested in what became known as the Rum Rebellion (rum being the biggest illegally traded money maker in the area). He was put aboard a boat and sent to Tasmania. There, he attempted to raise British troops to go back to Sydney and re-take the government, but, even there, he managed to rankle the authorities so much that they dismissed his requests.

Poor William! News traveled slowly then from literally the other side of the world. By 1810, word reached him that the British government had declared the rebellion to have been a mutiny since troops were involved. He was assured that the guilty would be punished. He also received word that he had been replaced a governor. William was a broken man by this time; while he received a promotion, he would never get another significant appointment or command for the rest of his career.

Of course, this wasn’t an unusual event in William’s life. No, he had experienced something similar several years earlier. You see, it was in 1789 that a man named Fletcher Christian had led another mutiny against Captain William Bligh of the HMS Bounty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s