Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Military interlude: Grose and Paterson

Until Captain John Hunter, Phillip’s replacement arrived in NSW in September 1795, the colony was administered first by Major Francis Grose[1] (11 December 1792 to 12 December 1794) and then by Captain William Paterson[2] (12 December 1794 to 11 September 1795). The inhabitants were quick to take advantage of Grose’s unassertive, affable and indolent nature.[3] On assuming command he replaced civil magistrates with military officers, gave the senior officer at Parramatta control over the convicts there when he was not present, and appointed Lieutenant John Macarthur inspector of public works.[4] Some historians argue that the military officers deeply influenced his moves and one has asserted that Macarthur became the real ruler of NSW. Grose showed a greater concern for the welfare of his troops than Phillip had displayed. He increased the weekly ration to give them more food than the convicts and he improved their housing conditions. Without specific instructions and initially without authorisation, he issued land grants of about 100 acres to serving members of the corps who requested them.[5] In accordance with Home Office instructions he provided the officers with farms and, despite orders to the contrary, allowed each the use of ten convicts provisioned at government expense.[6] The civil staff was treated in the same ways as the military hierarchy. Emancipists and the handful of migrants who arrived were encouraged to take up small holdings on less favourable terms than previously laid down by the British government. The opening of the rich Hawkesbury River region, for which Grose must take some of the credit, induced large numbers to settle there.[7]

Sydney Cove, 1845

Behind these moves lay the conviction that the community stood to benefit far more from the exertions of private individuals than from government enterprise. Public farming had failed to produce sufficient for the settlement’s needs and although it was not abandoned, it was reduced. Although unimpressed with the quality of smallholders, Grose placed great trust in the officer farmers whose exertions, he felt, promised quickly to make NSW self-sufficient in foodstuff. This belief, as well as the desire to promote their well-being, disposed him to facilitate their pursuits. Partly through their efforts, partly through a rapid expansion in the number of small settlers, the number of acres farmed and livestock grazed increased during his regime.[8] By December 1794, NSW was still importing essential supplies and the threat of famine still hung over the settlement. The British government disliked the means by which Grose had helped the settlement’s progress. The reduction of public farming forced him to draw on the Treasury to buy food which the convicts might have raised for nothing; his practice of providing maintenance for the officers’ convict servants increased the burden on the stores and perturbed the Home Office who thought that such people should be supported by their employers.

Some of the civil and military staff began to engage in trade, especially in spirits at substantial profit to themselves. Although Grose derived no personal benefit from these practices, he was responsible for failing to curb them. Perhaps his advisers persuaded him to turn a blind eye to abuses that were to their advantage; but, since spirits proved an excellent incentive payment for convict labourers, it was probably for this reason that he allowed the officers to acquire it. Assessments of the other aspects of his rule have been strongly coloured by the writings of contemporaries such as Richard Johnson[9], Samuel Marsden[10] and Thomas Arndell but it is unlikely that New South Wales in this period experienced murder, drunkenness and rapine on the scale they indicated. The charges against Grose of making indiscriminate grants of land to his friends and fellow officers appear without foundation, as the grants made were in accordance with his instructions and to those officers who requested them. Smallholders were not exploited by the officers to the extent often suggested though Grose downsized the size of their land grants and some were better placed in 1794 than is generally realised, but the picture drawn by contemporaries was not entirely untrue.[11] By encouraging the officers’ farming pursuits and allowing them to engage in trade, Grose enabled them to secure a hold over the colony that they were soon to exploit in their own interests. This situation continued under William Paterson who granted 4,965 acres of land and made no attempt, either then or after Hunter assumed office, to check or to control the trading and farming activities of his officers. Unwittingly Grose and Paterson had helped to create problems that their immediate successors were unable to resolve.[12]


[1] Fletcher, B.H., ‘Grose, Francis (1758?-1814)’, ADB, Vol. 1, pp. 488-489.

[2] Macmillan, David S., ‘Paterson, William (1755-1810)’, ADB, Vol. 2, pp. 317-319.

[3] Dundas to Grose, 30 June 1793, HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 51 expressed concern about the secret sale of spirits.

[4] On Macarthur’s appointment, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 14, 226. See also, Grose to Dundas, 16 February 1793, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 416.

[5] HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 438 lists the grants made by 31 May 1793 including four of 100 acres to serving officers.

[6] See, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 209, 302-303, 324, 328.

[7] On developments in the Hawkesbury region, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 210, 238, 254, 307, 346. See also, Barkley-Jack, Jan, Hawkesbury Settlement Revealed: A new look at Australia’s third mainland settlement 1793-1802, (Rosenberg), 2009.

[8] On the land under cultivation, see HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 209, 302, 311, 482.

[9] Grose to Dundas, 4 September 1793, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 64-65 described Johnson as ‘a very troublesome, discontented character’. Johnson’s response to Grose’s comments are contained in a letter to Dundas, 8 April 1794, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 201-204 in which he explains the origins of his dispute with Grose.

[10] HRNSW, Vol. 2, p. 209 Grose expressed some concerns over Marsden.

[11] Grose to Dundas, 30 April 1794, HRA, Series I, Vol. 1, p. 474 stated that of the 59 grants made 1793-1794 seven were 25 acres and two 20 acres but the overwheming majority, thirty four, were for 30 acres.

[12] Grose to Dundas, 8 December 1794, HRNSW, Vol. 2, pp. 274-276 indicated his resignation and his decision to appoint Paterson as his replacement until Hunter arrived.

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