Australia in the 1790s


The New South Wales Corps


Formed in 1789, the New South Wales Corps was a permanent British regiment. The first detachment arrived in New South Wales in 1890 to relieve the marines who had accompanied the First Fleet. After Governor Arthur Phillip (1738–1814) left for England in 1792, the Corps through its commanding officer Major Francis Grose (1758–1814) administered the colony until Governor John Hunter (1737–1821) arrived in 1795.

During this period, many of the officers, including John Macarthur (1767–1834), took over large land grants and were assigned convicts to work for them as farm labour. The government clothed and fed these assigned convicts. The officers of the New South Wales Corps involved themselves in the trade of commodities, especially the rum trade. Coins were scarce, so rum became the medium of trade. Officers became privileged colonists, wealthy and powerful, and acted in their own self-interests.

Originally termed the 'Botany Bay Rangers', they were also called the Rum Corps for their monopoly of trading in spirits. By 1793, wheat was being used to make rum. Governor John Hunter tried to stop the trade, but the power of the Corps ensured that he wasn't successful. Successive governors also found it difficult to control the Corps until after the Rum Rebellion of 1808.


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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