Australia in the 1790s


Indigenous resistance


Governor Arthur Phillip (1738–1814) opposed the settlement of the Hawkesbury region. In his opinion the area was too isolated and too little known. Instead he found the Parramatta region ideally suited to the colony's needs because of its good soil, ready accessibility and proximity to water. Phillip moved many convicts to Parramatta after he realised Sydney was unsuitable for agricultural purposes. He established a small township, naming it Rose Hill. Its economic significance was not realised until after 1800.

This early expansion denied the local Dharug people access to their country, their food resources and their sacred places. The Dharug called the area Burramatta ('the place where the eels lie down' in the local Dharug language), which was a rich source of food with eels, fish, tortoise and platypus in abundance. Rose Hill became the site of many attacks on the Dharug people. In retaliation, the locals attacked the colonists, burning their huts and crops and spearing their livestock, often for food and sometimes for retribution, an important component of Indigenous lore systems.

As the colonists moved further out to more fertile areas, particularly around the Hawkesbury River, their incursions caused tension between the settlers and local Indigenous groups as both competed for the same resources. In response Pemulwuy (1750–1802), a renowned resistance leader of the Eora people, led up to 100 Aboriginal men in attacks against the colonists and shepherds in the area. The war of resistance began around 1790 when Pemulway killed Governor Phillip's gamekeeper, John McIntyre, who had a reputation among the Eora people for his bad treatment of Eora women.

As the 1790s passed, the British population rapidly increased while the Eora population grew smaller. Interactions between the Eora and the British deteriorated further with a major confrontation occurring in 1797 on the outskirts of Parramatta. Five Eora people were reportedly killed. However, it is believed there may have been many more fatalities and many were injured as spears were no defence against military guns. Pemulwuy was shot several times and eventually taken to hospital, severely wounded. He unexpectedly recovered and escaped one night, giving rise to the belief that he was invincible against gunfire.

Pemulwuy led what would become a 12-year guerrilla-type campaign of Aboriginal resistance against the British colonists, ending with his death in 1802. His son, Tedbury (?–1810), continued the resistance until he too was killed in 1810.


A snapshot of 1798

  • January
    • The first public clock was installed in a tower at Church Hill in Sydney.
    • George Bass sighted Wilsons Promontory and Phillip Island.

  • February
    • Matthew Flinders explored the Furneaux Islands in the Bass Strait.
    • Governor John Hunter named Bass Strait in honour of George Bass.

  • May
    • The ship Nautilus arrived at Port Jackson carrying missionaries from the London Missionary Society.

  • June
    • The colonial sloop Norfolk, built on Norfolk Island by convicts, arrived at Port Jackson.

  • October
    • George Bass and Matthew Flinders left Sydney to explore Van Diemen's Land.

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