Castle Hill convict rebellion: Wikis


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Castle Hill Rebellion
Battle of VinegarHill.jpg
A painting depicting the rebellion.
Date 4 March 1804
Location Castle Hill, New South Wales
Result Rebellion crushed
Leinster United Irishmen United Kingdom British Army
Phillip Cunningham
William Johnston
George Johnston
~400 57
Casualties and losses
15 dead, 9 executed
66 detained

The Castle Hill Rebellion of 4 March 1804, also called the Irish Rebellion, was a large scale rebellion by Irish convicts against British colonial authority in Australia. Martial law was declared in the Colony of New South Wales for over a week, during which time many dozens, possibly 120 people, were killed in paddocks 40 km (25 mi) west of Sydney, in the area later known as Rouse Hill and Kellyville. On the 4th of March 1804 the convicts of Australia (most originating from Ireland), led by Phillip Cunningham (a veteran of the Irish rebellion in 1798 and the mutiny of the convict transport ship Ann), rebelled against the British colonial authority in Australia. Within a few days the convicts separated from the British Empire to create their own Empire known as the Australian Empire, appointing Phillip Cunningham as the first King of Australia on the 6th of March 1804.


The rising

Many convicts in the Castle Hill area had been involved in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and subsequently transported to the Colony of New South Wales from late 1799. Phillip Cunningham, a veteran of the 1798 rebellion, and William Johnston, another Irish convict at Castle Hill, planned the uprising in which 500 convicts at Castle Hill planned to meet with nearly 1,000 convicts from the Hawkesbury River area, rally at Constitution Hill, and march on Parramatta and then Sydney (Port Jackson) itself.

On the evening of March 4, 1804, a hut at Castle Hill was set afire as the signal for the rebellion to begin. With Cunningham leading, 200 rebels broke into the Government Farm's buildings, taking firearms, ammunition, and other weapons. The constables were overpowered and the rebels then went from farm to farm on their way to Constitution Hill at Parramatta, seizing more weapons and supplies.

When news of the uprising spread there was some panic with particularly hated officials such as Samuel Marsden fleeing the area by boat. In Sydney Major George Johnston rounded up a New South Wales Corps contingent of twenty-nine soldiers and force-marched them through the night to Parramatta while the Governor declared martial law. Fifty armed members of the Parramatta Loyal Association Corps [1] were also called out and the combined force set out to attack the rebels.

Meanwhile, the rebels at Constitution Hill were having difficulties co-ordinating their force as many men were still missing and the anticipated reinforcements from the other convict farms had not appeared. When news reached Cunningham of the Major Johnston's movements, he decided to withdraw to the Hawkesbury Road to meet up with rebels there.

The rebellion

Phillip Cunningham, being involved in two previous rebellions, knew that the most important element of a rebellion was secrecy. Because of this, the guards at the Castle hill settlement only managed to receive word of a planned rebellion a few hours before it began (some of the convicts sold the information to the guards in exchange for alcohol). The guards failed to act in time and John Cavenah set fire to his hut at 9pm, signalling the convicts to begin the rebellion. Cunningham acted quickly knowing that firearms were going to be needed if the rebellion was to be a success. With an army of 200 convicts behind him they headed to the government farm building and took all firearms, ammunition and weaponry they could find. Initially the convicts ran rampant and created havoc; looting and hunting down the officers of the British Empire shouting “Death or Liberty”. After a few hours Cunningham took control of the convicts and over the next 2 days drew up plans for the new Empires expansion and was hence elected King of the Australian Empire (undisputedly voted in by the convicts).

The second battle of Vinegar Hill

Johnston's forces pursued the rebels until the soldiers were only a few miles away from them. Johnston then sent an Irish Catholic priest known to the convicts, Father Dixon, in an effort to have him convince the rebels to surrender but also to slow them down and close the gap with his own forces.

When Father Dixon failed to persuade the rebels (now numbering approximately 230) to surrender, Major Johnston and a trooper also rode ahead to parley. Cunningham and Johnston came forward to meet them but during the parley the footsoldiers caught up and the two rebel leaders were quickly taken prisoner, Cunningham being struck down by the sword of Quartermaster Laycock. Major Johnston then ordered his men to open fire, and an unequal musketry duel began in which the military proved far superior to the untrained rebels. After fifteen minutes convicts began to break and flee. During the short battle fifteen rebels had fallen but after the battle several prisoners were killed by the soldiers and militia, Major Johnston preventing more killings by threatening his troops with his pistol.

At midnight on March 4, Captain Daniel Woodriff of HMS Calcutta landed 150 of his crew and marines to assist the New South Wales Corps and Governor King. On March 17, Woodriff and his crew departed for England.

Australian Empire's Expansion

The Australian Empire quickly expanded to the areas of Rouse Hill and Kellyville murdering any British official or redcoat they could find while recruiting any and all convicts along the way. During the Empires expansion they obtained almost one third of the entire colony’s armaments. British officers such as Samuel Marsden fled the area by any means possible (in his case; boat) to avoid capture and to alert other surrounding colonies of the uprising. As a result, news of the uprising quickly reached Sydney and the then Major; George Johnston. Who then mobilised the New South Wales Corps contingent, marching through the night to reach Parramatta joining forces with the Parramatta loyal association corps and assigning posse comitatus to strengthen their forces to oppose the rising threat of the Australian Empire.
Meanwhile the Australia Empire had plans to meet up with nearly 1,000 convicts from the Hawkesbury River colony. However missing forces and the general unruly (and often drunk) population of the Australian Empire proved difficult for Phillip Cunningham to control resulting in a delay in the initial plan to meet up with the Hawkesbury River convicts. However when Phillip Cunningham had received news of Major George Johnston’s plans he had no choice but to retreat his forces back towards Hawkesbury River.

