Australia’s First Uprising Was in Castle Hill and Led by the Irish

The luck of the Irish...

In 1804 Australia had its first uprising.

A group of Irish convicts unhappy about British rule in New South Wales attempted a rebellion resulting in the death of at least 39 convicts.

Australia’s Battle of Vinegar Hill began on the 4th March. Rebel leaders Phillip Cunningham and William Johnson were aiming to capture Parramatta and Port Jackson in hopes of establishing an Irish rule in Australia.

Johnson and Cunningham’s plan involved assembling 1000 other convicts and moving on the British settlements.

‘Death of Liberty’ was the war cry adopted by the Irish rebellion.

300 convicts attacked their guards taking supplies and ammunition. The group fractured into smaller groups and sent to raid nearby settlements and farmhouses. Unfortunately, many groups became lost and did not return to the rendezvous point- just outside Parramatta.

Our servant burst into the Parlour pale and violent in agitation … he told us that the croppies had risen … we then learnt that Castle Hill was in flames. The fire was discernible from Parramatta. It was recommended that as many Ladies as chose should go to Sydney, as constant intelligence was brought into the barracks of the near approach of the Irishmen … the number was reported to be 300. –( Elizabeth Macarthur, April 1804)

The rebel messenger tasked with giving the group its orders waved the white flag and surrendered all the rebellion’s plans.

Unaware that his reinforcements would not arrive, Cunningham moved to strike the Hawkesbury region.

George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps was alerted to the rebellion and attempted to convince the rebels to abandon their plans- he was met with the war cry: ‘Death of Liberty”.

Johnston fired on the rebellion killing 15 in battle and another 15 later on.

The result of the rebellion led to the enforcement of Martial Law in Australia allowing Governor Phillip King to hang the remaining rebels including Cunningham.

An estimated 39 died.

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