Australia in the 1800s

Castle Hill uprising

In 1804 at Castle Hill, north of Parramatta, there was an attempt by convicts to seize power. The Castle Hill Rebellion, also known as the Second Battle of Vinegar Hill, and Australia's Battle of Vinegar Hill, was a rebellion by 300 Irish convicts against British colonial authority.

The leaders of the rebellion were Phillip Cunningham and William Johnston, former captains in the United Irishmen's Forces who had been transported for taking part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in Wexford, Ireland, which was known as the First Battle of Vinegar Hill.  The aim of the insurrection was to get back to Ireland and rejoin the struggle against the English. Their opponents in the battle were a detachment of the New South Wales Corps led by Major George Johnston. The Irish plan involved 685 convicts at Castle Hill joining with 1,100 convicts from the Hawkesbury River area, and meeting at Constitution Hill in order to march on Parramatta and then Port Jackson itself.

On 4 March 1804, the convicts overpowered the guards at the Government Farm at Castle Hill and seized whatever arms they could. A fire was lit to alert other convicts on private farms nearby to join the rebels. Their slogan was 'Death or Liberty', which had been the slogan of the 1898 Irish insurrection. Unfortunately the rebels were hampered by convicts consuming large amounts of alcohol along the way and poor communication. The rebellion continued for two days with the rebels proclaiming the area to be called New Ireland and Cunningham elected 'King of the Australian Empire'.

Major Johnston eventually quelled the rebellion by tricking Cunningham into thinking that he would talk with him but instead took him prisoner. The New South Wales Corps charged on the remaining convicts who were poorly armed and inexperienced. Twenty-four of the convicts were shot and 300 arrested. The day after the rebellion martial law was declared by Governor King. Phillip Cunningham and seven ringleaders were hanged without a trial. Other members of the rebellion were severely flogged and sent to Coal River (later renamed Newcastle) penal settlement for reoffenders.

Castle Hill uprising

A snapshot of 1808

  • January
    • The governor, Captain William Bligh, was deposed and placed under house arrest.

  • May
    • Thomas Livingstone Mitchell became surveyor-general following the death of John Oxley.

  • September
    • The first medical diploma in the colony was issued to William Redfern.

  • October
    • The colonial office in London announced the recall of the New South Wales Corps to England.

  • November
    • The Cascades Female Factory for women convicts opened in Hobart Town.


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