The Downfall of the Australian Empire

Having trouble catching up to the convicts of the Empire, Major Johnston sent of a Pastor of the church known to the convicts to slow their retreat down. Father Dixon; oblivious to what Major Johnston had actually intended him to do, attempted for several hours to parlay with Phillip. The King refused the offer to talk terms with the Father and informed him that he would only speak with the Major.

During this exchange between the convicts and Father Dixon, March Major George Johnston’s forces gathered much ground. Major Johnston, receiving the news from Father Dixon, rode out ahead of his troops with a foot soldier to parley with Phillip Cunningham; Phillip rode out to do the same. Unfortunately for Cunningham, Johnston and the foot soldier had no intention of parlaying with him, and took him prisoner. During this time the British soldiers caught up with the convicts and proceeded to opened fire. The abilities of the trained British soldiers proved far superior to the untrained and often uneducated convicts of the Empire and resulted in the battle only lasting 15 minutes before the convicts fled. Several convicts were captured and many died. The Captured were either executed or punished by lashing. The remaining members of the Empire disbanded and were allowed to return to their initial places of employment. Phillip Cunningham was executed without trial.


Following the end of the rebellion:

  • Nine rebels were executed[2].
First Name Surname Means of death
Phillip Cunningham Executed at Windsor without trial.
William Johnston Executed at Castle Hill and then hung in chains, just outside Parramatta on the road to Prospect.
John Neale Executed at Castle Hill.
George Harrington Executed at Castle Hill.
Samuel Humes Executed at Parramatta and then hung in chains.
Charles Hill Executed at Parramatta.
Jonothan Place Executed at Parramatta.
John Brannan Executed at Sydney.
Timothy Hogan Executed at Sydney.
  • Two were "reprieved, detained at the governor's pleasure."[2]
First Name Surname
John Burke
Bryan McCormack
  • Four received "500 lashes and exile to the Coal River chain gang." (Coal River was the original name for Newcastle[2].)
First Name Surname
John Griffin
Neil Smith
Bryan Burne
Connor Dwyer
  • Three received "200 lashes and exile to the Coal River chain gang."[2]
First Name Surname
David Morrison
Cornelius Lyons
Owen McDermot
  • Twenty-three other rebels were also exiled to the Coal River[2]. This group included:
First Name Surname Other information
John Cavenah
Francis Neeson
? Tierney Convict
Robert Cooper Assisted rebels.
Dennis Ryan Assisted rebels.
Bryan Spaldon Emancipist. Also punished with as many lashes as he could stand without his life being endangered.
Bryan Riley Emancipist. Also punished with as many lashes as he could stand without his life being endangered.
  • Thirty-four prisoners were placed in irons until they could be 'disposed' of. It is not known whether some, or all of them, were sent to the Coal River[2].
First Name Surname
Owen Black
Thomas Brodrick
Brien Burne
Thomas Burne
Jonothan Butler
Jonothan Campbell
William Cardell
Nicholas Carty
Thomas Connel
James Cramer
Peter Garey
Andrew Coss
James Cullen
William Day
James Duffy
Thomas Gorman
Edward Griffin
Jonothan Griffin
James Higgans
Thomas Kelly
Jonothan Moore
Edward Nail
Douglas Hartigan
Peter Magarth
Jonothan Malony
Joseph McLouglin
Jonothan Reilley
Jonothan Roberts
Anthony Rowson
George Russell
Richard Thompson
Jonothan Tucker
James Turoney
  • The remaining rebels, as well as other suspects, were allowed to return to their places of employment.

The battle site is believed to be near the present-day Castle Hill Settlement Site and was added in March 1986 to the Australian Registry of the National Estate (Place ID: 2964). Residential development has significantly diminished the area of the battle. Less that 0.2 km² (22 hectares) has remained undeveloped and conserved, as Castle Hill Heritage Park (2004). There is a sculpture at Castlebrook Cemetery commemorating the battle. However, there is some debate as to where the battle actually occurred.[3]

The bicentenary of the rebellion was commemorated in 2004, with a variety of events.[4]

See also

On screen

An Australian 1978 TV series, Against the Wind, included a dramatization over two episodes of the build-up to and ultimate defeat of the rebellion.


  1. ^ The Military at Parramatta
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Who fought at the Battle of Vinegar Hill". The Battle of Vinegar Hill. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-19.   Derived from the book The Battle of Vinegar Hill by Lynette Ramsey Silver, published by Watermark Press, updated and expanded 2002.
  3. ^ Riley, Cameron (2003). "The 1804 Australian Rebellion and Battle of Vinegar Hill". Historical Influences on the Hawkesbury. The Hawkesbury Historical Society. Retrieved 2006-07-19.  
  4. ^ "Program". The Battle of Vinegar Hill. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-19.  

External links

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